COMPACT CHAM­PION

Elite i20? No. Jazz then? Nope. Baleno, per­haps? Umm... Wait! We’ll help you de­cide

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Jim Gorde Pho­tog­ra­phy: San­jay Raikar

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.

STYLE

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.

SUB­STANCE

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.

DY­NAM­ICS

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.

VALUE

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

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