The premium hatchback segment is finally seeing growth in India. It has new players offering sporty vehicles that combine luxury with good performance. Over the last few years, it has been dominated by the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. In 2015, we got our first true hot hatchback- the Fiat Punto Abarth and now in a short while we will get the Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS. As the name suggests, it is a sportier version of the Baleno hatchback and will be powered by a turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine and mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
Given their performance and premium appeal, each of these cars is based on the top-of-the-line variants of the standard vehicle and thus offers all the bells and whistles that the manufacturer has for its range in the country. Ahead of the Baleno RS’ launch, here is a comparison of how it fares against the Punto and Polo.
Since its launch, one of the major qualms of the Baleno range has been its subtle looks. While its sports all the latest design hallmarks of the Japanese automaker, it lacks the overt presence that is expected from a vehicle in this range. Things are likely to improve with the RS variant as it gets a spoiler, sportier alloy wheels and extra colour options which should make it more noticeable.
It is a similar story with the Polo GT TSI. The Polo by itself, in that typical German fashion, is quiet and offers very few exterior hints when it comes to its sporty origins. In fact it is only the GT badges and some stickers on the side that give some indication of the excitement that lies within.
Unlike its German and Japanese counterpart, the Fiat Punto Abarth is all about show and tell. It is a riot of colours with the famous Scorpion badging dominating a lot of the proceedings. The Punto Evo by itself is a good looking car and with the entire extra garnish, the Abarth Punto is quite a looker. It also sits lower than the other two and thus is the sportiest looking in the Trio.
Where the Abarth Punto took top honours in the looks department, it falls well behind when we look at the cabin and features. Both the Baleno and the Polo GT get touchscreen infotainment systems which the Abarth Punto does not have. The Punto’s design is also a bit old school when compared to the Baleno’s and Polo’s cabin.
The Polo and the Baleno then are the real competitors when it comes to this part of the fight. They are quite evenly matched and offer very similar features including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support. In terms of numbers too they are evenly matched with very little to separate them though it must be noted that the Baleno is much wider car and has the highest ground clearance of the three. It is also the lightest car in the lot as it weighs just 890kgs and has the largest boot capacity of 339-litres as compared to the Polo’s 295-litres and Abarth Punto’s 280-litres.
This is where this segment comes alive. Let us go from car examining what they have to offer. This Baleno RS is powered by a turbocharged three-cylinder engine producing 102bhp/150Nm of torque with power going to the front wheels via five-speed manual. The Polo GT TSI gets a 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 103bhp/175Nm with power going to the front wheels via a seven-speed DSG and is the only one in the fray that is an AT. Finally, the Abarth Punto is powered by the 1.4-litre T-Jet engine producing 145bhp/205Nm of torque with power being sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual. It is obviously the most powerful engine of the lot but due to its 1.19 tonne weight is also the heaviest car in the fray.
We believe that Maruti Suzuki will price this Baleno RS a lakh more than the top-spec standard model Alpha petrol. This means we can expect a price of around Rs 8.30 lakh. It will still undercut both the Polo GT TSI and Abarth Punto by a significant margin and possibly add good numbers to the overall Baleno volumes. Given that Maruti Suzuki is opening a new page on the higher side of Rs 8 lakh with every model it introduces, the Baleno Rs might just be a game changer for them.