The small car segment in India is a fiercely competitive space. A space which has been Maruti Suzuki’s forte, a zone where they have held a dominant position since a long time. And it was the Maruti Suzuki Alto which formed the backbone of this dominance. But recently, the Hyundai Eon threw a head-on challenge to the Alto, began eating into its market share and threatened to dethrone it. Maruti Suzuki took the challenge seriously, and has launched the new Alto 800 at the price of Rs 2.60 lakh for the base petrol variant, ex-showroom Kolkata.
The Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 will be manufactured at the company’s Gurgaon facility and will be available in three petrol and three factory fitted CNG variants namely the Standard, LX and LXi. The Alto 800 Standard is the bare basic model with no AC, power steering or power windows. The Alto LX comes with all the standard features plus the AC, but no power steering or power window. And finally the top-of-the-line LXi which comes with the AC, power steering and front power windows. The Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 will be offered in six colour options – Frost Blue, Superior White, Silky Silver, Granite Grey, Blazing Red and Torque Blue.
We got behind the wheel of the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 LXi and took it for a spin around town to see how has the new Alto 800 fared and whether it’s good enough to hold on to its crown. Read on to find out.
Design & Engineering
There is no denying that the new Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 looks more refreshing in appearance and contemporary in design in comparison to its predecessor. The newly styled bonnet, new two-part grille and the high-mounted petal-shaped headlights all lend a fresh look to the car. The side profile sports clean, balanced lines and marginally flared wheel arches. At the rear, the refreshed bumper and tail lamps also gives a fresh feel. In my opinion, the new Alto 800 is a definite improvement in comparison to its predecessor when you judge on the basis of external appearance.
The external dimensions of the new Alto have been slightly altered. The new Alto 800 is now 3395 mm long (previously 3495mm), 1490mm wide (previously 1475mm) and stands 1475mm tall (previously 1460mm). It means that the new Alto is both wider and taller which will translate in more cabin space. However, the wheelbase (2360mm), ground clearance (160mm) and turning radius (4.6m) have remained unchanged. Despite measuring 100mm shorter in length, the engineers at Maruti have ensured that the boot space hasn’t been compromised. The new Alto 800 has a 177 litre boot in comparison to a 170 ltre boot in the older Alto.
The suspension set up of the Alto 800 has McPherson Strut with anti-roll bar doing duty at the front with three link rigid axle at the rear with gas filled shock absorber all around. Disc at the front and drums at the rear comprise the braking system of the new Alto.
The top-of-the-line Alto 800 LXi that we tested came with body coloured door handles, body coloured bumper, full wheel covers and chrome accent front grille.
Interiors & Comfort
For someone buying an entry level small car, every iota of space is important. The slightly wider and taller design means that the new Alto 800 is more spacious with more head room. Two adults at the front and two at the back would be just perfect, however, if required three medium built individuals could just-about squeeze in at the rear on short trips. Leg room at the rear is an improvement over the earlier car, thanks in part to the slimmer seatbacks on the front seats, which have been scooped out to offer more knee room for rear passengers.
The Alto 800 gets a new dashboard which in my opinion looks better that of the older version. The instrument cluster and centre console have been kept simple with rather large, easy to operate AC controls. It doesn’t really make a style statement but score points for convenience. The plastics used in the new Alto 800 are of an improved quality in comparison to the older Alto. The interior comes with an option of grey or brown on the top variant. I have had the opportunity to see both and personally vote for the brown over the grey. Brown manages to look classier in this car. The AC in the car proved to be quite effective and cooled the cabin rather quickly. However, even the top variant of the new Alto 800 doesn’t come with a music system. In comparison the top variant of the Hyundai Eon comes with a factory fitted 2 din music system with radio, CD player, MP3, auxiliary input and USB port.
The LXi variant that we tested came with AC, power steering, front power window, metallic finish three spoke steering wheel, fabric insert door trim and fabric seat upholstery. The Alto doesn't score too highly in offering too many conveniences to the driver, but at this price, Maruti have had to keep it simple.
Performance & Handling
Under the hood of the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 is the tried and tested 796cc, 3-cylinder, F8D petrol motor which produces 48PS of maximum power at 6000rpm and churns out 69Nm of peak torque at 3500rpm. The engine is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission fitted with new cable type gear shift. The engine also has been tuned to deliver more power and torque (the outgoing Alto churned out 47PS of maximum power and 62Nm of peak torque).
The engineers has tuned the suspension system quite well to ensure that the Alto delivers surprisingly good ride quality for a hatchback and smoothly swallow uneven stretches of road without much trouble. The new Alto 800 also handles well but the 796cc will seem slightly out of breath on open stretches of road. Not really an enthusiast’s choice, but honestly someone buying an Alto would rather opt for it for its fuel efficiency, convenience and low running cost and not for power.
The improved linkages in the gearbox mean the new Alto 800 shifts gears with a pleasing snick-snick, with none of the earlier rubbery vagueness that characterised the shift quality in the earlier model. Clutch modulation is a little improved, but not by much, and the vague bite-point will see you lurching amateurishly at times. The electric power assisted steering in the LXi variant offers very little by way of feel, and does not have any self-centering action whatsoever, so you have to actively feed in the wheel back to the centre position. You get used to it in a few kilometres, but to be honest we prefer the non-assisted steering in the Alto 800 LX.
At an ARAI ratified figure of 22.74kmpl, Maruti claims that the fuel efficiency of the new Alto 800 is up by 15 per cent which has been achieved by an increased compression ratio, improved volumetric efficiency and improvement in the engine intake system. We had an opportunity to do a fuel efficiency test in real world conditions with the AC on/off ratio being 80:20 and the new Alto 800 delivered 15kmpl. Not bad at all. Its closest rival, the Hyundai Eon claims an ARAI ratified figure of 21.1 kmpl and managed a 14.3 kmpl mileage in city traffic.
The safety measures in the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 are very basic. Features like engine immobiliser, collapsible steering column and tubeless tyres comes as standard across model range. Additionally, driver airbag will be available as a cost option (Rs 15,420) in the top-of-the-line LXi variant only.
But crucial safety features like central locking, ABS, fog lamps and rear wash and wiper aren’t available even in the top variant. Surprisingly, the LXi variant that we tested didn’t have a left ORVM and I personally felt a little uneasy driving in the absence of it.
In comparison, the top ‘Sportz’ variant of the Hyundai Eon comes with driver airbag, fog lamps, both ORVMs and central locking system.
In a price sensitive market like India, right pricing always determines the success and failure of a product. More so in the entry level small car segment where every rupee counts. Maruti Suzuki has priced the new Alto 800 in the range of Rs 2.59 – Rs 3.31 lakh for the petrol variants. In comparison, the petrol range of it arch rival, the Hyundai Eon is priced in the range of Rs 2.82 – Rs 3.90 lakh. So purely talking in terms of pricing, Maruti Suzuki has an advantage, although one has to bear in mind that if you do a model-to-model comparison, the Eon offers more features. And then there is the vital question of brand value. For years, Maruti Suzuki is a name people associate with small cars. It is a brand which people have come to trust over the years. Hyundai is yet to earn that magnitude of brand recognition, at least in the small car segment although they have done a brilliant job with the Eon.
There is little doubt that the new Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 is a definite improvement in comparison to its predecessor. It is now more refreshed and contemporary in appearance, more spacious and perhaps even more fuel efficient. But whether this would be enough to defend its crown is only something that time will tell. It’s going to be a tough fight for sure.