Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) decided to start 2017 with a bang, by adding an all-new hatchback to its already strong portfolio of small cars for India. This new car, the Ignis, is an urban crossover that's specifically aimed at millennials – affluent, young, urban buyers who want a car that's at least as smart as their phone. The Ignis isn't a run-of-the-mill small Maruti hatchback. Instead, it's aggressively styled, is very well put together, features tablet-like instrumentation and is available with many options for customisation.
DESIGN & STYLING
At the very outset, the Ignis was designed to present a unique driving proposition to millennials, and in addition to the actual driving experience itself, styling was supposed to be the Ignis' key differentiator. And given the way it looks, we'd say that Maruti Suzuki has pulled it off – the Ignis does look quite cool and is effortlessly stylish.
In terms of unique styling elements, notable bits on the Ignis are its LED projector headlamps, LED daytime running lights, subtle chrome inserts in the front grille, exaggerated wheel arches that are properly filled out with 15-inch five-spoke black-painted alloy wheels, blacked-out A- and B-pillars, and understated black finish on the wheel arches and the rear bumper. Even with a wheelbase of 2,435 mm (as compared to, say, the Wagon R, which has a wheelbase of 2,400 mm, or the Swift, which stands at 2,430 mm), the Ignis is still definitely a small, compact car, but due to the design cues used by Suzuki designers, it manages to boast an SUV-crossover design vibe, which its target audience will probably love.
If that wasn't enough already, Maruti Suzuki is also offering extensive customisation options on the Ignis, including various types of roof wraps, black and other colour options for the outside rear-view mirrors, spoilers, fog lamp trim, skid plates and more. For those who love to tinker and personalise, the Ignis seems to have great potential.
POWERTRAIN & TRANSMISSION
While the Ignis is, according to Maruti, a premium car and will be sold exclusively via MSIL's 'Nexa' dealerships, it still shares its engines with the rest of Maruti's small car line-up. MSIL's tried and tested four-cylinder 1.2 l petrol and 1.3 l diesel engines are available on the Ignis, and both are available with an option of 5-speed manual or 5-speed automated-manual (AMT) transmissions. The engines have been especially calibrated for the Ignis, with the petrol VVT unit producing 82 hp at 6,000 rpm and 113 Nm of torque at 4,200 rpm, while the diesel DDiS engine makes 74 hp at 4,000 rpm and an impressive 190 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm.
The first Ignis variant that we drove was fitted with the DDiS diesel engine, with AMT. (Maruti calls its AMT system 'AGS,' or 'auto gear shift' and this system also allows clutchless manual shifting, which can sometimes be useful while driving on tricky mountain roads or during particularly spirited driving.) With its AMT slotted in 'D,' the diesel-powered Ignis got off the line cleanly, quickly accelerating to a cruising speed of 70-80 km/h without any fuss whatsoever. With its kerb weight of about 960 kg (the Wagon R has a kerb weight of 870 kg, while the Swift weighs 1,060 kg), inherent limitations of the AMT set-up, and the slow-revving nature of Maruti's 1.3 l diesel engine, this Ignis doesn't feel particularly eager to get up to speed, but feels competent and is quite capable of keeping up with traffic.
While the AMT has been recalibrated especially for the Ignis and does show a marked improvement over similar units used on some other Maruti cars (and also performs better than AMT units found on similarly equipped cars from the competition), it's still definitely not as smooth and seamless as a conventional torque-converter automatic or a CVT. Overtaking can sometimes require some advance planning, since response from the AMT can be a bit unpredictable.
That said, the Ignis' AMT works in a reasonably unobtrusive manner, especially if you learn to modulate the throttle in a way that minimises jerks and hiccups. It's a cost-effective solution that works, bringing the convenience of an automatic at a lower price point, and without hurting fuel economy. Speaking of fuel economy, Maruti claims a figure of 26.80 km/l for the diesel Ignis, which should compensate for the fact that the 1.3 l DDiS, with its 74 hp output, won't win any 'hot hatch' competitions. It works equally well in city traffic and out on the open highway, with strong torque delivery and NVH levels that are quite acceptable, but delivering excitement is not its forte.
While the 1.3 l diesel will definitely be the sensible option for many, the more fun-to-drive Ignis is definitely the petrol-engined version, which we drove next, and which was also fitted with a 5-speed manual transmission. While 82 hp may not sound very impressive on paper, Maruti Suzuki's four-cylinder 1.2 l petrol engine, with variable valve timing, is a free-revving unit that loves to be pushed. Freed from the mechanical limitations of an AMT and operated via a slick 5-speed manual transmission, the petrol engine delivers the 'zing' that you would expect from a car that looks as funky as the Ignis.
Low- to mid-rpm power delivery is energetic and if you use its slick, smooth 5-speed gearbox aggressively, the Ignis scoots and hustles through traffic with remarkable alacrity. Out on the highway, the power delivery does taper off a bit at higher revs, but we have to remember that this is, after all, a city slicker that's best for tackling the urban gridlock. It's definitely more fun to drive than the 1.3 l diesel, but we'll note here that claimed fuel efficiency for the petrol engine is 20.89 km/l, which is about 22 % less than the figure claimed for the diesel engine.
We also had an opportunity to sample an AMT-equipped petrol-engined Ignis, which felt a bit smoother than the similarly equipped diesel Ignis. Maybe it was the gear ratios or maybe the calibration software, but the AMT unit felt more in sync with the petrol engine's power and torque delivery, resulting in a smoother driving experience. So there you have it – opt for the petrol manual if you want full, complete control and the 'fun to drive' element, and go for the diesel AMT if you prefer the diesel's fuel economy, combined with the sheer convenience of an automatic.
