The Ciaz, a production version of the more glitzy concept shown at the Auto Expo earlier this year, is important for a number of reasons. Not only does it stretch Marutis brand to a territory it has previously been uncomfortable in, but it also heralds the start of a new phase for the company with many more models to come aimed at premium car buyers.
Next year, there will be the mid-size SUV/crossover S-Cross, followed by a compact SUV in 2016 which will likely be similar to the new Vitara recently announced by parent Suzuki for Europe next year (see box). Later, we hear there is a larger SUV and MPV in the works as well. But for now, let us talk about the Ciaz, which we drove this week on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.
At first glance, the Ciaz is clearly a well-thought-out product. It looks big; in fact, bigger than its peers. The design looks classy yet sober, keeping to the Maruti brand image, while the fine detailing on the headlights with the projector lamps adds a bit of sportiness as well. The feel is understated elegance; the Ciaz is clearly not playing the Verna or City game of sharply sporty design. That may deter many customers now used to aggressive designs, but I feel there is a class of buyers who will appreciate the relaxed sense of stylemuch like the Volkswagen Vento or the Skoda Rapid. What adds to this premium experience are the large 16-inch alloys. At the rear, though, the story is different. One wishes for a bit more imagination from Maruti designers; in fact, the tail-light cluster looks very similar to the new Honda Citys.
The Ciaz continues the sober statement inside with the waterfall design in the front dashboard and the oodles of legroom that it gets by virtue of having the longest wheelbase in the segment. The boot is also the largest in its class. I loved the new Bosch-sourced touchscreen infotainment centre that is easily the best among rivalspity it is limited to the top Z+ variants. The touchscreen is very simple to usethe screen is divided into four quadrants, two dedicated to phone functions and two for navigation and audio each. There are many bits like power window switches and door handles taken from the Suzuki parts bin, but what makes the dashboard feel premium are the faux wood inlay and bits of chrome around the knobs and AC vents. The seats, leather for the top variant, are very comfortable, especially the incline of the rear bench. Plus, there are also AC vents for the second row and an inbuilt sunshade for the rear windscreen.
The engines, however, are predictable. The Ciaz directly borrows the 91 bhp 1.4 litre K-Series petrol and the 89 bhp 1.3 litre DDiS Fiat-sourced diesel engine from the Ertiga MPV. Power remains the same, but the work Maruti engineers have put into the development is evident given the improved drivabilityespecially in the dieseland higher fuel efficiency. In fact, the diesel variant now claims to take the crown of the most fuel-efficient car in India from the City at 26.2 kmpl, while the petrol variant returns 20.73 kmpl. Real world driving would mean lower fuel economy, but still adequately high for the segment. My pick is clearly the diesel enginea big surprise since I did not really enjoy the same engine on the SX4. In this iteration, though, it is far more fun to drive than its previous avatars. There is far less turbo lag at low revs, and enough grunt to enjoy the fast acceleration we are so used to with diesel cars today, and the throw of the gear shift is also short. While the petrol also has a very linear power delivery, but it feels as if it runs out of steam too early into the rev band. Perhaps the best thing about the Ciaz is the superb suspension that makes it a great car to dart around traffic on the highway. Movements are quick and sure, with hardly any body roll.
My pick Well, the Ciaz will definitely give Honda something to worry about, given Marutis huge network and image of low maintenance. However, the Ciaz will face a challenge with the Suzuki tag in a segment where buyers usually aspire to own a Honda or a Volkswagen. If it is the diesel you are after, the Ciaz is the best pick in the segment, but for the petrol, look no further than the 1.5 litre i-VTEC City.
Is this Maruti Suzukis new compact SUV for India
Pictured in this box, the Suzuki Vitara will be shown at the Paris Motor Show next month and launched in Europe next year. You may remember Marutis XA Alpha concept shown at the Auto Expo 2012. Rumour mills say that the concept will take form in a slightly smaller version of the Vitara for the Indian market in 2016.