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This ain’t no taxi…the maddest Alto! Suzuki Works Alto

A few months ago, I was tasked with testing one of Japan’s more popular Kei offerings, the Alto Turbo RS. The verdict, if you recall, was that it was fun - a lot of fun. The appeal for the Turbo RS is made ever stronger by its practicality, tech and hilariously good fuel economy. You might also recall the review mention that it was not however the “King of the Alto hill”. While the Turbo RS comes with the 660cc turbo intercooled engine and more bracing, anyone who knows about Altos, or cars for that matter, will have heard and curiously inquired about the name “Works”.

Certainly not a new name, Works has been reserved for the most aggressively tuned Altos from factory. In fact – the first “Works” was the first Kei car to reach the 64hp legal limit, back in 1987. With almost every Kei car now hitting that limit however, efforts in developing the fourth generation Works have been focused on improving just about every other aspect of the car. Happily, much of this relates to driving. Here then, is the proverbial King of the hill – the Works Alto.

 

Exterior

One of the more details that strike you on an initial walk-around is that the car is now called the Works Alto – prominence given to the former. This signals the extent of incremental changes that have been made to the car. On the outside, the body is virtually unchanged from the Turbo RS, the main differences being that of colors on the bumper lip and other extremities. At the front, the car does have an additional, functional vent with the Works lettering on it, but this, and light weight Works-only 15inch wheels are about as far as the external differences go. The wheels are also half an inch wider than the RS’s. These subtle changes do however make for quite a different looking vehicle – a more functional and purposeful look. 

 

Mech & Tech

The engine too is near identical to its sibling but, like the body, has had a series of minor changes. For starters, the operating temperature of the cooling water has been dropped by 6 degrees Celsius, lowering the temperature of the combustion chamber, improving turbocharging efficiency. As a result, the Works has 2nm more torque, taking the figure to 100nm. Throttle response has also been increased by 10%. By now you’re starting to get an idea of what the Works is – not a ground up rebuild but rather a fine tuning of every single aspect of the driving experience.

Horsepower is unchanged at 64hp… on paper - more on this is the driving section. Transmission is arguably the most crucial, make or break feature of this car, especially since the Works is the only variant of this generation Alto that can be had with a manual transmission. Naturally then, it had better be good – and it is. No six speeds available here – the Honda S660 remains the only Kei with that luxury. What is on offer though, is a beautifully short throwing five speed, with gear ratios optimized to keep you playing with the first four gears, leaving the fifth for efficient cruising.

If you really want the sharpness of a Works but just can’t bring yourself to balance a clutch on the weekday evening commute, fear not – the “Auto Gear Shift” transmission has been carried over to the Works and, happily, has been remapped to match the increased torque and, more importantly, shifts 10% faster than the RS. Think this is getting interesting? Keep reading

The suspension builds on an already well-balanced setup and incorporates a McPherson layout up front and torsion beam at the rear while the dampers themselves have been stiffened. The Electronic Power Steering too has been given a new control map, increasing responsiveness. Now let’s get to how all this adds up on the road.

 

Driving Experience

Going in with high expectations but trying to keep an open mind, we started moving. From standstill, you start off by depressing what is a rather light clutch, slotting it into first and bam, that gearshift! Right there you know the Works engineers have put some thought into this – such a crisp, short throw and perfectly positioned gearlever tell you it’s going to be an involving drive even before you start moving.

Gently off we went, taking in the added responsiveness of the accelerator and steering, playing with those gears simply because they felt so good. The soft “woosh” from the wastegate played the role of background music while the stiffer KYB suspension conveyed far more into the cabin than the RS.

The Works has a character that begs to be driven hard – no sport and eco fanfare here – it’s always “on”. So, once accustomed to it, I thought I’d see what’s what. Drop two cogs, bury the throttle and you immediately think to yourself – 64hp? So you push a little harder, down the next straight and again find yourself wondering how that could possibly be just 64hp. Where the RS felt brisk, for its output, the Works feels genuinely quick! One can’t help but recall what Nissan did in the late 90’s with regard to the infamous “gentlemen’s agreement”, claiming 276hp for the Skyline GT-R, where it actually pulled 327hp on dyno tests. Maybe someone should dyno this? While obviously not putting out GT-R numbers, it would be quite unsurprising to find at least another 10hp in there.

