We love Kei cars here at Motor and the past year or so has been brilliant for Sri Lanka as far as the category goes. It all started when import duties were revised to a charge per cubic centimeter of a vehicle’s engine capacity. Cars like the Honda S660 which was priced at a silly Rs.7+mn came down to roughly Rs.4mn. This also made every other 660cc vehicle, from the massively popular WagonR to the Cast to the Hustler very attractive price-wise.
Good job then that the boys from the East seem to be packing features into the Kei category that were the preserve of full sized luxury sedans not too long ago. Features like lane departure warning, traction control and automatic braking with pedestrian sensing are now commonplace in the category and this little bright red number we have with us today has had its own sprinkling of said features and, being the RS version, some performance tweaks as well. This, is the Alto Turbo RS.
When the eighth generation Alto was first unveiled in 2014, it came with very strong love it or hate it vibes as far as design goes. The pouty/angry looking front end with headlamps that look like they’re staring into your soul didn’t quite strike a chord with everybody. The same can be said for the rear with a very wide hatch for easy loading, which pushed the tail lamps down onto the rear bumper. Even now, I can’t honestly say I like the look of the car in its basic form, given how utilitarian it looks in certain hues. But something about this design makes the car look even more appealing than one would expect in RS form.
What the RS gets on the outside is a deeper front and rear bumper, side skirts and lashings of red on the side mirrors and spoiler. The RS is only available in three colours – white/black/red, with the latter still getting red mirrors and a spoiler which then blend in with the rest of the car. Chrome around the projector headlights, which are also an RS feature, and below the rear windscreen make the car look more expensive while some retro-looking lightweight alloys round up the package from the outside. It’s a superbly funky looking car that makes no effort to conceal its sporty intentions.
Mech & Tech
Powering the Turbo RS is a 660cc, three cylinder, you guessed it, turbo engine. The turbo setup here features a top mount intercooler that is ducted to the nose of the vehicle as opposed to a bonnet scoop. Output is limited to the Kei category standard 64hp while producing 98nm of twisting force. The interesting bit, however, is the Alto’s weight – 670kg, yes six hundred and seventy. This is as much as a Caterham 7 with two average adult females on board – a car without so much as a roof for passenger comfort while the Alto even boasts a heated driver’s seat, in addition to the features mentioned in the opening paragraph. Suzuki has long been excellent at packing premium features into small vehicles but they also appear to have a newfound talent for keeping weight down.
Reducing weight makes everything better in a vehicle – quicker acceleration, lower fuel consumption, better handling, the list goes on. The Alto RS’s super low weight really is the car’s party trick. Lower weight naturally means a higher power to weight ratio and the magic number for this car is 96hp per tonne. To put things into perspective, a 1.0 liter turbo Audi A1 puts out 79hp per tonne. The benefits of this became apparent the moment we got the car out on the road. No one could or would call it fast – it’s got 64hp after all – but the low weight gives the car a sense of urgency and get up and go that does surprise you the first time out. After that it becomes a fun habit to put the pedal down whenever you get the chance, simply because it’s achievable, accessible fun. Youtube videos show the 0-100km/h time to be below 12 seconds.
You see the thing about well set up Kei cars, as we found out a few months ago through the revelation that is the Honda S660 is that, even in traffic-y cities like Colombo, kei drivers can exploit 90% of the car’s capabilities 90% of the time. If your daily commute involves 80km of expressway driving, you’d probably be happier with a bigger engine. But if you’re running around the suburbs and the city like most of us, these little cars can really put a smile on your face – particularly if you find yourself on some twisty roads. The Alto RS is the first Suzuki with a factory strut tower bar. Suzuki has also increased the thickness of the front bumper member and cowl in areas that are out of sight, for improved rigidity and turn-in and the results are in the handling; I found myself wishing I was on some tight Sri Lankan up-country roads when driving the car.
Currently, Suzuki only offers the Turbo RS with an automated manual while only the top of the line “Works” version gets a proper manual. Though suffering from the usual lull and surge between gearshifts under full throttle, the gearbox works well to make the most of the car’s output and paddles on the double stitched leather steering keep you involved. Even in automatic mode, the gearbox is intelligent enough to hold onto revs aggressively, when driven hard.
Living with the Alto Turbo RS
Inside, the dash is primarily a flat slab of plastic that houses a double-din head unit in the centre and some very sporty looking gauges that entertain you with the now common gauge test on startup. The car also comes with climate control and red inserts on the air-conditioning vents, continuing the theme from the exterior. It’s a good thing the RS comes with paddles to control the automated manual, as the dash mounted gearlever makes for a rather unintuitive manual experience, particularly as downshifts require an upward movement and vice-versa.
The RS does not get the Recaro bucket seats from the Works version though this can be argued to be a good thing if used as your daily drive. Similar to the WagonR, the Alto will blow most people away with its rear leg room. This has been achieved at the expense of boot space but folding rear seats alleviate any shortage of same. The back seats themselves however are of a simple, flat variety, sans any curves to sink your derrière into.
Safety features on the car include ABS, EBD, ESP and dual airbags. Plenty of collision prevention systems as mentioned earlier will also keep things in check though the auto braking has known to be a tad intrusive and unable to cope with the sheer brilliance of local tuk drivers and motorcyclists who cut you off as if it’s their life’s sole purpose. Thankfully, everything down to the traction control can be switched off at your choosing.
Fuel Economy & Price
Fuel economy is probably the second biggest plus point of this car after driving dynamics, or the first, depending on what kind of driver you are. The car can comfortably achieve close to 20kmpl in the city and even better on longer runs. Price was very attractive at a smidge over Rs.2.8mn until a recent duty change but even now isn’t prohibitively expensive at Rs.3.2mn. Expectations are for duty to be revised downward again after the upcoming budget but the weather is more predictable so just take a chance and buy one now from previously imported stock if you’re keen.
Final Words * * * * ½
Factory tuned Altos have been around for well over 20 years and have often made interesting alternatives to the norm. The new Turbo RS continues that tradition but technological improvements have made the car more spacious, lighter and usable even as one’s main car. The Turbo RS, while not being the king of the Alto hill, presents itself as a near perfect combination of fun, affordable, economical motoring that even the most hardcore driving enthusiast would be pushed to fault.
64bhp @ 6,000rpm
98Nm @ 3,000rpm
Front wheel drive
Front anti-roll bar
Front – vent. Disc
Rear - Drum
Wheels & Tyres
165/55R15 all round
Kerb Weight: 670kg
Fuel Tank: 27L
Boot Space: 129L