Long long time ago when the first tall boy, the Hyundai Santro set its foot on Indian soil, most of the automotive scribes as also various other companies had scoffed the idea of a tall boy design. However when it became an instant success story, the rest followed suit. There was the Daewoo Matiz and then the Maruti Wagon. While the former met with reasonable success, the Maruti Wagon R in India wasn’t quite the success story as Maruti Suzuki expected it to be. However as with all Maruti products, a few price revisions as also some styling tweaks lead to sales of this car gathering some steam. The Maruti Estilo in India meanwhile still hasn’t caught the public fancy. However it’s a known fact that this car is based on a discarded Japanese MR Wagon platform. But then still dropping the Zen moniker altogether and carrying on with the Spanish dancer name was a good move. Hyundai Santro Xing in India is the only car which has stayed true to its roots and has evaded most of the design changes that a 12 year old car should undergo. Most of the entry level executive buyers on a tight budget however settle for either a Maruti or the Hyundai. Now, the Chevrolet Spark in India is essentially the Daewoo Matiz in a new form. With its 3 year maintenance program, this car is also a hot favorite for many buyers. We have got all the 4 pitted against each other. Out of this two are of Japanese origin, one Korean and one part Korean part US. Hmmm. Tall order isn’t it? But that’s what life at Indiandrives is.
While the newest car of the lot by a margin would be the Chevrolet Spark India, it cannot be essentially called as new. It has got minor exterior tweaks and some interior revisions. It now mirrors the look of the Daewoo Matiz with a Hyundai I20 like grille and deep set fog lamps on the top end variant. The head lamps have the turn indicators embedded in them and are now much broader. It also gets a new design alloy wheels. There are sporty roof rails as well and the tail lamps are the same kite shaped design as earlier. We would have preferred the Beat sort of elemental tail lamps with this refresh. The Maruti Wagon R in India also received a facelift and one which can be called a true facelift. The head lamp and the grille design has been changed a bit now. The bonnet snout has been also elongated and there is a bluish tinge in the head lamps now. The air dams have also taken a new design line. The car looks bigger and takes on a muscular stance. The tail lamps have remained more or less the same and amply demonstrate the tall boy design. The Maruti Estilo in India also got a design revamp recently and it looks much better than the earlier iteration. It looks nothing like the car it replaced and gets a broader air dam. The new chocolate brown color also makes sense in distinguishing this car amongst the hordes of its brethren. The fog lamp inserts also have been designed aesthetically. While the Maruti designers have showered their lavish attention on the front end of this car, the rear end more or less remains the same with the exception of addition of clear lens glass. The Hyundai Santro in India is one which even a kid would be able to make out from a distance. Its ubiquitous form is one which cannot be described as beautiful however it is more on the functional side. It is said that Hyundai would come up with a new 2011 model with a diesel engine soon and this model would get a revised styling with a longer snout and some mellowing down of the tall boy design towards the rear.
For the styling front, it has got to be the Maruti Wagon R with its butch and bold looks. The Spark comes a second while the Estilo and the Santro finish at the bottom of the heap.
The interiors for both the Marutis feel different even though they are from the same breed. The Hyundai Santro in the meanwhile gets a two tone upholstery for the seats which infuses some jazz into the boring single tone interiors. The meter dials don’t even have a tachometer. On the top end variant, one gets power windows in the front however the rear seat passengers make do with winding the window up and down a la Ford Figo style. There is enough space in the front and while the steering doesn’t adjust for rake or reach, the front seat does for reach adjust. Rear seats however aren’t that comfortable and if at all you want to travel in comfort in the rear seat, you would be looking at the Maruti Wagon R. The Wagon, as its name suggest has got very good head room as also leg room at the rear. Even the front seat passengers don’t feel short changed. The steering wheel is a new unit and one which has got aluminium inserts with a new speedometer console. Actually the entire dashboard panel has been changed and the gear knob also looks sporty. There are many storage spaces available inside the cabin. The Maruti Estilo doesn’t have any problem with its interiors as well. It gets a much lighter beige upholstery. Maruti quality has noticeably increased post the Swift era and this is one proof. Space is a tad less than what the Wagon R has to offer however it does make do with lots of cubby holes. There is a touch screen audio system which is a first for cars of this class. However the door handles felt a bit flimsy and not to one’s liking. For the Chevrolet Spark, it was quite a tight fit but the interior quality was noticeably up from that of the Hyundai’s. The two spoke steering wheel and the centrally placed instrument cluster were a segment first. However what is disappointing is that there aren’t many cubby holes in the cabin. Seating arrangement at the rear is also a tight fit. Boot space is the largest in the Wagon R while the Chevy Spark has the smallest one. The Estilo and the Santro slot in between.
It is the Maruti Wagon R which wins this round with its blend of space and utility. The Estilo comes in a close second while the Hyundai and Chevrolet complete the tail.
