Test drive: Maruti Suzuki Ciaz 1.5 petrol smart hybrid

Test drive: Maruti Suzuki Ciaz 1.5 petrol smart hybrid

It has been the segment best seller for the past couple of years and barring a hiccup when subsidies on hybrid cars were scrapped the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz has led sales charts in the A3+ segment. The hiccup coincided with the Ciaz’s shift from Maruti Suzuki’s traditional channel, now renamed Arena, to the premium NEXA outlets, and for the past two years Suzuki’s biggest car in India has accounted for nearly one third of all segment sales once dominated and still defined by the Honda City. It is a segment that is still growing despite the onslaught from SUVs book-ended by the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Hyundai Creta, and has seen strong performance from players like the Toyota Yaris and the reigning Indian Car of the Year, the Hyundai Verna. Action now hots up with this facelift on the Ciaz.

“Maruti Suzuki Ciaz has led sales charts in the A3+ segment”

More elegance to Maruti Suzuki Ciaz’s face

The biggest differentiator on the updated Maruti Suzuki Ciaz is the new nose. What you see is the beginning of some sort of family look from Suzuki, all of whose cars looks remarkably different from each other. This family look will also be seen on the updated Ertiga that has been launched in South East Asia and is coming soon to India.

The big effort has been to streamline the nose and stretch it horizontally to give an impression of being lower and sleeker. It works very well, the twin chrome bars framing a blacked out grille and the lower chrome bar extending into the headlamps as the LED DRLs. In fact the new headlamps have LED projector beams while the fog lamps are also LED giving the Ciaz full white lighting.

“What you see is the beginning of some sort of family look from Suzuki”

The changes to the rear are very mild including only LED graphics for the taillamps and chrome surrounds for the bumper inserts on either end. The 16-inch alloys have a new diamond-cut design and that is it on the styling front. There has been no change whatsoever to the body, wheelbase or sheet metal.

Traditional interior strengths are built upon

One of the chief reasons for the Ciaz’s popularity – apart from the ubiquity, spread of Maruti’s network and pricing advantage once enjoyed by the SVHS diesel Ciaz – is the back seat space and that still remains the benchmark in this segment with lots of rear leg room to stretch out in. The interior remains completely unchanged save for a new birch-wood insert on the dash and the new dials with a full colour display for a host of information including what the (mild) hybrid system is up to, where the power is coming from and when recuperation is taking place. The easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment system with a reverse parking camera continues while the only addition is cruise control.

“This is our commitment to electrification”

Says Maruti Suzuki’s engineering head C V Raman on the upgraded petrol powerplant. The K15B engine is a step up over the earlier 1.4-litre petrol motor with increase in both bore and stroke to take it to a 1.5-litre capacity. Raman-san clarifies that there have been upgrades to the con-rod, cylinder block, crankshaft, intake system and of course ECU calibration.

“Maruti Suzuki’s first full electric will come by 2020”

And to push the power rating past three digits it also get a parallel hybrid system that is a step up from what we’ve seen on the diesel-engined Ciaz in the past. “We first had smart hybrid [SVHS on diesel Ciaz], now we have smart hybrid with two batteries, next step we will have a strong hybrid”, says Raman, while making it clear that Maruti Suzuki’s first full electric will come by 2020.

This new smart hybrid (well, mild hybrid) system uses two batteries, the traditional lead-acid battery under the hood and a new lithium-ion battery located under the passenger seat. It differs from the earlier SVHS that had just the one battery, a bigger and heavier lead acid – the twin battery system is lighter, more efficient though more expensive, “1.4 times more expensive than before”, says Raman.

“Fuel efficiency has increased from 20.3 to 21.56kmpl”

The lithium-ion battery is the size of a set-top box, weighs around 2.5kg and adds 2.5KW to the engine’s 77KW. Total output is rated at 103.3bhp while max torque is 138Nm, addressing the biggest criticism of the Ciaz. “There was always a requirement from customers saying 1.4 is a little lower, we need to have higher power and torque, and also from a competitor perspective,” says the engineering boss. He also adds, “We could have gone to a 1.6 also”, but they settled on the 1.5 capacity for an optimal balance of fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions.

The hybrid system works in conjunction with a new Integrated Starter Generator replacing the traditional starter motor and endowing the Ciaz with automatic start/stop. Fuel efficiency has increased from 20.3 to 21.56kmpl. When asked about a full hybrid Raman says, “We have a solution but people won’t accept a full hybrid; they will not accept to pay for it.”

“On the petrol front Suzuki’s traditional strengths continue – near-silence at idle and an eagerness to rev”

The lithium-ion battery has a specific chemistry to enable quick charge and discharge cycles, getting juiced up under braking and even coasting. Even on idle if the lead acid battery is fully charged there is a spill over with the energy then going in to charge the secondary battery. This recovered energy is then deployed as assist to the IC engine when quick acceleration is called upon. To be clear this is not torque-fill, instead adding a slight boost when hard acceleration is called for though Raman says it does simulate the effect of torque fill on the diesel, “especially at low revs where you may have less turbo lag”.

