India is a land of rising aspirations and nowhere is it more evident than in our two biggest purchases - our homes and cars. We dream big; we want more. A bigger apartment. A bigger car. So while we all start out with a little 1BHK (1HK if you're in Mumbai!) and an equally little hatchback, we all aspire - and upgrade as soon as our increments allow - to a larger apartment (at least a B in Mumbai) and a boot on our car.
Explains the Indian obsession with a traditional sedan, a three-box. Hatchbacks today are no longer pokey and cramped; they're properly stylish, have excellent dynamics, are brilliantly engineered and most importantly are astonishingly good value. Yet we aspire to own a sedan. Doesn't matter that they're based on the same platform, have the same engines and are considerably more expensive - the boot tacked on spells one thing. Status.
Which brings us to the new Maruti Suzuki Dzire. It's only 145mm longer than the hatchback, has the same engines, the same cabin, same everything except there's a boot. And it is 10 per cent more expensive. Is it clever engineering or is somebody raking it in? Does it make sense as a sedan and more importantly does it meet the criteria of a do-it-all work/weekend car? We find out by comparing it with the other entry level sedans - Toyota Etios, Tata Manza and Mahindra Verito.
All four are radically different and look generations apart. Let's start with the oldest - the Verito - that also looks the oldest. It's a dated boxy design, originally sold under the Mahindra Renault banner as the Logan, a car that was developed as a cheap low cost car for emerging markets - and looks it. After Mahindra took over the project they tried to add a modicum of style with roof rails (unheard of in this segment), side cladding, chrome garnish, a rear spoiler and a new grille but the car's boxy design is a mountain too big for Mahindra's designers to crest. It has a lot to do with keeping costs in check for a car in this segment - for instance even the top end version doesn't get alloy wheels - and there's no hiding the fact that this is the same car that picks you up at the airport.
The Manza in comparison is a modern design but not a very proportionate one, the booted Indica Vista is unnecessarily bulbous and though attention grabbing, it's not for the right reasons. The unique colour options and chrome garnish work in its favour adding a spot of premiumness, allied to chrome surrounds for the fog lamps, front grille and window line.
The Etios isn't the prettiest car around but is a bit more palatable. It's a simple and traditional Toyota design, bordering on the boring. Though it too is based on a hatchback, the car is proportional and doesn't look like a hatch with a boot stuck onto it. The top end version has a lot of chrome detailing while the nose sports the typical smiley Toyota grille, but the rest of the car looks very plain. And from the rear it looks far too much like the Verito. Toyota could have injected some flair into the design considering the car was designed from the ground up for India.
The new Dzire, by dint of its sub-four metre length, shouldn't be but is by far the best looking car here. The boot integration is much better than in the previous generation car and does not appear to be an afterthought. Viewed from the rear - with the thick chrome garnish and Kizashi-inspired taillamps - it is actually good looking, so too from the rear three-quarter angle and it is only in profile that the short stubby boot looks awkward. The front nose is similar to the Swift but has a stylish new bumper, revised front grille and the air dam is more angular and sports a wider smile. The changes to the front end make the already stylish nose of the Swift even more appealing and eye-catching and then you step inside and are sold.
The Dzire's cabin is a massive step up from its rivals and switching to two-tone black-and-beige over the Swift's all-black makes it look properly premium. It has been designed with genuine flair, is very well laid out, perceived quality is excellent and ergonomics are brilliant. It is one of the few cars in the country where the volume control knob is on the right of the unit making it easier for the driver to access. The stereo controls on the steering wheel are backlit so can be used easily at night. The front seats are wide, supportive, fabulously comfortable and with height adjust (only car here to get it) delivers the best driving position. And in terms of equipment it shades everything else getting the afore mentioned integrated stereo with a clean and legible display, climate control, alloys, twin airbags and ABS. The dashboard feels nicer, is styled better and has more equipment than the City or Vento. Only thing it lacks is Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity. And space at the rear.
Since it retains the Swift's wheelbase and is less than four metres in length the compromise is rear seat room - and it is a big compromise. While the Swift has grown compared to the earlier car it is still far from being the most spacious its class and with the Dzire employing the same cabin, passengers have to make do with limited leg, knee and shoulder room. Three abreast is not at all comfortable and maximum rear knee room is just 850mm (almost 100mm short of the Manza's). Headroom is good but since the door apertures aren't very large, ingress and egress is also not very easy.
