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War of the hot hatches

A person who’s considering buying a diesel hatchback is bound to have running costs, space and comfort on his mind. Spoilt by choice and new technology, refinement, performance and of course, fuel efficiency, will be on the must-have list as well. What’s more, it has to be at an affordable price and be good value too.

To make a car that fits this bill is quite a task, but many manufacturers see the Indian hatchback market as an opportunity they can’t afford to miss out on. That’s great news for car buyers as they now have choices like never before. We have lined up the best of diesel hatchbacks for you to see which makes the most sense.

Hyundai i20

The new kid on the block is the Hyundai i20 diesel which, priced at Rs 7.91 lakh, is the second-most expensive of this group. It’s got a powerful engine, is well equipped and has a big cabin.

UNDER THE HOOD

The new 1.4-litre engine in the i20 has a lot of turbo lag. They claim that maximum torque of 22.4kgm is made at 1750rpm, but you feel the tug only when the engine is closer to 2000rpm. But the performance is effortless. 0-100kph comes up in 13 seconds (the quickest here). This engine’s strength is its strong mid-range, whisking you to serious speeds. It’s very refined and the least noisy of this lot. The i20 diesel’s refinement, tall gearing and mid-range punch make it a good highway cruiser too.

This i20 uses a second-generation common-rail system that supplies fuel at a pressure of 1600bar to the cylinders (the first-gen CRDi’s had a 1350bar system). It’s got swirl control valves to optimise fuel flow into the cylinders, hydraulic lash adjusters to improve refinement and, like the Ritz, meets Bharat Stage IV norms.

DRIVER’S DEAL

At lower speeds, the i20’s suspension can’t keep up with the rest of the pack. It gets unsettled and jars over sharp intrusions and potholes. But the faster you go, the better it gets. At higher speeds, the ride is superb. The i20 prefers to be driven sedately though, than in maximum attack mode. The light steering doesn’t feel enthusiastic and handling doesn’t call for driver involvement. But it is the only car here that has disc brakes for all four wheels as standard.

INSIDE STORY

The i20 is cheaper than the Škoda Fabia and comes with a climate control system, USB and AUX ports and everything the Fabia has for about Rs 80,000 less. Its cabin is almost as spacious, but the seats aren’t the same. But it has a decent boot, perfect for long weekends you’d plan with a diesel around.

FINAL VERDICT

The i20 comes with a lot of promise. It’s not perfect with its jittery ride around town, considerable turbo lag and rather hefty price. But it has a refined and powerful engine, comes well equipped and is big on space for family and luggage.

It makes for a great highway car too, thanks to its engine and high-speed stability. It strikes the best balance between what your heart wants and what your head says and though it’s expensive, it’s still the best package of the lot.

Maruti Swift

The Swift diesel created the premium diesel hatch segment. It’s also been one of the most popular diesels with waiting lists longer than queues on the toll-free Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Does the Swift still have what it takes to cut it with the new breed?

UNDER THE HOOD

The Swift’s engine feels responsive and the surge of power is very gratifying. It’s quick, reaching 100kph in 13.87 seconds and the well-chosen ratios leave you firmly in the powerband as you snap up higher gears. The Swift at 1075kg also has weight on its side, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 69.79bhp per tonne.

DRIVER’S DEAL

The Swift has an entertaining handling. The taut chassis and compact dimensions make it a car you’d love to drive in the city. But on uneven roads, the ride can get skittish. For most part, the Swift’s ride doesn’t get unobtrusive and at normal speeds it is quite comfy.

INSIDE STORY

The Swift has the best front seats in the business. Supportive, comfy and spacious, it easily bests the others.

FINAL VERDICT

The Swift is the sportiest of this group. Go for it if you love to drive. You’ll enjoy the peppy performance, taut handling and great driving position. But then the interiors will look and feel over-familiar and the family won’t care too much for the firm ride and the comparatively cramped rear seats.

