The build-up to the launch of the new Alto 800 was akin to a blockbuster. Only line drawings were available and pictures were kept away from prying eyes. Dealers were selling the car without knowing anything about it. To top it all, customers were booking the car without knowing about the features or even seeing the car; it is perhaps a testimony of the customer’s innate faith in the company! A blockbuster it is, given the initial response it has garnered and the bestseller car that it is looking to replace.
That is something that will not probably surprise the marketing team at Maruti. Ever since it took over the No. 1 bestseller position from Maruti 800 in 2004, the Alto has been unshakeable from the top perch. When Maruti decided to phase out the old Alto 800 and bring in the new Alto 800, it was always expected to be a ‘BIG’ launch. Not just since the old Alto 800 was a best-seller, but also because it was the cheapest BSIV hatch in the country, after the Tata Nano.
Before I proceed further, let us get some things clear. The new Alto 800 will only replace the outgoing Alto 800, which has done yeoman service for Maruti for 11 years now – 8 years at the top. Not a bad way to go for the old Alto 800. That said, the Alto K10 (introduced around three years ago) will continue to service customers, as will the old reliable warhorse M800 in BS-III cities. And the new Alto 800 will sit cheek-by-jowl between those two bestsellers. The new Alto 800, ladies and gentlemen, in all probability, will start life at the top of the sales charts. No wonder the Hyundai has upped the ante for the Eon and has been bombarding us with a mega ad campaign.
Figure 1: Technical Specifications
|Max Power (PS@rpm)||48PS @ 6000rpm|
|Max Torque (Nm@rpm)||69Nm @ 3500rpm|
|Tyres||145/80 R12 (Tubeless)|
|Front||Gas filled McPherson strut. Torsion roll control device|
|Rear||Coil spring, Gas filled shock absorbers with three link rigid axle and isolated trailing arm|
|Transmission||5 Speed MT (All New cable type gear shift)|
|Gross Vehicle Weight (kg)||1185|
|Overall width (mm)||1490|
|Overall length (mm)||3395|
|Overall height (mm)||1475|
|Front Track (mm)||1295|
|Rear Track (mm)||1290|
|Ground Clearance (mm)||160|
|Turning Circle Radius (m)||4.6|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||35|
Looks and design
The initial line drawing and artist impressions did intrigue me and they did seem to me that there were bits and pieces of this car that I had seen before. Call it a sense of déjà vu but there was an easy sense of familiarity when I walked up to the white specimen parked outside the office entrance. At the same time, one could sense that it was a new car, not because it was sent for a test drive, but due to the mini crowd that had gathered to look at the common man’s car. Like the Ertiga, Maruti has been smart in borrowing design cues and panels from existing models. It has thus saved on costs while delivering a completely new model for customers to savour and for Maruti to earn higher RoI.
The bug eyed bulging headlamps (although shaped like a teardrop), the bonnet, the huge black grille with the thin chrome moustache and the Suzuki monogram adorning it reminds one of the A-star, while the slightly odd-looking nose is a tad similar to the one that is seen on the new Wagon R, although smaller. Moreover, it flows upwards to a raked windscreen. The grille is not exactly good looking, and one may even call it shabby. Overall, it is not exactly a handsome design. One may call it boring. Someone in the team mentioned that it resembles the new upgraded Ford Figo in certain areas – but that has to be a coincidence and nothing more. The expanse of metal on the sides is huge (less glass), while the C-pillar is massive (like the current Alto). The upward crease provided on both flanks as well as the slight wheel arches add a little character to an otherwise bland side-on view. Unlike the Eon, there is a no drama at all here. That said, the conservative new Alto 800, however, is likely to appeal to a wider audience than Hyundai’s overtly styled Eon. That may explain the antsiness being shown by Hyundai.