And then we come to the boot. At 316 litres, it is only 112 litres more than the Swift hatchback. In fact the Skoda Fabia offers identical space while the Honda Jazz offers an additional 50 litres. And it's completely overshadowed by the Etios which is almost double at 595 litres.
The Etios' cabin might be dull to look at but it is phenomenally roomy with brilliant space efficiency. The flat rear seat may look like an unappealing bench but the upside is three abreast at the rear is very comfortable, allied to the flat floor with no transmission tunnel intrusion. The seats initially feel a bit hard but we know from experience on our cross-country Golden Quadrilateral drive with the petrol Etios that is very supportive and comfortable over long drives. The driving position too is spot on and the flat bottomed steering wheel is a racy touch being great to grip.
That however is the only bit of flair in a thoroughly function over form cabin. The glove box is just massive and the stacked air-con vents deliver better air circulation but they don't look exciting. The centrally mounted speedometer does not appeal to everyone's tastes, nor does the stereo (no USB or Bluetooth) look and feel very high quality. Quality is not an issue but that perception of quality is lacking due to the cheap feeling texture of the plastics and the black-grey colour scheme.
Not that beige is the solution to all problems - as the Verito demonstrates. The cabin is a veritable sea of beige but it can't hide the fact that this is a utilitarian cabin built to a terrifically strict cost target. The plastics are hard, the fake wood is terribly fake, the stereo is at least a decade old before anybody thought of USB connectivity and the oddities take time to get used to - like the power window switches on the centre console, or the blower controls which work in an opposite fashion to what is the norm. The door handles moulded into the door pads feel very low-cost and there is no redline on the tacho so at first glance you don't know the speedo from the tacho (doesn't help that both move at the same relaxed pace, which we will come to later). It feels cheap then, but the Verito is actually built to last and that is a big positive. None of us have sat in a Logan taxi where theinterior trim rattles, have we? This is a cabin that can take a serious amount of punishment and not shed a tear. And then there is its comfort and roominess.
The front seats are soft and comfortable and offer a lot of room, but the driving position isn't great and it isn't supporting enough for long drives. The rear has ample knee room, 820mm to be exact, while the wide seat can easily accommodate three adults since it has the best shoulder room of 1420mm. The floor however is not fully flat like the Etios.
Moving to our purple Manza then which gets matching purple interiors that isn't kind on the eye. The upper half of the dashboard and door panel is purple while the lower half is beige. The design is neat but the quality of materials used is not on par with competition.The centre console is quite large - in fact the whole cabin feels a bit bulbous - I wonder why Tata offers a stereo system with the smallest possible screen. The fonts are tiny and one can hardly read anything. The stereo however offers Bluetooth connectivity, handsfree, USB and Aux-in options. The steering wheel is larger than one would want it to be and makes it unwieldy. The wheel however features audio and mobile handsfree controls. There is a mismatch of too many things in the car and they don't seem to gel well - like it was deigned by a committee that refused to speak to each other. The seats are wide but too hard while the seating position is far too high up, almost like a mini-SUV. However on outright space the Manza is easily the roomiest.
The Verito is an excellent car, so long as you enjoy a relaxed easy going pace. The handling is decent and the setup neutral but this isn't a car to be hustled. It is softly sprung and that makes it a very comfortable car - excellent for munching huge distances with a chauffeur behind the wheel. Get enthusiastic though and the Verito begins to grumble. The soft suspension means there a lot of body roll, the tyres run out of grip early and generous amounts of understeer sets in. The steering is numb and lifeless too and after the first two corners you won't bother with exploring its dynamic envelope.
But at least the Verito does ride quality very well. The Manza on the other hand has a firm suspension setup which means small ripples and undulations are transmitted straight to the cabin. It is not uncomfortable but neither is it settled over anything but very smooth roads. Which holds out promise for some sharp handling except when you throw it into a corner at speed there is alarming body roll and serious understeer. Plus since the driving position is high set the dynamic attitude in fast corners in very unnerving. The steering too is imprecise and lifeless and the ABS-assisted brakes aren't as sharp as the Verito's.
