In a matter of a few months, Maruti has launched the new Swift, Honda has refreshed the Jazz and made it more affordable, and now Hyundai has updated its popular i20. But which is the best car?
The Hyundai i20 has been around for a while now, so an update was always expected. Hyundai has gone the distance to give its popular large hatch a new face, a reworked petrol engine and tweaked suspension. On the other hand, the Honda Jazz is not all that different from the car launched in 2009; credit for this brilliant hatchbackís renewed popularity goes to last yearís price reduction. Likewise, sensible pricing has allowed the Maruti Swift to carry forward its predecessorís legacy of being the default choice among premium petrol hatchback buyers.
All three cars are powered by 1.2-litre petrol engines and their power outputs are quite similar too. Hyundai has given the i20ís engine variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust valves. In simple English, that translates to an engine that breathes better, allowing for more power and better efficiency.
Correspondingly, there is a 5bhp increase in power compared to the older engine. What is immediately apparent as you get going is how much smoother and quieter this engine feels. In fact, on refinement, the i20 is an even match for the Swift, which is the current benchmark. The Jazzís motor matches the other two for smoothness, but is the most vocal of the trio.
Itís when driving in rush-hour city conditions that youíll be happiest in the Swift. It has the best power at low engine speeds which helps in stop-start traffic. Sadly, the build of power slows down thereafter, so overtaking isnít as effortless as youíd like. Hold on to each gear though and the Swiftís engine will reacquaint you with its zesty side.
Strangely, the refreshed i20 has actually lost some of the old carís punch at low speeds and thatís possibly down to the engineís tuning. It doesnít get much better as speeds build and the engine feels rather lazy and canít quite match the other two when you want instant power.
The Jazz may not be the quickest car off the blocks, but once past the initial hesitation, the engine gets into its element and just gets better and better the faster you go. Part-throttle responses are also the best here, which makes the Jazz suited to both city and highway use.
Light and user-friendly clutches are common to the three cars, though the i20ís gearbox does not feel as slick-shifting as those of the Swift or Jazz.
Hyundai i20 Asta ***
You need to work hard to extract decent performance from the i20ís engine. Refinement is impressive though.
Honda Jazz Select ****
The Jazz is slightly lazy when accelerating from rest, but gets much livelier when the engine revs increase.
Maruti Swift ZXi ****
The Swift pulls well at low engine speeds. The engine is very quiet and overall refinement is very impressive.
RIDE AND HANDLING
One area where the refreshed i20 feels a lot better than the older car is ride quality. Hyundai has softened the suspension and that has really improved the way the car tackles bumps. There is no clunkiness over sharp surfaces as experienced on the older car and the suspension just goes about its business quietly. The trouble is the softer setup also yields a really sloppy ride at highway speeds. Vertical movements are more prominent now and the carís dynamics are simply not up to the mark. Worsening matters is the ultra-light steering that offers minimal feel at anything above 20kph. As a corollary, the light steering does work a treat in tight parking spots.
You wonít need much muscle power to twirl the Jazzís steering either, but where it feels a country mile ahead of the i20 is in steering feel. The Jazzís steering is far more precise and gives a much better feeling of control, most notably at higher speeds. The handling, however, is predictable but not much more. Attempt to test the carís dynamic limits and you will quickly hear its tyres squeal in protest. In terms of ride comfort, the Jazz does a decent job of smoothening undulations, although the pronounced suspension noise does detract from the experience.
As on many occasions before, the Swift excels in this section of the comparison. And thatís because of its nice blend of comfortable ride and good handling. Bump absorption is really good with only sharper undulations catching the Swiftís slightly stiff suspension out. However, suspension noise is very well contained and contributes to make the Swiftís cabin a really quiet place to be. Adding to the Swiftís appeal is its steering, which is light at city speeds and weighs up quite well as you go faster. Moreover, the steering, suspension and chassis gel well to deliver a driving experience that is far more entertaining than either the Jazz or i20ís.
Hyundai i20 Asta ***
Soft suspension means low-speed ride is good. But it feels floaty as speeds increase.
Honda Jazz Select ****
Jazzís driving manners are predictable and ride is good. Suspension is a bit clunky.
Maruti Swift ZXi ****
The Swift has the best compromise between ride and handling and is fun to drive.
WHAT ARE THEY LIKE INSIDE?
The updated i20 carries forward the originalís thoughtfully laid out dash, but cabin quality sees an improvement. The switches feel more tactile, the surfaces look richer and, save for the garish chrome gear knob, the cabin is quite plush.
Itís a similar story in the Swift too. The dashboard looks neat, has all the controls just where youíd like them and the fit and finish is impressive. However, the sporty, all-black theme reduces the feeling of space in the cabin.
In comparison, the Jazzís cabin feels a whole size bigger. Its asymmetric dashboard is not only interesting to look at but also the most functional, with large knobs for the air-con controls and multiple cubbyholes. The Jazzís large windows and comfy seats also combine to give a good experience behind the wheel. Front occupants wonít have reason for complaint in the i20 either, but it is the Swiftís well bolstered front seats that offer the best support.
