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Up renovation road

autos Updated: Apr 28, 2010 17:33 IST
Hormazd Sorabjee
Highlight Story

The blue tinge in those big headlamps on the new WagonR is a subtle feature that’s easy to miss. Yes, it’s a unique way of christening the hatch ‘The Blue-Eyed-Boy’. Since its launch back in 2000, over 8,50,000 WagonRs have rolled off the production line. This car has even become the second-best selling in the Maruti stable, after the Alto. A clever mix of performance, affordability and practicality has given this decade-old Maruti a strong fan following. But in an effort to keep WagonR loyalists away from rivals, Maruti has pulled out all the stops with a full-model change which is two generations ahead of the model it replaces.

Maruti has now spent Rs 290 crore on the new WagonR’s development. It hasn’t simply plucked the little Suzuki off Japanese streets to flash it in India. This time, Maruti engineers were involved in the development right from the drawing-board stage.

The objective was to tailor the car specifically for the Indian market. This is the first time in Suzuki’s (or Maruti’s) history that a car has been developed for the Japanese and Indian markets simultaneously.

Common, uncommon
Both models share the same platform and parts such as the roof, tailgate and doors. Maruti should have carried over the ‘pull-type’ door handles instead of instilling the ‘lift-type’ design. The main visual difference lies at the front. The Indian model has a prominent nose with large lights, a wide grille and a massive, stretched air intake below the bumper. The ‘smiling’ grille is part of the company’s new-found styling language also seen in the face-lifted Estilo.

We noticed glaring panel gaps between the bonnet and the side fender. It’s quite likely the dies for these body panels were locally made and don’t quite have the same fit and finish as the Japanese ones.

Unlike the Japanese model — which is powered by an ultra-compact 660 cc motor that slots into a smaller engine bay — the Indian WagonR comes with the 998 cc, three-cylinder K10 engine. The longer bonnet not only makes the car look bigger but also helps visually balance its 1,700 mm height. Also, the stretched 2,400 mm wheelbase, 14-inch wheels (on the VXi variant), wider rear windows (the rear quarter-glass is gone) and tipped-forward stance with a protruding chin and a generous overhang add to the newfound appeal. And though it is still tall, it doesn’t have the same skyscraper-on-wheels look.

The new WagonR is underpinned by a chassis that is leagues ahead of the previous model. It’s stiffer, improves dynamics and isolates the cabin from vibration. The lower suspension arms are now L-shaped for better control, especially over rough roads. The new platform bodes well for interior space. This WagonR is marginally heavier but compared to its direct rivals, the i10 or Beat, it’s 50 to 80 kg lighter.

The new WagonR stands taller than its rivals in terms of passenger space. Legroom, both front and back, and headroom are astonishing. But the rear bench seats just two in comfort — the under-thigh support and high seating position make it really comfortable. The front seats, too, have good thigh support but the high seating position is negated by the tall dashboard and fixed seat. The steering tilts but short drivers might feel uneasy with the absence of seat height adjust function. The seatbelt anchoring point on the B-pillar, which was too high for short people, is now positioned at the correct height.

The WagonR’s dashboard is embellished with silver-accented surrounds for the air vents and vertical and horizontal strips. This detailing provides some visual relief. The interiors feel much more upmarket than before; airbags and ABS are now available on the VXi model and there’s also a stereo system that’s neatly integrated into the centre console. The instrument cluster is cheerful, door latches are heavy-duty and there are lots of bits and pieces from the pricier Swift.

Falling short
While the new WagonR is way ahead of its predecessor, the goalposts have shifted in the past years. The WagonR’s plastic quality falls short of the class-best Hyundai i10 and Chevy Beat. The glovebox is tiny and there’s no recess in the dash.

The door pockets are slender and other storage areas, too, have become smaller. A detachable shopping tray below the front seat is a clever bit. Boot space, too, has been considerably reduced. The WagonR is the third model in Maruti’s line-up to use the K10 petrol motor, which develops a nifty 67 bhp. At idle, it has the typical three-cylinder thrum and isn’t as silent as the Beat’s four-cylinder motor. The WagonR’s engine smoothens out as the revs rise but it gets quite vocal when it nears the 6400 rpm redline. Performance is strong for a one-litre car and the K10’s broad torque spread gives a punchy mid-range. This engine loves to be revved and this gives the WagonR a sportiness that belies its functional character. The light body weight translates into an impressive power-to-weight ratio and you never feel there’s a shortage of power.

The WagonR has a company-claimed top speed of 152 kph while 0-100 kph should be in the region of 15 seconds. The cable-operated gearshift is much better than the previous linkage-operated gearshift — the gears now click through with precision and the oval gearknob feels nice to hold too.

Performance
The new WagonR has a feeling of stability that was missing in the previous car. But with a body that soars into the sky the WagonR feels significantly top-heavy. Though there is body roll, it feels more planted than before. Also, the electrically assisted power steering feels light and lifeless around the straight-ahead position at high speeds. The soft suspension is great for low speeds but has a tendency to pitch, especially at the rear, on uneven surfaces.

The test drive route on the undulating Puri-Konark highway in Orissa is clearly not the WagonR’s natural habitat. This car has been designed to thrive in the urban environment, which it does. At low speeds, the ride is comfortable and manoeuvrability is brilliant. Good visibility from its high stance and the compact proportions give you confidence to slot the WagonR through gaps.

The new WagonR is bigger and better in every aspect. It is now more of a mainstream car with a wider appeal. Compared to some of its rivals, the WagonR doesn’t come across as solid or refined. There’s a fair amount of wind and road noise and the engine is audible too. This suggests that cabin insulation could be better.

Keep the WagonR confined within city limits or for short hops, and most of these shortcomings can be overlooked. The light controls, high seating, responsive engine and tiny proportions make it effortless to punt around town. The best bit is that the WagonR’s small footprint hasn’t compromised passenger room, thanks to its tall shape, and is far more spacious than its rivals.

Verdict
Priced at an estimated Rs 3.6 lakh, delivering class-leading economy (18.9 kpl is the official figure) and backed with Maruti’s top-class aftersales service, the new Wagon R is easily the most user-friendly city car you can buy.

- Autocar India