Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS vs Baleno Alpha - What's Different?
- Mar 6, 2017
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Round 1: Turbo-Petrols at War!
In case you didn’t know it yet, the ‘RS’ badge on the Baleno’s rump isn’t a silly sticker job or doesn’t signify a mere body kit. Maruti’s premium hatchback has got a new turbocharged engine that promises to thrill. I mean, 100PS and turbocharged petrol engine sound yummy, no? Now, that means the country’s biggest car maker has ventured into the ring that currently the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI is the king of. The Veedub managed to ward off a scorpion sting a couple of years ago, but does that mean it’s still got the beans? Especially since it essentially is a four year old model now?
We let our Road Test Editor loose with the cars and the VBOX, only to rub our eyes in disbelief when he came back with the results. I knew this was going to be a close fight, but had no idea it’d be this close. The Baleno RS managed to better the GT TSI by a mere 0.09 seconds in the 0-100kmph run! That’s not even a complete tenth of a second.
The difference isn’t in the engines though. It’s in the transmission. You might wonder how can the Baleno RS with its 5-speed manual better Volkswagen’s DSG! The problem is that the DSG does not let you launch the car at revs the way the Baleno’s manual gearbox does. When it is time to swap cogs in rapid fire fashion it’s the Polo that leaves the Baleno in its dust though. We’ve always been fans of Volkswagen’s DSG units, and undeniably, that transmission in the Polo is a dream come true. Also, gearing on the RS is taller – especially in second and third – which makes for an agonising wait before you get to the redline to shift up. And, since we’re talking redlines let me tell you, it is incorrectly marked on the RS. The limiter kicks in between 5900 and 6000rpm, whereas the redline is marked at 6200rpm on the tachometer. Remember this, folks: getting bogged down on a full bore run doesn’t feel too good. Another big reason for the Baleno to be just about quicker is its lighter weight. As compared to the Polo’s 1109kg kerb weight the Baleno RS weighs just 950kg, a whopping 159kg less!
Here’s the full set of test numbers:
|Baleno RS||Polo GT TSi|
|0-100kmph||10.52 seconds||10.61 seconds|
|30-80kmph (3rd)||7.08 seconds||5.92 seconds*|
|40-100kmph (4th)||13.38 seconds||-|
|100-0kmph||43.08 metres||42.86 metres|
|80-0kmph||26.90 metres||27.45 metres|
* - 20-80kmph under kickdown
The 1198cc, four-cylinder TSI (Turbocharged Stratified Injection) engine under the hood of the Polo GT is extremely refined and silent at idle. The 998cc triple-cylinder in the Baleno RS has a thrummy start-up on the other hand, typical of three-cylinder engines. The Volkswagen delivers the grunt in one strong relentless surge as you start pushing the engine, once the turbo kicks in at around 1500rpm. The motor is quick to send all 175Nm of torque to the front wheels post that, all the way up to 4100rpm.
The Baleno’s power delivery feels slightly lumpy in comparison. Where the DSG masks whatever turbo lag the GT has, the manual transmission in the RS seems to amplify it. The three-pot motor also makes you wait for peak torque to arrive a wee bit longer, and kicks in at 1700rpm. Also, you feel the surge sharply taper off once you’re past 4000rpm, which isn’t the case with the Polo. Flogging it beyond feels pointless as there’s more noise than real-time acceleration. That said, the Volkswagen makes you pay for its additional punch and the convenience of an automatic transmission with some added fuel expenses though, as the GT TSI’s efficiency is lower by nearly 4kmpl inside the city and on the highway when compared to the Baleno’s.
|Fuel Efficiency||Baleno RS||Polo GT TSi|
The fly(s) in the ointment
The Baleno RS has enough firepower to distinguish itself from its non-turbo counterpart and that’s a job well done. The let-down though is that Maruti had the liberty to go the whole hog with the blue-badged RS but they have chosen to take the middle ground, and a few specific things dampened the driving experience.
First up, the suspension continues to be city-biased, which means chucking the RS into a corner gets you substantial amounts of body roll. But more than that, what forces you to shed speed through bends are the car’s front seats, as they do almost nothing to hold you in place going around corners aggressively. Granted, the Polo’s seats aren’t as comfy as the Baleno’s, but they do a stellar job of ensuring you don’t slide around. The GT TSI also lets you carry in a lot more speeds into bends and when you’re throttling out of corners, the DSG offers better punch instantly too.
Second, the ABS on the RS is almost entirely sure you’re going to hurt yourself, and kicks in too early. The brake pedal too isn’t progressive (we think it bites in a bit too much, a little too early) and you’re left second guessing while you’re approaching a corner. The GT TSI’s brakes are a lot more linear in feel and more predictable in comparison. The pedal feels a bit squishy initially, but it tells you exactly how much brake force you’re applying, which is a boon especially when you enter a corner a little too hot.
Thirdly, the gearing. The clutch in the Baleno RS is super light, bites in early, and lets you set off quickly. But the gear shifts are rubbery, which robs some fun. On the one hand, the tall ratios let you do anything from 15kmph to over 100kmph in third, but upshift near the redline and revs dive by close to 2000rpm! This means you have wring the bejesus out of the motor (all over again) to get it in its element.
