Few cars can match the convenience of a petrol hatchback in the city. They are just the right size for short-hop traffic battles and squeezing into tight parking spaces.
It is no secret that the Maruti Swift has been the undisputed king of mid-sized hatchbacks for some time now. It is refined, practical, stylish, fun to drive and backed up by a peace-of-mind ownership experience. It remains one of India’s largest selling hatchbacks, despite the presence of several more affordable cars, and demand for the car keeps getting stronger and stronger.
Hyundai, India’s number-two car maker understandably wants in on the action. Look at the specifications, features and options of the new Grand i10 and this is quite clear. But can this all-new, longer-wheelbase i10 really take on the Swift?
Also impossible to ignore is the Honda Brio. Distinctive styling and the advanced 1.2-litre i-VTEC engine mean Honda’s baby is a serious challenger for the crown too.
What makes this contest even more interesting is the fact that less than Rs 50,000 separates the top end versions of all three cars. So with petrol cars now making a strong comeback, which is the best hatch here? Let’s get straight into round one. Continued..
What are they like to drive?
The Grand i10 comes with the same 1.2-litre Kappa2 motor as the old i10. Producing 82bhp (3bhp more), it is however the least powerful in this group. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that performance is less than adequate; quite the opposite. Prod the throttle and the Grand i10 simply leaps forward. The motor is very responsive and has a solid tug from low engine speeds, which makes it ideal for city driving. In fact, so good is the pulling power and so strong the initial response to a tap on the throttle, that power delivery often feels a bit too sudden and that takes some getting used to. What this allows you to do quite effectively is use a much higher gear – so where you would otherwise use second gear, the Hyundai comfortably allows you to use third. So, you don’t need to change gears frequently, but if you want to, the crisp and quick gearbox is quite nice to use. This engine spins quite freely too, at least until you get to 5,000rpm. The i10 is very capable on the highway and the 0-100kph dash is executed in a quick 13.40 seconds.
The Brio is powered by a 1.2-litre i-VTEC engine. Making a very healthy 88bhp, it is more than 6bhp up on the Hyundai. Like other Honda motors we’ve experienced, it is free-revving and constantly urging you rev it for all it is worth. It makes the Brio feel light and agile to drive, and it displays a good turn of speed when you ask for some extra performance, even beyond 6,000rpm. However, it does lack some low-speed punch and takes a bit of time to get going. The slightly taller first, second and third gears also mean you have to downshift more often than in the Grand, and this means it doesn’t feel as peppy under normal driving conditions as the Hyundai.
The Swift is powered by the now familiar 1.2-litre K-series engine. Power at low engine speeds is better than the Brio and part-throttle responses are quite good. Like the Honda, it’s an engine that begs to be revved to give its best, so there’s more than adequate power on tap, be it in the city or on the highway. Where the Swift’s motor shines in particular is the smooth and silky manner in which it thrusts you forward. Where the others feel buzzy and raucous when revved, the Swift motor feels composed and refined.
On the fuel efficiency front the Brio is the most economical, managing 12.7kpl in the city and 17.4kpl on the highway. The Swift comes a close second with 12.6kpl and 17kpl for city and highway cycles respectively. The Grand i10 is the least efficient and returned 11.7kpl and 16.3kpl for city and highway. Continued..
Ride and handling
The Grand i10’s suspension is tuned to concentrate on low-speed comfort which, for a city car, is a good thing. Bump absorption is good, and if it wasn’t for the clunky suspension, the Hyundai would score higher in this test. As such, this pliant low-speed ride, light steering and peppy low-speed responses make for a stress-free city car. Up the speed though and ride quality deteriorates. On highways and over undulating surfaces, the Hyundai’s ride is never settled, and your passengers won’t stop complaining unless you slow down. The light steering also doesn’t encourage high-speed manoeuvring either.
The Brio handles both, low-speed pothole crawls and high-speed stability with equal aplomb. The ride is pliant and manages to stay consistent over most roads, the suspension works silently and, at higher speeds, the superb body control makes it comfortable to drive fast. There is, however, a fair amount road noise present which is mainly down to Honda skimping on sound-deadening material.
