Maruti Suzuki is well known for its hatchbacks in India and the amazing fuel efficiency they offer. The phrase “Kitna deti hai?” was in fact conceptualised by this carmaker in its ad campaigns. But this review isn’t about any practicality or efficiency tests, but solely about the performance of its first ever performance-oriented hatchback. Welcome the Baleno RS, that was first showcased at the 2016 Delhi Auto Expo in India. This is the first car from the Maruti portfolio to come powered by a 1.0-litre Boosterjet petrol engine and the tiny engine itself is fully imported from Japan. It powered the Balenos meant for the export markets due to the downsizing trend going on all over the globe, until now.
In India though, we still have to catch up with this trend, which in turn, gave Maruti the full opportunity to launch this car in a whole new avatar; a performance one. The standard car is powered by a 1.2-litre K-series petrol that develops 83 HP and that itself feels quite peppy in the lightweight Baleno. But the Baleno RS promises to take this performance quotient to a whole new level. We were at the Buddh International Circuit to test the limits of the all new Baleno RS and check whether it justifies the sporty moniker.
The Maruti Baleno RS is powered by a turbocharged 3-cylinder motor with direct injection and develops 101 HP and 150 Nm. These figures are less compared to the engine exported. Now before you all start complaining, this is actually a blessing in disguise. You will know why, as you read further. The engine features similar technology as the 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine from Ford and the 1.2-litre TSI from Volkswagen. This engine gets a compact intake manifold and an integrated exhaust manifold that helps keep a check on size (For more technicalities on the Boosterjet engine, click here). The Baleno RS weighs just 950 kgs that gives it a power-to-weight ratio of 106 HP/tonne. Accompanied by the 5-speed manual gearbox and 3 laps around the BIC to judge the car’s performance, it was about time to ask “Kaise bhaagti hai?”.
Start the engine and it idles smoothly, though rev it, and you know it’s a 3-cylinder motor. The typical thrum is present, but the sound notes are deeper, thanks to forced induction. Let off the light clutch and accelerate, and you have an instant smile on your face. The engine pulls cleanly throughout its rev range with minimal turbo lag. The engine makes its max torque of 150 Nm at just 1700 RPM, compared to 170 Nm (for export markets) and helps drastically reduce turbo lag. The turbo lag isn’t as bothersome as you would have expected, and driving in city traffic won’t be much of an issue (Now you know, why it’s a blessing in disguise!). Pickup is linear and the mid-range feels punchy due to the flat torque curve that ends at 4500 RPM. Top end too, feels quite strong and you will definitely have a difficult time convincing your non-enthusiast friend that this is a puny 1.0-litre engine.
Something strange that we found was, although the redline on the tachometer starts at 6200 RPM, the rev limiter cuts in sharp at 6000 RPM. We suspect it could be a case of part sharing with the 1.2-litre petrol that revs slightly higher, but this is not what is bothering us. We wished Maruti could free up a few more revs at the top end, as that would take the thrill to a whole new level. Nevertheless, the Baleno RS with this engine feels alive and happening, and this will be particularly fun out on public roads. Just for the sake of numbers, we hit an indicated 170 kmph on the long straight stretch of the BIC with ease. The 5-speed manual gearbox is light with precise throws, and you get a nice chunky gear knob to hold on to.
The Maruti Baleno RS is around 60 kgs heavier than the standard top end petrol, and to cope with this added weight the engineers had to retune the suspension setup. We did not get a chance to figure out the ride quality on the BIC, but we did get a handling overdose. The car feels extremely stable at any given speed and feels a lot more confident than what its 950-kilo kerb weight suggests. Body roll is present, but it is well controlled and the grip from the Apollo Alnac 4G 195/55 section tyres is great. The car does run into understeer on the limit but at most times it feels very well balanced. A major credit here also goes to the all wheel disc brake setup that feels phenomenal, even on the race track. We do have a grouse though. The steering system doesn’t feel as communicative, and the ABS cuts in way too early during hard braking, even on a perfectly smooth surface like the BIC’s. But we do feel these systems would work in favour of the car out on public roads.
The Maruti Baleno RS gets its own tweaks to distinguish itself as the faster car. So you get a new front grille, front lip spoiler, 16-inch black alloy wheels, smoked out projector headlamps, side skirts and a redesigned rear bumper. The dual diffuser like design on the rear bumper gives it a more leaned-forward and aggressive stance. There is a dedicated RS badge on the tailgate and a body-coloured spoiler to round things off. On the insides, you get all the frills that are offered on the top spec Baleno Alpha variant. On offer is a 7-inch Smartplay infotainment system, reversing camera and an informative TFT colour display in the instrument cluster. The company though could have offered a thing or two to distinguish the RS from the regular top spec Baleno, as the interior looks very recognisable here. On the safety front, 2 Airbags, ABS and all wheels discs are offered as standard.
The Maruti Baleno RS is a great attempt at a performance-oriented hatchback. Although the curves and corners of the BIC revealed some of its secrets with regards to the drive feel, the car will be a hoot on your daily drive to office. But the talking point is the 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine that quite literally is the heart and soul of this car. We won’t be surprised if the company introduces new variants under the RS badge in the near future (Ciaz RS, maybe!?). For the time being, the Baleno RS brings back some of that essence from the early 2000s and reminds us a lot of the original Baleno sedan in terms of its character (lightweight and powerful!) . And for this reason alone, we give it a big thumbs up.