Suzuki Alto GL

Things are done very differently at the grass-roots level of bargain-basement motoring. Priorities such as style, refinement and brand image go out of the window, and the reality of a dog-eat-dog price war soon bites. Suzuki's engineers are old hands at low-cost cars, but the new Alto is cheaper to buy and run than ever. Will it have enough to take the value crown?

Despite being a huge improvement over the original Alto, the new model still falls short of the mark set by budget rivals. There is no denying it's good value for money, but with poor interior ergonomics and a disappointing driving experience, the Suzuki loses out to the opposition. However, if you can live with the sluggish performance, the new 1.1-litre engine is very frugal and has impressively low CO2 emissions.

Things are done very differently at the grass-roots level of bargain-basement motoring. Priorities such as style, refinement and brand image go out of the window, and the reality of a dog-eat-dog price war soon bites. Suzuki's engineers are old hands at low-cost cars, but the new Alto is cheaper to buy and run than ever. Will it have enough to take the value crown?

Visually, the Indian-built car is a great improvement on its predecessor, yet it still looks anonymous. It's at least inoffensive and well proportioned, but we'd have liked a more imaginative approach. Thankfully, with a new engine offering great economy and emissions, there is more to this redesign than a refreshed body. The 1.0-litre unit produces only 119g/km of CO2, placing it in the lowest company car tax bracket. As if that wasn't enough, its 57.6mpg is superb.

The downside is that sacrifices have been made on performance. A sloppy gearchange and awkward clutch discourage rapid acceleration, but be brutal and 0-62mph takes 14.8 seconds, with a 96.3mph top speed. The rest of the driving experience is little better, with lifeless steering and a lack of body control. Fortunately, the Alto is destined for city streets, and a black cab-rivalling steering lock makes U-turns easy.

However, driving enthusiasts need not apply, despite the new platform. The latest five-door city car has increased proportions and a longer wheelbase to create a more useable interior. Yet the driver will still feel cramped due to restricted elbow room, while rear legroom is tight. The boot is a decent size, though. The cabin materials are typical of a budget car, with lots of hard plastics. Pricewise, it's a case of more is less, as bosses have slashed the cost of the much-improved Alto to £5,995 for a GL five-door over the old equivalent.

A three-speed auto is also available, at £6,745. This makes the car real value for money, with power-steering, central locking and electric front windows all standard - although if absolute bargain basement motoring is your aim, maybe the firm's bigger but dated Swift Sky, at £4,995, is worth seeking out.

The Alto is all about getting from A-to-B on a budget, and although driving refinement and dynamics are not the main priorities, we think most buyers will be better off elsewhere.

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