Jump into the Etios and immediately you notice a far better driving position - not as high as the Manza, not as low as the Verito - and everything falls much better to hand. The steering is lighter than the others so parking and manoeuvring in tight spots is far easier. In fact the whole car feels (and is) much lighter than the other two making it far easier to drive with little to no effort required on the part of the driver. And while light steering setups can get lairy at speed the Etios is never anything but utterly poised and confidence-inspiring. In fact at speed over our typically undulating and slightly bumpy highways this is the most confidence inspiring and stable at a regular 120kmph cruise.
The suspension, as is the norm in this class, errs on the softer side and that delivers a very good ride quality, both at low speeds around town and at higher speeds on the highway. It can also handle potholes quite well though the suspension does get noisy when thumping into craters or speedbreakers.
Chuck it into a corner and the soft suspension means the Etios does have body roll but there is decent control over body movements. What you do notice is that at speeds at which the Verito and Manza get hairy the Etios' tyres aren't even squealing. That's the big surprise - it might not look it but the Etios handles surprisingly well with pretty good grip levels and decent steering feedback too. Ultimately though it does settle into understeer but it doesn't come in as early as you'd think. The brakes too have very good feel, bite and feedback and deliver shorter braking distances than the Manza and Verito.
However if you truly enjoy driving the Dzire is the car for you. In our last track test at the Buddh Circuit we hailed the Swift as the best car to drive in its segment and the Dzire loses none of the Swift's driving appeal. The only difference is that the rear suspension has been softened a bit to give it a more mature ride quality and the downside is that the rear can bounce around a bit over undulating roads but otherwise since there isn't much metal in the way of a boot stuck on to it the Dzire handles with real gusto and can be pushed hard and fast.
While in the Etios you are surprised by how much mechanical grip is on offer, in the Dzire you are encouraged to driver harder and faster. This a proper enthusiast's car - the steering is extremely well weighted and precise with lots of feedback, there's an equally high degree of feedback on offer from the chassis, the suspension is compliant enough to not get upset by mid corner bumps, the tyres grip very well and the whole car feels well tied down and up to the task of attacking a set of twisties (or even a race track!). Compared to the old Dzire this is a significant improvement.
Low speed ride is good and is rather comfortable in the city. It also rides well at speed though that afore mentioned softening of the rear suspension can have it bottom out with a full complement of passengers. The braking is the best in this segment.
The Fiat-designed 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine might be the most ubiquitous diesel engine in the country but Renault's K9K is catching up finding duty in cars as diverse at the Micra/Pulse hatchbacks going up to the Fluence luxury saloon. The story however began with the Logan and it is the same engine used in the Verito (complete with Renault dCi badging on the cam covers). The engine produces 65PS of power at 4000rpm and 160Nm of torque at 2000rpm. The engine is not contemporary by any measure, of the four cars the Verito is the only car to still offer a SOHC, 2-valves-per-cylinder layout. On paper the power seems enough, but behind the wheel, throttle response is dead. Drive off in the Verito after any of the other cars and your first reaction is to check if the handbrake is still engaged.
Turbo lag isn't a problem - the engine doesn't find much enthusiasm when the turbo spools up - the problem is an extremely unhurried nature, a complete lack of appetite for moving off in a hurry. With a 17.2 seconds sprint to 100kmph the Verito is the slowest of the lot and the quarter mile takes 20.4 seconds. The car eventually maxes out at 149kmph.
The Verito is at its best cruising at 120kmph where the engine has good bottom end grunt to deal with inclines and overtaking without troubling the gearbox (which has long throws and isn't particularly slick) and is quite relaxed with little noise or harshness permeating into the cabin. The second strong point is the fuel efficiency - 14kmpl in the city and a segment best 27.3kmpl on the highway translating to an overall figure of 17.3kmpl.
The Etios is powered by a 1.4-litre D-4D engine that is similar to the Corolla but doesn't get the variable geometry turbocharger. The motor is a refined and torquey unit and produces a maximum power of 68PS at a low 3800rpm and 170Nm of max torque again from a low 1800rpm to 2400rpm. The powerband is actually very well matched to the Indian driving cycle and the torquey nature means that one doesn't need to downshift if the revs are above 1500rpm or speed is above 70kmph in fifth gear. The engine has good progression and displays little turbo lag making the power delivery linear and relaxed. However the gearshift spoils the show, one has to muscle the gear lever to slot it in place and it is not slick. The engine is also noisy, the noise being amplified by the fact that the Etios doesn't have too much sound insulation.
