If ever there was a car that could be labelled an ‘undisputed king’, the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 is it.
Ever since its arrival in 2012 as a modern-day equivalent of the original 800, this cutesy looking hatch has played the role of India’s favourite small car. However, what this also means is that the Alto 800 is nearly half a decade old now and that the small car goalposts have well and truly moved over that period. So much so that buyers now seek high-end convenience and as many features for as little outlay as possible. Keeping that in mind, Maruti Suzuki has given the Alto 800 a mild facelift, one that comes with a revised front-end look, reupholstered interior, couple of vibrant colours and most importantly, a more efficient engine.
Although photos aren’t exactly a good indication, it’s apparent that this facelifted model is better looking than its predecessor, especially in the ‘mojito green’ shade as seen on our test car. As for the changes themselves, they are focussed at the front wherein you will find a slimmer grille, amber turn indicators, new fog lamp housing and a more gaping bumper. Rather interestingly, these changes have extended the overall length of the vehicle by 35mm.
From a distance, it would take a steady hold of a magnifying glass to differentiate this facelifted model from the one launched in 2012. If you aren’t so keen on the overly styled Eon or the SUV-esque stance of the Kwid then the refreshed Alto 800 will do the job just fine.
While it looks much the same from the outside, the interior of the new Alto 800 has been refreshed for a decidedly more upmarket look no matter what trim you buy. For starters, the cabin is finished in dark grey and houses new fabric design on the door pads and reupholstered seats. Maruti says the new door trim fabric is a classic touch but to our eyes it’s almost funky. What’s not at all funky though is the design and layout of the dashboard which is where the Alto shows its age. There’s plenty of unforgiving black plastics and the layout of air-con vents and controls is a step behind the rivals as well. Ergonomically, the only redeeming bits are the storage space above the glove box and a large cubbyhole ahead of the gear lever which can easily accommodate a 1-litre bottle. Now although the centrally mounted power window switches aren’t where they belong, they help to liberate more leg space for the driver which is fairly crucial in a small car like this. Speaking of which, the driving position is set noticeably low (compared to something like an Eon) although the view out is still nice and clear with good all-round visibility aided by slim A and B pillars.
Meanwhile, the rear is comfortable but only for two full-size occupants. There’s better-than-average legroom and surprisingly good headroom for such low stance. The seat base though is woefully short and a little flat, meaning you will end up sitting with your knees up and wanting for more thigh support throughout the ride.
One area where the old Alto 800 didn’t earn brownie points was in the equipment. With the facelift, Maruti has attempted at making our lives easier by offering the passenger side wing mirror, rear door child lock and integrated headrests at the rear as all-new equipment. More importantly though, the Alto 800 can now be had with a driver airbag as an option right from the base variant.
Overall, the cabin is nicer to look at and better specced than before but it still cannot match newer, more premium-feeling interiors of the Eon or even the Kwid for that matter. The 177-litre boot is also significantly smaller than its rivals and realistically, only good for a small suitcase plus a couple of backpacks.
The 796cc petrol motor and 5-speed manual gearbox from the old car have been reserved for the facelifted model. This is the same 3-cylinder unit that’s been around for many years and in its latest application, puts out 47bhp at 6,000rpm and 69Nm of torque at 3,500rpm. That doesn’t translate into a rapid, tyre-smoking small car by any means, but the combination fares well where it matters i.e. the daily grind.
There’s considerable torque low down the rev range, so driving in stop/start traffic or overtaking within city limits is not an issue unless the car is fully loaded. The engine is not only suitably torquey in low and mid-range but also very refined – it’s comparatively less noisy under heavy acceleration than the Kwid or the Redi-Go. In fact, the Alto 800’s upper hand in performance was apparent during our small car shootout wherein it was noticeably quicker than the Kwid and the Eon, hitting the 0-100kmph mark in 17.09 seconds and taking just 13.30 seconds in 20-80kmph roll-on in third gear.
For a micro runabout, the electrically-assisted steering is a bit heavy but there’s a lot of feedback to be had. The Alto 800 handles really well for a budget small car, with the steering being decently responsive. As expected, the car requires small yet constant corrections to keep straight at highway speeds but for the most part, the steering is swift enough to feel agile and nicely weighted for that all-important reassuring feel behind the wheel. As for the ride quality, the facelifted model feels just like old car. What this means is that you get a very flat low-speed ride with minimum vertical movements over poor stretches. Make no mistake, the Alto 800 is stiffly sprung and as you up the pace you can sense sharp jolts over bumpy roads.