Budget normally equals boring. Local trains give you the massage and aroma therapy session you don’t want, low-cost airlines grudgingly serve up three sips of water and some shopping trolleys are more fun than your average budget car. Cheap is stripped-down bare essentials. Suzuki has been doing this for years, giving us reliable, efficient and practical like no one else. Most entry-level cars have been boring as hell. Now, here’s something extra. Some extra attitude, desirability and some fun bundled in.
Our long-term A-star, as a result, has been getting huge amounts of respect. While small cars usually occupy a less desirable place in our hearts, this car’s charms are difficult to ignore. It’s not the ideal family car or the one to drive if you need to seat four for long runs, but if you need to transport no more than two for most of the time, it’s great.
For one, it’s just the right size for city traffic and parking. Visibility out the rear of the car is easy and in this shade of red, it’s cute, cute, cute. So cute, my neighbour has already bought one in the same colour, and then his neighbour has gone and bought one too.
There’s also a fair bit of attitude on display here. With its tucked-in-tight roof, those fantastic three-dimensional lamps and sporty wide stance, this is no tall-boy matchbox. I also love the fact that you can take the seat all the way back to get a comfortable driving position, the fact that the seat is low and sporty, and that the pop-up tachometer gives the nicely styled interior an edgy feel too. Sure, none of these features are as practical as they could be. A high seating position is better for visibility, the pop-up tacho is hidden behind the wheel at times and legroom on the rear seat is as tight as a bear trap if I slide the seat all the way back. Talking about rear legroom, a 10km drive across the city with a pair of six-foot passengers had them playing serve and volley with the seat. Then a couple of office colleagues wanted to hitch a ride back with us too. Five big-built passengers can’t be divided into the A-star. Solution, exchange cars for the day with another colleague — we just had to.
Five passengers aside, this car is a hoot to drive in city traffic. The thrummy three-cylinder motor may not be the most powerful engine in the world, and it is not the smoothest in traffic either, but once traffic thins out you can keep it in the fun part of the powerband, where it feels plenty quick. It’s also a hoot to take across town in the early part of the morning or late at night. The wide track, almost-zero overhang, stiff chassis and Swift suspension components mean this car just loves changing direction. The car seems to come alive and relish empty city roads, its appetite for carving up corners and the poise of the chassis as good as any hatch in memory. We’ve criticised the fact that the tyres lack grip, and this may prove to be more problematic when the roads are wet, but for now I’m actually enjoying this slight deficiency in grip.
Attack corners and the car exhibits a bit of slip and slide that’s really entertaining at these relatively low speeds, the A-star driving with a confidence that’s infectious. And the direct steering and the well-weighted brakes are all part of the car’s well-tuned driving manners.
But though the A-star’s really nice to drive in the city, start-stop traffic gets its goat. The motor is pretty responsive after 2000rpm, the steering quick and light and the brakes are well weighted too, but jerky throttle responses at slow speeds and the weak step-off from idle are a real pain in the ankle. What Maruti has engineered well is the car’s cold start idle. Three-cylinder engines often flutter and die if loaded when cold, but this car starts up and idles at 2500rpm for a couple of seconds, then engine speed is progressively stepped down till the motor is warm. This allows you to start and move off without having to pump the accelerator or the risk of stalling; nicely done.
Fuel economy has also been pretty impressive. Our A-star car is returning 12.17kpl in city traffic, identical to our test figure. The other bit on the car we are really enjoying is the loud four-speaker music system whose clarity is impressive. The lack of luggage space hasn’t really been a problem till now but the parcel tray coming off its hinges when lifted is quite infuriating. Surely, it could have been engineered better. Overall though, the A-star is a car a lot of us really enjoy driving. And we’ll tell you if it remains that way; watch this space.