RIDE, HANDLING & SAFETY
The Ignis rides on 15-inch alloy wheels, shod with 175/65 R 15 rubber. Suspension set-up is McPherson strut at the front and torsion beam at the back, and both ends seem to have been very well optimised for Indian roads and driving conditions. Spring and damper rates aren't overly firm and ride quality remains fairly supple at most times. We won't call it 'plush,' but the Ignis does handle rough terrain with fair aplomb and, for the most part, remains comfortable over most roads.
The electric power steering is light and keeps the car manoeuvrable in all driving conditions. There isn't really a great deal of feel/ feedback from the steering, but at least it doesn't feel over-assisted. In fact, the Ignis remains quite calm and composed during lane change manoeuvres at moderate to high-ish speeds, and actually seems to enjoy cornering at a rapid pace. While it's definitely not a 'hot hatch,' the Ignis almost has go-kart-like enthusiasm for spirited driving, and enjoys being pushed hard – something that driving enthusiasts will appreciate.
In terms of safety, the Ignis is equipped with dual airbags at the front and has anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD). Based on Maruti's new 'A' platform, the Ignis' monocoque structure has been designed to absorb and disperse crash energy in the event of an impact. The car also cares for pedestrians and features collapsible wipers, energy-absorbing headlamps and a hood panel designed to minimise injury to pedestrians, in the event of a low-speed collision. Front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, and ISOFIX child seat anchorage means that the Ignis is kitted out with some world-class safety features, which is commendable.
INTERIORS & CONNECTIVITY
Its interiors are one area, where the Ignis truly shines – everything feels very well put together and build quality is very good indeed. Suzuki's designers have made excellent use of body-coloured elements (which look like metal but are actually high-quality plastic) in the car's interiors, which is complemented by the use of carbon fibre-like detailing on the dashboard. The toggle switches, elevated and centrally positioned tablet-like infotainment system (with steering wheel-mounted controls), and features like push-button start, reverse parking sensor with camera, and full Android Auto and Apple Car Play compatibility, with seamless smartphone pairing for full internet connectivity, means that MSIL has left no stone unturned when it comes to infotainment.
The cabin itself is reasonably roomy and well appointed, with soft-touch plastics having been used in most places, along with seat upholstery material that feels acceptably nice. The car features a 265 l boot, which can be further extended by folding down the car's 60:40 split rear seats. Overall, it's quite comfortable for four medium-sized passengers, and you shouldn't really be trying to squeeze in more people in a compact hatchback like this!
The Ignis is available in Sigma, Delta, Zeta and Alpha versions, with the petrol manual Sigma (base model) priced at ' 4.59 lakh and the petrol Zeta, with AMT, priced at ' 6.30 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi. Prices for the diesel manual start at ' 6.39 lakh, going up to ' 7.46 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) for the top-end diesel automatic. If you can live without the bigger infotainment tablet and fancy toggle-type switches that the top-end variants get, we'd say that the mid-level variants of the Ignis represent best value for money. The best part is that the safety features (ABS, airbags etc.) are standard fitment on all versions, including the base models, which also get full smartphone connectivity.
Either way, the Ignis really does seem to represent the beginning of fresh, innovative thinking at Maruti Suzuki and their next-generation of smart, safe and connected compact cars will likely be nothing like we've ever seen before.
In Conversation with CV Raman, Executive Director (Engineering), MSIL, for a quick chat on how the Ignis fits into MSIL's small car strategy.
On the Ignis' design brief
The design brief was that to have a product for young customers, a customer who is evolving. The product had to be distinct, it had to have customisation and personalisation options, it had to have both petrol and diesel engine options and it had to have two-pedal [referring to AGS] technology. It had to be something that's fun to drive, vibrant and something that the youth can identify with.
On Maruti's small car strategy
In the next five years, we need to bring to the market fifteen new models, and as part of that we're expanding our market, increasing our volumes and looking at new segments. As the volumes grow, more segmentation is going to happen, and more products will be required in order to meet that demand. So from that perspective, we have initiated our mission 2.0.
On evolution in design
We are changing our design language, we are showcasing design, we are showcasing technology in our products. We're bringing in that personalisation and customisation aspect our cars and, of course, we're also upgrading our platforms and engines, providing better performance and ensuring that our products meet new safety norms. For example, the Ignis meets the 2017-18 offset side-impact pedestrian protection norms. We also have Isofix and as part of our Nexa strategy, we have dual airbags and ABS as standard on all variants of the Ignis. That's a very clear message going out from Maruti Suzuki, about safety, about technology, about design, about comfort and convenience.
On the Ignis' new platform
With the Baleno, we introduced the B platform, which was a global fifth-generation platform, with which we have more torsional rigidity, lower weight and better crash protection. The Ignis is based on the new A platform, which has different underpinnings but the same platform strategy [in terms of lightweighting and safety].
Development work undertaken in India
As far as development in India is concerned, it was more about market research, which was required from the customer point of view, to understand what Indian customers would appreciate in terms of design, colours, finishes and fabrics etc. From a performance point of view, it was more about calibration of both the petrol and the diesel engines, and the AGS, for Indian road conditions. The suspension tuning, again, is different from the Ignis' global model, which also uses different engines from what is being offered in India.
On whether Maruti considered using their 1.4 l petrol engine on the Ignis, to make it a proper 'hot hatch'
No, we never considered that because from our strategy point of view, we are looking at reducing the vehicle's weight. So from a power-to-weight ratio and performance standpoint, these engines [1.2 l petrol and 1.3 l diesel] are more than adequate, as you would have experienced during the drive.
TEXT: Sameer Kumar
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay