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The Alto K10 - Alto-gether new!

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The Alto has been Maruti's largest selling single model for the last six years. Ever since it overtook the Maruti 800 on the sales charts in 2004, it has had no looking back. Constantly raking in higher numbers over the years, Maruti Suzuki managed to push out over 240,000 units of its small car into the market last year and in the first quarter of this year alone, its average number has gone a notch higher to about nearly 70,000 units.

For a car that is now nearing 10 years in the Indian market, it surely counts for a lot. But Maruti isn't resting on its laurels, nor is it looking to bring in a new model to replace it. Rather, it plans to use the existing Alto as a weapon to bring back life in the A1 premium segment. Now, no one has been talking about subsets within subsets, but the Indian hatch market has gotten so crowded (and will continue to), that a lot of focus has been shifted towards the A2 segment where cars like the Maruti Suzuki Swift, Ritz, Hyundai i10 & i20, Ford Figo, VW Polo, Fiat Punto and Nissan Micra among others are battling it out. So while that end of the segment has grown at double digit rates consistently, the A1 segment has sort of stagnated.

The reason has been the lack of an exciting new product. Tata's Nano has suffered because of production constraints, GM's Chevrolet Spark hasn't managed to set the sales charts afire as it should have and Maruti's own 800 has been on a constant decline. So Maruti thought it was important to become even more stronger and expand the market. It also didn't have significant presence in the Rs 2.8-3.5 lakh segment, with only the Eeco MPV shuffling in and the base versions of the Estilo and Wagon R nearing Rs 3.5 lakh.

With the Alto K10, Maruti Suzuki have embarked on a new plan. They are pre-empting an all out onslaught by Tata Motors, Fiat and ALL-Nissan who plan to be a part of this segment. Even VW and Skoda aren't ignoring the possibility of being here.

So let's take a look at the Alto K10 and tell you all that you need to know Jump over to the next page to know about the exteriors of the Alto K10.   The Alto K10 has changed visually, but most of it is cosmetic. You now get a new chrome grille up front with wide slats and a deep V-like recess. The headlights are new and large and hold amber turn indicators.

The Alto K10 will be available in both LXi and VXi trim and the VXi trim gets body coloured bumpers, fog lamps and very smart looking wheel covers.

Move to the side and you get new side strips and mirrors that are reminiscent of the long-gone Zen.

Moving to the rear, the car now gets a new design tail gate with a new rear glass, ovoid styled clear lens tail lamps and the number plate has been moved from the rear bumper to the centre of the tail gate. Even the rear bumper has been changed to incorporate this new change.

Overall the car has become longer, some 125 mm longer and now measures in at 3620 mm instead of the 3495 mm that the current 800cc offering does. This has been done at the front to make space for the new 998cc engine that nestles under the hood. There is no change to track nor wheelbase of the car, but it now rests on 13-inch wheels and tubeless tyres instead of the 12-inch jobs you find on the current model.

Jump over to the next page to know more about the interiors   On the inside, the new Alto isn't markedly different from the existing Alto, but it does have a couple of changes. The steering wheel is a new three-spoke unit with a larger steering boss than before. The instrument cluster too is new and has larger, more visible numbers, though they aren't necessarily the most classy looking units we've seen.

Since the gearbox too is borrowed from the same family, the gear lever is similar to the one found on the Swift. It slots into place nicely and is well within reach of most drivers. The seats also boast of new trim and there are power windows at the front in the VXi variant with roll down ones at the rear.

Maruti has also made an attempt to improve legroom at the rear after numerous complaints of the lack of it with the current car. Without increasing the wheelbase, Maruti have created a scoop under the front seats to improve legroom by as much as 50 mm. At first glance it does appear that the car does have more legroom and shin room at the rear, but the rest of it doesn't change.

Move over to the next page to get the first driving impression of the Alto K10.   The Alto K10 LXi weighs just 7 kg over the regular Alto LXi while the Alto K10 VXi is still some 50 kg over. The 998cc, three-pot engine develops 67 bhp@6000 rpm and 9.2 kgm of peak torque. This is no different from the engines found on the Zen Estilo, Wagon R or A Star. What Maruti has done is slightly alter the ratios for reasons of driveability, efficiency and performance.

And performance it does deliver. Maruti Suzuki claims a 0-100 kph time of 13.3 seconds, making it quicker than most hatches in even the B-segment and nearly as quick as the Swift in a straight match. The nice power to weight ratio of 85 bhp/tonne gives it a spring in its step. The initial three ratios are tall and give it good acceleration, with the car not letting up until 120 kph on the dial. the gear throws are pretty decent though not as slick as the ones on the A Star, mind you. Maruti Suzuki also claims an ARAI figure of 20.2 kpl for the Alto, making it the most efficient car in its category. In the real world, that should translate to 14-16 kpl on a regular basis.

The improvement in torque also means you can shift up a gear earlier, although if you do encounter a climb it does neccesitate some downshifting to get the car on the boil. Overall driveability is decent, as long as you keep this in mind that it is a three-cylinder unit. But it isn't entirely vibe free. There are still some vibrations that can be felt through the steering and pedals and we hope to see some of that change by the time the car is launched.

Jump over to the next page to know more about the car's dynamics   Nine years ago, the Alto was quite a benchmark in the A1/A2 segment as far as overall dynamics went. It'd be naive to say that it still is, but it is still a fairly rounded package.

The Alto K10 now has softer spring rates at the front and rear to compensate for the change in weight and improve overall ride quality. There's no doubt that the Alto K10 does ride decently and some, if not all of the choppiness has disappeared. It feels quite pliant on smooth roads and slightly bumpy ones, but it can't completely isolate the occupants from road abberations due to its size and weight.

Handling ranges from neutral to understeery. Use the car's power and gearing to allow for more steering correction and the handling can be termed fair, but shed less speed into a corner and it goes into a constant understeer. Despite sitting on 13-inch wheels and tyres, the amount of grip available hasn't changed much so don't expect it to handle as well as say the A Star which still is a benchmark in the sub Rs 4 lakh hatch category as far as handling goes. The steering continues to feel slightly numb and doesn't provide as much feedback. High speed stability is okay, as long as you don't cross 120 kph, but here too the A Star has the better of it.

Jump to page 6 to know more about the likely pricing and positioning of the Alto   Maruti's plan to get into the Rs 2.8-3.5 lakh segment is expected to pay dividends with the Alto K10. What we know is that the Alto K10 will come in both LXi and VXI versions, with the LXi version likely to replace the existing Alto LXi. Here is a comparison chart of other cars and the Alto K10 and its likely positioning for you.

Hyundai Santro Xing (Non AC) - Rs 277,688
Hyundai Santro Xing GL - Rs 344,365
Chevrolet Spark - Rs 318,824
Tata Indica V2 Xeta - Rs 270,598
Tata Indica V2 Xeta GLE - Rs 298,522
Maruti Alto LXi (current) - Rs 277,934
Maruti Alto K10 LXi (expected) - Rs 290,000
Maruti Alto K10 VXi (expected) - Rs 309,000 

* ALL PRICES EX-SHOWROOM, NEW DELHI*

Maruti is expected to launch the new Alto K10 on August 4, 2010. Keep following bsmotoring.com for more updates