Get to the rear end, and one can see shades of the current Alto as also the A-star. The taillights are albeit a little more stylized and carries clear lens lamps, while there is a diagonal crease across the boot connecting the two tail lamp clusters. The roof has been provided with ribs and ridges to strengthen the rigidity of the car, while keeping the weight on the lower side. The roof also slants down at the rear, giving it a slight sporty look. The left flank below the C-pillar has a large fuel intake area for a car of this kind. And it flows into a relatively small tank of 35 litres – good enough for a car of this size, and with a claimed mileage of 22.7kmpl.
The exhaust is small, but is made of steel – impressive, when one considers that bigger cars (including from Maruti) have small metal pipes jutting out, which catch rust at the slightest hint of water around the edges. However, what is not impressive is that Maruti has tried to scrimp on costs by just providing an ORVM on the driver’s side in the base model. With one being used to continually keep looking into the ORVMs for crazies trying to overtake from either side, one is blind-sided by this Maruti idea. I am sure the buyer will not mind paying an additional 2,000 rupees for an additional mirror at the co-driver’s side.
All said, Maruti has improved upon the platform and has made the body frame better and stiffer. The roof is made of thinner steel to make it lighter, but as mentioned earlier has been improved upon for rigidity. Maruti has also managed to bring down the overall length of the car by 100mm, by using the space inside the engine bay far better. While that has been done (and made negotiating city traffic that much better), it has managed to improve interior space tremendously. More on that later.
The new Alto 800 rides on R12 rubber, and has the good old wheel caps over the steel wheels. One may feel that the car is carrying less rubber than it should, but then the bottom line is that the car has been designed for basic inexpensive commuting. The car looks the best from the front (despite the bare looks and that massive black grille), while the front three-quarter view can be a mixed bag. From the side, it is indeed difficult to figure out what one would want to make of the car. The awkwardness stems from the higher ground clearance of 150mm and the slightly Pinnochioish nose it seems to carry.
Interiors and comfort
As mentioned earlier, the biggest improvement is to the interiors. This is not a car where one would like to talk about the features or the sexiness of the dash. This will be about practicality and use of space. Maruti has managed to improve space on the inside despite reducing the length of the car. While the wheelbase is the same, the headroom has been improved by 15mm due to the increased height, width has been improved by 10mm due to the thinner door panels, and 15mm additional legroom has been provided by creating scoops on the back of the front seats. Despite the reduced length, Maruti has been able to improve legroom upfront, as well as in the boot. NVH levels have been reduced and Maruti deserves a lot of kudos for that.
While the seats are not very comfortable due to the thin cushioning, it has created a little more space for passengers ironically. A couple of six-footers who drove the car vouched for the legroom upfront, as well as the fact that the elbows do not clash with each other. That said, the slimmer front seats do not provide enough support or cushioning to the back, tough for long rides, while the cramped back seats offer marginally more space than the outgoing Alto, and definitely more than the Hyundai Eon. However, it is still fine for the city hops that this car is made for. Seating is good enough for four average-size adults and maybe one kid at the rear. We were easily able to lay four backpacks side-by-side in the boot, indicating that a family of four can easily take this car out of the city for the weekend. But the boot space in the Hyundai Eon is perhaps a tad better.
The biggest change is reserved for the cabin. It is roomy and bright, and has an all-new and more contemporary-looking dash, with a combination of rectangular/triangular aircon vents in the centre (melded into a slight hump at the centre) as well as circular vents on the sides. There is a strong ‘V’ at the centre console, and plastic quality has been improved considerably. The moulded roof lining and fully clad pillars improve the ambience of the cabin a lot, even though the Hyundai Eon has better-looking interiors. Maruti has done a brilliant job in the fit-and-finish department, and it will be hard not to applaud. There are barely any gaps in the panels. In true M800 and Alto fashion, the space for the music system is covered by a black panel and you can choose to fit a music system of choice or leave it as it is.
