Elite i20? No. Jazz then? Nope. Baleno, perhaps? Umm... Wait! We’ll help you decide
ALOT OF PEOPLE COMPARE apples with oranges and get away with it. When there are similar competitors with the same intent – keeping the doctor away – but with invariably different focal points, each comes up with a speciality that it becomes better known for. All the three apples we have here provide similar value and are all a bite to savour, but there are some major differences, both in outlook and in approach, the latter perhaps. So what we have here is a cracking three-way that will focus on what we truly want from a car: style, substance, dynamics, efficiency, and, of course, value.
The styling is probably the first aspect many people look at. It’s also one they ask their friends about, not realising that – not to sound cliché – beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, and that looks are entirely subjective. That said, they all have a contemporary design approach. Suzuki’s YRA Concept providing the lines for the Baleno, the Jazz getting its new family face from the FCV almost, which is essentially an example of the future available today, and the Elite i20 goes all Fluidic and then some.
The Baleno has the lines, and they all meet and make sense when you look at it that way, but, honestly, I think the front grille looks very weird, though the rear does look very neat. Then you have the double-wave side profile complete with chunky wheelarches that house 16” alloy wheels. It is a rather exciting design, the Baleno.
Moving on to the Elite i20, it still looks quite contemporary and has a lot of elements that many consider attractive: LED signatures, sweeping wraparound head-lamps, a bold grille, and unique (and very Alfa Romeo) tail-lamp clusters; although it isn’t as curvy as its elder sedan siblings. It also sports 16” alloys and has a neat, functional look from the side profile.
The Jazz, as I mentioned earlier, reminds me of the FCV that Honda showed some time ago but it still represents the next step in automotive propulsion; the days of future past, if you will. It still looks like a futuristic shuttle and the play of triangles and polygons, both glass and metal, makes for a subtly exciting exterior. It’s the only one in this bunch to sport 15” alloy wheels.
Verdict: If it came down to the looks alone, we’d pick the Jazz.
So you’ve spent close to a million rupees on a big hatchback, what ar e you getting out of it? It better be more than shiny LED lights and swanky alloy wheels. The top-spec models here are loaded to the gills with comfort, infotainment, and, of course, safety features. However, there are some areas where they could all
improve. Unlike Europe, where ABS, EBD, traction control and six airbags are de rigueur features, India is still unclear about how proper crash tests are supposed to be conducted. And that is where the problem truly lies.
All right, then. The Baleno is the newest of the lot and is being promoted as a Nexa premium product which promises a more upmarket experience. When I heard it was a premium hatchback, I expected a European-style 4.2-metre-long design, but, sadly, it was yet another sub-four-metre offering, albeit slightly larger than the Swift. Does it live up to the hype?
Well, in terms of kit, yes. It packs dual airbags and ABS across all variants, something which the other two cannot boast of. Adding to the spec-check are the projector headlamps with LED daytime running lights – another big plus. The familiar touchscreen interface – from the Ciaz and S-Cross – is here too, and, although functional, it doesn’t feel as intuitive as I would’ve liked. The quality of materials is good, and the seats are upholstered in dark fabric. Comfort and ergonomics are good, although the angle of the seating feels weird for someone tall. The same can be said for the back seats as the angle of the base is far too perpendicular to the road, unlike the inclined rear seat bases in the other two. Thankfully, the adjustable headrestraints and generous passenger room mean it offers reasonably good comfort. The boot space is 339 litres, but it’s a bucket. The load lip is so high up, you’ll need help with the bags, especially the heavy ones.
The Jazz we have here is the V trim, so it packs most of what you need. Unlike the Baleno, all variants do not get ABS and dual airbags. The diesel E and S trims get ABS, but it isn’t until one reaches the SV grade that they’re both standard. The Jazz looks futuristic on the outside, but it’s a familiar cabin inside. It’s the only one of the three without a smart key and push-button start. It promotes economic driving with a green lighting surround around the centre meter pod that immediately turns blue the very instant my toe made contact with accelerator pedal. The front USB and Aux-in ports are appreciated, as are the multitude of storage spaces and cubby-holes of all sizes; surely the class best. Fabric upholstery takes a turn for the beige in here and the front seats offer good comfort. However, the rear is where it falls apart. The lack of adjustable head-rests is a big no-no for me, and a rear seat did offer just about adequate comfort for my six-foot frame. Space is good, though. The boot, too, is the largest at 354 litres, and it’s also the easiest of the three to load.
Hyundai’s Elite i20 boasts of the most aesthetically-pleasing interior, with a two-tone layout and a lot of gizmos. The seats are by far the best of the three and offer good support and ergonomics while packing adjustable head-restraints front and rear. The driver’s seat is heightadjustable, too. It also packs ABS, EBD and dual front airbags. Of course, that’s just the absolute topspec Asta (O), ABS and the driver airbag begin with the Sportz (third) variant, while dual airbags are only in
the Asta and Asta (O) trims. The two base trims – Era and Magna – get neither. The Elite i20 also packs the smallest boot at 285 litres, but it can manage luggage enough for a weekend getaway out of town.
Verdict: All three let you pack a cake, but the Elite i20 lets you sit comfortably and eat it too.
Right, so we’ve compared features and looked at the practicality aspect, but they’re cars, not lounges, and they have to be driven. They’re all fourcylinder turbo-diesels, but they’re all of different capacities and pack different outputs.
