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Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS review

It brings the zing back into Maruti hatchbacks

We’ve all grown up on Maruti Suzuki hatchbacks. From the nimble 800 to the peppy Altos, we upgraded to faster and more involving cars like the Zen and the Swift. Maruti Suzuki hatchbacks have always handled well (most of them), and as the cars are light, these cars have been quick off the line too. But no hatchback has had a specific performance variant. The company has resorted to sticker jobs with go-faster stripes to get more cars off dealerships with the RS tag (the Swift and Ciaz RS), but now there’s a real RS in town, the Baleno RS, and it has the go to match the show. We put it through the paces at the BIC to get to you these first impressions.

All new?

It has a new engine called the K10C, which is a derivative of the K10 unit in the Alto but beefed up to handle the higher pressures of a turbocharger. Capacity is still 998cc and with 3-cylinders, but as the name Boosterjet suggests, it’s a direct injection turbo-petrol mill under the hood. For now, the entire engine is imported from japan till Maruti can have enough numbers to justify building this engine here. We’ll come to how it performs later. First, the looks.

There’s plenty to suggest it’s not your regular Baleno. Maruti has given revised front and rear bumpers to the RS with black inserts and larger air intakes to cool the bigger radiator. There’s a new mesh grille and blackened headlamps to give the front end a more aggressive look. A nice lip spoiler for on the bumper gives the RS a sportier stance though we aren’t sure if there’s much to gain on the aero front. Adding to the black theme are the blackened A-pillars and alloy wheels. There is a RS badge on the back that stands for ‘Road Sport’.

What else?

There’s nothing new on the inside and that’s a downer. The only change is RS branded floor mats and Maruti could have accessorised the Baleno RS a bit differently to highlight the high-performance variant, especially since the exterior gets a good tweak to its styling. The RS gets disc brakes all round and a 5-speed manual gearbox, something that enhances its appeal as a driver’s car.

How quick?

The RS has a power to weight ratio of 106bhp/tonne, 13bhp/tonne more than a Polo GT TSI. It may not be as quick through the gears as manual shifting will not match the quick gearshifts of a DSG gearbox but it is definitely a lot more involving. Despite its size, the RS is a whole 150kg lighter than the Polo and a lighter car will go quicker around corners since there is lesser weight transfer. The Baleno RS is quick at direction changes and when required, the bite from the all four disc brakes comes in handy to to shave speed quickly. The long straights are a yawn in a car like this as you will max out at about 170kmph halfway through the straight, but as you approach a sequence of corners from turn 5 of the BIC, it all begins to flow quite nicely. Most of the BIC is taken in third and fourth gear with the engine revolutions in the upper midrange and the switchback through turn 6 to 7 and 8 to 9 highlights the agility of this lightweight hatchback. There’s plenty of roll and the front is softly sprung while the rear suspension is stiffer so it doesn’t feel as planted as a Polo at the limit but there’s a very strong build up of performance above 3000rpm all the way to 5000rpm. Once you get out on track with the engine on boil, it feels very naturally aspirated in the sense that you are always above the turbo-lag phase. Out on public roads and in stop-go conditions, it will be interesting to see how this motor performs as the engine doesn’t have a strong low-end. The new turbo-petrol engine makes 100.5bhp of power at 5000rpm and 150Nm of torque from a wide band of 1700-4500rpm. It is detuned for India to adapt to our sub-standard fuel quality and that’s a shame going by this engine’s strength in the current state of tune. I can foresee the RS to be a hit in the tuner community and on the rally circuit. Stiffer springs and a ECU remap should make it a blast. What I miss is a nicer engine note. The free-revving nature of the G-Series engine from the Baleno and the Esteem isn’t there here, nor is the smooth build of revs that ended in a sweet buzz when you drove those engines enthusiastically. This 3-cylinder is turbocharged so I wasn’t expecting much in terms of aural pleasure.

The gearbox is the same as the regular Baleno but with different ratios to compliment the characteristics of the turbocharged motor. You will be shifting into fourth at 120kmph and will pull through to 160kmph in fourth, after which it is a slow crawl up to gain a little more speed. Fifth gear is just for efficiency.

How expensive is it?

You can only buy the Baleno RS in the top trim, which gets you 16 inch alloys, two airbags, ABS and the large and easy to use touchscreen infotainment system. It costs Rs 8.69 lakh ex-showroom Delhi, which is about Rs 40,000 cheaper than a Polo GT TSI. On the efficiency front, the RS gets a ARAI rated figure of 21.1kmpl, which is a high number. In real world conditions however, turbo-petrol engines are known to vary their efficiency considerably according to the driving style. The best way to get good efficiency out of it is to use just enough amount of boost before you shift up. Efficient driving however isn’t what the RS will be bought for. A Maruti hatchback with over 100 horsepower is good news for petrolheads. With their vast network and excellent service, Maruti is one company that can make hot hatchbacks work in India.

Competition check

The RS is about Rs 40,000 cheaper than a Polo GT TSI. The GT TSI gets a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox and better build quality but 40k is a big undercut, and for an enthusiast’s car, the manual gearbox is a big draw. The other hot hatch with a manual gearbox is the Abarth Punto, and it costs Rs 9.91 lakh, Rs 1.2 lakh costlier than the Baleno RS.

Verdict

On the expansive Buddh International Circuit, it’s easy to understand the strength of this engine with its strong mid-range pulling well out of most corners. The quick shifts in the gearbox and the agility of the lightweight hatchback only add to its fun to drive nature, but if there is one thing, it still doesn’t match the build or the surefootedness of a Polo, which gives you a lot of confidence while driving enthusiastically on public roads. What I can tell you is that there’s genuine potential in this car to tickle the heart of an enthusiast. This car has the basics right but begs to roll straight in to a tuning shop to sharpen a few edges. Then it’ll go like stink on a narrow winding road.

evo India rating:

4/5


About the author

Anand Mohan

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