Maruti Ritz

At Rs 5.94 lakh, the new Maruti Ritz may miss out on some of the i20’s and Punto’s features but it’s got a cheerful cabin and tall seating to make it quite user-friendly.

UNDER THE HOOD

It’s natural to expect the Swift and Ritz to have the same performance. But then again, Venus and Serena Williams aren’t the same, are they? The Ritz’s ECU engine is tuned to meet Bharat Stage IV norms and gives better fuel efficiency. Since the gearing is identical to the Swift, this is probably why there is greater turbo-lag and a slower 0-100kph time. But once you get the engine in the power band, there’s a nice wave of torque to ride on.

DRIVER’S DEAL

The Ritz is set up differently than the Swift. Softly sprung, it’s designed to work well at lower speeds, which compromises its long-distance ability. Like the Swift, the Ritz diesel is also under-tyred and begs for wider rubber. What’s impressive about the Ritz is the electric power steering (EPS). It is more advanced than in the Swift and gives a more consistent feel.

INSIDE STORY

The Marutis’ dashboards look and feel good, but are shy of the solid build quality that the Fabia or the Punto have. Of the two, the Ritz is better at utilising interior space. There’s loads of headroom, decent legroom and the cabin is bright and cheerful. Thanks to the high seats, visibility forward is good.

FINAL VERDICT

The Ritz has an aam-aadmi pricing, decent engine and soft ride. Were it not for the turbo-lag, it would be a great city car. But its highway abilities are limited by its high-speed manners and it has a small boot.

Indica Vista

The Indica Vista is truly a lot of car for the money. The Vista’s cavernous interiors, mouth-watering price (Rs 5.55 lakh) and refined engine make it look like the winner on paper.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Vista, which has a Quadrajet engine, weighs more than the Swift. But it feels more responsive and tractable in city traffic. The clever gearing (shorter than in the Marutis) makes it feel peppier than its 0-100kph time of 16.36 seconds would suggest. Just look at the 20-80kph time — it’s faster than the Swift!

DRIVER’S DEAL

The Vista has no sporty pretensions. With its soft damping and numb steering, it doesn’t encourage you to attack corners. Though the suspension is a bit clunky and occasionally jars, the Vista rides acceptably well and, while not as good as its European rivals, it still manages to deliver.

INSIDE STORY

The Vista beats both the i20 and the Fabia on space. The seats are placed high, ingress and egress are easy thanks to the wide-opening doors and the huge glass-area gives the cabin a nice airy feel. However, while it is a huge improvement over the old Indica, in this day of cut-throat competition and in this class, it isn’t enough.

FINAL VERDICT

The Vista’s huge cabin, decent ride, refined engine and brilliant price make it a great family car, if you can ignore the plastic interiors and a dull driving experience.

Fiat Grande Punto

Making the i20 look positively overpriced is the new Fiat Grande Punto diesel. The Emotion Pack variant costs Rs 7.10 lakh and comes with a long list of standard features, fantastic ride and handling and supermodel looks.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Grande Punto weighs a substantial 115kg more than the Swift. Then there’s the shorter gearing that has sacrificed top-end performance for better drivability. In traffic, there’s adequate power and the car feels quite eager in town. The shorter gearing also makes the engine work harder at higher speeds. It’ll hit 100kph in 17.84 seconds, mainly due to its 1190kg weight and ECU tuning.

DRIVER’S DEAL

There’s little doubt about the Punto’s ride and handling prowess. It’s the car you can enjoy most, thanks to a beautifully balanced chassis, fantastic grip, accurate steering and perfect damping. Over any surface at any speed, the Punto remains unfazed and the refined suspension simply goes about its job keeping you completely isolated from the crater you just drove through.

INSIDE STORY

The Punto is fantastically specced. It’s got Bluetooth connectivity, the first in a small car. The front seats are spacious and the boot is generous. Still, the rear seats are a tad cramped, especially since all the others here have more legroom and there’s not enough headroom at the rear either. Interior quality is not great with a lot of ill-fitting panels and sharp edges. But it feels built to last.

