In India, Maruti is the undisputed king of affordable small cars. In fact, the company is so good at the small car formula, it’s got no less than six hatchbacks that span everything from bare-bones basic to premium. So, whatever your budget, there’s at least one Maruti hatchback that is right for you.
The new Alto 800 is the company’s most important and affordable car. A step up from the earlier Alto, this car has been built to address many of the issues that regularly cropped up with the previous version. It gets an all-new body, a thoroughly updated engine and new interiors; which means this is practically an all-new car. It’s also Maruti’s way of taking the fight to the other car you see here, the Hyundai Eon.
Now, Hyundai knows a thing or two about making small cars as well. It also knows it’s difficult to take Maruti head on in this segment, and so has taken an interesting approach with its hatchback. The Eon aims to bring style, panache and a ‘bigger car’ feel to a segment that has traditionally been populated only by very basic runabouts. The Eon looks like nothing this segment has seen before, and its modern styling and upmarket interiors are what Hyundai is pinning its hopes on.
Both come with puny, three-cylinder petrol engines mated to five-speed, manual gearboxes. The Eon’s slightly larger 814cc engine makes 55bhp, while the Alto’s considerably updated 796cc engine makes 47bhp. Now, while these power figures are nothing to get excited about, you have to remember that these two weigh close to nothing—the Alto 800 tips the scales at 725kg and the Eon, 772kg—so even these modest power figures result in acceptable performance.
The figures will tell you the Alto is marginally quicker at getting to 100kph. It’ll do the run in 17.05sec, which is 0.6sec earlier than the Eon’s time, but it’s in the real world that the Eon’s biggest disappointment comes to light. In traffic and at low engine speeds, the Eon simply doesn’t have enough grunt to carry on without shifting down a gear. You need to rev this engine to get the best out of it, and herein lies another part of the problem. When it’s revving, this three-cylinder motor sounds loud, it isn’t particularly smooth and the gearlever vibrates. Acceleration is often jerky and you will need to be rather measured with the throttle to