Maruti is stepping up their game in the Indian market and of late they have been pushing the envelope in various new dimensions. The carmaker introduced their premium NEXA brand having niche products to taste the higher end of the mass market segment. Maruti recently experimented a different design direction with the launch of the Ignis targeting millennials and now they are finally entering the performance oriented segment. Yes, we are talking about the new Baleno RS that comes with a brand new BoosterJet engine. We just drove the hot hatch at the Buddh International Circuit, testing the limits of the 1.0-litre turbo petrol motor. The RS moniker here stands for ‘Road Sport’ and we see if the first performance-centric hatch from Maruti justifies the RS badge. Check for Baleno RS price in Kolkata
EXTERIORS AND INTERIORS
The Baleno Rs. (Road Sport, not rally sport, according to Maruti) is the car market leader’s first attempt at creating what is closest to a hot hatch. In the Indian context, this belongs to the performance category, while elsewhere in the world, this is just one more engine variant of the Baleno; and in most cases meant to help meet more stringent emission norms. But, what is in a name… or should we say an appendage. The numbers should still excite petrol-heads. How does 102 hp of power and 150 Nm of torque sound to you? Not bad for a sub-one-litre engine in a sub-tonne hatch, right?
But, before we get carried away by the new Boosterjet engine and its prowess, let us get past the Baleno RS’s design identity. From a distance, the new sportier version of the Baleno could pass off as the existing model, except maybe from the rear and if you had a keen eye. Maruti Suzuki has chosen to keep the unique features on the RS’s exterior to a fair minimum. It has got a new bonnet grille with a grey metallic chrome surround and a new bumper at the front with what looks like a large airdam and aggressive profile. Faux skirts in the same grey metallic chrome finish run along the sides and under the front fender. The rear features a considerably altered fender compared to the regular Baleno’s. There is also the rear spoiler at the roof and the mid-tail gate chrome half spoiler with the reversing camera in the middle. The only place where the Rs. appendage is visible is at the rear with the badge in blue. The most unique and good looking feature of the new Rs. variant are the black alloy wheels.
The changes to the Baleno RS’s cabin are similarly minimal. The interior is offered in an all-black avatar, in keeping with a very sophisticated, European flavour. The touchscreen infotainment screen and the coloured multi-information display in the instrument cluster with the helpful power and torque delivery identified in a real-time circular chart format have both been carried forward from the current Baleno’s cabin. The RS’s cabin is otherwise identical and doesn’t sport any Rs. identifiers. But the Baleno’s cabin was already a good jump in fit and finish quality
It doesn’t take much time to realise what this car is capable of. Shift into first gear, release the clutch and press the accelerator in under a second you might start to feel that everything around you is being fast-forwarded. The car touches a speed of 100kph in a little over 10 seconds, and has a top speed of 180kph. The Boosterjet pulls strongly from 2000rpm onwards, and keeps pulling beyond 5000rpm, so you never feel the car is running out of power, except when the rev limiter kicks in at above 6000rpm.
Now it’s a powerful engine, yet it is frugal. The claimed fuel-efficiency is a high 21.1kpl. The car has a fuel tank of 37 litres and an ideal range of over 700km on a full tank. (Part of the reason the Baleno RS is so quick is that it’s built on a lightweight platform – its weight is just 950kg.)
Maruti is offering the Baleno RS in a single variant and hence the car is loaded with top spec safety features as standard such as dual front airbags, ABS, EBD and ISOFIX child seat provision. Additionally, the Baleno RS comes with all-four discs for better stopping power. In terms of after sales, we all know that Maruti has a very renowned and wide network across the country. The NEXA channel is growing with each passing day and the ownership cost of the Baleno RS will definitely be the lowest compared to the other performance hatchbacks in this segment.
On the track, the Baleno Rs. feels much quicker than the regular Baleno. There is no turbolag and power is delivered quick… well, for a hatch in the mass market segment. The comparison can’t be with real performance cars and that is also the reason why Maruti isn’t offering a 0 to 100 kmph time for the Baleno Rs. But, getting to three-digit speeds is quick and on the long back straight in the circuit, I could reach 160 kmph or thereabouts before having to brake hard to take the fourth turn. Speaking of braking, the Rs. gets discs on all four wheels, and the brakes offer decent bite and consistent stopping force. The steering is typical hatchback style with not much feedback, though, putting the Rs. on the desired spot on tarmac isn’t so much a problem. However, the stock tyres we drove on weren’t that helpful at high speed cornering; they squealed and slipped quite a bit after a few lap
If you are looking for a quicker family hatchback, 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. The Baleno RS commands a Rs 1.4 lakh premium over the standard petrol car and does not have any additional kit. Yes, along with the more powerful engine and rear disc brakes, you also get a stiffer chassis, improved steering and suspension. However, our sources tell us that all Balenos will get the stiffer chassis soon, anyway. That being the case, the Rs 1.4 lakh premium does seem like a lot. But performance has never come cheap. So, does the car do justice to its RS badge? Yes it’s quick, but out here on the F1 track it didn’t seem a quick hot hatch. Then again, this circuit has made many a sportscar look slow. Guess it’s time to put the Baleno back to back with the Abarth Punto and the Polo GT to find out.