Maruti Suzuki India's attempts to create a stronghold in the sedan space have yielded mixed results in the past. The Esteem was a successful product; the SX4 was moderately successful but the Baleno and Kizashi failed to excite even the most loyal of Maruti customers. While all these models were technically sound for their time, it was the overall packaging and perception leading to the mixed results. With the Ciaz though, the market leader is hoping to change all that. Does it deliver on the technical and packaging fronts, and more importantly, can it be a perception changer? We answer.
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. Maruti Suzuki's SX4 has been struggling to entice consumers in recent times, in the wake of much more modern and well-equipped products from the competition. In a bid to grab a share of the popular sedan segment, Maruti Suzuki recently organised a drive preview of the new Ciaz. We drove both the petrol and diesel variants, and bring you this detailed report from Jaipur.
The Ciaz has a commanding design, partly due to its pretty large exterior size, which is reminiscent of the SX4 and the Kizashi. The car, however, has been built on an all-new platform and isn't a mere derivative of the SX4 or 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 by segment standards – that have been upped in recent times – is in itself an indicator of the progress made by the company.
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 certain modifications and tuning have been incorporated to improve the output. More importantly, these changes have improved the drivability and engine response. 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 overall lightweight body, achieved due to a lightweight platform that lowers weight but enhances torsional rigidity, helps. 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 1.3 l DDiS 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 diesel engine 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.
Fuel-efficiency is claimed to be the highest in the country with the petrol returning 20.7 km/l and the diesel returning 26.2 km/l. This should turn out to be a significant marketing tool for the company, given its perceived strength in this area.
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 petrol variant comes across as more of a value-focussed model and will find acceptance subject to significantly undercutting the key competitors in pricing.
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 in our opinion, generous headroom and shoulder room make the seat the best option in its segment.
A highlight of the cabin is the dashboard design and more so its fit and 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. The steering wheel too feels premium to hold and offers easy-to-use audio controls. 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.
Helping the dynamics is the lightweight design technology called Suzuki Total Effective Control Technology (STECT). This technology uses high tensile steel in the body structure, which reduces weight without compromising on rigidity and safety in turn. Despite being the longest car in its segment with a rich list of features, the petrol Ciaz weighs 1,010 kg while the diesel version weighs 1,105 kg. To put things into perspective, the Honda City diesel weighs 1,125 kg, while being smaller and having a lighter aluminium engine head. The Ciaz body-in-white, in fact, alone weighs about 50 kg less than that of the SX4.
Tyre options on the Ciaz include low-resistance tyres from Apollo and Goodyear, of which we found both to offer respectable grip in wet but the Apollo seemed quieter on the highway. These low-resistance tyres also contribute considerably to the best-in-class fuel-efficiency claims by the company. The figures for the same though haven't been released by the company yet.
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 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. Given the shifting preference towards petrol, owing to the reducing gap between it and diesel, the petrol model too is expected to play a much more important role than filling up a column on the brochure.
In the sedan segment, Maruti Suzuki finally seems to have a product that can take away a huge chunk of sales off competitors, and establish an acceptable equilibrium between the perception of premium and Maruti Suzuki. The only critical thing that now needs to be offered is competitive pricing, something the company has delivered well on, in the past. It is critical for the company to be successful with the Ciaz, as that would pave the way for upcoming platforms and models, opening up an untapped segment for the company.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay