Until recently, the entry hatchback market was territory Maruti could call its own. The company's domination started way back with the 800, carried on for the years Maruti made the Alto, and today's Alto 800 has proved to be extremely successful too. Now, however, the segment has expanded to include four major players – the Datsun Redigo, Renault Kwid, Maruti Alto 800 and Hyundai Eon, and competition between them is fierce.
Each of these four cars brings something different to the table. The facelifted Alto 800 has its reliability, ease of ownership and brilliant engine to boast about, not to mention its claim to the title of India’s best-selling car. The Kwid is armed with SUV-like styling and the availability of a touchscreen infotainment system on the top variant. The Eon counts its superior materials and quality of fit and finish as its plus points, whereas the latest entrant in this segment, the Redigo, is banking on its hip and modern looks, spacious interior and rock-bottom starting price.
Budget car buyers, however, are not looking for select features; they want an all-round package that offers them as much car for as little money as possible, with parameters such as fuel efficiency, performance, space, comfort and features all taken care of. In that light, which of these four, then, offers the most car for money? It’s a difficult question.
What are they like to drive?
These budget hatchbacks, due to their focus on economy and fuel efficiency, are all powered by small 800cc engines with marginally varying power outputs. At the bottom end of the spectrum is the Alto 800, with 48hp, followed by the Kwid and Redigo, with 54hp and the most powerful Eon with 56hp.
The Redigo’s engine (which also does service in the Kwid) does a decent job of propelling the car forward. Get on the gas and the car takes off smartly with only a hint of hesitation. The motor also pulls well when you wind it really hard, and then the Redigo does tend to move forward with a fair amount of energy. The mid-range, however, feels a bit lifeless and 'flat'. And though the engine has been smoothened since we drove the car earlier this year, it still doesn’t pull as cleanly as the Maruti. In addition, this all-aluminium engine is louder too. In fact, it feels noisy and thrashy when spun fast and that's something that's down to the lack of effective cabin insulation. Datsun's engine also doesn’t spin as strongly in the top-end as its sister car the Kwid, and this is why it is a bit slower, with 0-100kph coming up in 17.2 seconds.
Even the ride isn’t as good as that of the Kwid. Its suspension has been set-up quite stiff, to counter the body roll caused by the tall body and short wheelbase, and this has resulted in a jittery ride over poor roads. What makes this worse is that the Redigo occasionally thuds and crashes over broken surfaces. On the upside, the steering is extremely light and direct, which makes parking and manoeuvring in the city extremely easy, and because visibility out is so good, this car feels stress-free to drive in the city too. Also, if you drive over village roads or in places where the roads are in a terrible shape, the Datsun has the best ground clearance.
The Alto 800, though at the bottom of the pack in terms of power figures, actually feels the peppiest of the lot. This has a lot to do with how smoothly and consistently it makes power rather than how much maximum power it makes. The power delivery is smooth and immediate, there are no jerks or hiccups in the power band and the consistent power delivery is also what makes it the nicest to drive in traffic. It might be noisy at higher speeds, and this re-tuned engine has lost some of its high-speed zing, but the results are better fuel economy and better responsiveness. What makes driving it even better is the fact that the short-throw manual gearbox is direct and quick to shift. It also rides well. Its suspension is soft and as a result, it manages to absorb road imperfections relatively well at low speeds. It doesn’t crash through regular potholes like you’d expect it to and the ride is pretty silent too. Up the pace, however, and this illusion of calm disappears. The Alto doesn’t feel very stable at high speeds, the car shuffling on its wheels and it doesn’t feel very comfortable taking corners at speed either.
The Kwid is powered by the same engine as the Redigo, but there are minor differences in the way it is tuned. In the Renault, this engine feels relatively quiet and refined. While this can be attributable to better cabin insulation, the engine also feels a tad smoother. Yes, the mini jerks that make this car a bit irritating to drive are still there and there’s a bit of a ‘flat spot’ in the mid-range too, but the Kwid still pulls well once it gets going. 0-100kph takes 16.9 seconds; keep your foot down and it pulls well all the way to 120kph. The Kwid also has the best ride and handling combination of any car here. Its softer springs and greater suspension travel allow it to smoothen out most imperfections on the road and the manner in which it takes even big holes in its stride is something quite unique for a car of this size. It even feels stable over really bad roads; no unnecessary up and down pitching experienced. And while the steering is too light and quite disconnected, this is clearly the best car of the lot to drive in a spirited manner, the grip poise and sense of balance giving the driver plenty of confidence.