The Swift's ride quality is impressive, with the car comfortably absorbing all but the sharpest of bumps. Suspension noise is well contained and the Swift has the quietest of the three cabins. The steering is adequately light at low speeds and weighs up well as you go faster. There is good feel at the wheel and, coupled with the excellent chassis, the Swift is always game for a bout of enthusiastic driving. Stability at high speed is also easily the best.
It’s the Brio that’s most willing when you’re in the mood. The steering is direct and precise and once you push the car harder, it displays poise, balance and confidence rarely found in a car of this class. The Swift is a match for the Brio in terms of grip and body control. The i10 makes you think a bit before pushing on – it’s got too much body roll and loses its composure quite early. Conitnued..
What are they like inside?
Slip past the Grand’s wide-opening front door and you’ll be convinced you’ve got more than your money’s worth. The quality of plastics is even better than the pricier Verna. Fit and finish is really good and there is nothing visibly low-rent about the cabin. The beige plastics on the lower portion of the cabin further enhance the upmarket feeling. The centre console-mounted gear lever is very conveniently placed, and the manner in which most of the controls function makes the cabin feel even more special. You also get some storage between the front seats thanks to the high-mounted gear lever. The seats, with fixed headrests, are large and accommodating. The driving position is good too and you get good view of the front. Even the rear is comfortable for two, with lots of knee room. The Grand i10 has the largest boot of the three cars and access to it is also the best.
The Brio gets an offset centre console and scooped-out glovebox lend the Brio dashboard that looks unique but slightly down market. The meaty steering wheel and use of beige, brown and black plastics also add some richness to the cabin. But, unlike the Swift and the i10, the Brio feels built to a price. The dash looks spartan, and the poorly finished rear power window switches and the lack of a CD player tell you where Honda has saved money.
There is ample room in the front and the deceptively thin front seats provide good support too. Space at the back is comparable to the Swift’s. The rear seat comes with fixed headrests and its low backrest height means taller passengers will be short on shoulder support. A sore point on the Brio is its small boot. The unusually high boot lip also makes boot access the most difficult of the three.
The Swift’s interiors follow a black theme, everything is neatly laid out and the whole look is very appealing. The large front seats are the most comfortable, thanks to good side bolstering and a very comfortable backrest. Rear-seat legroom is better than the old Swift, but headroom is still tight. The small rear windows also make the cabin feel smaller than it actually is. Here too, boot space is quite tight, and to make matters worse, the loading lip is too high. Continued..
Every once in a while we come upon a group test where all three cars are pretty evenly matched. This is clearly the case here. Take the very capable and appealing Honda Brio, for example. The best car to be behind the wheel of when you are in a hurry. It is well engineered, fuel efficient and the light controls make it a breeze to drive in the city as well. The Honda, however, is poorly equipped and the bare bones ambience of the cabin is a letdown as well.
With the Grand, Hyundai has stretched the i10’s envelope to the max. Its accomplished motor is smooth and very responsive, it is light and easy to drive in the city and the stretched wheelbase makes it very spacious on the inside. It has the most premium looking interiors and is lavishly equipped too. Problem is, it drives like a small car stretched to do the job of a bigger one. The ride is nowhere as good as it should be, the suspension is noisy and its high speed manners are just about acceptable. And it’s only cheaper than the Swift if you delete essential kit like the ABS and airbags; not a good idea at all.
That brings us to the Maruti Swift, the winner of this test. The cabin may not be as well built as the Hyundai, it may not be as fast as the Brio and it may have a tiny impractical boot, but the Swift is clearly the most consistent performer here and is the one that delivers the most car for your money. It feels a half size larger from behind the wheel. It’s light and easy to drive in the city, feels planted on the highway and is plenty of fun when you put the pedal down. The front seats deliver comfort levels only experienced in more expensive cars, and then there’s the fact that the Swift feels equally at home in the city or out on the highway. In the end it’s the best all rounder, it’s as simple as that.