Maruti has a pedigree when it comes to making reliable and cheap-to-run cars. But with the country slowly warming up to the idea of hot hatchbacks, India’s largest carmaker has taken its first crack at the segment in the Baleno RS. For a change, the fuel economy figure (21.4kpl) has taken a back seat and power is right at the forefront. The highlight of the Baleno RS is of course the new 1.0-litre, three cylinder, direct injection, turbocharged petrol motor that makes 102hp and 150Nm of torque. This is the most powerful petrol engine in Maruti’s current line-up, and while the numbers seem a bit underwhelming, they translate into a power to weight ratio of 107hp per tonne in the bantamweight Baleno. Additionally, Maruti claims to have tweaked the suspension for a sportier drive too.
But you won’t be able to appreciate any of this until you drive the Baleno RS. What you will, however, are the subtle styling changes. To go with the sporty image, there’s a revised grille, and different bumpers at the front and rear; the latter looks particularly aggressive. And then the blacked-out headlamps, side skirts and the RS badge distinguish it from the regular car.
The cabin, though, is virtually identical to the top-end Alpha variant, which is no bad thing to start with. You get the automatic climate control, 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay and all the other standard infotainment features. Unfortunately, some low-rent buttons and plastics too have made their way into the RS, which is a let-down. The front seats, like the stock car, are large and comfortable, although a sportier set of seats with more lateral support would have been more than welcome. It is the same story in the back, where the ample legroom and wide bench give enough room for three adults. All in all then, Maruti has found a good middle-ground between performance and practicality, but it could have made the interior different from the regular Baleno and thrown in a few more ‘RS’ bits, maybe?
Maruti has done a good job with the Baleno RS’s 1.0-litre petrol engine. It has been slightly detuned from the European version to cope with poor fuel quality around India, but it still feels sufficient, if not ample. Power builds up from a lowly 1600rpm, and once you cross 2000rpm, the engine spins quickly all the way to its 6200rpm limiter. It’s best to keep the revs between 3000rpm and 5000rpm to extract the most out of this motor, as there isn’t much performance to be had after that. There is an ever present noise as the revs climb, but rather than a gruff clatter (typical of a three-cylinder engine), it’s a pleasant thrum that sounds quite sporty. The 5-speed manual gearbox feels a little firmer to shift than in the standard car, but it’s not to the point of discomfort and instead gives shifts a slightly more reassuring feel.
The revised suspension has given the car a bit more stability at speed, and handling on the whole has improved a bit. What adds to this feel is the steering which now feels a touch heavier and gives you more confidence to drive enthusiastically. Plus, the brakes on this car are great, no doubt helped by the addition of discs at the rear.
If you are looking for a family hatchback with a shot of fun, the Baleno RS won’t disappoint. With better acceleration, steering and brakes, the performance is an improvement over the standard petrol version. But this comes at a price. At Rs 8.69 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Baleno RS commands a Rs 1.4 lakh premium over the top-end petrol car and does not have any additional equipment. However, it is still quite well-priced when you consider similarly positioned cars like the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI and the Abarth Punto.
So, does the car do justice to its RS badge? Yes, it’s quick, but this is clearly not an out-and-out sportscar. What this is then, is a great top-of-the-line variant for the Baleno range, that’s still practical and more fun to drive. Just don’t expect it to deliver true-blue hot hatch thrills.
(In partnership with AutocarIndia)