The new Baleno (still) packs the 1.3-litre FIAT-sourced motor, but it’s now badged ‘DDiS 190’ for its 190 Nm of peak torque. The 75-PS max is good enough for the city, but it is the least powerful of the three. The engine sounds quite rattly, even at idle, but those dynamic power and torque graphics in the digital centre display do coax you to crack a smile.
While it is quite jumpy in first, the diesel Baleno is very tractable in second and third. However, the steering feels quite dead. The engine makes you wish the sound deadening was better. The torque delivery is not pronounced lower down, but from 1,500 RPM, it begins to pull, before peaking at 2,000 RPM. It’s also the only car here with five gears. The tiny wing mirrors and back window limit rear visibility. Where it will claw back favour is with the 18 km/l overall figure. It’s lighter than the Swift (which remains the sportier of the two), and while that makes me wonder about its crash-rating, it does benefit economy.
The Elite i20 packs good numbers: 90 PS and 220 Nm from its 1.4 motor. The six-speed box lets you have fun when you want to and be economical when you have to. The handling is good and the suspension is much better sorted than its predecessor’s – a welcome change. Visibility, too, is good and the steering feel and power delivery are more spirited than the others. On the efficiency front, 18 km to a litre in the city, 24 on the highway, and 19.5 overall are excellent. Besides, it can corner and brake well and leaves nothing to complain about really.
The new Jazz gets the i-DTEC diesel for the first time, and, with 100 PS and 200 Nm, packs good potential. Of course, it has the lowest peak power revs at 3,600 RPM and thus is very driveable in any gear with a hefty bottom end. However, the gear lever is a tad small and the shifts are quite clunky. Unlike the Amaze, the Jazz gets one more forward cog (so that’s six), and that means it shines on the highway on the efficiency front with 25 km/l. Let’s not forget 19 in the city and 20.5 overall. The suspension is rather soft but is quite good. Damping is excellent on the straights and while tackling bumps, but round corners it wallows about
noticeably and that’s not good.
Verdict: Of the three here, the Elite i20 edges ahead. But when it comes to driving dynamics and a similar price-tag, I’d have the Volkswagen Polo GT TDI in the blink of an eye. It’s a proper driver’s car and has sublime handling.
Brand value is still a thing, but not in this segment, or is it? All three have revered badges for different reasons. Maruti Suzuki are known for their service network, Honda for their reliability, and Hyundai for their contemporary design and equipment level. On the efficiency front, they’re all more or less identical and stretch a litre of diesel to 20 km or so. However, what I always suggest to those who ask me what car they should buy is: buy a car based on what you need, not what other people tell you, or the higher number of whatever models you see on the road. While either of these may be your first car, or your first upgrade, you have to realise that the little things are the big things. If you’re the thirsty kind or a coffee-lover who loves take-away, a wrongly placed cup-holder or a bottle-holder one size too small will give you more grief than you would be willing to believe. Similarly, if your family has a history of tall genes, don’t buy a car with less passenger room. You can have anything, but you can’t have everything. Prioritise.
The Baleno DDiS 190 Alpha costs Rs 8.26 lakh, the Elite i20 Asta (O) CRDi costs Rs 8.47 lakh, while the Jazz i-DTEC V costs Rs 8.30 lakh (the VX is Rs 8.80 lakh), all exshowroom, Pune.
Verdict: If you want a car with a futuristic design that is reliable and frugal, the Jazz it is. Need tech and equipment and better comfort? The Elite i20 is great in the city and on the highway. Need a more contemporary Maruti Suzuki and a great city car that sips responsibly? Get the Baleno.
If you ask me, I’d have the VW Polo GT TDi. For the same money (Rs 8.60 lakh, ex-Pune) it’s the best driving car of the lot. Other than the slightly less rear passenger room and lack of rear air-vents, there is nothing wrong with it. Where it thoroughly redeems itself is in its build quality, reliability, refinement, and performance dynamics. The handling and stability at all speeds remain unmatched and the planted, reassuring, well-sorted feel from the car is something which gives something else: peace of mind.
WHAT I ALWAYS SUGGEST TO THOSE WHO ASK ME WHAT CAR THEY SHOULD BUY IS: BUY A CAR BASED ON WHAT YOU NEED, NOT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE TELL YOU
Same old 1.3 FIAT-derived DDiS turbo-diesel motor continues with the same 75 PS and 190 Nm; we wish the 90-PS version made it under here as well
Baleno dashboard and features are very neat; touchscreen is from its elder siblings; digital info console very functional and entertaining too
Baleno seating and ergonomics are a bit odd; rear seat is quite flat and feels like it was made to suit much smallersized people
Jazz o ers good space and support, but lack of adjustable rear head-restraints is a big negative in terms of safety
Elite i20 seat base angle allows for the most comfortable seating and the best ergonomics of the three; high comfort and safety feel overall
Elite i20 the best handling of the three; Baleno’s rear styling surely a strong point; Jazz looks the most futuristic and is also the most spacious and frugal of the lot
Baleno boot volume is a good 339 litres, but the high load-lip will make large bags a challenge to get in; split-folding seat is standard in all but
the base variant
Elite i20 o ers the least boot volume at 285 litres, but a wide loading area and split-folding seat make up for lack of
volume with added practicality
Jazz V trim doesn’t get a split
folding rear seat; boot volume is the
highest at 354 litres, but fit-andfinish level leaves a lot to be desired