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New Alto 800 is old wine in a new bottle

July 13, 2016 16:47 IST

If you like simplicity are don’t want to experiment, then the Alto 800 is the right car for you. But if you want a car with bold, striking design and plenty of features, you may want to check out the competition as well

Alto 800 has enjoyed its dominance in the entry-level hatchback segment for a significant amount of time and it still continues to do so. Now, Maruti has decided to give this champion a facelift. But are these mid-life tweaks good enough for it to sustain its dominance over other new entrants in the segment? There’s only one way to find out as we get behind the wheels of the Alto 800 facelift.

But before we do, it’s important to acknowledge what the ‘Alto’ badge brings to the table. Some cars go a long way to define and even single-handedly carry the reputation of a brand, and the Alto 800 is definitely one of them.

Its inception goes back to the year 2000 when it was launched and within no time was in sniffing distance of the iconic Maruti 800 in terms of sales. Eventually, it paved the way for Maruti 800’s departure; in the process it took over the 800 tag and thus came out the Alto 800 in 2012. The next-gen Alto 800 is expected only in 2018, Maruti decided to give its front-runner car a makeover. So let’s find out what all is new.

Exterior

The most noticeable changes are at the front. You won’t find the use of chrome anymore on the front grille as the new Alto 800 sports a thick plastic casing connecting the headlamps.

The new bumper sports inverted airdams and overall the car looks broader than its predecessor.

There are other subtle changes as well which only those with a keen eye may notice. For instance, the headlamps now sport an amber-coloured housing for the turn indicators. Also, this new version gets fog lamps although only on the top-end variant. What remains standard, though, is the left side ORVM.

The side profile stays unchanged more or less with its highlighted shoulder line that makes for a simple yet no-nonsense design.

Showcasing similar bulges at the rear on the boot, on each side of the Suzuki badge, there are no changes at the back as well. The curved taillights at the back are also the same as in the outgoing model. The bulging lines from the wheel-arches continues onto the bumper that sports an inverted U-shaped cut which is kept for the number plate.

On the whole, the difference between the current and the facelift version is not night-and-day. Unless you have a hawk eye, the changes are difficult to spot. But, we like it as it’s a simple and no-nonsense design.

Interior

Step inside and you are treated to a new fabric design layout on the door panels along with a new set of upholstery for the seats. However, there are no striking changes inside. What’s worth a mention is the improvement in plastic quality of the dashboard, but it still falls short against competition.

The three-spoke steering is quite good to hold but there are no audio buttons on the wheel. One interesting aspect has to be the smartly carved backrests of the front seats which helps create more space.

The seats are adequately bolstered for short runs within the city. But if you plan to go on longer drives, it can get uncomfortable, especially for taller occupants, as the seat lacks adequate under-thigh support.

The rear bench is well spread out but due to the compact dimensions of the car, it’s ideal for two adults only. Average-sized adults will find it suitable with decent legroom and normal headroom but if you are taller than an average-sized adult (six feet and above), your journey won’t be the most pleasant one at the back. On the other hand, space at the front row is better than the rear with some room to stretch your legs as well.

There are no changes done in the boot of the car so you get the same 177 litres of boot space as in the previous model. That’s good enough to swallow one large bag and probably two smaller ones – ideal for undertaking short trips.

Do not expect to fill the boot up with large suitcases as the Alto 800 doesn’t come with 60:40 rear split seats. We would have loved to this feature, even as an option though it should be pointed out that none of the cars in the segment have this as of now.

Now, let’s talk about the entertainment aspect. You only get a single-din audio unit located at the centre of the dashboard which can play radio and also supports USB and AUX inputs. The sound quality is satisfactory and nothing to complain about.

However, one major thing missing is Bluetooth connectivity which could have done wonders to this car. Nowadays, one sees this feature in almost every car segment and it really is a pain otherwise to pull over to the side of the road to answer a phone call.

To sum up, interior of the new Alto 800 do offer a bit of everything but there are certain features that should be a must, but are not available. For that, we have to deduct a point here!

Safety

This is one aspect that doesn’t get much attention by both manufacturers and even car buyers due to its price sensitiveness. With so many vehicles running on our roads, it’s high time that safety as a feature is given due importance.

Again, this facelift could have done better on safety. What it gets, though, is an optional airbag for the driver. Having said that we seriously feel that airbags should be made standard across all variants. For the record, the VXi version we tested had a driver airbag.

Engine and powertrain

Maruti has not tweaked anything under the hood. It continues to rely on its proven 796cc petrol engine that has been the essence of its ‘800’ tag. Power delivery from this petrol motor stands the same at 47PS along with 69Nm of peak torque.

It’s mated to a standard 5-speed manual transmission which offers decently smooth shifts. Although, the power figures are nothing to write home about, the Alto 800’s lightweight body help compensate for the inadequacy.

With availability of torque right from the low rev-range, cruising around town becomes a breeze as it can easily reach speeds up to 90kmph without a sweat. However, once past 60kmph, road and tyre noise does tend to seep inside the cabin and after 70kmph, wind noise, too, makes its presence felt.

On the whole, it’s a great commuter with the engine offering plenty of low and mid-range to amble around the city but nothing much in the higher rpms. Then again, it’s not expected of it to, either!

Ride and handling

Once a champion, always a champion! The ride is planted and body roll is minimal despite throwing it around sharp corners. You do encounter some understeer but it’s nothing major and overall the drive is quite calm and composed.

One more aspect where the Alto really shines is the way it takes on bad sections of the road. It soaks up most potholes without any trouble but doesn’t cope too well over larger undulations. On the whole, it inherits the sharp and responsive ride and handling skills of its predecessor which makes it quite planted on road.

Verdict

So, the new Alto 800 is actually old wine in a new bottle. The exterior gets minor updates and the interior gets a few additional goodies but the changes are nothing revolutionary. Then again, it carries the old legacy of the Alto badge which definitely makes it worth considering.

That coupled with the widespread dealer network, easy after-sales service and repair makes it a lucrative option against competitors.

If you like simplicity are don’t want to experiment, then the Alto 800 is the right car for you. But if you want a car with bold, striking design and plenty of features, you may want to check out the competition as well.

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