Premium hatchback comparo: Hyundai Elite i20 v Maruti Suzuki Baleno

Premium hatchback comparo: Hyundai Elite i20 v Maruti Suzuki Baleno

You head to to read about wheels that frequent a petrolhead’s wet dreams. After all, it’s about the emotional connect that rushes through the wheels and the cylinders in your brain, making you one with the car. But there’s much more to driving than drifting and handbrake turns, especially in our country where there’s very little scope for hooliganism. And that reflects well in the market scenario as well. Take a good look at SIAM’s sales numbers from February 2018 and you’ll notice that all the textbook driver’s cars under the Rs 10 lakh mark, including the likes of Figo S, Punto Abarth and Polo GT siblings, have sold in two or three digit numbers! While the likes of more mature and comfortable cars, like the Hyundai Elite i20 and Maruti Suzuki Baleno have accounted for 30,000 examples between the two of them. To make matters even worse for enthusiast’s cars, the Hyundai Elite i20 has been given a subtle makeover while the Maruti Suzuki Baleno soldiers on with strong numbers, month after month. What makes the contextual duo of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal click with the audience and which one deserves a Grand Slam finish? It’s time to serve.

Love at first sight?

The refreshed Hyundai Elite i20 resembles its predecessor and most of the work has gone into make its derriere look better. Gone is the Alfa Romeo-ish, clean boot lid that has been replaced by a typically Korean angry look. There are subtle changes to the front as well with a mesh grille and a revised bumper. The Maruti Suzuki Baleno on the other hand has a design that is loved by most, thanks to its clean, sweeping lines. However, it is due for an update so expect it to come back stronger into this fight when that happens. Anyway, looks are subjective and we would leave it to you to decide who wins this round.

Loaded to the brim?

Yes. Both the cars set segment benchmarks when they were launched. The Hyundai Elite i20 has always been among the better finished cars, knocking on the doors of its European adversaries. The dual tone dash still looks fresh and there aren’t many new things on the inside as well, except for the redesigned AC vents and an all-new 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display that made its debut with the Creta. You also get a rear seat arm rest, a first in its class feature that scores the Elite i20 some brownie points. It loses some for the lack of space compared to the Maruti Suzuki Baleno though.

“The Hyundai Elite i20 has always been among the better finished cars, knocking on the doors of its European adversaries”

Even the boot is smaller

The Maruti Suzuki Baleno continues with its black theme on the inside; the dashboard is flanked with a large, floating touchscreen infotainment system that is easy to use. The space is noticeably more at the front as well as the rear, however the seats could do with better cushioning.

Powerful enough?

The Hyundai Elite i20 is powered by the same 1.4-litre, U2 CRDi engine as seen on its predecessor that makes 89bhp and 220Nm. However, Hyundai has re-mapped the ECU for better fuel efficiency and the company claims an improvement of nine per cent. Which means, there is slight hesitation before the turbo starts spooling at about 1800rpm. The mid-range is strong and the engine pulls freely (and silently) till 3700rpm, after which it gets noisy and there is hardly any movement. The additional sixth cog will take care of highway needs though, keeping the engine in its comfort zone. You need to downshift only while overtaking or climbing a steep incline, otherwise the engine has enough grunt to keep you comfortable.

Baleno on the other hand is powered by the Fiat sourced 1248cc, Multijet engine (renamed as DDIS by Maruti Suzuki). It does not get the variable geometry turbo unlike its larger siblings, such as the Vitara Brezza and S-Cross; which means, the power output is 74bhp and 190Nm. Baleno’s trump card is its lightweight platform though, which allows for a weight advantage of almost 80kg over the Elite i20. The power to weight ratio of the i20 is 83.5bhp/tonne and the Baleno is not too far away at 77bhp/tonne. It also has a wider power band and the lag is slightly less pronounced than that on the Elite i20. The Maruti is rev happy as well, with a nice surge of power coming in after 1900rpm, all the way to 4500rpm, lending it nice drivability in the city or twisties. However, the motor makes itself heard inside the cabin and road noise is audible too.

“Baleno’s trump card is its lightweight platform though, which allows for a weight advantage of almost 80kg over the Elite i20”

Fun to drive?

We have already established the fact that these aren’t driver’s cars. We have also chosen the more popular diesel-powered models because this duel is all about the sales numbers and not about lap timings around Mutha. None of the cars offer driver involvement of any sort, but since this is evo India and we have a comparo, we must choose between the two.

“The Baleno has a Pug-like character. It not only looks like one (to my eyes, at least) but also goes like one”

The Baleno is surefooted and nimble around corners and the lightweight Heartect platform allows for a very playful nature. The steering is lifeless, but is quick to inputs. The front-end is very darty, but it understeers when pushed hard and is nowhere close to the European rivals. Ride is very sorted but get to triple-digit speeds and the Baleno gets nervous. You have to constantly correct the steering, which has absolutely no response at high speeds, taking away from its playfulness.

“The Elite i20 is more mature, has a slightly more talkative steering and the ride has a European quality to it.”

At low speeds the i20 feels firm although none of the undulations are felt inside the cabin. At high speeds the ride is very bouncy, but it feels safer and pliant as compared to the floaty Baleno. When pushed through a set of corners, the Hyundai shows its weight and doesn’t like to be thrown around, protesting with squealing tyres. There’s a lot of understeer as well. However, aren’t we demanding too much from a grown-up family hatch? So much for the Thrill of Driving.

Whose side are you on?

The Baleno is slightly tilted towards the evo side of things, with its quick steering , easy manoeuvrability and a larger powerband. It also offers more space than the i20 and gets a long list of creature comforts.
The Elite i20 on the other hand scores in terms of build quality, fit and finish, superb NVH levels, refined suspension and an even longer list of features. In short, the Elite i20 offers more bang for the buck and is a better made car of the two. You’ll end up shelling out Rs 65,000 extra over the fully loaded diesel Baleno Alpha for the top-of-the-line Asta (O) variant but you are getting more car for your buck. Need we say more?

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