Practicality, ease of use, low running costs and hassle-free ownership – these are the rules that Datsun will have to swear by to get up and go in India. For, as we know, it is one thing to price a car attractively and a whole new ballgame to match the Maruti and Hyundai experience.
It’s why you see the Maruti Wagon R and the Hyundai Eon parked up next to the new Datsun Go. At Rs 3.83 lakh for the Wagon R LXi and Rs 3.85 lakh for the Hyundai Eon Sportz, these two cars represent the two heavyweights in this segment – the Wagon R, with its boxy, practical, no-nonsense air, and the Eon with its cheap-doesn’t-have-to-be-square attitude. Compare that to this top-end Go T’s Rs 3.69 lakh and the difference in price isn’t that great. What the Go will have to do then is, at the very least, match up to its rivals as a car and an ownership proposition. Can it?
The Go looks good. It may not have the head-turning styling of the flowing, fluidic Eon, but there’s a nice sense of proportion to the sheetmetal. It also maintains a healthy distance from the Wagon R’s function-over-form looks, and the robust lines give it the best road presence. In fact, the Go’s appealing styling is likely to be its biggest strength, and will be the main draw for many buyers. It’s only when you look deeper that you see that the design begs for a few embellishments. The Go’s biggish body could really do with bigger wheels, and the wheel arches have absolutely no inner cladding, leaving the fuel-filler pipe and the sturdy-looking torsion-beam rear axle on display.
In sharp contrast, the Eon’s mad angles and curves look way more expensive than the car they’re on, while the Wagon R unashamedly uses black plastic protector strips on its sides to break up the sheer vertical mass of its doors. What’s also apparent is that none of these cars has a rear wiper – an essential safety feature when it rains.
The Go weighs 788kg (the Wagon R weighs 885kg, the Eon 772kg), which is an incredible achievement when you consider that this car is the biggest of the lot. No doubt the light build is evident the instant you shut the doors, but the Go doesn’t feel flimsy in the least.
The Eon scores a convincing victory the minute you slide into its snug driver’s seat. There’s almost nothing in here that shouts cheap – the V-shaped centre console, contrasting silver highlights, and fit and finish are up there with Hyundai’s bigger cars. We particularly liked the big air-con dials and the headlight and wiper control stalks. The car feels narrow from the driver’s seat and shifting to second or first gear will invariably have you brushing your hand against your passenger’s thigh. Nonetheless, it is a practical cabin, with a useful cubbyhole on top of the dash, cupholders ahead of the gear lever, and reasonably big door pockets.
Where the Eon underscores its upmarket-ness, the Wagon R highlights its practicality. The doors open wide and the seats are at a height that lets you slide into them. Do so and you’re faced with a vertical slab of dashboard. The two-tone theme and silver finish somewhat lift the ambience and, typical of a Maruti, all the controls are simple and easy to use. The Wagon R, thanks to its seat height, gives you the best view out, and its block-like shape makes it the easiest to pilot in town. The seats are flat though and don’t offer much support, but this is the only car that offers adjustable headrests. Also underlining its sheer usability are the twin gloveboxes and the hidden tray that sits under the front passenger seat. There aren’t many cubbyholes apart from these, however, and the door pockets are slim as well.
The Go’s dashboard, finished in a single tone of grey, looks a bit dull, but it’s very practical with lots of storage space. The biggest flaw is the absence of a proper glovebox, which will be an issue for many. The overall plastic quality is quite decent though, and the uniqueness of its design is interesting – the gearlever and the handbrake sprout from the centre console and the front seats, though individually adjustable, resemble bench seats. The unconventional seat, unlike snug buckets, gives a huge sense of space up front.
The Go’s rear seats are quite spacious, with lots of width, headroom and kneeroom. In fact, if you travel five up regularly, look no further than the Datsun. It’s just that the flat and thin seats themselves aren’t the best – they’re a touch low and thigh support is not as generous as in the Wagon R. Datsun has shown poor form by offering outmoded static rear seat belts instead of the now-universal inertia-reel type. The inconvenience of having to adjust the belts manually will be a good reason (if ever one was needed) not to belt up.
The Wagon R’s rear bench is the most comfortable thanks to the high seating position, brilliant headroom and great visibility. The slim doorpads also allow for decent three-abreast seating, but shoulder room is clearly lacking.
The Eon’s rear seat is the most cramped, a feeling that’s accentuated by the relatively small glass area. There’s enough knee and headroom, but not in the same abundance as the competition. As for boot space, it’s a crucial victory for Datsun. The Go’s 265-litre boot is the biggest here, and easily bigger than the Eon’s 215 litres and the Wagon R’s dismal 180 litres. But it’s not just the boot capacity, but the ability to carry large suitcases flat on the floor that makes the Go the only option as a touring car.
All three cars use three-cylinder motors and five-speed manual gearboxes. The Go is the lightest and has the biggest displacement, so it’s no surprise then that it is the quickest. What is amazing though is how responsive it is. Ease off the progressive clutch and from the get-go there’s never a shortage of pep. The Go has a delightful spring in its step; an abundance of energy that makes the others look sloth-like. The engine is delightfully responsive and you can motor around all day with a light foot on the throttle. The strong mid-range makes overtaking effortless and you don’t need to rev the pistons out of this motor to get it to perform, which is just a well, because the rev limiter cuts in early. Use all of the Go’s 67bhp and it’ll get to 100kph in 14.5 sec, which is a whole lot quicker than the others.
