17 Oct 2012

Living with - Suzuki Alto 1.1

The car - Suzuki Alto 1.1, 2006
Owner - Liam Stroud


This is my first car. Thankfully I haven’t had to buy it or insure it myself, all thanks go to my parents for that one. And I feel they may have spent a bit too much on both, although this being a 06’ plate it’s ‘rare’ in one manner and I can only imagine Dad’s phone etiquette is the reasoning behind my seemingly inflated insurance price. But, I’ll get a no claims!

I have dubbed her ‘Selena’ as it was a beautiful sounding name that began with S - Something which I feel should be apparent in all cars, the first name should begin with the letter of the manufacturer. You may be wondering why it’s Italian? I dedicated, or am dedicating the rear to Simoncelli stickers; thus her full title is Selena Simoncelli and that is where the Italian panache originates from.

She feels as though the previous owner was an elderly woman, or somebody who was fairly cautious and couldn’t change gear. It’s never felt...tight. But other than buying a set of trims, which should be replaced with alloys over Christmas I have yet to do anything to the beast.

On the road

Typically, for a 1.1 litre engine vehicle there isn’t much to be expected when surmising the question of whether you can beat the car in the next line off the lights. It can be done. I nearly beat a Z4 - I say nearly as I probably had my nose in front before the corner and then it was gone. I’ve read that an Alto is supposed to be able to beat a Golf GTI to 30 (a tractor can beat a 2.0 GTi to 30 - Matt), but that isn’t really something to boast about. Especially when after 30 the car generally appears to give up on the thought of being a car. It transforms itself into a noisy, teeth juddering hunk of metal that seems content with alerting you to its grief at travelling at such ‘speed’.

I like to think I’m a ‘good’ driver. I generally drive around at 60 out on the open road and 30-40 in built-up areas. The main thing I have to remind myself of is the tyres, there isn’t a lot of them. The contact patch is fairly narrow so going around long curving bends can often be a strain on your face, which is plastered on the window. The suspension is ridiculously soft and it rolls better than the Costa Concordia. You feel even the most insignificant bumps, so I guess it’s comparable to a cart - although thankfully the bigger potholes which I have encountered have not sent me into a spin as of yet, but there’s time. Both of these combined means that you can’t really charge into a corner with confidence, and it’s something I’m stubbornly ignoring. But I don’t feel like I’m pushing the envelope as of yet.

You can overtake. It might take an hour long discussion with any passengers and oncoming vehicles for the next two miles, but it can be done. In fact I overtook a car laden with elderly passengers last week in the space of a few hundred yards, before having to throw on the anchors and dive left over a slight rise. The 63 bhp which is on offer can certainly be used but I find the ratios frustrating. First is useless for anything other than crawling. Second is too short and third is too long. Fourth and fifth aren’t worth contemplating unless you’re sure you have a way to cruise.

Similarly the gearing seems to be set up for somebody living in Holland. It’s as though the concept of going up is completely alien. I’ve even had to drop it into second gear to climb a fairly average hill, that may be down to not shifting down early enough but with the racket the 1.1 makes I can hardly be blamed.


There isn’t really a lot that can be described as bringing a flavour to the interior. Albeit the seats are relatively comfy, that is of course if you don’t have anyone sitting in the back. Rear passengers may as well walk as the amount of leg room is more suitable for a dwarf. I generally lie down if I ever sit in the back, not that I am recommending lying on the back seat - as that would just be irresponsible. It is comfy though. Maintenance wise there isn’t any leather, it’s all plastic or low cost seat covers.

The dash is easy to reach and to interpret. If there are any queries you can simply whip open the manual and all the answers are there. Something I thought quite helpful were the tips right at the end of the book, where Suzuki advise you what to do if the engine is flooded or if the engine won’t start. Helpful for people who read, I guess most people just ring the AA.

Close to hand is the gear stick and hand brake. I’ve had some issues shifting down into second, something which has been apparent since I received the car in May. Having consulted the greater being which is my Father he’s said not to worry about it. But it is like moving a mountain trying to shift down sometimes. The pedals aren’t that great. They’re fairly small, I’ve had to buy a pair of pumps to drive. The location of the accelerator in terms of the wheel-arch is laughable, you can’t fully depress it as half-way down it gets stuck on the ‘carpet’ and then the arch itself. Something which the salesperson was quick to dismiss. The clutch has also started making a ‘mechanical squelching’ sound, and she’s done 35,000 miles.

Surprisingly enough there was already an aftermarket stereo in the car, and I only listen to my own CD’s. I wouldn’t say the speakers are that great however, as they’re both on the main console and when you’re travelling on the motorway the sound of the engine usually drowns out the music.

She’s easy to park and you can squeeze past cornbine harvesters if they randomly appear in the middle of the road. Although you do feel slightly vulnerable if there are other cars sitting on the rear bumper. I don’t understand why people tail-gate and it’s getting even more irritating now the nights are drawing in.


Having had the car for 6 months, I can’t really comment on a lot in this respect as I haven’t had to replace anything. I don’t really do that much driving per se, as we have the Mercedes for any of our outer-Hereford excursions. Having said that I did drive in tandem to Trowbridge which was fun.

I have been quoted £215 for a full service on the Alto with my local garage, whether that’s pricey or not I’m not sure (it is! - Matt). I’ve been told that parts are also relatively cheap but when I see anything over £300 I don’t believe that observation.

I can say however that keeping her hydrated is a pleasure! I’m currently paying £20 for a full tank, that is from a ¼ full. I’ve been chastised about letting her run on fumes so I don’t like seeing that needle dip too low. But even then I would think it would be a maximum of £30. Which isn’t bad when you consider our Mercedes, which is a 2.6 costs £70. Don’t quote me on that.

Equally, for £30 road tax it’s an admirable saving on the budget.

Would I buy another and would I recommend this car to others?

No. It’s too loose and soft for it to be anything but a challenge to throw it around the country bends, but I guess that isn’t what it is made for. The lacklustre 1.1 offers the same power output as a gaseous turd, thus getting any form of joy from beating others away from the lights results in a rather embarrassing amount of noise and not a lot of success.

But those are what I’m looking for in my next car.

I think there are enough small, affordable hatchbacks out there for those who are looking for a cheap, bog-standard City runabout. I don’t believe this is one of them.

Many thanks to Liam Stroud for the review of his Alto.  You can find Liam here on twitter