The Maruti Suzuki Esteem remains a criminally underrated sedan
It’s 7am and usually I wake up to the sound of that sweet two-stroke motor of my neighbour’s RD350 firing up before he sets off on his customary morning ride, but not today. I am enjoying that extra five minutes of sleep while also growing suspicious simultaneously. Are mom and dad not waking me up for school today!? Beginning to get a little worried, I did finally wake up and look out the window to find the RD350 parked and under its cover. However, besides it stood a spanking-new Maruti Suzuki Esteem in a shade of Silky Silver. I was taken aback for a second — could it be possible that my ‘biker for life’ neighbour had turned into a car guy?
In all fairness, the Maruti Suzuki Esteem was quite capable of casting a spell like that. Back in those days, SUVs were still looked upon as crude, massive bread boxes with tremendous body roll and a bone-jarring ride-quality. Sedans like the City, Baleno, and the Ikon were on the higher end of the spectrum. If you remember, having a sedan parked in your driveway or garage elevated your status back in the day. The Esteem was a proper sedan, and a lovely-looking one at that. It was the introduction to big cars for a majority of our country’s population, so to speak. Remember, it came out as the 1000 first, and among the company of Ambys and Padminis, the Esteem looked and felt like a luxury car! Yes, it might be cramped by today’s standards, but back then, you’d feel like a king sitting on that rear bench. In fact, I remember a certain family who used a chauffeur-driven Esteem for many years, and just recently upgraded to an SUV (well!)
The Esteem was the first sedan I drove, and I was a little apprehensive at first because I had to pick up my sister from the bus station — if you’ve been to the Clock Tower in Dehradun between 1and 4pm, you’ll know exactly what I mean — you have heavy traffic coming in from three sides ; Dehradun's famous Paltan Bazaar, the nearby Railway Station, and Chakrata Road. Back to the matter at hand though, despite it being a fairly big sedan, it never made you feel its size, and you could actually weave through traffic in it fairly easily. I remember my dad’s reaction when I made it back home — in short, he was relieved, and so was my sister. The Esteem was a big car that was easy to drive!
I also remember driving it up to Mussoorie once, and it responded quite well in the hills. The 1.3-litre engine had enough grunt to take on climbs even on third gear, although the gearshift itself felt a little rubbery. However, going around twisties made you feel fully in control of the car, which was great for someone driving up the hills in a ‘big’ car for the first time.
Just as I was getting ready to go to school, my neighbour came out and simply stood looking at his prized possession. As a curious kid, I had to go over and ask him why, and it was simple really — he’d aspired to own a sedan for quite a long time, and one that came with low running costs. Being a Maruti Suzuki, you know nothing could really go wrong with the car. The biker in him didn’t change — today he has a Himalayan and a Dominar in his garage, and he still prefers wearing the riding gear, but on the days when he felt the bikes needed a rest, he still takes the keys of what is among the most underrated cars in India today.