No one understands the Indian car buyer like the country’s number one car maker Maruti Suzuki. They’ve given a spate of cars that are practical, reliable and easy to own. The Baleno RS is Maruti’s second launch this year after the premium hatch Ignis. But the RS is the Baleno going premium in a very different way. It’s been an immensely popular car since its launch a few years back. The Baleno is what gave Maruti’s premium channel Nexa a huge lease of life after a disappointing beginning with the S-cross. It looked great on the outside and had some never before seen features on the inside. It drove well and gave a comfortable ride. The only way it could’ve become a little more desirable is by making it a more fun to drive car. Along with a few superficial changes the big change in the Baleno RS is the new Booster jet petrol engine, that’s much more powerful and therefore provides a peppier drive. The Buddh International circuit is where we got to sample the Baleno RS, a place that clearly separates the good from the bad.
The big difference on the Baleno RS when compared to the earlier Baleno is the much talked about 1.0 liter Booster jet engine. It gives a good power of 101 bhp and a maximum torque of 150 Nm. There’s a 5 speed manual transmission on the RS and that’s the only gearbox option available. So if you were expecting an automatic gearbox or paddle shifts, they are not there as yet. There’s hardly any turbo lag in a very big spread out range. But having said that, the gearshift surely could’ve been a bit slicker and shorter. The 3 cylinder turbocharged engine is a world of a difference when compared to the 1.2 liter one and the way the car keeps up with the demands of a formula 1 track is impressive. What is also impressive is the power delivery, which is very linear. Maruti is claiming a fuel efficiency of 21.1 kmpl on the RS but expects much lesser in the real world scenario.
Looking at the competition, which is primarily the Volkswagen Polo TSi and the Fiat Punto Abarth, the thrill factor on the Baleno may be a bit unnerving. It’s more of an all-round product where a more powerful engine is one of the good attributes and not the one highlight that rises higher than other attributes.
Ride & Handling
Mechanically as well a lot has changed in the car. Maruti claims to have worked on the suspension to give a stiffer ride in this performance car. The ride height is also lower which aids in the identity of this being a car made for the track. On high speeds at a formula 1 track with fast curves, there will be body roll on the car, and the RS also succumbed to that, but overall the car feels more planted than the regular Baleno. The added weight provides the stability you’re looking for in a performance car like this one. The steering also gives ample feedback and sticking to lines isn’t such a difficult job on this one. Also a decent ground clearance of 170 mm does no harm to the Baleno. But the tyres are the same as seen on the Baleno, and especially on a racetrack you’re looking for some extra grip which is just not there.
Design wise also a few changes have been made on the Baleno RS. The bumpers have been redesigned and the rear spoiler gets larger than before. The alloy wheels also get a new colour. The skirts are good to look at, the intakes get bigger and the new shade on the grille also adds a lot of character. On the rear the spoiler becomes a little bigger than the Baleno and a chrome finished exhaust note that would’ve added so much more to the sporty feeling is just not there. But despite these shortcomings a good looking car does look slightly better if not more.
Inside nothing really has changed. The all black dash theme is still there and the large centre touch screen that’s compatible with apple car play is as efficient in its function as it was earlier. Like on the outside a bit more of RS branding on the inside would’ve caused no harm as it would’ve given a distinct feeling. Or for that matter sportier looking gear lever or the seats would’ve been nice. But none of that is there. But what you should lookout for when you’re out on the drive is the instrument cluster that gives out a digital reading of the torque and power output.
Looking at the competition which is primarily the Volkswagen Polo TSi and the Fiat Punto Abarth, the thrill factor on the Baleno may be a bit unnerving. It’s more of an all-round product where a more powerful engine is one of the good attributes and not the one highlight that rises higher than other attributes. The car comes with ABS and 2 airbags that take care of the safety aspect. It also gets disc brakes on all the wheels. Maruti has launched the RS at 8.69 lakh rupees (ex-showroom) and the car is available only in the top alpha variant.
Shams Naqvi is an anchor/producer for the News X motor show Living Cars