The mid-late 80s marked a period of innovative design for Suzuki, as it sought ways to extract the maximum flexibility from their Alto ‘Kei Car’ platform – a low tax vehicle class featuring restrictions on physical size in regards to body and engine capacity, as well as power output.
Working within these rules Suzuki introduced a number of quirky yet practical body styles and layouts to the Alto range, often mirroring the specific features of much larger and pricier vehicles.
To this day, the exercise remains a relevant case study for the future of transport, efficient design, modular platforms and assessing consumer needs.
The Alto family tree included the Mighty Boy ute; popemobile-esque Hustle; the very tall Walkthrough; and the Slide Slim easy assess vehicle.
While the range had its roots in utilitarianism, they also possess an extremely high fun quotient.
Specialised commercial or utility orientated models are often below the entry-level grade of their passenger equivalents to save money, however Suzuki provided consumers with real choice. On top of this range of specialised Alto variants there existed sub-models, featuring different trim and spec levels – variants on variants!
It’s an interesting concept and the seldom realised dream of automotive designers the world over – a vehicle that truly integrates with buyers lives beyond the concept stage.
The story begins back in 1982 with the then recently updated Cervo range. This was based on the Fronte, which in 1979 had shifted from a rear mounted engine/rear-wheel drive platform to a modern tranversly mounted engine driving the front wheels. In transitioning from 70s oddity to a fresh new 80s style of odd Suzuki introduced the Mighty Boy ute approximately 7 months after the new Cervo went into production.
The models which came fitted with roof/tray rails and a tonneau cover could no doubt be setup to be a very useful hauler, as long as the load was no too heavy – the 800cc 3 cylinder was happy around town but highway speeds would be stressful, with harsh levels of noise and vibration.
Mighty Boy was produced up until 1988, when a new generation Alto was introduced, on which the rest of these screwball Suzuki’s were based.
With sliding doors and swiveling seats, the Slide Slim sought to address the inherent problems of hinged doors and vehicle entry, which remains practically unchanged since the dawn of the 20th century. Anyone with even a mild injury or disability such as a bad knee, hip or back will testify to the awkwardness of swinging open a door, shuffling sideways and flopping down into a seat. This is especially apparent in space-poor japan and as well as the slide door configuration being useful in tight spaces, it also fits well in an urban environment which favors cycling, where the risk of a swinging doors is serious and very real.
Even though these vehicles are highly specialized, numerous configurations exist – A sub-range within a range. Some have sliding passenger and driver doors, while others will have two hinged passengers doors on one side, and a sliding driver door. Various trim levels see different interiors, wheels and engines across different model years.
The most interesting of these is the ‘Works’ variant, which already existed in the standard Alto rang with the 660cc 3 cylinder receiving a turbo charger, intercooler and (4wd?). These are no doubt the most collectable in the entire Alto range.
While the Mighty Boy and Slide Slim were largely aimed at domestic consumers, The Hustle and Walkthrough were commercial offerings. They are some of the few Kei cars to make use of the class’s maximum height guidelines, and the result is a comical appearance. Hustle retains the lines of the standard Alto from the nose to the b pillar, behind which the profile shoots up on a fairly sharp angle. Much like a truck, an air deflector sits atop the cockpit roof. The extended roof of the Walkthough begins at the A pillar and is coupled with a full height shutter door. Both of these would make excellent promo or service vehicles, or even just grocery getters.