The Hyundai Eon, while the leader when it comes to power and torque numbers, is the least impressive to drive. It almost falls all the way to the bottom when these numbers are transformed in the real world into performance figures (0-100kph takes a long 19.3 seconds), it feels hesitant and jerky to drive in city traffic and its five-speed gearbox is rubbery and vague. Even worse is the handling. Though a bit improved now, the car tends to wander quite a bit once you up the speed, and then, to compound matters, the steering reacts too fast for the rest of the car, so it feels nervous even when negotiating regular bends and corners. It tramlines, tends to follow grooves in the road and even the ride isn’t that good. Hyundai clearly hasn’t updated the Eon as frequently or as effectively as Maruti has the Alto 800.
What are they like inside?
First impressions when you get into the Redigo are quite positive. You can slide into the comfortable seats easily because of the height they are placed at, and then you are greeted by a well laid-out and attractive-looking dashboard; a first for Datsun. The grey dash is laid out in the form of a wave, with several shapes and elements. The piano black panel surrounding the stereo and air-con controls is particularly attractive and the quality of plastics is quite acceptable for a car in this price range. The Redigo has also been made roomy, by utilising the height of the tall cabin and by pushing the wheels out to the edges. Front passengers sit on skinny seats that are positioned high to allow a commanding view of the road and they are equipped with side bolstering that holds you nicely in place. The narrow width of the car, however means there’s very little space between the driver and his door, which is both uncomfortable and unsafe. And sitting three abreast in the rear is also a squeeze. But passengers do have more than sufficient legroom in the rear, and foot room under the front seats is quite impressive too. The rear seatback, however, is quite flat, and not tall enough, so even average-sized passengers will find their shoulders and upper back unsupported. And the tall front seats restrict visibility.
The Redigo, however, offers ample storage space for knick knacks – there are three cubbyholes of various sizes in the dash and the boot, at 222 litres, is second only to the Kwid’s. The Datsun’s cabin has its flaws though. The door pockets are too small to be of any real use, and cost-cutting measures have resulted in large swathes of exposed sheet metal in the cabin and the absence of central locking, and an intermittent speed setting for the wipers is very prominent. Moreover, the side-view mirrors have to be adjusted externally; as on the Kwid.
The recently facelifted Alto 800 features minor changes to its cabin, such as new seat fabrics and a map-holder pocket in the passenger door. It is also reasonably spacious up front, but it is let down by the low seat height and strictly average plastic quality. It features a conservative but practical dash layout. Stereo and air-con controls are intuitive, the instrument cluster is easy to read and side-view mirrors can be adjusted via the use of stalks from inside. The front seats in the Alto 800, however, are narrow and flat, and with no side bolstering, the driver and passengers are tossed around in corners. In the rear, passengers have limited legroom, with comfort further compromised by the flat and overly soft seatback. The Alto 800 offers little in terms of storage space for bric-a-bracs – the shelf and cubbyhole in the dash are not spacious enough for today’s smartphones, and the tray in the centre console, though large, is difficult to access. The 177-litre boot, too, is the smallest in this segment.
The Renault Kwid boasts a relatively spacious, well-finished and well-equipped interior. The dash sports nicely textured plastics, and the top variant of the Kwid that we tested even gets a touchscreen infotainment system replete with Bluetooth connectivity and navigation. The driver and front passenger sit on comfortable, well-contoured seats at a height that is somewhere between the Alto’s and Redigo’s, allowing a natural seating position with a hint of SUV-ness. The rear passengers are greeted by relatively good amounts of legroom but are let down by a seat that offers little shoulder support and poor thigh support. Still, the Kwid is the only car in its segment to be wide enough to seat three in the back in relative comfort. This cabin is also teeming with storage space. The dash features two gloveboxes (one with a bottleholder), a shelf and a handy cubbyhole. The centre console further gets two cupholders, one rear bottleholder as well as a storage tray. Even the front doors get full-size bottleholders. The Kwid’s 300-litre boot is the biggest in this segment, and is roomy, well-shaped and easy to access. There are a few hard and shiny plastics and some bits like the ‘lock’ for the glove-box lid are poorly built, but overall, this is the best cabin here.
The Eon boasts the best quality of materials in its class. The Hyundai features a two-tone dash made out of plastics that could belong to a car from a higher segment and the manner in which the switches and knobs function is truly fantastic, especially when you consider that this is a budget car. The dash is well-laid out, with a large glovebox and a roomy tray. The front seats are well-shaped, the seats can accommodate tall drivers and side bolstering is very good. The hard rear seats offer good lumbar support too, but unsatisfactory neck and thigh support, and the 215-litre boot is small.
Equipment & safety
Budget hatchbacks are considered to be bare-boned in terms of equipment and safety features, but that has changed. The top variants of all these cars get several useful features and the Kwid even gets a touchscreen. However, certain deficiencies are common in all four, such as the lack of rear power windows and ABS and none of these cars have body structures that can stand up to a crash test without buckling. And to compound matters, the Renault and the Datsun have uncomfortable fixed seatbelts in the rear that no one seems to use.
