The three cars before you primarily focus on functionality more than proportionality. Every one of these cars looks the way it does for one purpose – to squeeze as much space from as small a footprint as possible. The key here is to offer utility over pageant-winning looks, practicality over prettiness, function over form and all within a relatively tight budget. Meet our working class heroes.
We have with us the brand new WagonR . The old Wagon R was a bestseller and Maruti looks all set to repeat the story with this new car which, at Rs 4.14 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), for the fully loaded VXi ABS; the WagonR is incredible value.
Also on our list is the WagonR’s sibling, the Zen Estilo. When it was launched, it didn’t set the sales charts afire but with the recent upgrade to the K-series engine, fresh looks and a tighter suspension, the Estilo is now a far more competent package.
Last but certainly not the least, we have the surprisingly competent Hyundai Santro. Ten years into production, it seems to have aged well and time has smoothened out its odd proportions. Hyundai’s tall boy, if anything, has been the Wagon R’s most serious rival, so this rematch is inevitable.
So which one of these tall boys is the most practical? Which one should you buy?
You may not mistake the new WagonR for anything but a Wagon R, but if you did happen to look under the skin, you wouldn’t recognise it. It’s a brand new chassis, one that is much stiffer than the old one and, crucially, has a solid sub-frame onto which the front suspension is mounted. It’s also got the longest wheelbase in its class and uses tailored steel blanks to keep a check on the weight.
In contrast is the Estilo, which is based on the old Wagon R’s platform. This means the chassis isn’t all that modern. To offset this deficiency, Maruti stiffened the suspension on the Estilo K-series to improve its dynamics. Where the Estilo scores over the Wagon R is in the looks department. By being over a 100mm shorter, the Estilo doesn’t have the same cliff-face stance as the WagonR, and looks all the better for it. Still, the build quality is flimsy and the Estilo feels less robust than the WagonR, betraying the chassis’ age.
Ten years ago, it was hard to digest the Santro’s looks. Time and the Xing have made it more acceptable. Like the Wagon R and the Estilo, the Santro uses MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle with coil springs in the back. It must be said that the Santro feels the most solid of this lot. The doors shut with a nice thunk and the quality of plastics and materials used feel just a wee bit tougher than the Marutis. This, despite the Santro being the lightest of the trio. At 854kg, the Hyundai is 11kg lighter than the Estilo and a huge 31kg less than the WagonR.
The WagonR’s dashboard looks like a big, upright slab of plastic with silver accents to provide relief. Still, the traditional strengths remain – the high seating position, good visibility and massive headroom. Some things have improved too for the seats are now far more comfortable, there’s a dramatic improvement in interior quality and there are lots of bits and pieces borrowed from more expensive Suzukis. Maruti has removed that very useful cubbyhole above the glovebox to make way for airbags (optional on the VXi) and the door pockets are smaller too. But the biggest disappointment is the tiny 180-litre boot which loses a whopping 48 litres of luggage space from the previous model. But the rear seats are easily the most spacious here and with all that headroom, it feels fantastic.
The Estilo’s two-tone dashboard has a bit more character. It’s got quite a few cubbyholes but the plastic quality is the worst of the lot and there’s a tacky feel to the inside. The seats are less supportive and with the steeply raked A-pillar, visibility forward isn’t as good as the WagonR’s.
It’s the Santro that surprises with its genuinely good plastics and the simple, easy to use nature of its controls. But look close and you’ll see its coming of age. The door pads only half-cover the inside of the doors, the gearlever is placed a bit too far back and the pedals are a bit too offset. At the rear, the seats are placed high, so getting in and out is easy but the seats themselves are firm and flat and legroom isn’t great, making the car uncomfortable over longer journeys. At 218 litres, it’s the Santro that has the biggest boot.
If you’re looking for goodies, it’s the WagonR that will please you. This top-of-the-line VXi ABS gets front airbags, ABS, an integrated audio system, tachometer, remote locking, power windows and power mirrors. The Estilo gets everything the Wagon R has minus the audio system; the Santro is the least equipped. In the range-topping GLS, it gets front power windows, power steering and central locking.