Itís at the back that the Swift loses out. The seat is comfy and legroom is decent, but headroom is not that good and the small windows restrict visibility. Thereís no such problem in the i20. There is space aplenty and the seats are nice, if slightly lacking in under-thigh support. But rear-seat occupants will be happiest in the Jazz. The seat is comfy and there is generous head, leg and shoulder room. The upward sloping floor just adds to the comfort.
The Jazz is also the most generous with storage space for small items, with 10 cup-holders in the cabin. The i20 is not bad either, and has a massive glovebox that is large enough to store a laptop. Sadly, the Swift not only makes do with fewer storage bays, but also has the smallest boot. The i20 and Jazz have similar-sized boots. In addition, the Jazzís rear seat can also be lifted to create even more space for luggage.
Hyundai i20 Asta ****
Quality has improved and it feels more upmarket than before. Front seats offer good support. Rear spacious too.
Honda Jazz Select *****
Jazzís unique dash layout looks interesting. Front and rear seats are comfy and have the most space of the three.
Maruti Swift ZXi ****
Swift dashboard is well laid out. Excellent bolstering makes front seats best here. Rear legroom is adequate.
WILL THEY BREAK THE BANK?
The facelifted Hyundai i20 comes in six variants, and at an ex-showroom (Delhi) price of R6.21 lakh, itís the Asta variant that makes the most sense. It comes with a reversing camera, alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, ABS, Bluetooth connectivity, steering-mounted audio controls, push-button start, a height-adjustable driver seat and two airbags. The Asta (O) variant gets a sunroof, which the Swift and Jazz donít offer on any variant, but at an additional R44,000 over the regular Asta, we donít recommend it. The base Era costs R4.73 lakh, but loses out on a lot of kit, including vital stuff like ABS and airbags. The i20 is also the only one that gets an automatic gearbox option, but only with the 1.4-litre engine and in the Sportz trim. This costs R7.67 lakh.
The Swift isnít as well loaded as the i20. It comes in three variants, of which the top-end ZXi is the one we recommend. It comes with ABS, airbags, climate control, alloy wheels, steering-mounted audio controls, CD-MP3 player with Aux and USB connectivity and a height-adjustable driver seat. Only the ZXi trim gets ABS and two airbags. The base LXi cost R4.44 lakh and misses out on all the features listed above. The ZXi costs R5.68 lakh, which is R53,000 less than the better-equipped i20 Asta.
The Jazz comes in three variants and Honda has given all three variants full safety kit. They all come with ABS and two airbags, which, in our highly volatile driving conditions, are a necessity. The top-of-the-line Jazz X comes with front fog lamps, driver seat height adjust, auto-folding mirrors, CD-MP3 player with USB and Aux connectivity. The Jazz X is priced at R6.31 lakh, which is R63,000 more than the Swift ZXi and R10,000 more than the i20 Asta. The mid-level Jazz Select costs R5.75 lakh and only loses some kit like auto-folding mirrors, a reclining rear seat, and front fog lamps. This is the one we recommend, because it sacrifices only non-essential kit. The Jazz has acres of space in the back, comes with a strong, refined petrol engine, and thereís no denying the reliability of a Honda, which justifies the price.
On the fuel efficiency front the Swift, with figures of 12.6kpl and 17kpl for city and highway runs respectively, slightly overshadows the Jazzís 12.3kpl and 16.9kpl for the same fuel cycles. While the i20, with a tweaked engine and variable valve timing, hit a respectable 11.3kpl and 15.6kpl for city and highway runs.
* Jazz remains the best petrol hatch.
i20 is very well equipped, Swift most fun to drive, but Jazz the best all-rounder.
After a host of improvements the new i20 has slightly but surely improved over the old car. Priced at R6.21 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the i20 is the most expensive car of this trio, but you also get more standard equipment. It also has a roomy cabin and there are plenty of useful touches, like the huge cooled glovebox, which add to the practical nature. What pulls the i20 down though is the way it drives. The engine, although more powerful than before, doesnít feel as punchy as the others and the ride and handling is not that great either. The i20 finishes third here because it doesnít excel in any field, and the driving experience is quite mediocre.
The new Maruti Swift has a lot going for it. It is easily the most fun car to drive and its ride is the best too. Its refined engine is frugal enough and performance is more than adequate. Smart interiors and comfortable seats also win the car serious brownie points. While there is more interior space than the older Swift, the cabin still cannot be called roomy. Rear headroom is an issue for taller passengers and boot space is quite disappointing too.
That brings us to the Honda Jazz that walks away with the petrol hatchback crown. Its accomplished motor not only delivers performance, but economy as well. What really wins it for the Jazz is the brilliant packaging that gives you midsize saloon space in a hatchback body. The clever rear seats also add to the carís versatility, and equipment levels are good too. And with its prices finally on par with the competition, the Jazz simply makes too much sense to ignore.