The Wagon R’s 1.0-litre K10 engine isn’t too bad at low revs, but it doesn’t have the Go’s effortless character. It’s not that it’s slow; it’s just that the smaller displacement makes you use more of the throttle to keep up with the Go. The Wagon R’s engine is pretty noisy too and it sounds obtrusively thrashy at high revs.
The Eon’s biggest letdown is its engine. The small, 814cc motor sends a lot of vibes through the gearlever and seat at idle, and there’s flat spot as soon as you get off the clutch. Power delivery otherwise is quite linear and there’s immediate response (though not as strong as the Go’s). But push on after that and the power curve goes flat – its relatively wheezy 55bhp simply doesn’t perform in the same league as the others, and in any situation other than gentle motoring, the engine will leave you wanting for more. Starting off on a slope is particularly annoying – you need to slip the clutch and rev the engine to get going; a problem that the others don’t have.
The Go isn’t too bad with its fuel economy – the 12.8kpl in the city and 17.9kpl on the highway are a result of its responsive engine, which encourages you to use less throttle. The Eon betters it with 13.7kpl and 17.2kpl in the city and the highway, the small-displacement engine and light weight helping here. The Wagon R’s 12.4kpl in the city is respectable, but its brick-like aerodynamics limit its highway figure to 17kpl.
Ride and handling
Like most Hyundais, the Eon’s suspension has been set up with a bias towards comfort – read that as a soft rear suspension. This setting works well at low speeds, but over undulations and at higher speeds, the rear tends to bob about excessively. The lifeless steering, which doesn’t weigh up consistently, further underscores how much catching up the Eon has to do in the ride and handling department.
The Wagon R has a fairly absorbent ride, but there’s a fair bit of vertical movement from the suspension on an uneven surface. The steering isn’t exactly bristling with feel either, and the tall stance of the Wagon R is obvious when pushing through corners. Besides, it tends to rock a bit during sudden direction changes and in crosswinds.
The Go has the most mature ride and handling of the lot, and by that we mean it’s got a big-car feel the others don’t have. Straight-line stability is superb and the Go tracks straight without getting deflected by a sudden patch of bad road. There’s also a fair bit of suspension travel to allow it to ride over bumps well, but the small tyres limit the Go’s ability to easily coast over bigger potholes. Sharper edges are hence felt and there’s a fair bit of road noise that filters into the cabin.
In terms of driving pleasure, the Go with its peppy engine, well-sorted handling and light weight, is easily the nicest to drive.
Buying and owning
The Eon may be the smallest car of this lot, but it’s big on equipment. In the top-end Sportz, which you can get for the same money as a mid-level Wagon R LXi, you get an incredible amount of kit. Power steering, air-conditioning, front power windows, a CD player, USB and aux-in ports, and a driver airbag are all standard. The Wagon R LXi gets you all of the above, minus the audio system and the driver airbag. The Go has a different mix of equipment. Whilst you don’t get basics like the ability to open the hatch with a key, you get things like follow-me-home lights, speed-sensitive wipers and a fairly comprehensive trip computer that features a real-time fuel consumption readout and distance-to-empty info. The reasonably priced options list is quite long as well, and this allows you to spec up the car with essentials and still remain under the crucial Rs 4 lakh mark. The bench-like front seat is also a unique touch.
The Wagon R, thanks to Maruti’s huge service network, will be the easiest and most hassle-free
to own, with the Hyundai not too far behind. Datsun, on the other hand, is banking on Nissan’s network, which has just been through a messy divorce with former distribution partner Hover, and it will be a while before Nissan brings all its dealerships up to speed.
If you’re looking for an upmarket car with a budget car price, the Eon with its stylish looks and top-notch interior quality, seals the deal. However, as an overall package, the Hyundai is left wanting in this company. The driving experience is lacklustre and it feels a size down on the others, which doesn’t quite give it the bang for your buck.
The Datsun, on the other hand, does make your money go a lot further. The styling is quite distinctive, it’s hugely practical thanks to a spacious cabin and a massive boot, and it’s pretty well built too. The top-end Go T is smartly priced, but the advantage is a bit compromised by the absence of some basic features. There’s lots of visible cost-cutting too, and you can’t help but feel a touch short-changed.
That feeling changes when you’re behind the wheel. The Go’s blend of performance and well-sorted dynamics make it the nicest budget car to drive. What makes the Go a compelling buy is the way it combines the emotional appeal with practicality.
The Wagon R is short on emotion and high on usability. The seating is the most comfortable overall, performance and fuel efficiency are pretty good and the equipment list ticks all the essentials. And, unlike in the Go, you don’t get the feeling that bean counters have ripped through the car with a sword. It’s more expensive than both its rivals, but you feel your rupee goes a longer way in here. And unlike Datsun’s dealerships, which are a bit of a gamble, Maruti’s superior dealer network makes the Wagon R the safer bet.
But for all its common sense, the ageing Maruti lacks the modern and fresh appeal of the Go. And with the Rs 20,000 you save over the Maruti, the Go can be smartly accessorised to make it even more tempting. The Datsun Go, which appeals to both the heart and the head, is the one we would finally go for.