India is a small car market and Maruti Suzuki its champion. For years Maruti has had a strong hold on the entry-level segment – first with the iconic M800 and then with the Alto. The Alto has been the most successful badge for the Japanese car maker in India, so much so that when Maruti Suzuki decided to launch a new entry-level car in 2012, they used the same name with addition of ‘800’ at the end.
For years manufacturers have tried to get a share of the pie with competitive products, while few managed to sell in decent numbers none could manage to dent the market share of the Alto moniker. There are two models we will specifically like to mention; the Hyundai Eon and the Datsun GO. While the former has turned into a decent success story for Hyundai, the latter is here as an interesting option offering space and performance at a very affordable price.
Maruti is now upping the ante with the new Alto K10, making it the most affordable automatic in the country. While it is needless to discuss the advantages of automatic transmission in a small city car, we pit the new version against the two in a spec compare to have a better perspective.
The basic design of the new Alto K10 is still of an old-school hatchback, but it is thoroughly overhauled to look modern. Like many modern cars, it gets sweptback headlamps and lot of chrome at the front. Though the design is similar to the Alto 800, there is a conscious effort to make this car look more premium. It gets a rectangular airdam on a big sporty bumper, unlike the hexagonal one on the 800. The wheel arches are slightly flared to make the car look bigger, but apart from that there is hardly any change to the side profile if one can ignore the oddly styled roofline.
The Eon looks every bit like a modern hatchback; unlike the other two here, it has a tall boy design that is a big advantage in cities. With its fluidic design sculpt, the Eon is certainly the best looking car in the segment. The front looks aggressive and sporty, there are ample creases on the side profile and even detailing at the rear is tastefully done.
The Datsun GO also looks pretty interesting, with a small hexagonal grille at the front and a big well sculpted bumper. It is based on the Nissan Micra platform and is biggest of the three cars here. The tail section of this Japanese hatchback looks very nice with simple design and minimal badges.
Among the three, Eon without doubt is the best looking car, however the Datsun GO looks bigger and hence more premium than the two. With the facelift, the Alto K10 certainly makes an impression, but it is still not its biggest USP.
The Hyundai hatchback once again has an upper hand in this department. The Korean carmaker is known for its quality interior and features, and the Eon here is no different. The dashboard is stylish, the dual colour layout feels premium and even the built-in music system is well designed. It is a comfortable car for four passengers and the fifth is always going to be a squeeze. The only plus side is that with the tall boy design, the cabin feels roomy.
The Datsun GO cabin is completely utilitarian. It is much bigger than its rivals here and can seat five passengers in comfort. The beige interior makes it look roomier, although lack of features is pretty evident. The music system is absolutely basic that can play songs only through AUX input, handbrake is pull-and-twist type, there are power windows at the back and the rear seats belts are a formality. In their defense, Datsun offers many features as dealer accessories through the showrooms.
There are plenty of changes to the new Alto K10. The dashboard is not a combination of blackish-grey and beige and features a totally new design for all the components. The instrument console is now quite detailed and the steering wheel is a modified version of the one used in the Swift. It now gets a 2-DIN music system with silver surrounds that makes the cabin look premium. The space for the second row is below par and Maruti has scooped the backs of the front seats to create additional legroom.
The Datsun GO is easily the most spacious of the three, although it also the most basic in terms of looks and features. The new Alto K10 looks and feels premium, though Hyundai Eon is still marginally better on this front.
Lack of safety features is the biggest problem in the segment. Both the K10 and Eon at least get one airbag for the top-end versions, the Datsun GO on the other hand has none. We also hope that all of them would soon offer ABS-EBD at least as an option.
The Hyundai Eon is available with two engine options – the 800cc petrol and 1.0-litre petrol, both mated to five-speed manual gearbox. The smaller of the two units is quite dull with an output of 55bhp and 75Nm of torque. This version feels underpowered even compared to the Alto 800 and certainly does not match up to the other here. The 1.0-litre Eon has decent power figures – 68bhp and 94Nm. The performance is almost on par with that of the manual Alto K10. The ARAI efficiency of 800cc engine is 21.1kpl, while the 1.0-litre unit has a claimed rating of 20.3kpl.
The Datsun GO has the biggest capacity engine of the three. It uses the same 1.2-litre mill from the Micra, only slightly detuned for efficiency with an output of 67bhp and 104Nm of torque. Though the power is not much higher than the other two, the extra torque is a big advantage. Though we haven’t driven the new Alto K10 yet, this car will certainly have an advantage in performance. It uses the same five-speed gearbox from the Micra, but due to its position feels unrefined. The GO has a decent claimed fuel efficiency of 20.63kpl.
The new Alto K10 uses the same 1.0-litre unit delivering 67bhp and 90Nm of torque. While it still gets the five-speed manual; the main addition to this facelift is the AMT gearbox, which makes the Alto K10 the cheapest automatic car in the country. The AMT gearbox is the same five-speed unit from the Celerio, with an option of manually shifting gears. The Alto K10 manual with power-to-weight ratio similar to that of the Swift was always a peppy car, we can talk about the performance of AMT only after the review. The official efficiency figures of the Alto are not available yet, but it is expected to be the most efficient with ARAI numbers of over 24kpl.
The Eon certainly wins with the battle with looks and styling of both exterior and interior. The Datsun GO on the other hand is big has advantage on both space and performance, though it loses out on features and also because of the limited number of dealerships and service centers. The newest version of the Alto tries a balancing act with improved styling, interiors and most importantly,the AMT gearbox.
All the three cars above are entry-level city cars and the addition of automatic transmission makes the Alto even more practical on city roads. The Alto K10 manual does not win the battle purely on specs, but with brand value, low maintenance cost and resale, it will still easily win the contest in sales.