If I were to sum up the Suzuki Alto 800 in two words, it would be basic transport.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some people are looking for an affordable set of wheels and don't want to go through the potential minefield of hunting for a second-hand car. With the Alto, the target market is clear: budget conscious car buyers or fleet managers looking to lower costs. If anything, it's a throwback on wheels.
I say that because the Alto 800's underpinnings date back to 1998 as the fifth-generation model of the long-running nameplate. What we get here is the variant built in India, as you still see traces of Maruti stickers scattered around the car. Also, this car is the entry-level Standard variant.
Styling then comes with no frills with its flat panels and upright windows. The unpainted bumpers give it an even more basic look but that does mean you don't ave to repaint it when the inevitable scrape happens. The only detail bringing the car into the modern age somewhat are the upswept headlights and the larger central air intake. Design-wise, it's simply a repeatedly facelifted car from the 90's.
Open the doors and you're greeted by a rather old-school 'clack' sound and by a dashboard that's somewhat been modernized. The round air-conditioning vents rolls back some of the years but the rest of it is pure 90's. The gauges are sparse and only shows you what you need to know, namely speed, temperature and fuel level. There are no cupholders present and, instead of power windows, you get the good old manual crank (remember those?). At least there are door pockets and a decent-sized glovebox to keep things a little tidier inside. Also, there's a radio with a USB and an auxiliary port to keep up with the times. With a simple interior, ergonomics are very straightforward with buttons and dials located where you expect them.
As for room, putting, er, heftier adults in the front seat mean that they might be brushing elbows from time to time. This can get awkward as shifting into reverse will see the occasional brush against your front passenger's thigh. Simply put, the design shows its age when it comes to space efficiency. The redesigned door cards are thicker but also eat up the already sparse elbow and shoulder room. With its narrow body, you can sit four in relative comfort, providing the front passengers are not that tall. As for cargo space, an overnight bag will eat up most of the floor so pack lightly if you decide (or dare) to go out of town.
With the 800 tag at the end of the Alto's name, it comes at no surprise that this car is powered by an 800cc engine. With 12 valves and a single overhead camshaft design, it musters 47 PS and 68 Nm of torque from its three-cylinder motor. It shifts via a five-speed manual and no automatic transmission is on offer. With numbers like that, you can think of it as a modern-day Minica.
If anything, it feels like a novelty to drive. The narrow wheels and tires, along with the antiquated suspension set up, give the Alto 800 some amusing driving characteristics. Its nose dives significantly under moderate braking and taking U-turns with a bit of exuberance is met with a lot of body pitch. Needless to say, it's far from a dynamic drive but then again, it's not the purpose of this car.
As for its comfort, it's what you expect from a small car that's about to turn 20. The bottom padding is short and the back rest could do with a few more layers of foam. That said, the seats have to be that way just to give the rear passengers more room. On a long drive, you might find yourself slowly sinking into the seats with the frame pushing into your back but they're alright for short trips. Again, thanks to a somewhat pliant suspension, it isn't that bad.
What it lacks in size, space and style, it more than makes up for it on the daily drive. No, the Alto 800 won't be setting any performance benchmarks anytime soon but there is a feeling of robustness when taking it around town. The short wheelbase makes for a rather choppy ride at low speeds but take it over bumpy roads and it absorbs them without any complaints.
At cruising speeds, the rather obsolete trailing arm rear suspension gives the Alto 800 a pretty floaty ride with no load at the back. Even more impressive is the lack of rattles, even as it passes through dirt roads. So while it huffs and puffs its way to 60 km/h, it's resilient undercarriage means you won't have any qualms driving it over pothole-riddled roads. Simply put, the Alto 800 ticks the right boxes as a city runabout. Its steering is light, visibility is excellent (owing to the airy designs of the 90's), the clutch is effortless and the shifter isn't too rubbery or notchy.
As for fuel economy, there is no display showing average consumption. That said, I didn't have to fill it up over the course of one week despite heavy traffic. Over the course of 250 kilometers, there was still about a quarter left in the tank. No qualms about its efficiency then but longer trips mean you have to visit the gas station about halfway through the journey.
This particular Suzuki Alto 800 Standard starts at Php 429,000, making it the most affordable new car in the local market today. It will do its job as a commuter car with no complaints and its fuel economy will be to the delight of many penny pinchers and fleet managers alike. Yes, it is missing a lot of modern-day conveniences but it does come with dual airbags, power steering and anti-lock brakes. All in all, the Suzuki Alto 800 will get you to point A to B; nothing more, nothing less.