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New Alto K10: India's cheapest automatic car

November 10, 2014 08:45 IST
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The AMT gear box may not seem like much of technology wizardry, but the seamless gear changes it facilitates is commendable, says Arup Das.

When Maruti Suzuki launched the Celerio in February, the main interest in the car was its Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) gear system.

Now the car maker has installed the same set-up in its smallest car, the Alto. The new Alto K10, launched on Monday, is being touted as the most affordable automatic car in the country at Rs 3.8 lakh.

And contrary to cars with automatic gears being less fuel-efficient, both the automatic and manual variants of the Celerio return an identical mileage of 23.1 kmpl, as measured by the Automotive Research Association of India. So you can expect a similar performance from the Alto K10. 

But what is AMT and how does it enable Maruti to keep the price tag low? Usually, the price of an automatic variant is around Rs 95,000 higher than a manual one. In the Celerio, the price difference was just Rs 38,000.

A similar pricing structure is being worked out for the Alto K10. AMT is not only an affordable feature, but it is also cheaper to maintain unlike the regular automatics. The K10 kit comes with a 10-year or 160,000-km warranty. 

The AMT system, in contrast to most automatic gear boxes, does not come with a torque converter or the complex dual-clutch set-up. In fact, it is identical to the conventional manual gearbox.

What gives it the automatic functioning is the electro-hydraulic mechanism that helps shift gears according to the speed at which the engine is running.

It also comes with a different electronic control unit, which ensures optimal engine performance and the timing of a gear shift, than the one used in a manual car.

In simple words, AMT is a manual system that is motorised for automatic transmission. 

Admittedly, this technology is not new and Maruti's South Korean rivals may sneer at it. But the developer, Italian automotive parts manufacturer Magneti Marelli, insists it is a smart manual transmission that knows exactly when the vehicle needs to shift up or down and carries out this function.

Though this provides an affordable and fuel-efficient transmission, this technology actually originates from the world of Formula One racing. It made its debut in the Ferrari 355 F1 in 1997. Who would have thought it would come a full circle with its adoption for the common man's car in India? 

Now, about its performance. The AMT gear box may not seem like much of technology wizardry, but the seamless gear changes it facilitates is commendable.

You do not feel the power rushing in because both the Celerio and the Alto K10 keep up-shifting quickly to ensure the best possible mileage.

This means, even as you press on the accelerator, you will find yourself quickly moving into the fifth gear. In normal city driving conditions, the gear ratios are perfect and make the drive hassle free.

On an open stretch road, if you feel like stepping on the accelerator, you can shift to the manual stick gear. It is responsive and the lag between the gear changes is fairly low.

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