Fiat cars may not be the preferred or rather the first choice for many homes now. However way back in the late 90s, in India, Fiat cars were more of a compulsion rather than choice. You see Fiat cars were the only choice available in the country back then until a certain Maruti Suzuki came along to spoil the party. Though Maruti’s first offering in the country was the ultra small 800 car, it actually rocked the whole nation. Not only was it a worthy alternative to the wheezy Padminis and 118s, it also was more fuel efficient. Tata joined the party late with its Sumo and other related SUV or MUV body styles. However in 1999, Tata came up with their first hatchback, the Tata Indica. It was a huge success much on the same lines that the other manufacturers here got when they first launched their vehicles in India. Times have changed and so have the manufacturer’s attitude towards their vehicles. Fiat Motors was the first to withdraw from India wherein due to their poor service quality and also some engine niggles, they had to bow out. However Maruti and Tata kept on increasing their product portfolio. In the meanwhile in Europe many things happened. Like for instance Suzuki having a liaison with Fiat and having a share of their world famous multijet engine. In India Fiat, who were thinking of reentering the country on a good note, tied up with Tata Motors for their sales and after sales part. However with this tie up, Tata Motors also got access to the fabulous multijet engine. Now, it’s a dilemma that about 10-11 cars in India are currently powered by various iterations of the multijet diesel engine. If you are in the market for a diesel hatchback and don’t know which one to choose amongst the products offered by these manufacturers, then don’t worry, we are here to help you out. So, it’s the Tata Indica Vista Quadrajet in India vs Fiat Palio 1.3 Multijet in India vs Maruti Swift DDiS in India.
The latest of these cars out here is the Tata Indica Vista. The entire platform is a new one and not taken from the older Indica one. There are some styling cues like the ones from the Peugeot 307 type head lamps and the Tata grille that make this car stand out amongst the crowd. A car in violet car looks spectacular. Earlier Palios used to be offered with this color however as of now, it seems that the red color is a rage and that is if anyone is still buying a Palio. The Vista carries a long wheelbase than its older variant and naturally so than the others in this class. The front styling for the Vista doesn’t seem fussy as well. The earlier problem with the wheel wells not filling up the entire wheel arch also has been solved to a great extent but not entirely. The Mini mimicking Maruti Swift hasn’t changed much in 5 years though a new Swift is on the cards very soon (don’t ask us when). Only the DDiS moniker distinguishes it from the petrol one. No body colored mirrors are offered even on the top end variant though. This car is a familiar form on the Indian roads now but then it still manages to turn heads with its styling. The Palio and the Indica feel the same maybe because they both are a bit elongated while the Swift looks very compact. The Palio, before its relaunch in India, was given a slight revamp which included a bit of elongated hood, clear lens lamp and a fuzzy look for its nose. From the rear portions, the Vista reminds one that this is an Indica afterall. Moreover, Tata Motors seem to be shortchanging the Indian customers since they offer bigger and far better 15 inch wheels for the export models. The Christmas tree like tail lamps are more or less similar to the first Indicas which were launched. The Swift gets a more contemporary tail lamp which are almost similar in look like the headlamps. Years ago when the Swift was launched, there was not one car in the Maruti portfolio that people actually desired to buy but were more inclined to buy for the very Maruti reliability and fuel efficiency. The Swift changed the game. The Palio set the sales chart on fire initially with its 1.6 variant however as of now, we are talking about the 1.3 liter diesel variants.
As far as the beauty contest goes, its actually a tie between all the three cars out here. Indiandrives staffers have got a bias towards the Swift’s design but then sensibility says that it should be the Indica Vista or either the Palio. The Indica looks fragile from outside while the Swift and Palio look very strong. Tough one this is and we have just started. However we would hand it over to the Palio for having aged so gracefully that even after 8-10 years of its launch, it still manages to catch attention. Also the Swift does manage to turn heads even though it is a 6 year old design. As for the Vista, we are yet to see people looking back at it and hence it doesn’t go anywhere with its design theme.
