Jude P. Morte / Jude P. Morte | November 09, 2007 00:00
Fitting example of frugalityNowadays, vehicles that use alternative fuels or vehicles that use as little petroleum as possible are the norm. For certain manufacturers (such as Kia, General Motors/Chevrolet and Hyundai), they have taken the latter ethos to extreme, creating a new breed of car - the super subcompact hatchback - that not only saves fuel big-time, but saves space as well.
One recent example is the Suzuki Alto. Although late to the game, the Alto has piqued motorists' curiosity, with regard to mass and fuel efficiency. But can it do well on the local roads, given its Kia Picanto and Chevrolet Spark competition?
With any super subcompact, interior dimensions are small. But the Alto (specifically this here P 358,000 Standard variant) takes dimension frugality (or frugality per se) to new levels. There's no power assist for the side mirrors, steering, locks and windows. Door storage is narrow. The sound from the OE head unit that came with the car (a JVC CD/FM/AM unit) is tinny. There's no lighter plug, deterring the sound enthusiast who's tired of what's on the airwaves, and wishes to listen to music from his MP3 player via a lighter plug-based FM radio transmitter. If the people in front have long legs, there's definitely no room for extra passengers - a big plus, as people sitting at the back can and will block vision from the rearview mirror. In fact, as you try to get a hold of the front passenger backrest and go backwards, you might actually hit the fellow riding shotgun with your elbows - not good if you're on a date.
But the piddling interior has advantages. All knobs, buttons, dials and levers are easy to reach and read. The Alto does have room for two, and with the cold airconditioning, storage places galore (including a huge cavity above the glovebox), wide dashboard and comfortable seating, a dinner-and-discussion opportunity with the fairer sex is not farfetched.
Should you need to stretch one's legs, deliver cargo or spend a night inside the unit, the rear backrest folds down in a 50/50 split fold and can handle a large balikbayan box plus three to four large travel bags (or two people sitting upright, with their legs straightened out). Mind you, sitting inside the Alto does feel like riding in Mr. Bean's late 1970's BMC (British Motor Company) Mini given the compact dimensions and its home-for-two image conveyance.
The car was meant to go from point A to point B, period. It takes one-half to full throttle to get decent acceleration, and the whine from the 800cc three-cylinder at speed tends to drown out inside conversation. Tested top speed (151 kph) is a given, but the fuel consumption (11.76 km/l) is surprising considering the power-to-weight ratio, plus the 220 lbs. of this writer.
If there was one major weakness in the Alto's performance, it would be getting the power to the wheels. Clutch pedal feel is too soft, requiring a lot more effort on the throttle. Also, throw feel from the five-speed m/t is rather like shifting in mud, with the image of the stick breaking like it could break with every throw coming to mind. Not helping either is the m/t stick's look, which resembles that male appendage commonly seen in movies with a rating using the 24th letter of the alphabet.
Handling and ride comfort are middling, but a given considering the short wheelbase (2360mm). The Alto shows little body roll, but succumbs to snap-on oversteer should the wheels hit road alterations during cornering. The Goodyear GPS2 145/70R13 tires provide a bouncy ride, and break traction at 65-68 kph. Steering is blunt overall (exacerbated by the lack of power assist), but has a small turning radius (4.6 meters).
The brakes and handbrake are grippy, and the former displays minimal fade during sudden, hard stops. The exterior lighting is great enough to see what's ahead, but the bright setting needs a little adjustment when it comes to illumination angles. On the other hand the sole interior light above the rearview mirror tends to hamper vision when driving, especially when the sun goes down.
Combine what the Alto DOESN'T have and what it has to offer, the hatchback can be considered as a worthy first car or fleet car. With its P358,000 bargain price, it may be regarded as a potential sleeper in a small super subcompact arena.