Neither car has what we’d call a feather-light steering, but the RS’s unit is relatively lighter. It’s the easier car to manoeuvre within the city as compared to the TSI, whose steering weight feels a bit artificial and almost unnecessarily heavy. But this setup is more engaging and fun around the bends, as it has none of the vagueness that the Baleno has at dead centre. Flick the wheel and the GT changes direction almost immediately; the steering is direct and quick, with enough feedback to keep you hooked on. The Baleno’s steering, on the other hand, calls for a lot more guesswork as it feels vague and doesn’t quite tell you as much about what’s happening at the front end, which, in our books, is a sheer let-down on what’s to be perceived as a hot hatch.
Also, unlike the RS that rolls around the bends, the GT corners much flatter and feels a lot more confident. The stiffer springs keep unnecessary body roll in check but it doesn’t eliminate it altogether. What’s even more impressive about the Polo’s suspension though is that it feels firm on broken roads, but doesn’t cause too much lateral movement or unsettle occupants either. The Polo also feels more stable than the Baleno at speeds. Not that the Baleno isn’t. It feels stable too, but hit a bump and it loses its composure for a second or two, while the Polo seems to simply soak it in and carries forward unfazed. And when you’re in the mood for some cornering, make sure you’re in Sport or Manual mode in the Polo. Left to its own devices in Drive, the DSG finds excuses to shift up early, causing you to fall out of the motor’s sweet spot. On a related note, a set of paddle shifters would’ve really sealed the deal, Volkswagen!
Show to match the go
The GT is pretty serious and purposeful-looking for what it is meant to be. If it were a person, I doubt it'd take a liking to knock-knock jokes. But you cannot deny it looks super classy. There's not much to distinguish the GT from the standard Polo except for some blacked-out bits and bigger 16-inch alloy wheels, but on the whole, the lines are straight and crisp, and the car has a nice squat stance too. We know there’s an all-new Polo out there, but rest assured, that’s not coming down to India anytime soon. And while we do sincerely await its arrival, we’re still convinced this one’s a looker, even today.
As far as looks are concerned, the RS isn't too different from the top-spec Alpha trim. The grille and bumpers are different and it gets black wheels and a contrast-coloured lip to go with it. On the whole, it looks slightly more aggressive compared to the standard Baleno but we think Maruti could have given it a different set of wheels and a few more minor details like a contrast-coloured roof to really set it apart as the hotter hatch.
Among the Polo’s trump cards in this battle is its sheer build quality though. You tend to fall in love with the reassuring ‘thunk’ the heavy doors close with. Once inside, it makes you feel protected. And that's my problem with the Baleno - it doesn’t. Close the door and there's a clangy ‘thunk.’ The sheet metal is thin, which explains the lighter weight of the car, but on the whole it simply doesn’t feel as solidly built as the Volkswagen.
The plastic quality inside, too, although hard, feels built to last in the Volkswagen. Not to say the Baleno is too far behind, but little details let it down. For instance, door pads jut in and out when you use the power windows, and the two stalks sticking out of the instrument binnacle feel like they could snap any time if not used carefully.
Space for fun?
Most would be willing to look past the minor oversights in the Baleno for the sheer room inside the cabin. There's no other way of saying this: the RS pummels the GT TSI when it comes to seating more than a couple of occupants in the back. In every measurable dimension it is a bigger car, as it stands 24mm longer, 63mm wider and 41mm taller than the Polo, which shows on the inside.
Knee room, especially at the rear, is distinctly better. And while shoulder room is nearly on par, the GT is slightly tighter in terms of headroom. Also, it's the RS that feels more welcoming to luggage as its 339-litre boot is a lot more accommodating than the GT's 295-litre boot. What's not so good is that the hatch door on the RS sits quite high off the ground and has a narrow mouth. Since we're discussing luggage hauling, the Polo's bench will fold down flat to the floor, while the Baleno gets a 60:40 split for some added versatility.
The two trade blows when it comes to features on offer. Common bits include automatic air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheels with tilt and telescopic adjust, height-adjustable driver's seats and touchscreen infotainment systems. Both cars also feature auto-dimming rear view mirrors, electrically foldable wing mirrors and chilled gloveboxes.
The RS gets exclusive features like a front armrest, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (the Polo’s touchscreen gets only MirrorLink), a reverse parking camera and automatic headlamps with DRLs. The Polo isn’t lagging when it comes to exclusive features though, and gets rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, static cornering fog lamps and auto up/down for all windows.
I like that the RS carries over the strengths of the regular Baleno in terms of space, utility, and a plush ride. Sadly it’s imbibed the bits that needed to be ironed out for it to be a proper sporty hatch though, like the light steering, tall gearing (curse you, kitna deti hai!) and the soft springs which make the RS lose crucial points in the fun-to-drive scorecard.
As far as outright driving dynamics go the GT TSI continues to be in a league of its own. Its crisp power delivery, quick gearbox and far sportier handling, along with that solid build quality that Volkswagen is known for, together ensure that this old dog still has it in it to better the Baleno RS.Recommended Variant : Baleno Zeta 1.2
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