One characteristic of three-cylinder four-stroke engines like that in the Suzuki Alto is that they sound as if their crankshafts are spinning more slowly than they really are. The Alto’s is true to type, with a smooth, deep exhaust note and an air of surprising relaxation. Tallish gearing for a small car heightens the impression, with fifth gear giving nearly 22mph per 1000rpm.
Add to the mix a keen, clean throttle response, a torque curve which peaks at a sedate 3400rpm and the Alto’s low weight, and you have an engine able to deliver a lot more amusement than you might expect. The overall gearing overwhelms that peak torque output when you’re in the higher gears, especially if there’s a hill involved, but you simply change down – the shift is quick and light – and let the engine rev. Even past 6000rpm or so, it doesn’t sound or feel strained.
The best way to make progress is to keep the engine in its sweet spot, between 4000 and 5000rpm. Once stoked up in this way, the Alto will bowl along at high-ish speeds with seemingly little effort. Overtaking becomes an exercise in momentum conservation, a technique as satisfying in its own way as experiencing the Alto’s 11.5second 0-60mph time is not. That said, even though that test figure is leisurely, given it is taken two-up and with a full tank of fuel, it was a pleasant surprise and a full two seconds faster than Suzuki thought. Top speed is a claimed 96mph, so the Alto joins the dwindling band of cars unable to reach the ton.