Maruti ditches Versa name and gives its van an updated petrol engine at a mouth-watering price.
Maruti is doing what it is best at again, and that is to find a niche and fill it with a model that has an impossible-to-ignore price-tag. At Rs 3.09 lakh for the base five-seater and Rs 3.42 lakh for the top five-seater AC version, the Maruti Eeco is just that, an economical way to transport five or seven (Rs 3.27 lakh for the seven-seat variant) people in comfort.
As you might have already guessed, the Eeco is not all-new. It’s a Maruti Versa (remember the Bachchan ads?) with a downsized version of the 1.3-litre G-series engine it came with. This 1.2-litre engine now makes 73bhp but the important thing is, the Eeco with this engine will now meet the new BS IV emission norms that come into effect from April this year.And, having a 1.2-litre engine and being under four metres in length means it qualifies in the Indian government’s eyes as a small car. Which it isn’t exactly.
At first glance, it’s immediately apparent that this is the Versa with minor changes to the exteriors. The head- and tail-lamps have subtle modifications as do the bumpers, all of which do nothing to hide the age of this design. It’s a boxy design reminiscent of the 1980s and there’s no doubt about where it came from – Japan is full of vans like these. The Eeco also stands on skinny and weedy 155-section tyres which come on 13-inch rims that look tiny relative to the rest of the car.
But forgive the looks, think out of the box and you’ll find a hugely practical car. You walk into it as opposed to crouching inside. The high-set seats offer a supreme view of the road and this, combined with the huge glass area, make the cabin feel big. It also makes the Eeco very easy to pilot in traffic, considering its compact dimensions. The rear bench is not the most comfortable around, but at least it is more spacious than similarly priced cars. Still, it’s not adjustable or removable and, shockingly, Maruti has left out headrests for the rear occupants.
The Eeco’s dashboard is very similar to the one in the Alto. There’s a big scoop above the glovebox to keep stuff and the air-con vents are similar as well. The steering wheel and gear lever are also borrowed from the Alto. Overall quality is poor but then again you pay so little, it shouldn’t come as a big shock.
If you are looking for any creature comforts, you will be disappointed. While there’s a choice of five or seven seats, there are no power windows, no power steering and no central locking. In fact, in its bid to keep costs low, Maruti won’t be offering boot or fuel release buttons inside the cabin. Both will have to be manually opened with the key. You do get an AC and heater on the five-seater though.With the engine sitting just a few inches under your bottom in this car, it is more audible by design. Power delivery is good, but you need revs to get the car going, especially with a full complement of passengers.Still, the gearbox is a crisp unit, offering short throws and a positive shift and the well-chosen ratios and light clutch make driving a breeze.
The fact that the engine lies below the front seats and not directly above the wheels means that there is very little weight on the front tyres. So you won’t really miss the power steering, except when reversing into a tight spot. The steering delivers plenty of information from the road. However, the short wheelbase and the fact that the occupants sit directly over the front and rear axle mean that the ride is bumpy on anything less-than-smooth roads. Even the smallest of crevices are felt in the cabin.
The five-seater option comes with a massive loading area which is ideal for hauling large items, making the Eeco a great vehicle for activities such as moving house.
In the end, if what you need is a basic, roomy seven-seater that is cheap to buy, easy to drive and simple to park, the Eeco is the one for you. If not, there certainly are better cars.