When Sirish asked me to do the Eon versus Alto comparo, I was still fresh with memories from the inaugural Grand Prix of India. So it was no surprise that the first thing that popped into my mind was to take both cars and head to a race track. But then one lap of the Buddh circuit in either the Alto or the Eon could takes eons. It would be the same at Chennai and Coimbatore was just too far off the map to make anything convenient. Fortunately there was a track much closer to home, a track that was just the right length to make these cars sizzle and buzz. Just 231km away from Pune to be exact - the Mohite's Racing Academy in Kolhapur has one of the best karting circuits in the western region and it's a perfect match for two of India's smallest cars. So off we went in our entry level hatchbacks for a dogfight as old as any.
Design & Style
The Alto has been around for a decade now, the K10 received a nose job and a redesigned tail to give it a fresh look but that doesn't make the car any different from the Alto we've known Maruti engineers may have shoe-horned the K10B engine into the Alto but this resulted in increasing the length of the engine bay. The front overhang also got longer and as a result doesn't look proportionate when viewed side on. The Eon on the other hand is an all-new car and brings in never seen before styling to this segment, makes the Alto in comparison look prehistoric. Hyundai's fluidic design language gives the Eon a funky and attractive look when viewed from any angle. There are a lot of lines running across the car and this definitely makes it stand out, not just in its segment but also when compared to more premium hatchbacks.
Stepping inside, the Alto's interior does not have much going for it and feels completely outdated. The cabin hasn't changed for years and the grey-black shades look dull. However, the instrument console features a three pod layout that also includes a tachometer alongside easy to read dials. Since there is no standard stereo offered, the empty space came in handy to place my cellphone and toll bills. In terms of passenger space, the front offers decent space but dont expect the ones at the rear to feel comfortable and since the car is narrow, the front passengers are often found rubbing shoulders. Some sculpting has been done to the front seats to allow a bit more knee room for the rear seat passengers but honestly it makes no difference. The Eon carries forward a modern and fresh look to the interiors; the dual-tone colour scheme immediately gives a richer and more luxurious feel. The integrated stereo (available only in the top variants), faux aluminum inserts across the dashboard and the door pads add to the premiumness. The control knobs and plastics are of better quality than the Alto's. One doesn't expect to see such things in an entry level car but Hyundai have had the liberty of building something entirely new unlike Maruti and that makes all the difference.
There are a lot of storage bins and cup holders making the cabin quite practical. Since the car is wider than the Alto and designed to offer maximum interior space, four people are more comfortable in the Eon, there is also generous knee room and shoulder room for rear seat passengers. Overall, there is little doubt that the Eon is fairly superior to the Alto in this department. But while pleasing aesthetics and contemporary styling are important in this segment it's the engines and how they behave that play a more crucial role.
In terms of the engines, both the cars are powered by three-cylinder units but the Alto K10 displaces 998cc compared to the Eon's 814cc unit. The engine is one of the best units in it class and is the only 1.0 litre twin cam engine available in India. The engine produces 68PS at 6200rpm and a healthy torque rating of 90Nm at 3500rpm. In comparison, the Eon produces only 56PS at 5500rpm and peak torque of 76.5Nm at 4000rpm. The Alto engine feels more eager when compared with the Eon but that's only because it is more powerful and therefore feels less stressful. The Eon in fact feels more like the Alto 800cc, it refuses to move off the block at times unless revved hard. Both the cars have 5-speed transmissions and are smooth to operate. However the Alto's feels a tad better to use. The engine too is more refined and not as harsh as the Eon.
Performance and Efficiency
The Alto is slightly heavier to the Eon but since its engine is much more powerful, the power to weight figure is an impressive 88.88PS per tonne. The Eon meanwhile is 40kg ligher than the Alto but since it produces a moderate 56PS, the power to weight ratio is just 77.24PS per tonne. The Alto thus easily zooms away into the distance touching a 100kmph in just 15.2 seconds, the Eon on the other hand does it in 19.08 seconds. The Alto maxes out at an incredible 153kmph while the Eon doesn't go beyond 131kmph. In terms of fuel efficiency, the Alto managed to return more. In the city the car returned 16.3kmpl while on the highway it returned an impressive 26.3kmpl translating to an overall figure of 18.8kmpl. The ARAI claimed figure is 20.2kmpl. The Eon meanwhile returned 15.6kmpl in the city and 24.3kmpl in the highway, the overall figure then stands at 17.7kmpl which is much lesser than the claimed 21.1kmpl ARAI claimed figure. Ride and Handling Both cars have similar suspension setups, MacPherson at the front and torsion beam at the rear. The Alto manages to ride marginally better over scarred roads and potholes than the Eon, however the Hyundai's ride quality and stability on smooth surfaces and at speeds is better. The Eon also gets gas charged dampers which is a first for its segment. In terms of handling, the Eon is happy as long as it is in the city, a drive around the go-kart track saw the car roll quite a bit and also understeer. The Alto also understeered but body roll is considerably less when compared to the Eon. The Alto is more chuckable around corners. The Eon's power steering is a bit lifeless and not communicative or precise when driven enthusiastically; the Alto's steering also felt better in terms of precision and feedback on the track. Both cars run on 155 section tyres mounted on 13-inch rims, the lower models of the Eon make do with 12-inch rims.
The Alto is available in two variants LXi and VXi, the LXi basically offers power steering and air conditioning and is priced at Rs 3.25lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai. The VXi meanwhile in addition offers front power windows, front fog lamps, central locking and an electronic trip meter and is priced at Rs 3.38 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai. The Eon is offered in six different variants, prices start at Rs 2.83 lakh and ends at 3.89 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai. For the price of the Alto Lxi, one can get the Eon Era variant with standard features such as air conditioner, electric power steering and tinted glass. A Rs 25000 premium over the Alto VXi's price will get one the Eon Magna with optional package, which includes, adjustable steering, front power windows, 2DIN stereo, USB and aux ports. The Eon also offers a driver airbag for the first time in this category, this is however available only in the top end Sportz variant which also offers keyless entry and front fog lamps and is priced at Rs 3.89 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai.
Does the Eon move the game ahead? not entirely. But thanks to the way it's styled designed and packaged it shifts the spotlight away from the Alto, but displacing the Alto as India's largest selling car, is completely out of the question. The Eon feels contemporary where styling and space is concerned, add to it it does have better material finish, more features and that premium feel which is a highly sought after aspect even for consumers looking for inexpensive cars. In a direct head to head against the basic Alto which is powered by the 800cc engine, the Alto would walk out of the ring all bruised and battered, bleeding from everywhere. The Alto K10 however is not that much of a pushover, it's got a stronger engine that is just as contemporary but packs in a bigger punch, it is more fuel efficient and in harsher conditions offers better ride quality. It's also a more fun to drive car than the Eon and costs less. So the sensible choice would be to buy an Alto K10 to which Maruti's service network and reliability add more value. However the Eon signifies change, the first to come about in over a decade and in this segment it's all that matters. Man can't live on bread alone, and the Eon is quite literally a buffet. The Eon however is the better overall car. It offers first in segment features, better ride quality and style. The car has definitely changed the way one looks at affordable cars today and it's the Hyundai that wins