Alto is Suzuki’s best-selling name plate, the car that has raked in the most volumes for the Japanese manufacturer. But it wasn’t until 2005 that it became India’s best-selling name plate. That was because while the majority of Alto’s numbers have come from India, out here it has been sold under various guises – 800, Zen, A-Star (as the latest Alto is called) and, of course, Alto.
The Alto as we know it was launched in 2000 to slot in between the 800 and the Zen. Powered by two engines – the 800cc three-cylinder and 1.1-litre four-cylinder – it initially struggled to gain traction and draw buyers away from the 800. But sales gradually picked up and five years later, with a face-lift, price drop and elimination of the VXi variant, the Alto clocked all-time high volumes to overtake the iconic 800 that ruled the charts for two decades. Since then the Alto has been India’s best-selling car clocking monthly volumes of 20,000 units and finding millions of happy homes. But the Alto has competition so to keep pace with the times there’s a new one and it’s called the Alto K10.
The K10 refers to the new generation Suzuki K-Series engine that has been shoehorned into the Alto. The three-cylinder engine is the same unit that does duty in the A-Star, Zen Estilo and the WagonR. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is one of the best units in its class and is the only 1.0-litre twin-cam engine available in India. To accommodate the bigger engine in the Alto, Maruti Suzuki engineers have made a few changes particularly in lengthening the engine bay. The car’s nose is now longer by 125mm with the K10 measuring 3620mm in length compared to the Alto’s 3495mm. This gives it a better stance though overall width and wheelbase have remained unchanged.
The Alto K10 also gets cosmetic upgrades to the front and rear to freshen things up. The front gets a new and longer bonnet that gels well with the new eagle-eyed headlamps and body coloured bumpers while the grille is also wider. The Vxi variant gets front fog lamps. The rear gets a new tailgate that now houses the number plate and a slightly bigger windscreen. The tail lamp cluster is also a new design that looks fresh and funky and goes well with the older design rear bumper. Unlike in the present Alto the rear stop light is now in the upper part of the tailgate.
From the side however the Alto K10 is similar to the present Alto and the only way to distinguish it is the increased front overhang, thicker waistline mouldings and bigger wing mirrors.
The tyres have also been upgraded to wider 13-inch 155-section tubeless tyres (up from 12-inchers) that come with full wheel covers on the Vxi. The bigger wheels fill the wheel arches much better and give it a nicer stance.
Get inside and you’re greeted by a familiar dashboard which is a letdown. The K10 however gets a new three-spoke steering wheel and a sporty gear knob which is similar to the one used in the Swift. The front and rear seats now get integrated headrests and the front seat also have a depression in the rear to liberate bit more rear leg room. However, the front seat which seems to be borrowed from the A-Star lacks under thigh support. The seat also gets better upholstery and is well complimented with colour co-ordinated door pads which are available only in the Vxi variant. The instrument cluster is also new and features a digital fuel gauge and tachometer. The Vxi variant gets front power windows and a rear parcel tray. However the biggestletdown is that there have been no improvements to space inside the cabin. Compared to the Santro or Spark the Alto K10 feels very cramped. Quality of materials used is similar to the present Alto and could have been improved.
The K10B engine is a peppy mill that was first seen in the A-Star. The twin-cam engine with a distributor less ignition system and an innovative rocker-less shaft produces 68PS of power at 6200rpm and generates a healthy 90Nm of torque at 3000rpm which bodes well. The Alto has one big advantage over the A-Star – it is by far the lightest car from Maruti Suzuki to get this engine and thus has a much better power-to-weight ratio. The result is the Alto K10 feels like a pocket rocket and a world away from the old Alto that makes do with almost 50 per cent less power from the aging 800cc engine (47PS and 62Nm at 6000rpm and 3500rpm).
As we’ve noticed in the A-Star the Alto too suffers from the characteristic irregular idle of a three-cylinder unit. And while noise suppression is good at city speeds when revved hard the engine note does become very audible. The engine is mated to an all-new 5-speed transmission that is from the A-Star family with revised gear ratios and is a cable actuated transmission as opposed to the present Alto’s link-type shift actuator. The gearbox is slick and precise making it a boon to use in city driving conditions.
Maruti Suzuki claims that the K10 is capable of hitting the ton mark in 13.3 seconds though our test results revealed it to be 15.2 seconds which is a full 6.3 seconds quicker to the present Alto. The quarter mile comes in 20.4 seconds at 108kmph while the top speed we achieved was a healthy 153kmph. In comparison the present Alto maxes out at 137kmph. At 770kg, the Alto K10 is the lightest car with the KB Series engine and is just 35kg heavier to the present Alto. The present Alto isn’t exactly a powerful car but the K10 is a contrast in comparison and is in fact even more fun to drive than the older Alto Vxi with the 1.1-litre engine.
In terms of fuel efficiency, the K10 returned 16.34kmpl and an incredibly high 26.3kmpl in the city and highway respectively. With a 35-litre fuel tank the Alto K10 is capable of a 658km range. The ARAI fuel efficiency figure is rated at 20.2kmpl making it more fuel efficient than the present Alto which is rated at 18.1kmpl by ARAI. The car has also been upgraded with bigger disc brakes thanks to the larger wheels. The updated brakes bring the car to halt from 100kmph to a standstill in 51.1 metres in 3.63 seconds. You even get an upgraded air-con compressor on the K10 which is more efficient and takes less time to cool the interiors than in the present Alto.
The Alto K10 is available in two variants: the Lxi gets power steering, electronic trip meter, body coloured bumpers and rear headrests while the Vxi gets front fog lamps, front power windows, body side moulding, parcel tray and central locking. Pricing has always been a strong point and the addition of the K10B engine and fresh looks along with a host of new features has resulted in a marginal price hike of ` 24,000. The Alto K10 Lxi is thus priced at ` 3.03 lakh while the Vxi is
`3.16 lakh ex-showrooms, Mumbai.
As of now both the old Alto and the K10 will sell side by side. But with only a small price increase we feel the Alto K10 is actually the better value-for-money car with a nicer engine, fresh looks and better dynamics. Maruti Suzuki has hit the sweet spot yet again and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Alto continues its dominance at the top of sales charts.