It’s an engine that literally moved India in the not-too-distant past.
These days, Indians have a good number of options from various brands when they’re out in the market looking for a new car, but about two decades ago, what moved Indians—literally—was a good old-fashioned 796 cc (rounded off to 800) 3-cylinder petrol engine. And remember, only those who were relatively wealthy (upper-middle-class) could afford the Maruti Suzuki 800, while the remaining found solace—again literally—on their Hero Honda Splendor motorcycle—which they only bought because it apparently had a “good resale value” in addition to the “mileage” (fuel economy) that was equally important. And, this might sound funny now, but about two decades ago, those who bought anything other than a Maruti (a Hyundai or a Chevy, for example) were considered super wealthy.
Introduced with the Maruti Suzuki 800 in 1980 (first-gen Suzuki Alto globally), the 800 cc 3-cylinder engine subsequently found its way into another product called the Maruti Suzuki Alto in 2000, which was essentially a 5th-gen Suzuki Alto in the global markets. The Alto was bought by those who were willing to stretch their budget a little bit. In addition to the 800 cc engine, the Alto also offered a 1.0L K10 engine option targeted at those seeking a budget pocket-rocket. There was also a 1.1L engine-powered Alto.
But anyway, the 800 cc engine also powered a van called the Omni (7th-gen Suzuki Carry globally). All three models achieved blockbuster success in the market, securing Maruti Suzuki more than 40% market share it still holds today.
The engine coupled with a 5-speed manual gearbox offered only 46 metric hp in the Maruti 800, but it was more than sufficient to meet the needs of the Indian families who bought these. The Maruti 800 was discontinued in the market in late 2010 due to lack of demand and non-feasibility of upgrading the engine to the latest emission standards. However, the 800 nameplate was re-introduced in late 2012 with a contraption called the ‘Alto 800‘ (renamed to just Alto at a later date), but then—you guessed it—it failed to recreate the original 800’s magic, for fairly obvious reasons.
While the Indian-spec Alto continued on to the third-generation with the 2022 Alto K10, the 800 nameplate is once again set to join the history books. Since the demand for such an underpowered small car in the market has dropped significantly, Maruti Suzuki has decided not to upgrade the engine to BS6 emission norms, and therefore send both the engine and its namesake car to the history books.
At the time of publishing this story, the 800 cc engine-powered Alto was still listed on Maruti Suzuki’s official website, but probably not for too long from now.