The numbers then: 15.84 seconds to 100kmph, 19.78 seconds for the quarter mile and 162kmph top speed. On the fuel efficiency front it returns 23.89kmpl on the highway and 16.01kmpl in the city translating into an overall figure of 17.98kmpl.
And so we come to that famous Fiat Multijet engine. In the Manza the engine is badged Quadrajet, has a variable geometry turbocharger and is made and supplied by Fiat. It produces a segment-best 90PS at 4000rpm and a healthy 200Nm of torque from 1750rpm all the way to 3000rpm. There is noticeable turbo lag however and though not as dull as the Verito, one has to wait till the needle crosses 2500rpm for the turbo to start singing and the car to start moving. Give it the beans and it is quicker than the Etios - 100kmph comes up in 15.6 seconds and the quarter mile takes 19.6 seconds. The top speed of 164.2kmph is the highest in the class thanks to taller gear ratios.
The tall ratios result in a 24.6kmpl fuel efficiency on the highway but the same tall ratios mean you're constantly working the notchy gearbox in the city dropping that figure to 13.9kmpl. An overall figure of 16.5kmpl makes it the least economical car in this test.
Neither is it the most refined nor is power delivery very progressive and that's astonishing considering it is the same basic Fiat-designed engine under the hood of the Dzire but is massively better. Think about it - Suzuki makes a better Fiat engine than Fiat!
The Dzire doesn't get the VGT turbo of the SX4 so is restricted to 75PS of power at 4000rpm and 190Nm of max torque at 2000rpm. But while it is a full 15PS short on paper, on the test track it gets to 100kmph in 14.16 seconds and crosses the quarter mile in 19.2 seconds making it the quickest car in this test.
But what is even more impressive is the excellent refinement and deliciously slick short-throw gearbox. This is a diesel engine with very few compromises. It revs enthusiastically and while there is turbo lag that's only evident because post 2500rpm the engine really takes off and scurries away.
When it comes to fuel efficiency, the Dzire returns an impressive 15.3kmpl in the city and stretches the litre to 23.89km on the highway. This translates to an overall figure of an impressive 17.5kmpl making it the second most economical car and just 0.33kmpl short of the Etios.
The Verito and Manza are the two oldest cars in this test and both look and feel it. While the Manza is tremendously spacious and has the most powerful engine (on paper) the reality is that the car isn't built as well as its rivals and can't come close to their quality levels. It isn't as well resolved dynamically and neither are the interiors cohesively designed. In this day and age you want a well built and absolutely trouble-free car and the Manza doesn't live up to those expectations. And it isn't cheap either; not only is it Rs 1.25 lakh more than the Verito it is the second most expensive car in this test.
It might be built to a price but at Rs 6.59 lakh the Verito is the cheapest car in this test so that's a definite plus point. Also while the interiors feel low-cost it is built well enough to withstand serious abuse. And it is also refined and very comfortable. It is still a better car than the Manza but roof rails and a Mahindra badge can't hide the fact that this car is the darling of taxi fleets.
Which leaves us with the two Japanese standing head and shoulders above the Indians. If you love to drive, the Dzire is the car for you. If you want style, again it's the Dzire. And when you sit inside the Dzire and take in its cabin you won't look at any other car. Plus at Rs 88,000 cheaper than the Etios (with more equipment levels too) the Dzire has the Etios eating its dust.
Or does it?
Lets look at why people buy sedans over hatchbacks. Status? The Dzire looks great, no two ways about it, but the stubby boot is far from what a typical Indian would associate with a sedan. The Etios, even though it has extremely conservative styling, actually looks like a proper sedan and thus fits this bill better.
Space. The Dzire might have a fabulous cabin but it is definitely not sedan-class in terms of space. The Etios on the other hand is far more spacious and if you're taking your family on holiday the significantly roomier and comfier Etios is a much better bet.
Boot. The Dzire will struggle to swallow your family's holiday luggage. The Etios will have space left over for womenfolk to shop their hearts out. If you're buying an entry-level sedan then for logical and rational reasons you should buy the Etios. However the brilliance of that Suzuki engine, the dynamic prowess of the chassis and the upmarket cabin makes the Dzire the best car in this segment.