The Suzuki Alto has been around for 30 years but it’s never been that big in the UK – but this could be about to change.

Now in its seventh generation, the Suzuki Alto is going after the likes of the Toyota Aygo, Fiat 500 and Ford Ka – and for a cute little car could it deliver a knockout punch to the big boys?

Cheap to buy, cheap to run, easy on the eye and bags of fun – that’s the general key to building a successful city car. And on the face of it Suzuki has cracked it with its new Alto.

There’s nothing revolutionary about the Alto, it does the simple things well. It’s pretty thanks to those bug-eyed headlights, giving the car a friendly face. Its a massive step over the boxy Alto which was sold in the UK until 2005.

While the exterior should be praised for its good design, the same can’t be said for the inside of the Alto which consists of far too much bland plastic. More effort could have been channelled to the colour, quality and feel of the inside – it’s where the owner will spend their time after all.

The driver doesn’t have the ability to operate the passenger’s electric window which is also a frustration. There is a large speedo located behind the steering wheel while the rev counter is positioned separately above the wheel which is quite a cool touch, but it’s only fitted to the top spec model.

Low running costs

While it isn’t fast, it is green, emitting just 103g/km of carbon dioxide thanks to its 885kg weight and aerodynamic body. With this comes an excellent 64.2mpg and cheap road tax. It’s now obligatory to have a car which emits around 100g/km of CO2.

Under the bonnet is a 1-litre engine which develops 68bhp and 63lb/ft of pulling power, accelerating the Alto from 0-62mph in 13.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 96mph.On paper it sounds slow, which it is, but it’s nippy to 30mph and can sit comfortably at 70mph on the motorway with an impressive level of refinement. Thanks to its three-cylinder engine layout, the Alto sounds great and is married to a smooth five-speed gearbox.

There’s also an automatic model, but with emissions of 122g/km, an £8,500 price-tag and 17 second 0-62mph time.

Comfortable

When driving the new Alto around the outskirts of Rome we came across some atrocious road surfaces but the little Japanese car coped admirably, absorbing the bumps and providing a comfortable ride.

Cornering isn’t spectacular, but this isn’t a car designed for hairpins and chicanes. It provides a supple experience which is up with the likes of the Toyota Aygo and Fiat 500 but short of the Ford Ka. Steering isn’t the most responsive but this isn’t a car which is bought for its high levels of driver involvement.

The Alto comes in three simple trim specs; SZ2, SZ3 and SZ4. Entry level SZ2 models feature the basics – electric front windows, power steering, remote central locking. SZ3 adds air-conditioning while SZ4 gains a rev counter, 14-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights and colour co-ordinated door handles and mirrors.

The boot’s 129-litre capacity is small but acceptable, it can be opened via a switch inside the car but there’s no outside handle to open it. So if you’re just pulling up with your shopping you’ll need to use a key to get it open, which could become annoying.

On the safety front, the new Alto gets four airbags as standard on SZ2 and SZ3 models while SZ4 boasts six airbags and electronic stability programme.

It’s hard to gauge the reliability of a new car, but the Alto is a simple piece of engineering with little to go wrong. It is covered by a three year/60,000 warranty with 24-hour UK and European roadside assistance. We used this recently after suffering a puncture in our Suzuki Swift Sport long-termer and were pleased with the quality of service.

It’s very hard to fault the Suzuki Alto as an all-round package. There’s no denying it’s a cute-looking city car which does everything it needs to, pretty well. There’s a lot of equipment for the money, it costs peanuts to run and it’s the sort of car which will be let out from side roads. The interior’s blandness does let it down however.

While it’s not class-leading when it comes to safety, cost, equipment, desirability or reliability it’s near the top for all five – making the 2009 Suzuki Alto an appealing purchase.

Key facts

Model tested: Suzuki Alto 1.0 SZ4
On the road price: £7,960
Price range: £6,795 – £8,560
Date tested: March 2009
Road tester: Adrian Hearn