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As a journalist and more importantly as an enthusiast, many times I assume that everyone is like me and has this inherent passion for cars. In reality, however, the majority of motorists regard their car simply as a tool… a means of getting from A to B comfortably, safely and ideally economically too. The new Suzuki Alto is one such car. By TONIO DARMANIN

In the past, this basic need was satisfied by what the Italians refer to as the Utilitaria and the original Fiat 500 and subsequently the Panda come to mind, although at this stage the emphasis was more on getting from A to B rather than doing so comfortably or safely.

Today, the cars in this segment – referred to as super-minis – compete to be the smallest and the cheapest, but have also come a long way in terms of design, technological deve­lopment, safety, internal space and comfort, economy, environmental friendliness and compete most of all in offering the consumer the best value for money. Suzuki is no newcomer in this segment and has been offering this entry-level model to European customers for over 30 years. Judging by the number of Altos one comes across whilst driving on our roads, it is obvious that the car is a firm favourite even here in Malta.

This is the type of car that is aimed at satisfying a wide and varied list of target markets albeit with relatively similar needs. Ranging from a novice or student who has just got his or her licence to a retired person, those looking for a smaller runabout for daily errands to companies who have reps continually out on the road, families requiring a second smaller car for ‘taxi’ purposes, to others with restricted parking space in their garage on out on the road… the list is endless.

Looks are possibly the most important consideration when choosing a new car and Suzuki, having recognised this, presented a new model that is relatively compact at 3.5 metres, cute, attractive and gives the impression that it is bigger that it actually is. The wind tunnel was used extensively at the design stage to ensure optimum aerodynamics, reducing drag and ultimately consumption. It is a fact that this car is more popular with female consumers and the new Alto offers a vibrant range of colours, some of which have this segment clearly in mind.

It is compact on the outside but makes optimum use of the space inside to offer comfortable seating for the driver and front passenger and with adequate room at the rear for a further two adults. Luggage space is decent for the size of car and one can obviously play around with rear seating configurations depending on the amount of stuff that would need to be shifted around. Good quality plastics and upholstery materials make for a pleasant environment inside the car and an effective air-conditioning unit ensures all-round comfort.

The forte of the new Alto is however the one litre, three-cylinder engine which should return an average of 62mpg and only emits 103g of CO2 per kilometre. Relatively smooth and silent, it gives the car a nippy disposition and provides a respectable performance subject to the obvious limitations of an engine this size. Gear exchange is smooth enough and the suspension, which is on the soft side, offers a comfortable ride. Steering is responsive and direct and the car feels absolutely manoeuv­rable, especially due to its tiny turning circle.

Safety is a serious concern, especially in smaller cars, but Suzuki have ensured that the Alto is designed on a crushable structure utilising an energy dispersing frame to best protect occupants. The car is also fitted with four airbags as a standard feature.

The utility car is becoming more and more sophisticated and the customer’s expectations are also continually evolving. The car buyer today is spoilt for choice and the manufacturer has to go that extra mile to attract attention and possibly a sale. In this regard, I feel the Suzuki Alto offers the right ingredients to build on the local success it has enjoyed so far, and it is actually much more than simply a means of getting from A to B.

This article was first published on Times of Malta on May 4, 2009

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