FINAL VERDICT

When it comes to ride and handling, it’s the Punto that wins hands down. It’s beautifully styled and many will buy it just for this virtue. Still, its average interiors, dull performance and relatively cramped rear seats are deterrents to what is otherwise a brilliant car.

Škoda Fabia

The Škoda Fabia, one of the expensive big hatches, comes with its fantastic build and quality interiors, which are spacious and comfy. But, at Rs 8.69 lakh, its price is stratospheric.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Fabia’s three-cylinder 68bhp and 15.8kgm motor, uses Volkswagen’s Pumpe-düse technology, which means it’s the least refined of the lot. So, it is a surprise that the Fabia clocks impressive acceleration figures. Its 0-100kph in 15 seconds is not too far off from the Swift.

DRIVER’S DEAL

The Fabia’s road manners are top-class. At lower speeds, it has a certain suppleness that’s great for handling bumps and uneven tarmac. At higher speeds it rides with impunity over most surfaces. The Fabia may not have the Punto’s unflappable poise or its involving steering, but it’s definitely close.

INSIDE STORY

Look no further than the Fabia if it’s quality you want. Every surface feels expensive, well built and well thought out. There are small but beautiful details in there that I could write pages on. It’s a spacious cabin, has a big boot and even comes with a (admittedly useless) sunroof. The seats are the best here too. The only thing missing is a climate-control system.

FINAL VERDICT

The Fabia has no space issues and has a lot of small details that make you feel special. It feels expensive and is built like a bank vault. But then you encounter the gruff engine and the high price, both of which can put you off. If you can afford the high sticker price, love the European build quality and need that feel-good factor from your car, this is the one to go for.

SPec check

HYUNDAI i20 1.4 CRDi

9/10

Price: Rs 7.91 lakh
Engine: 4 cyls in-line, 1396cc, front, transverse
Power: 90bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 22.4kgm at 1750-2750rpm
Top speed: 163kph
0-100kph: 13 seconds
Fuel Economy*: 13.8/19.5kpl

MARUTI SWIFT 1.3 DDIS

8/10

Price: Rs 5.98 lakh
Engine: 4 cyls in-line, 1248cc, front, transverse
Power: 75bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 19.37kgm at 2000rpm
Top speed: 160kph
0-100kph: 13.87 seconds
Fuel Economy*: 14.4/19.1kpl

MARUTI RITZ 1.3 DDIS

8/10

Price: Rs 5.94 lakh
Engine: 4 cyls inline, 1248cc, front, transverse
Power: 74bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 19.37kgm at 2000rpm
Top speed: 157kph
0-100kph: 15.18 seconds
Fuel Economy*: 14.6/19.3kpl

TATA INDICA VISTA 1.3 QUADRAJET

8/10

Price: Rs 5.55 lakh
Engine: 4 cyls in-line, 1248cc, front, transverse
Power: 74bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 19.37kgm at 1750rpm
Top speed: 151kph
0-100kph: 16.36 seconds
Fuel Economy*: 13.6/16.7kpl

FIAT PUNTO 1.3 MULTI-JET

7/10

Price: Rs 7.10 lakh
Engine: 4 cyls in-line, 1248cc, front, transverse
Power: 75bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 20.08kgm at 2000rpm
Top speed: 153kph
0-100kph: 17.84 seconds
Fuel Economy*: 13.7/17.5kpl

ŠKODA FABIA 1.4 TDi

7/10

Price: Rs 8.69 lakh
Engine: 3 cyls in-line, 1422cc, front, transverse
Power: 68bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 15.8kgm at 1600-2800rpm
Top speed: 168kph
0-100kph: 14.95 seconds
Fuel Economy*: 14.1/18.5kpl

*(City/ Highway)

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