Handling and ride quality
This is where all the cars are different from one another. While the Chevy Spark with its nimble proportions is the easiest to drive around in town, the Santro is the stable one on the highway. Both the Marutis are bit of nervous handlers. All these car are built for the city drive and for the occasional highway trip. The Maruti Estilo has been tuned to be on the softer side and handles road imperfections very well. All is well at low speeds however once the speeds rise, the Estilo is a nervous dancer. Not much has changed for the steering wheel and it still feels vague around the center. Corner carving isn’t its forte. The Hyundai Santro in India rides on a stiffer suspension package and hence handles better. It does have a rough edge while pottering around in low speeds in town but that can be quickly traded off for the willingness that it attacks corners with. Its steering wheel has gained weight over the years and it doesn’t feel as feather light as the earlier unit. The Wagon R however feels a lot more composed than it was earlier. Though the slight twitchiness is still present in its handling, the wider track now makes it easier to go around corners. The steering wheel is light but not utterly so and delivers somewhat okay feedback. Ride quality is just perfect and there is nothing to fault the Wagon R though some small bumps at high speeds do unsettle this car a bit. The Chevrolet Spark in the meanwhile is as stiffly sprung as the Hyundai Santro. Though the Chevrolet is also a tall boy design, it handles the highway jaunts well with out losing its composure. The Chevy has one involving steering wheel which delivers the correct feedback at all speeds. As far as NVH goes, the Chevrolet Spark is the one with the lowest NVH while the Maruti twins have got noisier engines.
The Chevrolet Spark in India wins this bout purely based on a good overall driving package. The Santro comes in second while the Maruti Estilo and Maruti Wagon R fall in no particular order.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
Both the Maruti Estilo and the Wagon R share their engines and that is not a bad thing as far as cost cutting and pricing the cars effectively is concerned. The 1.0 liter engine in both the cars produces 67 Bhp and 90 Nm of torque. The best thing about this engine is that it is significantly lighter than all the other two engines in this comparison. Both the Marutis also share a 5 speed gearbox which takes away the earlier rubbery feeling that both had. While the Estilo covers the 0-100 kmph mark in 17.46 seconds, the Wagon R completes it a good 2 seconds before. Both have similar top speeds of 145 kmph. But then this K series engine just loves to be thrashed. The very fact that it makes its peak power higher up in the range is testimony that this engine would be ripped apart by enthusiasts. The Santro makes do with 1.1 liter engine which though makes only 62 Bhp, is far more refined than the Maruti motors. It also makes higher torque than the Marutis at 96 Nm. The gearbox for the Santro feels a bit behind that of Suzuki twins with its slightly notchy action. The Santro raced from 0-100 kmph in 16.2 seconds and maxxes out at a top speed of 147 kmph. The engine however isn’t as free revving as the K series one. The 1 liter engine in the Chevrolet Spark makes 63 Bhp and 90 Nm of torque. The gearshift action feels similar to that in the Santro. It is the quickest of the lot here in crossing the 0-100 kmph mark in only 14.2 seconds. Top speed is a wee bit better than the others here at 148 kmph.
Brakes are equally good in all the cars here however the one in Zen Estilo feel a bit wooden. All the cars come here with optional ABS and feature twin air bags, which again come as an optional package. Fuel efficiency is more or less the same for all these cars with the Wagon R returning an overall 18.5 kmpl, the Maruti Estilo with 19.1 kmpl, Hyundai Santro gives 16.6 kmpl and the Chevy being the least fuel efficient at 16.2 kmpl. All these cars come with alternative fuel options and this could ease the burden off a bit every time one visits the fuel pump.
All the four cars in this comparison are aspirational cars and ones which mostly entry level buyers or ladies usually buy. The reason being that their tall boy design ensures good visibility all around while at the same time provide good fuel economy. Out of the 4, the Chevrolet Spark in India wins the least points. It is not as kitted as the rest of the cars in this comparison plus isn’t that spacious. Also this small Chevy doesn’t boast of a good fuel economy figure as compared with the competition. Next up is the Hyundai Santro in India. Age has caught up with this old Hyundai workhorse and it is high time that Hyundai give it a proper upgrade not only in terms of looks but also an engine upgrade. The Estilo is more or less similar to the Maruti Wagon R however the Wagon R offers more space and has bigger boot plus, it is nearly as fuel efficient as the Estilo. While the Estilo might harp on its Zen badge, the Wagon R proves to be the all rounder here. The difference in price between the two is also not that much and it would be wiser to go in for the bigger Wagon R. The Chevrolet Spark price in India starts from Rs 2,83,458 and ends at Rs 4,04,353. The Hyundai Santro Xing price in India starts from Rs 3.10 lakhs while the top end variant goes for Rs 3.75 lakhs. The Maruti Estilo price in India starts from Rs 3.13 lakhs while the top end variant is slated at Rs 3.75 lakhs. The Maruti Wagon R price in India starts from Rs 323,955 and culminates at Rs 4.30 lakhs.
Our winner for this tall boy comparison is the Maruti Wagon R followed by the Maruti Estilo, Hyundai Santro and the Chevrolet Spark.