The Maruti Alto is India’s best-selling car by far. An affordable price tag is just one of many reasons why, but the fact is the Alto gets the basics right. It’s fuel efficient, easy to use and requires minimal maintenance – with the comfort of knowing if anything does go wrong, a Maruti service station is never too far away. Last year’s K10 model only added cubic capacity and horsepower to the Alto’s cheap, cheerful and hassle-free charm.
However, just one glance at the new Hyundai Eon will have even die-hard Alto fans raising an eyebrow. After all, the Eon is priced close to the Alto K10, with a similar promise of low running costs and service backup second only to Maruti’s. But does the Eon deliver where the Alto excels?
It’s all in the look
The Maruti Alto K10 is the longer car, but the Eon is taller and its wheelbase is 20mm bigger too. But where the two cars really differ is in styling. The extroverted Eon looks designed for tomorrow with beautifully sculpted creases and cuts. The large rear wheel arches do make the wheels appear small but that’s about it. There’s little to find fault with in the design. Even the crescent-shaped tail lamps look great. The best part is that the Eon is distinctive without looking too radical.
Standing next to the Eon, the Alto looks several generations older. That’s because it is. Not much has been changed since the car was launched in 2000 except for a nip and tuck with the introduction of the K10 model in 2010. However, the basic shape is the same, and the thick C-pillars and smart creases over the rear wheels are the only talking points really. The Alto anonymously blends into the crowd while the Eon stands out, even in the company of larger, more expensive cars.
Fit and finish of the Eon’s cabin is midsize-saloon-car good and there are only a few bits that remind you of its small price. Dashboard styling is neat and the chunky AC controls are particularly nice to use, but the small central vents are fiddly and have limited spread. Frontal visibility is slightly hampered by the thick A-pillar and the small glass area at the rear doesn’t help either. The Alto, in contrast, affords better all-round visibility. The Eon’s front door pockets are large enough for bottles and the glovebox is big too.
Switching to the Alto is like going back in time. Plastic quality is a grade down on the Eon’s and panel gaps mean the Alto looks every bit the budget car it is. The front door pockets are narrow and shallow and items tend to slide around the dash-top recess. The glovebox is also small but you do get two cupholders, and the boot is a full size down on the Eon’s generous 215 litres.
The Eon’s rear seat has more kneeroom than the Alto’s and more space under the front seat to move your feet. The Alto’s shorter backrest equals insufficient support, while its protruding, fixed headrests are uncomfortable. The Alto does have slightly more headroom. Build quality is somewhat flimsy compared to what you get on the Eon.
Each CC Counts
The Eon is powered by a 3cyl version of the Santro’s 1.1-litre iRDE engine, reducing engine displacement to 814cc and power output to 55bhp. Expectedly, engine refinement isn’t great and vibrations shake the gear lever a fair bit. The Eon isn’t particularly quick off the blocks and only pulls well towards the top-end. There is adequate power for keeping up with typical city traffic but overtaking manoeuvres need some planning. Flooring the throttle doesn’t help as the engine simply doesn’t make power quick enough.
In contrast, the Alto K10’s 996cc, 67bhp twin-cam engine shows just how good a three-cylinder can be. There are some vibrations at idle but these fade as you accelerate. Both engines get quite loud when revved but the Alto’s precise-shifting gearbox feels a whole lot nicer to use than the Eon’s notchy unit. The two cars are neck-to-neck upto 60kph, but the Alto reaches 100kph nearly 2sec before the Eon.
But the numbers most buyers will be interested in are for fuel economy. The Eon’s narrower powerband means you change gears more often than on the Alto and that reflects in its slightly lower city economy figures. The Eon managed 13.7kpl while the Alto returned a 14kpl. Out on the highway, the Eon’s taller fifth gear allows the better fuel economy of 17.2kpl to the Alto’s 17kpl figure.
Rock and Roll
Their dinky dimensions, small turning radii and light controls make both cars very easy in the city. Suspension hardware is similar and both cars ride on 13-inch wheels. The Eon is softer-sprung and does the better job of shielding passengers from low-speed bumps. Go any faster and it is the Alto that feels far nicer, with less body movement and a much flatter ride. However, rear seat passengers do get thrown about a fair bit in the Alto.
The Alto VXi retails for Rs 3.2 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) and comes with power steering, front power windows, central locking and internally adjustable outside rear-view mirrors. For Rs 20,000 more, you can get the Eon Magna variant that comes with all of the above and also a steering tilt adjust. This model, however, does without a parcel tray or tachometer, both of which are available on the Alto. At Rs 3.71 lakh, the Eon Sportz variant featured here is quite expensive but comes with a lot of kit. You get a driver-side airbag, keyless entry and also a CD player with Aux and USB functions.
We really scratched our heads over this one. The thing is, the Alto is unquestionably the better car to drive. It has the more consistent ride, nimbler handling and zestier engine. If the engine’s ability holds more weight for you than the plush ambience in the driver’s seat, then the Alto is the car for you. It has a certain raw appeal that the Eon just can’t hope
No, the Eon’s performance won’t get your heart racing and engine refinement is rather mediocre too but for most buyers these are secondary considerations. The Eon delivers on more visible criteria. It looks futuristic, its better-finished interiors look and feel classier and it is that wee bit more spacious too. Fuel economy is really good as well.
In the final analysis, you do pay more for an Eon but in return get more bang for your buck. It’s just too hard to argue against its value quotient and it is for this the Eon is our choice.