My company for the day, the owner and two friends who all have cars running through their veins, regaled me with tales of long drives where the mighty little Works kept up with cars with over four times as much horsepower and, as unimaginable as it may sound, one drive in this and it’s easy to see how – it is very much a combination of factors. Hp per tonne, like the RS, is more than a lot of cars you see on a daily basis.

The car is very happy to rev and even entertains you with a turbo light that changes colour depending on how much boost the car is producing. The sharper throttle response, sharper steering, stiffer suspension all add up to give you a super agile driving experience. Cornering capabilities are up there with the best of them – where this car falls behind larger vehicles with higher power outputs, it will run circles around them in corners.

A mild hint of understeer is present under hard cornering but this is to be expected from a front engined, front wheel drive vehicle - I’m told however this can be easily sorted with some higher end tyres. There again though, Works and Suzuki have done such a good job setting the car up that any understeer is barely noticeable. Brakes are standard but do the job just fine.

A few more runs and a photo shoot later, I found myself wanting to keep going – this was the most I’ve enjoyed a test in a while. Mind you, the last car I tested was a Bentley, so that’s saying something. It’s difficult to convey through text what this little thing does for the driver but flinging it around is downright addictive.

 

Living with it

The interior has very little differences from the RS – keen eyes will notice the chrome ac vent surrounds and the “Works” lettering on the gauge cluster. This being a manual also meant the location of the AGS lever is now a storage space, and quite a useful one.

While the steel pedals look sporty, the Recaro bucket seats that come with the Works are functional in that they hold you firmly in place when taking corners at the speeds this car is capable of. A noticeable impediment and possible drawback of those racy Recaros though is forward visibility from the rear seat – there isn’t any. Rear seat passengers will no doubt find themselves staring out of the side window while the driver has the time of his life like Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes did in 1987.

Other than that, and somewhat limited boot space, complaints are few and the car comes with the usual climate control, power windows and mirrors as standard. The head unit is an aftermarket one, so you can customize your entertainment options as you wish.

 

Safety

Though all variants of the car come with very impressive active safety tech, passive safety is limited, given its proportions. Traction control (optional extra) will keep your hooligan shenanigans in check and airbags will do the needful if worse comes to worst but err on the side of caution when pushing this car to its limits. 

 

Fuel Economy & Price

Fuel economy is thoroughly impressive. As this is a car that is in daily use, we were able to get some real-world figures – upper limits are around 25kmpl on the highway. Even on our test, the car managed 16kmpl with relentless redlining and extended periods standing still with the engine running during the photo shoot. Prices start from around Rs.3.4mn and I’m willing to bet this is the most fun you can have in a brand-new car for the money.

 

Final Words

This was a long-anticipated drive and one that had received high praise by those that had gone before. Usually, when one goes into a test with such high expectations, tendency is to be disappointed. Amazingly though, the Works exceeded expectations. This would make an ideal addition to a bland garage, without ruffling anyone’s feathers, as is usually the case when anyone other than a bachelor tries to by something “interesting”. This car can be strongly recommended as a must try experience on a budget.

 

Tech Specs

Engine

660cc 3-cylinder

Turbocharged

64bhp @ 6,000rpm

100Nm @ 3,000rpm

 

Transmission

Five speed manual

Short-shift

Front-wheel-drive

 

Suspension

Front MacPherson

Rear Torsion Beam

 

Brakes

Front Ventilated Disc

Rear Drum

ABS, EBD

 

Wheels & Tyres

165/55R15 all round

 

Misc

Length 3,395mm

Width 1,475mm

Height 1,475mm

Kerb Weight 670kg

Fuel Tank 27L

Boot Space 129L