Suzuki Alto: 4,700 miles

SECOND REPORT: It’s the chequebook challenge – will our man be tempted to swap his commuting city car for a quad bike?

  • Now the Alto’s clutch plate is fixed, it’s far more enjoyable to drive. In fact, I can think of few better cars for negotiating congested city streets. Its tiny dimensions are great for nipping in and out of traffic. But it’s big on the inside, and the cubbyholes are perfect for storing stuff like cups, keys and mobile phones. Even the glovebox is spacious enough for some small essentials.
  • Even though the Alto has air-con and a CD player, its bargain price is easy to spot. The pop-out rear side windows are obvious, but my girlfriend also noticed that there’s no vanity mirror on the passenger sun visor – given that our car is the mid-range SZ3, this is disappointing.

If you were about to write a cheque to buy a small vehicle for your daily commute, you’d expect a quad bike to be cheaper than a proper city car, right? Wrong!

We tested the bright yellow Cectek Quadrift 500EFI in our Products section, and it weighs in at £6,495. But for a similar amount, you could get the keys to a Suzuki Alto.

Our long-term SZ3 has a list price of £7,745, and features the £362 metallic paint option. Yet if you were to trade in a pre-August 1999 car through the Scrappage Scheme, you would end up paying less than for the quad. And in my opinion, the little Suzuki is nearly as much fun – especially now it’s been fixed.

In the last report, it was awaiting parts to cure a noisy clutch. The warranty work has since been done, and the Alto is back in fine fettle.

Would I prefer to commute on the Cectek? Well, for a short while, perhaps, particularly in the summer. But the quad’s open-air appeal would soon wear off – and our city car affords luxuries like a CD player, air-con and a roof!

When I got off the Quadrift during our recent test, I was grinning. Yet this was down to pure adrenaline. Watching bike riders exposed to the elements from the comfort of the Suzuki makes the Cectek seem like a foolish choice as the evenings begin to draw in.

Plus, while driving in traffic is rarely fun, the Alto makes it bearable, as its cabin is so comfortable. And while the Suzuki doesn’t really stand out from other city cars, it doesn’t draw unwelcome attention like the quad. In addition, it’s much more practical.

It can swallow a week’s shopping, and still leave space for four.

Then again, when I’m driving I’m forced to treat the car as a three-seater. I stand six feet seven inches tall, so legroom for anyone occupying  the seat behind me is seriously compromised.

And as there are only two belts, the rear is strictly for one person when I drive.

Nevertheless, the Suzuki is coping well with everyday use – it happily swallows all the consumer products that I load up in the back. If only the grey plastic trim didn’t scratch so easily.

There are no complaints about the colour on the outside, however. The deep shine of the optional metallic paint serves to enhance the cute character of the car.

As with most city runabouts, the Alto is no grand tourer.

Its seats aren’t comfortable over long distances – I recently drove nearly 1,000 miles in the space of about a week in the Suzuki, and was soon getting numb.

The 1.0-litre petrol engine isn’t suited to prolonged high-speed cruising, either, and economy has suffered as a result.

Then again, I wouldn’t take a quad on the motorway – so if I had to choose, I’d fill out a cheque to my Suzuki dealer every time.

Extra Info

After covering the Alto’s international launch in Italy last year, I’m not surprised to hear Jamie is enjoying running it. Around town it’s great, as those compact dimensions make it easy to park. The characterful three-cylinder engine is perfect for zipping through traffic, too. Look beyond the air-con and CD player, though, and the spartan cabin is short on creature comforts – the glovebox doesn’t even get a lid. Low-quality plastics and switchgear also betray its value-for-money roots, while to my eyes the design of the centre console is dated.

Will McManus Staff writer

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