Hold on. There's no need to adjust your screen settings. The car you're looking at really is that small - but let us assure you, it's BIG on fun!
So what exactly is this unusual specimen? Well, it's a 1987 Suzuki Alto Works RS-X and, yes, it's another one of those bargain Japanese imports that are currently being imported to Australia under the 15+ year old rule. (Our test car provided by Yahoo Motorsport, www.yahoomotorsport.com.)
The '87 - '88 Alto Works was released in Japan in two guises - the CA72V front-wheel drive (as tested here) and the CC72V constant 4WD (the heavier but more complete performance vehicle). Most importantly, these early Alto Works models were the first Kei class vehicles to reach the elevated 64ps (47kW) power limit enforced by Japanese government. Before the rip-snortin' Alto Works, you weren't supposed to have this much fun in a car with an engine capacity of barely half a litre!
Suzuki cracked 64ps in their Kei car by employing all of the whiz-bang technology available at the time. The Alto Works uses a tiny IHI turbocharger with a top-mount air-to-air intercooler, a DOHC alloy head with four valves per cylinder plus electronic multipoint fuel injection. With a bore and stoke of 65 x 55mm, the F5A 543cc three-cylinder may lack capacity but it has no problems kicking out almost as much power as, say, the 1.0-litre carby turbo Daihatsu Charade. With 47kW at 7500 rpm and 72Nm at 4000 rpm, the hot little Suzuki set a new benchmark for Kei class performance. And fun.
True to its performance image, the '87 - '88 Alto Works came with a standard 5-speed manual gearbox. The only driveline option was whether to buy the RS-X front-wheel-drive or the RS-R all-wheel-drive. Note that the RS-R is slightly slower than the RS-X due to its additional driveline mass - the extra 50 - 60kg might not seem much, but it is almost 10 percent of the overall weight. And, yes, that means the front-drive Works RS-X weighs just below 600kg!
The Alto Works' feather weight is an obvious advantage when it comes to performance. Don't expect a stocker to whip a Subaru WRX, but you will be capably scooted to 100 km/h in the 9-second range. We won't be giving out any award for that, but we challenge you to return from driving an RS-X without a big grin on your dial. Sure, the body feels a bit loose, there's a huge amount of engine vibration and not a lot of torque below 3000 rpm, but - for all its shortcomings - this car is f-u-n. When you're spinning those 145/65 13 tyres out of corners and winding the little turbo motor out to its 9000 redline you soon get caught up in the thrill - you forget it's only a 550cc Suzi...
Part of the attraction of the Alto RS-X is the directness of its controls - it's very go-cart like. The non-assisted rack and pinion steering is very sensitive at straight-ahead and you almost never need to apply steering correction to achieve your intended cornering line (not unless you're exploring the limits of traction at the same time, anyway!). Note that the steering does load up during cornering, but not overly so. The disc/drum brakes are also quite decent, with a relatively short and communicative pedal stroke.
The Alto Works rides on a combination of MacPherson struts at the front and a coil sprung beam axle rear. There is some understeer (those 145mm tyres don't offer a huge amount of adhesion) but there is also the feeling that the rear-end could zap around when driving hard on a slippery surface. No huge surprise given the short 2175mm wheelbase... The ride is generally fine, except the dampers on our test car felt tired.
If you're like us, chances are you'll love this car even before you fire that warped little twin-cam turbo engine into life. Check out this interior! The pink-on-black seats and door trims are about as 'eye-catching' as you can get. Oh, and the seats also have some weird metal rings incorporated into them - no doubt fashionable in the '80s... or maybe not!
The front seats are comfortable, there's generous headroom and adequate legroom but, as you'd expect, there's not a lot of cabin width. The 2-person rear seat is pretty cramped, but there is adequate space if the front passenger is willing to slide their seat a fair way forward. Rear cargo space is surprisingly generous.
Features onboard the RS-X include air conditioning (with big rotary style controls), a boost light, RS Works labelled seatbelts, intermittent wipers, a Japanese band radio/cassette, leather RS Works steering wheel and that outa this world trim. The red-faced gauges have nothing to get embarrassed about - not with a tacho marked up to 12,000 rpm! The speedo, however, is marked only to 120 km/h.
The Alto Works is not exactly subtle out on the street. It may be tiny, but this is a guaranteed attention grabber - although we're not sure if it's for all the right reasons... The standard Works treatment includes sports bumper, large front fog lights, a 'picture frame' rear window spoiler, skirts, bonnet scoop, yellow halogen headlights and exclusive 13-inch alloys. We reckon it looks kinda tough.
Oh, and did you notice all of the stickers? This one is our favourite...
In case you haven't noticed, we're quite fond of the little CA72V Alto Works. It might not have the grunt to wipe a variety of cars (not without a few mods anyway) but there's still a crazy amount of fun to be had. The buzz of driving a turbo micro-car never fails to amaze us. Supplied by Adelaide's Yahoo Motorsport, our test RS-X had just 81,000km on the clock and was in excellent condition, apart from some minor rust. The selling price is AUD$4000 plus compliance. We're told that compliance for the Alto can be very cheap and easy if you're prepared to rip out the rear seat and register the car as a commercial-type vehicle.
And parts back up? Well, some body parts appear similar to the naturally aspirated Alto models delivered locally and there are probably some common engine parts, but - overall - the Works RS-X would be a challenge to source major parts for. We suggest keeping this beastie as an enjoyable second car - something that won't bear the brunt of day-to-day use.
To get a bigger bang out of this cracker you'd start by upgrading the exhaust (a cheap press bent 2 ½-inch system would be ample) and fitting a high-flow cold air induction system. Factory boost pressure is already up around 0.9 Bar (13 psi) so don't force in much more boost without first improving the intercooler. A second-hand Japanese import intercooler would make a very effective and cheap upgrade. Give it an exhaust, intake, 'cooler and a bit more boost and you're talkin' about 30 percent more power - more than enough to have an indecent amount of good, hard fun with!