The 63bhp 1.1-litre Epsilon engine in the Santro acquits itself surprisingly well with a respectable 0-100kph time of 15.29 seconds (re-tested for this story), which makes it as quick as its modern rivals. The Santro’s motor is quite perky and has a strong midrange, which is exactly what is required in the city. Tap the throttle in any gear and you will be rewarded with immediate action. However, it’s when you push on that the engine sounds strained and rough and power rapidly tails off.
The Estilo and the WagonR share the same 998cc K10 motor and gearbox but there are a few differences. The Estilo for one, has a taller final drive ratio and a lighter kerb weight.
However, compared to the Santro’s Epsilon unit, the K10 feels a generation ahead. The broad torque spread, light kerb weight and willingness to rev hard gives both the Wagon R and Estilo a sportiness that belies their functional character. The buzzy K10 is pretty free-revving but you don’t need to wring its neck to get it to perform. The punchy mid-range is good enough for darting through streets and useful while overtaking on the highway as well.
Flat-out acceleration is a different ball game all together. While the Santro and Estilo are virtually on par for the dash to 100kph, the WagonR is slightly behind. We blame the brick-like aerodynamics and huge frontal area for the extra time. Both Marutis have hugely benefitted from the new cable-operated gearshifts, which are leagues ahead of their predecessor’s gearshift action. The Wagon R’s shift is particularly slick and the oval-shaped gear knob actually feels nice to hold. If there is one grudge with these K-series motors, it’s that the three-pot configuration has that typical three-cylinder thrum at idle and the engine isn’t as well insulated from the cabin, but it smoothens out as revs rise.
These cars have to be easy to drive in town and that they all are. It’s the Wagon R, with its tall stance and compact dimensions coupled to a light steering, that has the edge in manoeuverability. The Estilo isn’t too far behind either. It’s the Santro with its heavier steering and smaller glass area that needs a wee bit more effort in town.
The Santro’s ride is the choppiest in here too. Its suspension is the stiffest of the lot and on bad roads can make life uncomfortable for its passengers. The Wagon R in contrast has been tuned to give a softer ride. It feels nice and pliant around town but has a tendency to pitch as you go faster. Maruti has retuned the Estilo’s suspension too, making it stiffer and thereby improving its stability, if not damping quality.
Around the corners, the WagonR feels much more confident and a lot more stable than the others. The same can’t be said for the Estilo, which with that terribly vague steering and loose handling doesn’t inspire confidence at speed. The Santro’s hydraulic steering is nicely weighted and fairly accurate, allowing you to turn into corners a bit more crisply than the others. However, it doesn’t feel as relaxed on a twisty road as the WagonR.
On the highway, it’s again the WagonR which inspires the most confidence. The long wheelbase and new suspension makes it less nervous than the others and at a pinch can double up as a long-distance car.
On the fuel efficiency front, not surprisingly, the WagonR and the Estilo beat the Santro thanks to their efficient K10 engine and well- chosen gear ratios. The difference isn’t great but over a period of time, it will show up. We got 12.4kpl in the city from the WagonR versus 12.3kpl for the Estilo and 12.1kpl for the Santro. On the highway, the WagonR’s 17kpl topped the list, with the Estilo coming a close second with 16.8kpl and the Santro giving us 16.2kpl.
For all things practical, it’s the WagonR that is undoubtedly the best. It could have had a bigger boot and been more refined too but for the audience it serves it does the job better than the others. The new Maruti tall boy is the most comfortable of the lot with amazing passenger room and it feels the nicest to drive. Throw in all the equipment and the fantastic price and the WagonR is a clear winner. The Estilo doesn’t quite have the space of the WagonR nor does it feel as contemporary. The Santro has proved to be quite a competent city car. It is well built and feels the most solid of this lot. However, it doesn’t drive as well as the others, isn’t as well equipped and feels cramped in comparison to the WagonR.