There is a single dial in the instrument panel surrounded by a bevy of lights, while the Hyundai Eon has more bells and whistles. The front doors have battery-operated windows (at the top end), while the rear windows are operated manually. The switches for the front windows are placed aft of the gear lever and there is a horizontally aligned bottle holder placed fore of the gear lever. There are plenty of silver accents in the cabin, and the amount of storage space has gone up too. The ORVMs can be manually adjusted from the inside. The new Alto 800 comes in two trim levels – beige or grey. While beige looks better, grey is more practical. The top-end LXi version now comes with the option of a driver airbag, but maybe Maruti can consider having airbags as an option for the co-driver too. But there is no option for ABS or other safety features.
The steering comes with a three-spoke design and has a brushed metal finish on the spokes, making it look sporty. The steering wheel is a bit thicker compared with older Altos; the added grip will make it feel even better. Ingress and egress are decent and the doors shut with a convincing thunk. It is not the sound of a poorly constructed piece where the material quality is low. If that was pleasant, one is even happier with the fact that the doors shut at one go, unlike the old M800 or the outgoing Alto, where the doors inevitably have to be opened and banged again to ensure they shut properly. I am quite impressed with what Maruti has done with the exteriors, build quality, and fit-and-finish at this price point.
Ride and handling
Slot the gear lever in place and the slotting feels sure. While the engine remains an 800cc motor, Maruti engineers have ensured that it is not just the badging that has changed in the engine. They have changed around parts to make the engine lighter and make it more efficient. As a result, the torque has improved and so has the power (from 44bhp to 47bhp). The change can be felt as the car sets off in a surefooted manner when you step on the accelerator. The engine responds quite well at low speeds, and it does not need to be revved hard to upshift. And up-shifting can be done fairly quickly, meaning that the engine does not come under pressure at lower speeds and the earlier ‘knocking’ at lower speeds and higher gears is now a thing of the past.
Since up-shifting can be done far easily now, overtaking is easier now than before. The transition through the gears is much smoother than before and the gears fall into place better, eliminating the rubbery feel of the earlier Alto. The engine sounds good and driveability has improved tremendously. I drove my father’s old Alto in Nasik recently and instantly discovered the stark difference between the old and the new Alto. The dynamics have improved with steering and handling are far better than before The R12 rubber feels a little less shod for the package and one can easily shift to R13s for better grip.
One may feel that the new Alto 800 is still not in the league of the competition but the ride quality is quite outstanding for a small car. It accelerates well and quickly and the pick-up is good. One does not need to press the accelerator pedal to make the car move. Even with the AC on, it responds well to foot inputs. The suspension and tyres absorb potholes nicely. While the ride may be bumpy, it handles far better than its predecessor does. There is little body roll and while there is feedback of road bumps, they feel lower with a full weight in the car. The steering feels firm in one’s hands, turns in beautifully, and is less prone to under-steer. Parking is a breeze while the tight turning radius is useful in narrow roads.
Braking is a little unsettling and not exactly confidence inspiring when you are at high speeds (where the car actually feels solid). While the braking may feel woozy and lazy, one must keep in mind that the car has been created for city driving. Even then, one has to keep a heavy foot on the brake pedal and need be conscious of the braking points. This car is not a corner-craver, but then neither is its owner going to be the wild one. Similarly, it is no drag racer, and may not excite you when it comes to driving pleasure. Again, it is made with practicality in mind and that is what it achieves.
The last word…
With the new Alto 800, it is functionality that Maruti aims at and that it achieves in dollops. It may not be as contemporary as the Hyundai Eon or have the curves and the features. However, it is a far better car than the outgoing Alto 800 in terms of interiors, dynamics, and performance. This is a price Samurai unleashed by Maruti and going by the numbers (50,000+ despatched so far), Maruti may well have another winner on its hands. Inexpensive commuting is here and Maruti once again proves that it is the king of small cars. For those looking at adding more power to their drive, the K10 Alto is waiting to be booked. Let’s go…!
Figure 2: Price Samurai
|Maruti Alto 800||Maruti Alto K10||Tata Nano||Hyundai Eon||Hyundai Santro||Chevrolet Spark|
|Maruti Alto 800||Maruti Alto K10||Tata Nano||Hyundai Eon||Hyundai Santro||Chevrolet Spark|