With our congested narrow roads and unruly traffic, a hatchback with an automatic transmission should be the ideal choice for any city slicker. The A-Star from Maruti and the Hyundai i10 were the only players in the small car automatic arena. The A-star is the cheapest automatic you can buy though the Hyundai is more popular. Recently the Honda Brio and the Maruti Ritz have joined the fray giving us two new options to look at. Automatics have always required you to choose convenience over cost and fuel economy, which is not the trend in a cost conscious hatchback market. So will these two new entries manage to turn the tide in this space?
The Maruti Suzuki Ritz follows the 'tall boy' design philosophy and was recently updated. This gave it new head lamps, side body mouldings and a rear spoiler. It's not the greatest looking hatch but it's by no means bad looking or bland. The Honda Brio's look is a blend of cute, sharp and sporty. It sits low and has sharp accents down its flanks. It also sports one of the nicest rear ends in the hatchback market. The trim levels are the same as the top manual variant and the one below it - called the V and S(O) on the automatic, respectively. Both offer features like power windows, stereo with steering mounted controls, ABS with EBD, and driver and passenger airbags. For the test we had with us the V, the top-of-the-line variant. The Ritz is only available in the Vxi trim -the mid level variant in the Ritz line up. This means that while it does come equipped with four power windows and ABS with EBD it does miss out on dual passenger airbags.
The interiors of both cars offer similar levels of quality and fit and finish. The Ritz offers more boot space than the Brio but you will miss the powered rear view mirror adjustment and a stereo system.
The Honda Brio automatic promises to be a very exciting hatch with a first-in-class 5-speed automatic. It's driven by a 1.2-litre i-VTEC unit that produces 88PS at 6000rpm and 109Nm of torque at 4500rpm and is a rev happy mill. It's similar to the unit in the City but loses the paddle shifts. The VVT K-series 1.2-litre engine in the Ritz makes 87PS at 6000rpm and 114Nm at 4500rpm and is coupled with a 4-speed automatic transmission similar to the one that does duty in the A-star and Swift Dzire automatics.
The Brio is a joy to drive in town with its 5-speed automatic shifting quickly between ratios. Its operation is quick and inconspicuous though the eager box is always ready to down shift incase you need to make a quick overtaking manoeuvre. Bumper to bumper traffic and creeping ahead at stop lights is an effortless task.
The Ritz in comparison is also quite calm and collected in town and the two cars are quite similar to drive in traffic. Driven back to back however you do notice that the Ritz's gear changes are slower in nature. Yet the Ritz somehow feels peppier around town though on paper the 5-speed Brio should have ruled the roost. The kick down times tell a similar story with the 40-100kmph test showing that the Ritz was faster to the ton with a time of 15.53 seconds in comparison to 16.42 seconds for the Brio. This seems to be down to two things, the higher torque of the Ritz motor and also the engine speeds that the cars are doing at 40kmph. At this speed the Ritz motor seems to be in a sweet spot after kick down while the Brio takes some time to get the engine spinning after stepping down to second gear.
In acceleration tests from a stand still the Brio betters the Ritz with a timing of 16.85 second from 0-100kmph while the Ritz take 17.42 seconds to reach the same mark.
On more open roads and under hard acceleration the Ritz engine is loud enough to disturb the occupants. This is because the 4-speed transmission has taller ratios with a shift point placed high up the rev range so the time the engine spends at higher revs is longer and therefore makes the experience noisier. The Brio has better NVH levels than the Ritz and feels more linear while accelerating up to cruising speed. But the smooth and quick 5-speed box is also very sensitive to throttle inputs. Even at moderate revs rather than continue to accelerate steadily , if say you want to pass another vehicle, when throttle is applied the transmission kicks down into a lower gear instantly making it feel a bit jumpy. In effect there is no way to avoid this jumpiness and after a while it gets annoying. Honda should remodulate the shift map to erase this effect as the constant downshift affects efficiency.
In our mileage tests the Ritz turned out to be just a little bit more frugal than the Honda around town with a city consumption figure of 12.8kmpl compared to the Brio's 12.6kmpl. We were unable to conduct a highway fuel test for the Ritz but the Brio was able to manage 20.2kmpl and we expect the Ritz to be just shy of that mark with just four ratios to play with.
There is little to tell the Brio and the Ritz apart in terms of performance and driving experience. What makes the real difference is how these two cars are packaged. The Brio automatic is priced at Rs 6.39 lakh (ex-Mumbai) for the top of the line variant, a premium of Rs 78,000 over the same car with a manual transmission. The Ritz on the other hand costs Rs 6.51 lakh (ex-Mumbai) and is a whopping Rs 1.32 lakh over its manual version. They both offer great piece of mind and convenience when driving around town albeit at the cost of, on an average, two kilometres to every litre of petrol they consume when compared to a manual. Is the trade-off worth it for the convenience and lack of stress alone? We think it is. For those willing to pay the premium the Brio with its longer feature list and safety features is easily the better choice to make.