While the Indica may not be a head turner as far as looks are concerned, it is more than makes it up in the interiors. A common thing where costs are to be kept low and at the same time, the car needs to be exported to both right hand and left hand markets, the Tata Indica Vista Quadrajet in India comes with a instrument console which fits into the middle of the dashboard. It houses a multi information display and also large tachometer and speedometer along with a fuel gauge. The steering wheel comes with a adjust thing and long gone is the ape like crouching position in the older Indica. Infact space is the forte of the Indica and it still remains. The factory integrated music system is placed at an odd level while the aircon has a good show of performance from its vents. Space was the forte of the old Indica and the new one raises the bar to notches above. However boot space is average and comes in only a distinct second in this comparison. The Fiat Palio Stile may have got a new moniker to it and also some interior refurbishing but, it still feels aged in front of the other cars here. The half wood trim is dated and feels so. Fiat’s quality has also taken a big dip and if you have been in a Punto before, you would find it hard to believe that the Palio comes from the same company. The Palio offers decent space though not of the same kind as the Vista. However the rear bench of the Palio is better inclined than the Vista and hence is a bit more comfortable. Best part is that the boot is the largest of the lot and can hold a fair bit of luggage. The Swift immediately feels like a Nano once you enter it. Though the quality of plastics isn’t great for either of the three cars, the Swift’s feel better put together. The Swift is cramped and while front seat passengers would be a happy lot, the rear ones would be grumbling during the entire journey. Plus add in small rear windows and the feeling of claustrophobia is hard to fight with. The all black interior further highlight the fact that this is a small car. Maruti did try to go glam with the Swift Glam edition however the customer feedback was very poor for this product and hence Maruti discontinued it. Boot space is lower than that of the Vista and can barely hold two carry bags. However equipment wise, the Swift is the best contender while the Palio is the worst one. Storage spaces are however the least in the Tata and maximum in the Palio.
The Tata Indica Vista is way ahead of its competition as far as space is concerned however its build quality leaves a lot to be desired and while the Palio is a burly car, the way things have been put together are not correct. The Swift with its all black theme however is a claustrophobic car.
Handling and ride quality
The Fiat Palio earlier on in its life in India was voted as the best car amongst the ride and handling package contenders however its been ages since Fiat has done anything to improve on that. Naturally the competition has moved on and infact has improved much on the Palio’s weaknesses. Earlier on while the Palio’s steering wheel used to be communicative, now it feels dead. While the ride quality is a bit stiff, it is ideal for the Indian roads. Mild steering inputs are met with a resistance by the front wheels to turn in fast. Up the pace and the Fiat seems even more reluctant to turn into corners. Her turning radius is also on the larger side for small hatchbacks. The Maruti Swift, when it was launched, made quite a name for itself in the handling department. It has an electronic power steering which delivers the best feel as far as small hatchbacks go. The Swift turns in eagerly into corners but it however is letdown by the puny tyres. Throw the original tyres out and fit in some fatter rubber and the Swift would be a hoot to drive. Ride quality however is a harsh one and the Swift lets its occupants know what is going on underneath the road. The earlier Tata Indica was much criticized for its lack of going around corners in a sublime manner. Tata have addressed this gripe with a better handling Indica. Though she wouldn’t carve corners easily, she is a bit more easy going than the Palio. The suspension has been majorly reworked upon with it now getting a long travel which soaks up bumps very easily. The Vista’s steering wheel also is very light but has a tad too many turns. Ride quality is of the absorbent types and it is no wonder that the earlier Indica was a darling of the call center public. NVH however is more pronounced on the Fiat Palio multijet in India than the others. The Swift’s engine is even more silent than the one on the Indica.
