Ten years is a long time for a car to be the top seller. Ten years is also a long time for a car to not get any serious updates. So I don't even have to tell you how badly the Alto needed an update seeing how it has been around for 12 years. And no, I don't care how well it was selling despite not getting an update. 12 years is simply too long! Maruti agrees too it seems, because they're gearing up to launch the all new Alto with lots of updates and an '800' attached to its name. Before you go around making assumptions let me clarify that the 800 in the name has no connection whatsoever to the Maruti 800. It is just to differentiate between the Alto 800 and the Alto K10.
Visually the Alto 800 is a completely new car. The all new front end is, well, all new and looks a lot like the A-star. The headlights are mounted higher now and has black detailing inside. The grille is very Ford Figo-esque and has a chrome strip running right across the middle. Under the small grille is the large expanse that is the air dam. Given an all black treatment the air-dam and the sculpted bumpers give the front a sporty feel. The A-star inspiration is again evident at the rear with the new tail lamps and bumper which give the car a very distinctive look. Rather than looking like an evolution from the previous Alto, the rear looks like it was inspired more from the A-star. What I don't get however are those two little kinks on either side of the Suzuki badge. To me it looks like two dents and kind of hinders the flow of the rest of the bootlid. The side profile is again similar to the A-star. The rear window has become a bit smaller and the entire car has grown significantly taller.
The extra height in the car means more headroom inside. To be exact the headroom has increased by 15mm. And it's not just the headroom that has gone up. There are also the scooped out front seats that liberate 15mm of rear kneeroom, just like in the K10. The interiors are all new with dual tone upholstery. The dashboard too is all new. It is raised at the centre to accommodate the new aircon vents. The side aricon vents are now circular. The aircon controls however are the same from the previous Alto, while the steering wheel is all new. The LXi variant now get a driver airbag and optional ABS.
The Alto 800 has a lot of changes under the hood. There is a new plastic intake system (the older one was aluminium), a new lighter crankshaft, a new cylinder head, new piston rings and a new gearbox. All this combined boosts the output to 48PS and 69Nm which is an 11 per cent increase from the previous model. Maruti is also claiming a fuel economy of 22.7kmpl. The engine feels much smoother and more linear than before. There is ample low down torque and the typical three cylinder judder when starting from standstill has been eliminated. The car also feels much quicker than the older one. But we can only say for sure once we test it.
The chassis in the car remains pretty much unchanged. It does however feel more rigid than the previous car. The suspension has been tweaked a bit. The car no longer has that crashy quality that the previous Alto had. Ride quality has improved quite a bit and the car doesn't feel as flighty as before at high speeds. The steering feel has become heavier though. Considering most people will use this car mostly in the city, a lighter steering would have been better.
So overall, the Alto has become a fresher, more contemporary package. At a time when the competition (read Hyundai Eon) was starting to eat away at a lot of the numbers that the Alto had for itself, the update is just what the doctor ordered. Now the only thing that remains is to see how Maruti will price this baby. If they get that right, this king will still remain atop the hill. But we'll have to wait till 16th of October when the launch is to find that out.