The Redigo ranks last in terms of safety and equipment in this test. While the car gets a stereo system with USB, CD and aux connectivity, and a trip computer that displays the average mileage, distance to empty and gear shift indication, the feature list ends there. Several features are missing in the Redigo, and their absence is palpable – there is no intermittent setting for the single-blade wiper, the side-view mirrors have to be externally adjusted, the wipers don’t auto-wipe after spraying and there is no central locking, let alone remote locking. However, the Redigo gets segment-first LED daytime-running lights, though they are too dim to add any real visual appeal to the car. The Redigo does not rank very well in terms of safety either. However, a driver side airbag is available.
The Alto 800 is better equipped, with side-view mirrors that can be adjusted from the inside, dual-blade wipers with an intermittent speed setting, central locking and remote locking. In terms of safety, every variant of the Alto 800 comes with the option of a driver’s side airbag, and rear passengers can be secured by locking retractor seatbelts; a recent addition.
The Kwid gets a segment-first touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and navigation on the top variant. Furthermore, it gets an all-digital speedometer as well as one-touch turn indicators for lane changing. It also gets central and remote locking. However, like the Redigo, it has to make do with a single-blade wiper and side-view mirror that have to be externally adjusted by hand. On the safety front too, things are similar to the Redigo – a driver-side airbag is optional on the top variant and the rear seatbelts are of the static variety. It too, however, gets a dog-leg reverse.
The Eon’s feature list is the same as that of the Alto, with the addition of a tilt-adjustable steering wheel. A driver-side airbag is optional on all variants but the base, and the rear seatbelts feature locking retractors in addition.
Buying & owning
When it comes to price, the Eon is something of an outsider to this class. At Rs 3.25 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the base variant, the Eon starts where most of the others end. While starting prices for the Redigo, Alto 800 and Kwid are astonishingly low (Rs 2.39 lakh, Rs 2.45 lakh and Rs 2.62 lakh, respectively), these base models have no air-conditioning, no power steering, no power windows and no multimedia system. Realistically speaking, it makes sense to dole out Rs 60,000–80,000 extra and opt for one of the higher variants. With the Redigo, we recommend going for the top-end S variant that gets a driver-side airbag as well as LED daytime-running lights. And it’s the top variant we recommend on the Kwid too, the RxT which, at Rs 3.57 lakh, comes fully-loaded with its touchscreen infotainment system and Bluetooth telephony. Things are similar with the Alto 800 – of the four variants (Std, LX, LXi and VXi), Std and LXi are very poorly equipped, while VXi comes with a host of features ranging from a stereo system with USB and aux to remote key entry and central locking. It is also important to note that a driver’s-side airbag can be added to any Alto 800 variant at an additional cost of Rs 6,000. In terms of fuel efficiency, the Kwid and the Redigo boast the highest claimed figures, returning 25.17kpl each, followed closely by the Alto 800, which returns 24.7kpl. The Alto 800 returns higher fuel efficiency after its facelift, on account of some changes in the ngine calibration. The Eon comes last here, with a claimed fuel efficiency of just 21.1kpl.
The Eon has a fairly spacious and comfortable cabin, fit and finish on the inside are good enough to take on more expensive hatchbacks and the front seats are among the best here. But the Hyundai isn't as nice to drive as the rest of the cars here. The engine delivers power in spurts, the handling is poor, the ride isn't very good either and it's expensive too; it costs almost a lakh more than the Alto, and that seals its fate.
The Redigo, the new kid on the block, is well suited to the city. The high seating position provides good visibility, the light steering is well up to the job and the Redigo has sufficient power to make driving relatively effortless in the city. But the Datsun is poorly insulated, even by the standards of this class, it's noisy, the ride is quite stiff and the Redigo has loads of essential kit missing.
The updated Alto 800 is much improved. Of the four, it is the best car to drive. It has a great engine that is smooth, punchy and lively, it has a good gearbox, it rides and drives well at low speed and it's even reasonably equipped. Seat comfort, however, is still poor, the rear is cramped and the car isn't very comfortable at high speeds either.
The Kwid, on the other hand, is definitely the best-equipped car in this segment. It is among the most comfortable cars here, the cabin has plenty of nice touches and its front seats are just superb. It even has features that delight. The touchscreen in the top variant is a pleasant surprise on a car in this class, the ride is so good it is unreal and then there are its mini-SUV looks. Yes, it has a few flaws, such as its jerky and loud engine and some of its plastics are poorly built but look at the overall picture, tally up its strengths and weaknesses and the Kwid is the winner here, that too by a decent margin.