The Suzuki Alto is a microcar, also referred to as a super-mini, segment A, or mini-compact vehicle in other classification systems. It was first released in 1979 by Suzuki and is on its eighth generation to date. The Japanese refer to it as a Kei car, which is a category that describes the smallest street-legal passenger vehicle in Japan. The current generation has a footprint of slightly over 5000 (x10 3mm2), but the earliest Alto occupied less than 4500 (x10 3mm2).
This Kei car is very affordable to operate and ideal for city use, which explains its success in export markets. The Suzuki Celerio replaced it in 2014, but Suzuki continues to produce the Alto for Japan’s domestic market. It was last distributed in Australia in 2015.
The long history of the Suzuki Alto marque tells not only about the evolution of one Kei car; it is, in fact, a chronicle of several Kei cars rebadged as Alto.
1st Generation: Fronte SS30/40 (1979-1984)
The first-generation Alto was based on the Fronte SS30/40 passenger car that was built as a three-door commercial-use vehicle. It became an overnight sensation when it was released to the local market due to its original cut-price tag. Several other automakers followed suit, ushering in an era of dynamic competition in the Kei cargo cars category. This version of the Fronte sold in leaps and bounds, outperforming the passenger model by more than twice in sales.
In Australia, it was not introduced as either Alto or Fronte, or any of its multiple nameplates like Cervo Mode, Maruti 800, and Mehran. Instead, it was introduced as the Suzuki Hatch, a three-door two-seat commercial car powered by a 0.8L F8B I3 petrol engine attached to a 4-speed manual gearbox, (30 kW, 59 N⋅m). In 1983, a 3-speed automatic transmission also became available as an added option.
2nd Generation: CA71 (1984-1988)
The second-generation Suzuki Alto (coded as the CA71) was manufactured based on GM’s M-platform, the same one used for Suzuki Swift and Holden Barina. The CA71 series does not differ much in appearance from the earlier generation, except for angular wraparound headlights and a new dash.
The Suzuki Hatch in the previous year became known as the Suzuki Alto in export markets including Australia, but with a down-spec’d engine. Instead of the 30-kW motor, it was now driven by the same powertrain that was used for the Fronte SS40/30—a 0.5L F5A I3 petrol engine paired with a 4-speed manual transmission (19 kW, 35 N⋅m).
3rd Generation: CL/CM11 (1988-1994)
Aside from its Suzuki Alto badge, this generation (coded as CL/CM11) was also known as Suzuki Fronte, Daewoo Tico, and Autozam Carol in some markets. It has a prominent C-pillar and a more angular rear, which easily distinguishes it from the previous models. In Suzuki’s domestic market and few places outside of Japan, it was available in 0.5L and 0.6L engines.
Various Alto models appeared in the international scene, including the Slide Slim version that incorporated a sliding door and the short-lived Alto Hustle which had a raised roof modified from the five-door Alto variant.
These original versions didn’t reach Australia, which still marketed the previous Alto version but powered by the 0.8L F8B I3 petrol engine (30 kW, 59 N⋅m) last seen in the Suzuki Hatch. The difference this time was the availability of a 2-speed auto gearbox, in addition to the 4-speed manual gearbox initially offered. The Alto was shelved in Australia after 1989, resuming only in 1996 with the fourth generation.
4th Generation: HA11 (1994-1998)
The fourth generation, coded as HA11, departed from any novel or complex design elements of the previous generation. Instead, it reverted to the simple, essential, and low-cost Alto. The Slim Slide and other high-end models were discontinued. This generation of the Alto mostly served Suzuki’s home market and was not exported.
Europe and Australia received Maruti Zen models rebadged as Altos. This version of the fourth-generation Alto was fitted with a 1.0L G10B petrol engine, paired to a 5-speed manual transmission (39 kW, 72 N⋅m). It was marketed in Australia from 1996 through 1999, after which the Alto’s Aussie stint was interrupted again.
5th Generation: HA12/22 (1998-2004)
This generation of the Alto, coded as HA12/22, was more significant than the earlier models. It now sported sophisticated headlights and more streamlined edges, maintaining a classic, toned-down exterior. Three engines were introduced during this period, but none of these Alto versions was marketed in Australia.
The fifth-generation Suzuki Alto was also known as Chevrolet Alto and Mazda Carol in some countries.
6th Generation: HA24 (2004-2009)
The sixth-generation Alto also rebranded as Mazda Carol and Nissan Pino, is a five-door hatchback sold either as a front-wheel or a four-wheel drive. Its sloping bonnet and headlights give it a clear stance from the earlier generations of Alto. As in the fifth generation, this never touched ground in the Land Down Under.
7th Generation: HA25 (2009-2014)
The seventh-generation Suzuki Alto debuted at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show. It is a five-door four-seat hatchback that looks like the upscale version of HA24, with the same curved-down bonnet and headlights but shapelier and with more finesse to it.
This generation was available in 0.6L and 1.0L engines. The version that arrived in Australia was fitted with the higher-spec powertrain, particularly a 1.0L K10B 12-valve DOHC petrol engine, paired with either a 4-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox (50 kW, 90 N⋅m).
The base model (GL) came fully equipped with an airbag package (dual front, head, and side), anti-lock braking system, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, engine immobiliser, air conditioning, central locking remote control, power steering, power windows (front), and a two-speaker radio/CD. Features like an electronic stability program, fog lights, and traction control system were standard equipment on top of the base specs in the GLX variant.
8th Generation: K series (2014-present)
Surprisingly, the eight generations have stripped off its swanky curves from the previous generation in favour of a dated yet elegant exterior reminiscent of its angular past. It claims an impressive fuel efficiency of 37 km/L, which is a massive leap from the previous generation’s 19.2 km/L. The K series is a product of Suzuki’s Green Technology, which has allowed the Alto to gain a strong foothold in the market segment for cost-effective city cars.
Unfortunately, the K series Alto is not available in Australia. The models marketed from 2014 till 2015 were residual stocks from the seventh-generation Alto, with the Suzuki Celerio taking its spot in the market since 2014.
By Jeannette Salanga (JMSL)