Suzuki Alto

One of the smaller cars on the market, the Suzuki Alto continues to make Kei cars. The car, currently in its eighth generation has underseen some changes in the years since its conception. Equipped with modern technology, vehicle back up assist, and even vehicle tracking, the Suzuki Alto has become one of the top Kei cars on the market. However, some may wish to import an older model. While there have been advances in the safety and security of the newer models, they may not quite meet the standards necessary for on-road use. Getting a first- or second-generation Suzuki Also may allow you to use the car for on-road purposes. If you ever wondered about this Kei car, here is what you should know.

Suzuki Alto shown from the front against a sunset.

A Car of many names

The Suzuki Alto is a variant of the Suzuki Fronte. The name was not originally the Alto. It was the Suzuki Frontes. Over the years, Suzuki toyed with a few different names. Therefore, it may be a bit difficult to understand or locate a Suzuki Alto if you do not know these names. Primarily renamed for the U.S. and European market, the names include the SS40 Fronte, the Alto Fronte, the SB308, The Maruti Zen, Maruti Suzuki Alto, Maruti Suzuki A-Star, and the Suzuki Celerio. Suzuki Celerio is the replacement of the Alto in most markets, though the design features and construction are that of the Suzuki Fronte/Alto.

The early years

Suzuki Alto first entered the market in 1979. The first generation Kei car was all but the vehicle that we know if for today. The Kei market was very competitive during that time. Suzuki sought to get an edge on the competition by eliminating or making many features we would consider standard today, optional. For example the first generation Suzuki Alto did not have catalytic converters and rear windows were optional. If you did choose to have rear windows, you would find that they were opaque fiberglass, not standard automotive glass. First generation models were equipped with a 543cc engine capable of only 27.6 HP. Today the standard is in the 60 HP range.

But Suzuki can be given some leniency. The early model was not intended to be used as a leisure vehicle. It was intended to be for commercial use, but also as a means to an end. Japanese Kei cars during the early years of Kei (the 60s and 70s) were focused on creating small vehicles which could get their occupants from point A to point B. As the market developed, so did the Suzuki Alto.

Substantial changes

Though there were changes in the second to fourth generation, major changes came in the fifth generation. The fifth generation introduced in October of 1998 saw styling as well as construction variations. Older models were primarily 2 door with a hatchback. The fifth generation emphasized the 3/5 door hatchback and the 3 door fan. Layout and design of the Alto was more curved. A focus on reducing cost while increasing the market base was done. The two commercial versions meant that there needed to be a change in power and performance. Therefore, a 658 cc K6A engine without a turbo charger was introduced. This gave variants to the existing charger which was available on the F6A engines. 4WD was added for the manual. The automatic transmissions of the generation. Older models had a CVT.

Aestheticlly, there were many different trims available for this class. Specifically, you had the classic style Suzuki Also. Competitors copied some of the features of the fifth generation which can be seen in the  Carol, the Mitsuoka, and the Ray. Further aesthetical changes included a retro version. This was introduced in 2001. The fifth generation also saw the discontinuance of the Sedan.

Bridging Generations

One thing you will note on the sixth generation on is the focus on the curvature. The design of the vehicle differs tremendously from that of the first generation. This may be due to the other Kei vehicles on the market, or it could be an effort for the Suzuki Alto to mimic their larger body vehicles. Looking at the Suzuki Alto from the sixth generation, there is a remarkable resemblance to a Toyota Will. Rounded headlights and front dash take away from the Alto’s early design.

Today’s Suzuki Alto is much like a Soul or other small vehicle on the market. However, it should be noted that it is not in the same class. This is due to the transmission as well as to the overall chassis of the Suzuki Alto. With the new Suzuki Kei Alto generation there was also an update to the transmission. And while the new transmission gets 5 speed manual or 3 or 4 speed on automatic, the power of the engine is still a 658 cc on sixth generations and a 998 cc on eight generations.

A blue Suzuki Alto traveling down the road.

A new body for a new generation

The latest generation of the Suzuki Alto began in 2014 and goes to the current. The generation carries on the new body and style which was introduced in the eight generation. However, there are some newer features which have been introduced. Specifically, a focus on green technology has made for the vehicle to have more of the boxy shape of its former years. The engine is a 658 cc which is lower than the 998 cc seen on the prior generation. Unlike other generations, the transmission is available only in 5 speed. The automatic transmission has also, once again, become CVT.

If you wish to purchase a Suzuki Alto, check with your local taxation and registration service. Many Kei trucks and vans which are less than 25 years of age have stipulations to the use and their importation. Older generations, such as the first and the second generation of the Suzuki Alto, can be classified as classic and therefore tend to have less restrictions. Off road and agricultural use also tends to have less importation issues. Again, check with your Kei broker to find out more.