The dynamics of the sedan market have changed a fair bit in India in the past few years, bringing about a sea-shift in the way C-segment sedans are packaged. In the wake of much more modern and well-equipped models from competition, Maruti Suzuki's SX4 has been struggling to entice consumers in recent times. The leading carmaker has now previewed the Ciaz sedan, which is expected to cheer up the upper end of the C segment. We were recently invited to drive the vehicle in Jaipur. Here are our initial impressions.
The Ciaz has a commanding design, partly due to its pretty large exterior size, which is reminiscent of the SX4 and the Kizashi. The wide front grille along with swept back triangular headlamps lends a wide and planted look to the front. The chrome grille, along with large air-dams in the bumper, gives a purposeful sense to the overall design.
The roofline rises and tapers in symmetry, without any sharp edges, going along well with the practical and luxurious positioning of the vehicle. The alloy-wheel design too helps impart a premium-look to the exterior, an attribute not usually seen on Maruti Suzuki cars. At the rear, the design is a bit conflicting to the front and lacks a free-flow and integrated appeal. The rear bumper with two large scoops in the lower part leaves some desire for improvement, when considering the overall design of the vehicle.
On the whole though, the Ciaz looks better in flesh than in pictures, owing to the small touches that lend it a premium look. The design should appeal to a wider range of consumers than the company has been able to target in the past. The fact that the Ciaz comes across as a premium offering on account of its exterior design and fit & finish, is in itself an indicator of the progress made by Maruti-Suzuki.
The Ciaz will be offered with two options each for the engine and transmission – 1.4 l K14 VVT petrol and 1.3 l DDiS with a five-speed manual for both and a four-speed automatic transmission for the petrol. During the drive, we were able to test only the manual-transmission equipped vehicles.
The 1.4 l K14 VVT engine is the same unit found in the Ertiga but features some internal changes and fine-tuning in order to improve the output slightly. More importantly, these changes have improved the drivability and engine response, making the car better to drive. An output of about 90 hp might not sound much but the Ciaz doesn't disappoint, although it isn't one of the quickest in its segment. The reason for the acceptable performance is the light weight of the car, which has been achieved by designing a lightweight platform, which lowers weight but enhances torsional rigidity. The surprisingly light metrics of the Ciaz at 1,010 kg for the petrol and 1,105 kg for the diesel give it a good power-to-weight ratio.
The petrol motor, however, isn't as refined as expected and motor sound is audible in the cabin, while accelerating or at high speeds. In addition, the gear ratios, which seem to have been spread out wide apart in favour of fuel-efficiency, make the engine gather speed a little slower. The gearbox in itself though is smooth to operate and coupled with a light clutch, makes the car easy to drive in traffic.
The abilities of the original 1.3 l Multijet engine are well-known to all, owing to the multiple brands using it in their cars successfully. Still it came as a surprise to us that the DDiS unit on the Ciaz outperforms its petrol sibling in almost every area. The re-calibrated unit now offers power lower in the power band, reducing lag and improving response time. The unit makes about 88 hp and 200 Nm of torque, the latter giving the car a more instantaneous thrust while accelerating. At about 1,600 rpm the engine begins to respond and by 2,000 rpm acceleration is brisk. The diesel Ciaz also turned out to feature a quieter cabin than the petrol version and at highway speeds, it's almost hard to make out if there's a diesel engine under the hood.
In a nutshell, Maruti Suzuki seems to have got its engine options right since the diesel version is expected to sell more and is also the better one. The only worry here might be the reversing price trend of the two fuels, with petrol heading south, while diesel is north-bound. Addressing this trend though should be manageable for the company through better cabin insulation and reworked gear ratios.
The Ciaz has the longest wheelbase in its segment, the benefits of which are evident at the rear seat. Legroom is more than what one would find in the Hyundai Verna or the Honda City and generous headroom and shoulder room make the seat the best option in its segment in our opinion.
A highlight of the cabin is the dashboard design and more so its fit & finish levels, and material quality. Maruti Suzuki has made a significant progress in this department and the Ciaz interiors feature a clean and ergonomically sound cabin. Touch-points are good to feel in most places and the 7-inch colour touch-screen in the centre console adds to the upmarket feel of the interiors. The screen in itself though is a little slow to respond to inputs but is intuitive. Seats on both ends are comfortable and feature material of good quality and texture.
Ciaz is a neutral-handling vehicle with a good suspension set-up, which offers good ride quality over broken surfaces. This would be appreciated well by people looking for a practical and comfortable sedan. Going through bends at high speeds too doesn't unnerve the driver as the car holds its line, owing to the 195-section tyres fitted on 16-inch wheels, the latter of which will be offered only on top variants. There is some body-roll but given the positioning of the vehicle and its compliant handling, there isn't anything to complain about.
With the Ciaz, Maruti-Suzuki has been successful in delivering an attribute yet to be seen on locally-engineered products – premium feel. The Ciaz, both on the outside and inside feels premium by segment standards and should be able to strike a chord with style-conscious consumers too.
A major progress comes in the form of the interior design and the quality offered therein. Past products from the company didn't compete strongly with its European and Japanese rivals in this department but that has changed with the Ciaz. Add to it the popularity of diesel engines in the segment and the appreciable performance of the unit in Ciaz and it seems Maruti Suzuki has a winner on hands. The only critical thing that now needs to be offered is competitive pricing, something the company has delivered well till now.
Watch out for a detailed technical review of the Ciaz in our October issue with more details on the specifics of the improvements in powertrain, dynamics and comfort.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay