The biggest change in the new Wagon R is a four-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine offered for the first time along-side the already existing three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine option. Here, this 1.2-litre motor churns out 82bhp and 113Nm of torque as compared to its 1.0-litre counterpart producing 67bhp and 90Nm. Both engines are mated to a five-speed gearbox with the option of AMT. On the other hand, the Santro comes powered by a heavily reworked version of the Santro Xing’s 1.1-litre, four-cylinder Epsilon petrol engine that offers 69bhp and 99Nm of torque in its current guise. Apart from a five-speed manual, one may avail of this five-speed AMT, which marks the debut of AMT technology for Hyundai.
Both the engines are equally silent, however, the Santro’s unit feels more refined. Moreover, its engine noise doesn’t filter into the cabin. That said, it gets quite audible in both cars post 4,000rpm. Now as on paper, the difference in the power also clearly shows right when you get off the mark. The WagonR feels quicker and the extra power helps it get going faster than the Santro. Both take their sweet time at low rpms but it’s in the mid-range where the WagonR feels stronger. Comparatively, the Santro’s engine feels like it needs to be worked upon a bit to squeeze out performance from it. But it’s probably because Hyundai has tuned the motor to be energy efficient over everything else. But does it make up for a lot of ground? We will get to that in our fuel efficiency tests.
Now, let’s get to the AMT gearboxes. They undoubtedly provide relief in traffic snarls. Both cars move ahead smoothly as soon as you let go off the brakes, but the WagonR has a stronger tug. The Santro’s AMT still offers relatively smooth gearshifts. In the WagonR, the head nod on gear-shifts is pronounced, whereas this has been contained well in the Santro, resulting in a smoother drive. Comparatively, the WagonR’s gearbox is more responsive and doesn’t require the need to shift manually at times as in the Santro. That said, both feel a bit slow on open roads whether it’s for upshifting or downshifting. This is a characteristic AMT trait where it takes a bit of time to recognise driver’s input. Still one has the option of changing gears manually, which will help in getting more control while going down a slope or planning to overtake.
For the ride and handling bit, both these cars with a tall-boy design have a compact footprint ideal for city dwellings. And though these are not really fun to chuck around corners, both are predictable handlers with light steering. These weigh up adequately at high speeds, still, the artificial response in the Santro hampers the feel. The WagonR feels better with a more fluid and smooth response. Unlike the Hyundai which feels more planted, Maruti’s hatchback is taller and hence the body roll in the latter is more pronounced too. Suspension duties are done by McPherson struts upfront and torsion beams at the rear, which are nicely tuned to absorb shocks, especially to iron out road imperfections. That said, the Santro’s set-up manages to absorb shocks better, especially sharper potholes and road joints. But when you pick up the pace, the soft tuning makes for a springy ride that gets uncomfortable for rear passengers. The WagonR, on the other hand, is relatively stiffer and provides a flatter ride at higher speeds. There’s no particular difference on the braking front and both cars have enough stopping power and tyre grip with similar profiles of wheels and rubber.