• Cheap to buy
    • Cheap to run
    • Easy to drive and park in the city
    • The boot, size and height
    • Not enough power
    • Parts availability and pricing

    About the Suzuki Alto

    Daniel B purchased this Suzuki Alto used for $3400 (including all on-road costs) in 2019. Daniel B wouldn’t buy this car again because: “Maybe. At the time I was after a car that was cheap to buy, and cost almost nothing to run while I bought a house. I’ve done that and would prefer something more durable and without some of the little issues that are inconvenient with the Alto.

    Less than two months after buying it I was parked at the train station and a hail storm hit Melbourne writing the car off. Every panel got a dent but they are all quite small and barely noticeable. The car was written off while we were in lockdown. I broke even on the insurance payout, then paid $1000 to keep the car as I figured all my reasons for buying it still applied.”

    How reliable has your car been? Tell us about any issues.

    It’s been reasonably reliable. It had 84,000km when I bought it and now 108,000km after a lot of time in Melbourne lockdown. While it hasn’t let me down, it needs work and isn’t really economically viable to spend the money on. The previous driver was a P plater, and I don’t think the car was treated as well as I would have treated it.

    My mechanic advised the clutch would need replacing in 5000-10,000km. That was over 10,000km ago, and it’s becoming more problematic. The air conditioner makes noises it shouldn’t, and the three-cylinder engine has a rattle I haven’t heard in other Altos.

    For such a new car, parts are problematic. It needed a new ABS module for a roadworthy, a common issue that cost $3000. Likely the reason for the previous owner’s disposal. My mechanic eventually found one at a wrecker in regional Victoria for less than a tenth the price.

    It’s fair to say I’m running it into the ground, hoping that the car’s life, my savings, and new/used car prices lowering from their current levels all come together at the right time in the next six-12 months.

    What do you think of the ownership experience with your car?

    The car does what it should. It’s obviously built to a price, and unfortunately it’s not as durable as I’d like. But I bought it very cheaply (especially from my insurance company), and I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it.

    Living with the car day-to-day is quite easy. It’s tiny and so easy to park. The carports at my new apartment is very narrow and tight to manoeuvre in and out of. Other owners with bigger cars like Astras and CX3s have to make two or three corrective movements to get in and out. I can get in and out in a single motion.

    It’s only a four-seater which hasn’t been an issue since I bought it, probably because I’ve spent so much time in lockdown not seeing friends. But in previous cars I did occasionally have five on board. The boot is my biggest frustration.

    Are you happy with the price and features of your car?

    When it was launched in 2009, this was a $14,490 car plus on roads. But by 2011 the base model GL got all the equipment of the GL except for alloy wheels and the GLX manual was reduced $12,490. But there were times the GLX could be had for $10,990 drive-away. A bargain even back then.

    The Alto came with 6 airbags, ABS, ESC, single CD player (with MP3) with 4 speakers, air conditioning power steering, remote central locking and electric front windows. There’s a single switch on each door so to lower the passenger window, the driver has to reach across. It also has a tacho. Unlike on most cars it’s not in the dash, but on its own little pod that sticks out above the dash like and aftermarket accessory.

    Safety wise I’m pretty happy. The speakers on the stereo are pretty poor and there’s very little sound deadening so the volume needs to be up making the sound even worse. The air conditioning isn’t very strong and struggles to cool the car on a hot day.

    For what these were selling for two years ago, they were a bargain. But COVID has pushed the prices of these up enormously. I’ve even seen a 2012 GLX auto advertised for $12,990 drive-away. You could have picked them up new for the same price.

    What do you think of the performance and economy of your car?

    You don’t buy an Alto for performance. It had 50kW of power new, and after 108,000km that had degraded. You need to plan ahead for hills and overtaking. Being a three-cylinder it loves to rev so it can be quite spritely. But it doesn’t win any traffic light take offs, unless the person next to you is driving an automatic Alto. Or a 1.2-litre Barina.

    In the first four months of ownership I was driving it on the freeway against traffic every day and on a few country trips. The best economy I got was 4.9L/100km, the worst 5.4L. But since March 2020 I’ve been working from home and spent a lot of time in lockdown with a 5km radius. A tank of fuel can last three months, but economy usually hovers in the high sixes now with 7.1 the worst economy I’ve had out of a tank. It also requires a minimum 95 which carries about a 5-10 per cent premium over 91.

    It’s fair to say since I decided I will probably be it’s last owner I haven’t been driving it as gently as I used to either.

    What do you think of the technology in your car?

    This car doesn’t have much in the way of technology. It was developed primarily for India where it was one of the better selling cars. It has the safety equipment mentioned above, but no prevention aids.

    The CD player plays MP3 files, and it has an A and B trip meters with digital odometer. That’s really about it for technology. Built to a price.

    What do you think of the ride comfort and handling of your car?

    Jiggly is the best description. It reminds me a lot of being like a van to drive. The seating position is relatively upright, and you can’t see any of the car forward of the windscreen. The 3 cylinder engine has a rattle. It’s not the same rattle as a diesel, but it’s a rattle none the less.

    The Alto has 155 wide tyres, on 14-inch wheels. They’re so narrow, the spare is a full-size as a space-saver wouldn’t really save that much space. While this smaller footprint makes for less confident handling, it helps make the steering super light at city speeds, and contributes to reduced fuel economy.

    It’s a little bit fun on a twisty road, but only because you reach the limit so much earlier and so much slower than in most other cars. But that’s not so bad as the engine would struggle to get too much speed anyway.

    While I’ve taken it on some long trips, it’s designed for the city. While you feel the bumps, corrugations and tram tracks, they’re not jarring at all.

    Do you have any additional comments about your car?

    There’s a few little things that really frustrate me. The lack of a passenger electric window switch on the drivers side, the external mirrors are manually controlled and not electric, and the internal rear-vision mirror doesn’t have day night switch.

    With the car sitting lower, I constantly get headlight glare from taller vehicles in the mirror, and with the amount of driving I do at night, it’s particularly frustrating.

    But without a doubt, the biggest frustration is the boot and parcel shelf. The boot is only 110 litres, so relatively compact. It is one reason I wish the car had a space saver to lower the floor 3 or 4 cm.

    The boot is 28cm high, pretty much the same height as my green shopping bags. The parcel shelf doesn’t have strings attached to the boot, so manually has to be flipped up. But when it does flip up, the lip protrudes into the boot by about 4cm, getting caught on full shopping bags. Basically I need to take the parcel shelf out to load my shopping into the boot.

    I’m actually very happy with the size of the car given I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a passenger in the car. I’d like more power, a bigger boot, cruise control, Bluetooth and more sound deadening. I’m leaning towards a Picanto GT as the perfect replacement.

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    Overall Rating

    Ride & Handling5
    Price & Features8
    Performance & Economy5
    Ownership Experience7