Maruti, is a household name in India. In fact, in remote parts of the country, the term ‘Maruti’ is synonymous with ‘car’ - much like ‘Xerox’ is to ‘photocopy’. The Maruti 800 was consistently India’s highest selling car for years together. Outselling the competition combined at times. Everyone in the country has been associated with a Maruti. Either they’ve owned it, learnt driving on it, their neighbors had it or broke the windscreen on one while playing cricket. They were everywhere! The Alto was the spiritual successor to the Maruti 800, filling in its rather big shoes ever since September 2000. Carrying the weight of the car that put India on wheels is no mean feat. But the Alto did it ever so gracefully, becoming India’s largest selling car in the process.
The Alto has stood through thick and thin for Maruti, contributing consistently to their kitties. The Alto’s successor internationally, dubbed the ‘A-Star’ for the Indian market was introduced and pulled out of the market, while the good ol’ Alto soldiered on. Someone wise at MSIL decided not to pull the plug on the little wonder back then and we can safely conclude that the decision paid off. Powered by a rather lethargic 800cc engine, the Alto was an inexpensive city commuter. The 1.1 Alto was a rare breed. An engine borrowed from the WagonR, it was a pocket-rocket in the literal sense of the word. It was pulled out of the market owing to dismal sales and later replaced by the Alto K10 in 2010 which incidentally again borrowed its engine from the updated WagonR.
The older Alto finally bid goodbye in 2012, paving way for the Alto 800 as we know it. Naturally, a go faster version was in store and Maruti unveiled the Alto K10 in late 2014. Now, I’ve long believed, if there is any manufacturer in the country that can bring about a change in the country’s driving preferences, it is Maruti. And I think that speaks volumes of what Maruti is - as a car brand and otherwise. With cities getting congested by the minute, automatics were the need of the day. However, using conventional automatic boxes would shoot the prices up. Thus, Maruti Suzuki debuted the AMT i.e automated manual transmission with the Maruti Celerio - a relatively new badge for the Indian market to test waters. Once they garnered positive response for the new gearbox, Maruti wasted no time in putting it, under the hood of the Alto K10. This gave the Alto K10 AGS - Maruti shorthand for Auto Gear Shift aka AMT, the tag of the cheapest automatic car on sale. While that tag might have been taken over by the 2015 Tata Nano, how does the Alto K10 fare? Let’s take a look.
The Alto K10 is based on the Alto 800s platform. And the similarities are visible, especially when you view the K10’s silhouette. The K10’s silhouette will remind you of it’s 800cc sibling, the doors and the window area are identically styled. What does differentiate the K10 however is the strong character line that runs from headlight to taillight and vanishing into the center of the tail-gate.
The new Alto K10 seems taller than the outgoing version and rides on tiny 155 section 13 inch tyres. There are no alloy wheels on offer either - just the good old wheel cap.
The front sees a large chrome strip running above a tiny grille that grabs all the attention. Flanking the grille on either sides are those large swept back clear lens headlamps. They may remind you of the Verna fluidic at a quick glance, but it does have a slightly flatter base. We love how the bonnet and the grille make one, clean, unified curve - looks very neat. The front bumper also gets a large slatted airdam at the centre and blacked out housing for the tiny circular foglamps. We had the VXi variant, which misses out on certain features like the foglamps, body colored door mirrors and door handles, all of which the VXi (O) variant gets. However, you can always get these features added at the dealership level by paying a minimal premium.
Over to the rear, the K10 features a large set of taillamps, a high mount stop lamp and a rather clean tailgate. The only thing that looks slightly odd, is the lock for the boot. More so, because there isn’t a handle to open the boot. You simply unlock the boot using the key or the boot release switch and it pops open. There’s a small recess just above the rear bumper using which you can open the boot. The rear bumper is minimalistic as well, no exhaust jutting out of this one.
Overall, the Alto K10 does look like a clean package. The design is slightly on the aggressive side, but it isn’t as in your face as the Hyundai Eon. It has a very neutral stance as well, the only thing taking away from the overall form factor being the weedy tyres. A neutral design for a mass market car - that is design 101; courtesy Maruti.
The quality has improved by leaps and bounds. That has to be the first thing I have to say about the Alto’s interior. This little Maruti is a testimony to the fact, that ‘All that’s cheap, need not be drab, boring or grey’. Out goes the boring grey interior, only to be replaced by a much better two-tone one. While the top half of the dash is finished in black, the lower section gets a generous helping of beige.
However, contact points, like the AC knobs and switches are black. Dull silver is used liberally as well. Around the AC vents, door arm-rests and the steering wheel and most of it found around the piano black centre console - on the switches for the music system.
The music system supports, CD, Radio, USB and AUX. There’s no Bluetooth, even as an option. A neat touch is how the USB and AUX inputs are hidden behind a flap that looks like a button itself. The steering feels a size smaller than I’d have liked it, but that isn’t really a deal breaker. The instrument cluster looks quite sharp and snazzy thanks to the orange backlight and houses a tachometer, speedometer and a digital odometer with a couple of trip meters. The AC, as is the case with any Maruti product, is fantastic to say the least. I often found myself raise the temperature to keep myself from getting a cold. Fan speeds 1 and 2 are more than adequate to cool the cabin down. Even in peak summers, I doubt one would need the AC at full whack. The blowers do tend to get very noisy at speeds 3 and 4.
