The performance is where all four cars are completely different – the Amaze is the most powerful of the lot, while the Xcent uses a tiny three pot motor that puts out a paltry sum of torque and power. Both the Dzire and the Zest use the same engine, but where Suzuki uses the standard five-speed manual transmission, the Tata should be hailed as the new messiah of the city commuters, offering the budget diesel AMT.
Unfortunately, the first car I drove among the four was the Amaze and then it was obvious everything else was bound to feel slow. The 1.5-litre engine with 100bhp and 200Nm are the best figures in the compact sedan segment and it has an amazing torque curve that runs flat from 1750rpm to 3500rpm, but more amazing is the fact that this feat has been achieved without a variable geometry turbo (VGT). The turbo lag isn’t much either, at least when compared with the multijet diesel in Dzire (Zest AMT is an entirely different ball game, we will discuss that in a bit ). The gearshifts are nice and positive as well and the only drawback of the Amaze powertrain is that it is noisy (by Honda standards).
Standalone the Xcent won’t face too much criticism for performance, but put it in perspective with the other two manual cars here and it suddenly starts looking dull. The good thing from an average everyday user’s perspective is that there is no turbo lag at all, unfortunately that is simply because it hardly has any power. The 1.1-litre three-cylinder engine churns 71bhp and 180Nm of torque and the best thing about this engine is the refinement. The efficiency at 24.4kpl looks great on paper, but the effort required for overtakes and getting back to cruising speed after every speed breaker (there are at least a million in and around Mumbai) makes it fairly difficult to get anywhere close to that number in the real world.
The Swift Dzire diesel uses Fiat’s 1.3-litre multijet engine that is used by at least 10 other cars in the Indian market, including its rival the Tata Zest. It is almost safe to say then that it has got the basics right. The car produces 74bhp and 190Nm of torque, these are nowhere close to the best numbers, but with better gearing and turbo lag comparable with the timeliness of Bollywood celebrities at events, it does provide a nice thrust around 2,000rpm. The turbo lag is a little annoying during daily commutes and makes it necessary to drop a gear for overtakes despite being a diesel. Frankly speaking, the 1.3-litre engine with five-speed manual is more than a decent setup; it has sufficient power, the gearbox works well and even the real world efficiency is great. Also Maruti now claims the highest fuel efficiency in the segment of 26.59kpl.
The Zest stands out for taking a new route, while it is not a technological wonder, it gets brownie points for being the first and only diesel small car in the country (BMW Mini, A-Class and others don’t count; if a car costs more than equivalent space in Mumbai, it is not really ‘small’, is it?). The diesel AMT uses the VGT version of the four-cylinder multijet diesel producing 89bhp and 200Nm of torque. We can get into complexities of how the AMT is not actually an automatic and it is just an interface for a manual gearbox, but the fact remains that there is no clutch and one can drive it without bothering to touch the gear lever. Leave it alone and the transmission is so slow that it feels like using a two year old android that has never been cleared of its cache. It doesn’t matter though, since driving in city traffic probably is even slower and Zest does well enough to cope up. Manually shifting gears is a better option, the response is quicker and this is a more comfortable way of driving the car on the highway. The AMT does take a toll on the fuel efficiency and though the company claims it to be over 23kpl, the actual numbers are around 17kpl.
If performance matters (if!), the Amaze is the clear winner among the manuals on everything including power, gearshifts and real world efficiency. The Zest AMT has no direct competition and while I may take a pot shot at the gearbox sitting here in the comforts of the office, this gearbox let me enjoy peaceful evenings in Mumbai after the drive back in Mumbai traffic.