The Tata Indica once again wins this bout purely on the basis of it having a more absorbent ride quality than the others whereas the Swift comes in next followed by the Palio.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
The engines on all the three cars is the main reason why they have been compared here. The 1.3 liter engine can be tuned for a variety of outputs, the examples of which we have seen in the Manza, Linea and the Dzire. However each manufacturer worth his salt in this competition has actually tinkered around with to marginally increase the power rating. First up is the Palio’s engine. Power is 75 Ps while the torque figure is 184 Nm. In the Swift, the same engine makes a power of 76 Ps and torque figure of 190 Nm. The Vista produces a similar torque rating like the Swift but the power figure is like that of the Palio. All the three cars here sport 5 speed manual transmissions and while the Fiat and Tata used to share their transmissions earlier, Tata have recently got a new gearbox from Fiat and hence now the transmission offered on all the three cars here are different as chalk and cheese. In short, the worst one is the Fiat and the best is the Maruti. The Tata one treads the middle path. Tata have vastly improved the gearbox of the Vista and it now slots in perfectly if not in a hurried manner. If urgency is what you require, then look no further than the Swift diesel. The gearbox on this one is a sweet Suzuki unit which shifts positively and very quickly. The gear lever grip on the Vista however isn’t suited for hands and detracts from the fast feeling. The Palio has a gearbox which whines at every shift, so much so that you would think that its better that the car be in that particular gear rather than shift up or down. The gear ratios in the Palio are more suited for city use and hence this car requires the minimum shifts out of the trio here and that is in the city. The Indica vista has got slightly taller gear ratios and this means that the car is more of a mile muncher than being confined in the city limits. The Swift is however the champion here. It feels equally at home both in the city and on the highway. The Vista sways a bit while on the highway whereas the Palio and Swift remain steady. The 0-100 kmph figure runs suggest that the donor has been outclassed by the recipient here. The Swift’s timings are 13.3 seconds, which nearly the same as its petrol engined sibling. The top speed that the Swift diesel achieves is 151 kmph. While the Maruti Swift DDiS in India reaches 151 kmph, the Tata Indica Vista goes all the way to 163 kmph. However the Vista achieves the 0-100 kmph figure in 16.2 seconds. The Fiat Palio multijet crosses the 0-100 kmph run in a leisurely 17.6 seconds. Its top speed however is better than the Swift at 156 kmph.
Speed isn’t everything is it cannot be controlled. For this, Maruti has endowed the Swift with ABS as an option. This ABS equipped Swift, needless to say posted far superior braking times to the non-ABS equipped Palio and Vista variants. Come to think of it, both Fiat and Tata are showing a laxity in offering ABS on this cars, even as an option. Unfortunately airbags are not even an option on all this cars. Manufacturers don’t seem to take safety as an important aspect it seems. Wish that there was a certain Volvo coming into the hatchback segment. The engine characteristics of all these cars are even different though they have the same block and casing. The one in the Swift’s feels the most energetic and very eager to rev while the one in the Tata seems more at ease when things are taken easily. The one in the Palio is a laggard as far as motion is concerned. While they might have one and off issues with their wide engine characteristics, the fuel efficiency stake isn’t crucified with both the Indica and Swift returning similar overall figures of 19.4 kmpl whereas the Palio returns a slightly lower 19.0 kmpl.
The winner as far as the engine department goes, is the Swift followed by the Vista and then the Palio.
The new Fiat Palio multijet in India, except for the looks department has been outclassed by its competition. It is high time that Fiat either scrape the Palio entirely or bring about a whole range of changes in it. Cosmetic changes in the interior would be a nice place to start some modifications. However the Palio feels built to last compared to the Vista and the Swift. Coming to the Swift, as we all know, its due for a replacement in a month’s or may be some months time. It is a dynamically sound vehicle and as we have already test driven the new Swift, the dynamic character of the car has been taken to the next level. The old Swift also has a better engine than the others (even if they are of the same ilk) However it isn’t spacious and plus ride quality isn’t great. That brings us to the Vista. The Vista is one of the best cars that Tata Motors have built and it improves on the space and quality of the earlier Indica. However build quality isn’t that great plus safety features have been omitted. One thing is for sure. This Tata can also be used as a chauffer driven car as well. Fuel efficiency is more or less the same for all these cars. As far as the sales and service part goes, it is the Maruti which comes out trumps against the Tata-Fiat coalition, though Tata isn’t far behind in this stake either. Availability of spares and general servicing of the cars isn’t an issue with the trio. Now comes the crucial deciding factor and that is the price. The Maruti Swift DDiS price in India start from Rs 517,459 for the BS4 VDI variant while the top end variant with ABS costs Rs 576,649. The Tata Indica Vista Quadrajet price in India starts from Rs 472,890 for the BS4 base variant while the top end variant is available for Rs 515,584. The Fiat Palio multijet price in India starts from Rs 4,52,441 whereas the top of the line one is available for Rs 4.93 lakhs. All these prices are ex-show room, Mumbai.
The Swift is the costliest of the lot whereas the Palio is the lower priced one. Our pick however would still be the Tata Indica Vista for its spaciousness and nimbleness around town. There would be another comparison coming up when the new Swift is launched (now, don’t ask again when is it going to be launched?).