The Alto K10, especially in its AMT guise doesn’t really score high on utility. To accommodate the gear lever, Maruti has sacrificed a lot of in-cabin storage spaces. With the AMT trim, you get a small shelf in front of the gear lever, some shallow door bins and a bottle holder behind the handbrake. It also gets a nifty bag holder right next to the glovebox and a small recess at the top left of the centre console that can house a few crunched up toll tickets and coins. The passengers at the back get no storage whatsoever. The parcel tray can be used to store a few magazines and nothing more.
Coming to the seats, you’d notice that the seating position is slightly low on the Alto. This does pose a problem for ingress and egress, especially for the elderly. You cannot walk into the cabin of the Alto like you can in a Nano. The seats at the front offer decent back and shoulder support. However, under thigh and lower back support leaves a lot to be desired. Another sore point are the integrated headrests, which aren’t all that comfortable to rest the neck on. Maruti hasn’t been stingy with the cushioning and the seats can be called comfortable.
The same can’t be said about the rear bench however. For starters, it is slightly upright and not ideal for long journeys. The backs of the front seats have been scooped out to liberate some more knee room. That is the sole reason I even managed to fit inside the rear bench of the Alto. Now, I am roughly 6 feet tall and with the front seats adjusted to my driving position, the space at the rear is nothing to talk about. That said, the headroom is quite generous for a car this size. The cars tall but slim proportions come into play here, where your head's in relative comfort compared to your legs and shoulders. The rear bench isn’t all that wide either and seating three is definitely not recommend. The rear bench can accommodate two adults and one kid at best.
The interiors on the Alto K10 can be called bare basic. Yes, the audio quality isn’t great, the power windows on the front make the entire door pad jut out when used and the boot is rather stingy at 177 litres. To all of this, remember - ‘you get what you pay for’.
Is it fast? Yes. Does it put a wide grin on your face when you floor it? Maybe. That is all I can say to try and describe the performance on the K10. The engine is a K10B unit borrowed from the WagonR. A 1 litre, 3 cylinder unit - it generates 68PS of power and 90Nm of torque. No, it doesn’t really sound like a lot - but that is until you factor in the weight of the car. The car doesn’t really weigh a lot, giving it a power-to-weight ratio that matches most B segment hatches. That 90Nm of torque is available at 3500rpm and the peak power is developed only at the redline i.e 6000rpm. What this means is you really have to have a leadfoot to make the K10 run fast.
Now, this engine and gearbox combo is available on the bigger Celerio as well. But I’ll go out on a limb and say the gearbox is slightly better tuned on the Alto compared to the Celerio. As with all AMTs, the shifts are jerky - both up and down the gears. The gearbox is slightly hesitant to downshift at times as well, holding on to that higher gear, inadvertently lugging the car in the process. Thankfully, it does snap into its senses in a bit and downshifts. You can always avoid all of this hassle and shift on your own by slotting the gear lever into M. You now pull the lever back to upshift and push the lever forward to downshift. This is the exact opposite of what you might be used to, say, with a DSG box - but you’d adapt to it pretty easily. Even in manual, the vehicle will automatically downshift if it senses it is in too high a gear for the revvs or the speed. But it does let you take the revv needle all the way upto the redline.
You really need to make the engine work for those overtakes, and it has to be a pre-planned maneuver. You simply cannot shimmy out of your lane on a whim and power into a gap. Reasons being; one - the car takes it’s own sweet time to get going, two - the brakes aren’t all that confidence inspiring in case something goes wrong and three - there are no safety options available. The braking ability of the K10 seems disproportionate to its go-power. This can be attributed to the tiny brakes as well as the skinny tyres. The lack of ABS means you will drag along under hard braking. And it doesn’t maintain a straight line under hard braking either. All these are reminders that the power needs to explored in a controlled manner.
The Alto has a tallish stance and that does translate into quite a bit of body roll. But then, the car isn’t meant for the twisties out on the highways. It is at ease at the twisties of the parking lot at your local mall. Speaking of the twisties, the steering is beautifully direct. It is a light unit and doesn’t weigh up much on the highways. While it doesn’t really inspire confidence at 100kph, it is a boon for those quick u-turns and parking is a cakewalk as well.
The Alto K10 AGS is a relatively inexpensive commuter. The sprightly performance, decent boot, light steering and not to mention stellar fuel efficiency makes it a well rounded package. Although, the AGS ought to be equipped with safety options. Currently, Maruti makes you chose between a driver side airbag and the AMT. Not done in my opinion. A little safety tech, for the sake of assurance can go a long way. On the whole, the Alto moniker, backed by Maruti’s stellar after service network means that the Alto K10 can be a no nonsense city runner for the urban nuclear family.