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Suzuki Alto SZ review (2012 onwards)
Model: Suzuki Alto SZ, £5,995
Bodystyle: five-door city car
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder with Dual VVT, 68hp @ 6,000rpm, 66lb ft @ 3,400rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 13.5 secs 0-62mph, 96mph top speed
Efficiency: 65.7mpg, 99g/km CO2
What is it?
Right now, this is THE cheapest car on sale in the UK - it's the entry-level Suzuki Alto SZ, and it can be yours for just £5,995. Yes, really, a whole entire brand new car for less than £6,000 in 2012, direct from the manufacturer.
There's no catch either. The Alto SZ is simply part of Suzuki's current 'no VAT' campaign - which basically means the Japanese small car specialist is selling it at a 20% discount. And with the latest engine upgrades it also emits just 99g/km CO2 - so it's road tax-free as well.
Officially the offer only runs until 30th September 2012, at which point the Alto SZ is set to revert to its usual list price of £7,195. But is it really worth getting those skates on and rushing down to you nearest Suzuki showroom?
Here's where we find out.
Where does it fit?
We were able to try the Alto SZ at a recent Suzuki round-up event. Which served as a timely reminder that although we legitimately think of the firm as a 'small car* specialist' here in automotive land, it actually does a great deal more.
Superbikes, for example. And quads. And marine engines... There's nothing like a blast in a rib powered by a 250hp Suzuki outboard worth £20k alone to put a £6k Alto city car into perspective. But then, a company capable of building the former should be more than capable of doing a competent job with the latter, right?
* Even its SUVs are small by modern standards. And the unusual Kizashi saloon is an anomaly rather than a guiding star. The Swift is Suzuki's bread and butter these days, taking 40% of all its UK sales.
Is it for you?
As the bottom of three trim levels, the Alto SZ is unashamedly light on standard kit. So your major buying priority here has got to be that brand new number plate - the choice of used machinery at £6,000 is wide ranging and potentially highly satisfying, after all.
So, buying at the budget end of the new car market - what are your other choices? All of them are city-size only, that's for sure, and keeping money as tight as possible you could seek out the Perodua Myvi (from £6,999 right now) or the Nissan Pixo (from £7,250, it's actually the Alto in disguise).
Neither makes for a particularly strong comparison. More of a challenge comes from the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo cousins - both variants of Volkswagen's pricier Up! But the least you'll pay for one of these is £7,630. Prefer a Peugeot 107? Then you'll have to find £7,195.
Suzuki is hitting the value offer hard.
What does it do well?
It has a roof, five doors, a wheel at each corner and an engine with enough puff to propel it all - what more could you possibly want for your money? It's not even as if the visual design is especially dowdy. In fact, it's quite cute, and certainly makes Nissan's effort look depressing.
On the inside someone's had a decent stab at turning the dashboard a bit jazzy, and if the plastics aren't quite premium grade who's really going to complain at this price. Visibility is fine, the instruments are clearly labelled and nothing feels like it's going to fall apart in your hands.
68hp and just 66lb ft of torque doesn't sound like much, but the revised 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine now features Dual Variable Valve Timing and actually comes across as pretty perky. With light steering it's predictable and easy to drive, too.
What doesn't it do well?
While there's not a lot to complain about in terms of the overall package you get for you money, looking around the cabin it becomes somewhat obvious where the savings have been made. There are twiddly leavers to adjust the mirrors, for example. We can't remember the last time we saw those in a test car.
Being a three-pot, the engine makes a kind of endearing thrummy hum - or at least, you'd better learn to think of it that way as you'll be hearing it often. Extracting anything approaching 'performance' from this car requires a firmly planted right boot and limited mechanical sympathy.
Similarly, though the Alto is nimble and faithful enough, it does rather tend to roll around, not just during the turns but over bumpy tarmac - to the point where it can begin to feel a little unstable. Especially from the passenger seat.
What is it like to live with?
This is a small car, so it won't surprise you to learn that there isn't a great deal of space inside. In the front you can get away with calling this cozy, in the back it's merely cramped. Adults almost won't fit at all - but young children should be fine.
A bigger issue still is the boot. This looks small - shockingly so when you first open the tailgate - and is small. Total volume is just 129 litres with the rear seat backs in place; max with them folded is 367 litres. Think carefully about this before you part with the money. There are plenty of bigger cars available used.
Accept this, and the modest motivational poke, and you should get on with the Alto just fine. Being small is often an advantage around town, where you can squeeze through small gaps and slingshot into the slightest of parking spaces. Just don't forget there isn't much room for the shopping.
How green is it?
Things have moved on since the Alto was first introduced in 2009 - back then it was amongst the greenest petrol choices in its class with CO2 emissions of 104g/km. Now there are cars like the Fiat 500 TwinAir, which emits just 95g/km with the Eco mode engaged. You'll pay a hefty premium, though.
£0 car tax under present legislation
All is not lost for the Alto, however, as the engine update also brings the CO2 emissions down to 99g/km CO2 - along with suggestions it will now return 65.7mpg combined - a gain of 1.5mpg compared to the older version.
In addition to meaning £0 car tax under present legislation, this also means no Congestion Charge in London. Together with low group 4E insurance, this should prove a very cheap car to run.
Puttering around town you can genuinely expect some decent economy returns, but push the Alto hard on the motorway or around hilly countryside and the mpg is certain to suffer.
Would we buy it?
To be brutally honest, if it was our money we'd take a good hard look at what was available on the second-hand market before handing over the cash for any car of this type.
Still, taking the desire to buy brand new as read, then it's hard to ignore the Alto's current level of value. It isn't the most spacious inside, and goodness you'll occasionally curse its lack of performance - but compared to the budget competition this is a tidy enough car at its original list price; at just £5,995 it's a bargain.
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