On the highway with the new Ciaz petrol

We only had the new K15B petrol on the drive so we can’t comment on how much better the diesel Ciaz has gotten with the uprated hybrid system. But it’s safe to assume the 1.3 DDiS diesel, with 88bhp, will not trouble any of the class rivals, least of all the Verna’s 1.6-litre 120bhp diesel. On the petrol front Suzuki’s traditional strengths continue – near-silence at idle and an eagerness to rev. And as per tradition the motor also gets quite vocal when revved hard – with the manual gearbox it adds a slight dose of enthusiasm to the driving, with the automatic gearbox it makes the package feel strained and underpowered. “Customer will not accept AGS in this category. He wants an auto or CVT,” says Raman when I enquire whether the automated manual was considered for the Ciaz.

The manual is the slick and easy-shifting 5-speed manual as before while the automatic is a 4-speed automatic and the latter, no matter how you cut it, feels dated in this day and age of the Vento’s twin-clutch DSG, the Verna’s 6-speed auto and the City’s smooth CVT. With fewer ratios to play around with you’re always asking a lot of the engine – which in any case is by no means the most powerful in this class – and the downshifts are delivered quite leisurely. There are no shift paddles behind the steering wheel, neither is there a manual mode for the gearbox, and instead you find the old school L, 2 and 3 modes to hold the gearbox in 1st, 2ndand 3rdgears for when you need engine braking or quicker responses.

Enjoys a leisurely cruise

The Ciaz is best enjoyed at an easy pace where the gearbox is not hustled and the comforts of the soft suspension are enjoyed. This is clearly a car for back seat passengers and I’m sure our bureaucrats will be praying that the government’s enthusiasm for full electrics will be tempered and now with this hybrid tech enabling some sort of a green conscience they can go back to their white Ciaz’s instead of the electric Tigor and Vertios. Can’t blame them, the back seat of the Ciaz is a huge step up from those two; in fact it is better than its class rivals too. And then there’s the soft, pliant and relaxed suspension settings.

The soft suspension, while aiding comfort, does mean the handling lacks enthusiasm. The steering is overly light and completely lacking in feel and feedback while body roll is conspicuous when pushed with enthusiasm. And of course 103bhp doesn’t really spin up the front tyres or your heart beat.

New safety features including speed limit warning 

New safety rules that come into force on July 01, 2019 mandate seat belt warning for the passenger, reverse parking sensors and a speed limit warning, all of which are present on this updated Maruti Suzuki Ciaz. And while the intent of the rules are commendable the speed limit warning gets on your nerves to say the least. The rules mandates a beep when you cross 80kmph – the same buzzer that pings to warn you when you’ve left the lights on or haven’t worn your seat belt, so the logical first response to disconnect the buzzer does have its pitfalls. Anyway that’s (sort of) okay except if you’re cruising at, say, 81kmph every 60 seconds the beep sounds off. And the when you cross 120kmph the beeper goes off nonstop, beep beep beep. It’s not deafening but it can’t be ignored either and when the new national speed limit is 120kmph on highways the buzzer sounding off every minute when you’re below 120 (and above 80kmph) is inexplicable. And unless you’ve got a very high threshold for irritating sounds it’s going to be impossible to cruise at 121kmph and above because that beeping is going to drive you mad.

It’s not Maruti Suzuki’s fault, mind you, they’re just following the rules that will come into force next year. And god help you and me – people who enjoy driving and don’t want to drive in a herd with all the Olas, Ubers and taxis of the world bumbling along at a sleep-inducing 79kpmph. While on the subject of safety Raman says the automatic gearbox incorporates a yaw sensor enabling him to offer ESP on the petrol automatic. The manuals, however, do not get ESP.

One India, one price

With the Ciaz, Maruti Suzuki is moving towards a common pan-India ex-showroom price and depending on the distance from the manufacturing plant in Gurgaon the Ciaz costs between 3000 – 5000 rupees more than the earlier petrol while diesel prices remain more or less unchanged. Prices start at Rs 8.19 lakh for the petrol and Rs 9.19 lakh for the diesel. The petrol automatic top-end Alpha variant on test here costs Rs 10.97 lakh ex-showroom while the diesel in the Alpa trim (no automatic option on the diesel) costs exactly the same. Basically then the Ciaz pricing remains unchanged, spec to spec, and remains in the same ballpark as the car that has always defined this segment – the Honda City.

With the traditional strengths only improved upon and with a green(ish) heart the Ciaz is well on its way to cementing and strengthening its domination.

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