Recommended. A characterful city car that proves cheap doesn't have to mean cheerless.
Previous generations of the Suzuki Alto never rose above the level of utility transport, but this one offers both character and a zestful driving experience.
The cutesy front-end styling won't be to everybody's taste, although it does help to distinguish the Alto from its boxier rivals. But behind the elongated headlamps it's sensible and solidly constructed.
The cabin lacks much in the way of toys, but it offers decent space for two adult occupants in the front and the back is fine for kids - although the boot is tiny.
Power comes from a little 1.0 litre three-cylinder petrol engine, and the Alto's low kerbweight allows this to provide both a reasonable turn of speed and some impressive fuel consumption and CO2 figures. There's no doubting that the car is happiest in town, where the peppy power delivery and the car's narrow construction help it to find gaps unavailable to anything bigger. But unlike many of its rivals, the Alto also makes a good go at dealing with life outside derestriction signs.
Decent sound insulation and pliant springs mean that the Alto is well up to dealing with motorway journeys, and although the narrow front tyres lack much grip, the well-mannered chassis and accurate steering mean that it's possible to drive it with far more enthusiasm than you would expect for something so small and cheap.
Equipment levels are respectable, all but the most basic version get aircon and the range-topping SZ4 has stability control. And running costs are impressively low, too thanks to brilliant fuel economy and low insurance costs. It's just a shame the Alto's CO2 emissions are just too high to earn it free road tax.
1. Nippy, responsive handling
2. Rev-happy 1.0 litre petrol engine
3. Low running costs
We don't like:
1. Dull styling
2. Tiny boot
3. It can't quite break the 100g/km CO2 barrier
Most fun: SZ3
Most sensible: SZ2
Next: ratings and breakdown