Sometimes, all it takes for an old acquaintance to become a close friend is a short holiday together. A few days of bonding are good enough to tell you what your buddy is really like. Good habits and bad, quirks and idiosyncrasies become pretty obvious when you’re with someone day in and day out. That’s just how it was with our long-term Maruti Ciaz, which I got to know quite intimately over the long, Good Friday weekend.
To be honest, I hadn’t at first taken much notice of Maruti’s new flagship, which quietly slipped into our long-term fleet over a month ago. Maybe it’s the bland styling or the fact that it’s a car designed to merely transport rather than thrill its owners that didn’t have me rushing for the keys. But, it’s a Maruti and on the strength of the badge alone, which sits on the nose of one out of every two cars sold in this country, the Ciaz did warrant a very close look.
For me, there’s no better way of getting to really know a car than a drive up to Mahabaleshwar. The mix of a fast expressway, single-lane roads and the steep, twisty bits that lead up to the hill station can give any car a solid work out. And, coming home, the wall of traffic that welcomes you to Mumbai city is a challenge in itself.
Leaving town in peak evening rush hour wasn’t a good idea. It meant bumper-to-bumper traffic until the roads opened out past Sion. Mumbai roads, of late, are permanently dug up, leaving everyone to fight for what’s left of the tarmac. The Ciaz’s gentle clutch, easy (but not very precise) gearshift takes some pain out of the crawl. Also a big help in traffic is the good all-round visibility (though you have to ratchet up the seat height adjuster to clear the high dashboard), which helps keep an eye on impatient bikers and even more impatient autorickshaw drivers. The driver’s seat could be more generous and within the first hour or two behind the wheel, your butt would welcome more cushioning.
The ride quality is really good, especially at low speeds and there’s a nice, mature way in which the Ciaz rounds off the multiple surfaces that make up Mumbai roads. Part-throttle response is fairly decent too, and the Ciaz is quickly making a case for itself as a good sedan for the city. But, after an hour and a half, I’ve left the city behind.
Climbing up the ramp of the Mumbai-Pune expressway, I floor the Ciaz’s throttle pedal hard for the first time. Now I wasn’t expecting the big Maruti to lunge forward with enthusiasm but I wasn’t expecting an engine which delivers 91bhp in a car that weighs a fairly light 1,025kg to feel so listless either. It’s not that the Ciaz isn’t quick — it can crack 100kph from rest in 12.02seconds. It’s the flat and almost apathetic way this 1.4-litre petrol engine delivers its power, regardless of how hard you try to goad it.
The thing is that when you flex your right foot, there isn’t a corresponding increase in the rate of acceleration, certainly not like in the City whose i-VTEC motor feels like a tripwire in comparison.
By the time I reach the first toll booth, it’s evident that the Ciaz isn’t a great car for fast driving. It’s not just the tepid performance but also the numb steering which feels disconnected around the straight-ahead position. There’s a fair bit of play and you constantly have to make corrections at high speed which never lets you relax completely, and that’s a shame because the attention the Ciaz demands at high speeds goes against its otherwise docile manners.
Cruising down NH4, well past Pune, it’s now pitch dark but the broad spread of the Ciaz’s headlamps light up both lanes fairly. The lights are not intensely powerful but do the job if you’re not pushing hard. Even when dipped, the lights pick out unmarked speed breakers and invisible cyclists early enough.
After a quick coffee stop, I branch off NH4 towards Wai and the fun bit of the drive starts here. The
ghat road up to Panchgani is fairly gentle and wide, which lets you ‘straight line’ corners that hug the mountainside. It’s past 11pm now and there’s no traffic at all and the good thing about driving at night is that you can spot oncoming headlights from miles away.
The Ciaz doesn’t like darting into corners or quick direction changes and its unsporty character will certainly disappoint enthusiasts. But drive a notch or two down like a typical Ciaz owner would, and you will begin to accept and appreciate the benign and rather fail-safe dynamics of the car. The brakes are pretty good; rough patches don’t unsettle this big sedan and if you’re not pushing hard, this is a very easy car to drive.
The big surprise for me is the Ciaz’s fuel efficiency. The fuel gauge needle is a touch below the halfway mark when I reach Mahabaleshwar; that’s after 280km of rather heavy driving. Brimming the car reveals a figure of 13.2kpl, which is truly frugal under the circumstances. I suspect that Maruti engineers, when tuning the K14 engine have leaned much more on the fuel efficiency side and away from performance.
Another surprise, and a big one at that, is the rather sporty exhaust note, which is at odds with the Ciaz’s character. Leaving Mahabaleshwar on Sunday morning, I have the windows down to enjoy the crisp, cool mountain air. The rasp of the engine bouncing off the rock faces on the drive down to Poladpur sounds great and is small compensation for the otherwise uninvolving nature of the car.
The return journey is via Mahad or NH17, which is now riddled with rumble strips before and after every village. The Ciaz’s large 16-inch wheels flatten them quite impressively and the drive back further underscores the Ciaz’s credentials as a comfortable cruiser.
Back in Mumbai, the Ciaz has become my primary car even though the Mahabaleshwar weekend didn’t endear me to it. But I have to admit, I’m strangely impressed with this mild-mannered sedan which goes about its business with little fuss. The Ciaz has become a friend.
Maruti Ciaz ZXi (O)
Odometer - 3,619km
Price - Rs 10.62 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)
Test economy - 14.35kpl (overall)
Maintenance costs - None
Faults - None