The Baleno RS is Maruti Suzuki's performance version of its premium hatchback, a name enhanced by the fact that the RS means Race Sport. This variant is based on the top-end Alpha trim of the current Baleno and is powered by a new powerful 1.0-litre BoosterJet direct injection petrol engine. This one is already exported to Europe and Japan from India, and now the carmaker has launched it in our country. Well, the manufacturer has detuned this engine for the Indian market as against the international counterpart. Nonetheless, the Baleno RS with, 100bhp of power, still becomes the most powerful hatchback from the carmaker. But, does it make an enticing buy? To find out we put the car through its paces at the Buddh International Circuit.
Maruti Suzuki has brought in some mild cosmetic changes from the Baleno to make it look slightly different and since the changes have been tastefully done, the Baleno RS looks good. The front bumper gets a new protruding lip finished in a shiny gunmetal colour. This lends some more character to the fascia sporting the upright grille and projector headlamps with bright DRLs. The RS gets the same standard Baleno silhouette, so it continues with the flared wheel arches and a muscular shoulder line. The rear bumper has been reworked with black appliques on its lower half and there's a bold RS badge on the tail gate.
To enhance the sporty feel, Maruti Suzuki has done well to add subtle side skirts and painted the alloy wheels black to give the RS a sporty feel. Still we would have loved to see a different pattern for the alloy wheels, which would have set the RS apart from the regular hatchback.
We were seriously expecting the automaker to refresh the interior to go with the sporty nature of car. Some exclusive bits like a RS badge or new upholstery with exquisite Race Sport branding could have brought in some newness to the interior. But the cabin of the Baleno RS is exactly same as the standard hatchback. Which, for that matter, isn't a bad thing. The all black interior with subtle silver and chrome embellishments was a bold move by Maruti when the norm was to provide beige or dual tone interior. So the cabin continues to look pleasant, be user-friendly, get plenty of storage spaces and practical bits.
The Baleno’s cabin is roomy, in fact, very spacious for a hatchback. There is enough space for rear passengers even when the front seats have been slid all the way back for tall passengers. The front seats are supportive and comfortable. While the rear seats are comfy too, they perform average when it comes to headroom and thigh support for tall passengers.
Now to the equipment bit. Since this RS Baleno is available only in the top-end Alpha variant, it features Maruti Suzuki’s Smartplay infotainment system. This gets a nice responsive touchscreen with an intuitive software supporting navigation and even Apple CarPlay to appeal to Apple iPhone users. The fancy instrument cluster has been carried over to the RS as well. It boasts of a colour display providing a whole load of information including a funky power/torque delivery display. And since this is a NEXA product, we all know by now that cars from this portfolio are not short of any safety features. So the safety package includes dual airbags, ABS and seat belts with pre-tensioners as standard.
The most important thing that makes this Baleno worthy of the RS badge is its new powerful engine. And this trim comes only with this 1.0-litre BoosterJet petrol mill mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. So coming to the most talked about direct-injection powerplant, its introduction marks the company's foray into turbo-petrol engines in India. And it’s important as we can expect this mill to power more Maruti Suzuki models now. This 1.0-litre three-pot unit is a smaller displacement motor than the regular Baleno's 1.2-litre four-cylinder DOHC unit. The former still manages to churn out 101bhp of power and 150Nm of torque as against the latter's 83bhp/115Nm. All thanks to the fixed geometry turbocharger. With direct-injection working in conjunction with turbocharging, the torque is available from low engine speeds rated at 1,700-4,500rpm. However, the turbo lag is evident and its only post 2,000rpm when the car really feels very energetic. Nevertheless, there is a good mid-range and post 5,700rpm, the engine starts losing its fizz.
We drove the car mostly in a ‘spirited’ manner on the track and the engine didn’t bog down at any point. There is enough of pulling power and the engine doesn’t feel lethargic. Sure the engine is refined and silent at idling, but it does become audible at high revs. I wish the tone could have been a little pleasant, but then that’s the case with most cars. On the other hand, this engine responds nicely to throttle inputs and there aren't any unwanted vibrations too. The absence of an automatic gearbox won't pinch much as the clutch is light and progressive. Also the gear shift throws are short and the gears slot well.
Now for the ride and handling bit, the Baleno RS felt much planted on the track. Despite attacking corners back to back at high speeds, the car never felt unsettled. The slightly firm ride helped in stablity on the bends even at high speeds. But it will be interesting to see how it behaves on rough roads in the daily grind. The Baleno RS weighs 950kg, heavier by 60 kg than the standard petrol manual. But it still continues to feel like a light weight car. The turn-ins are still not very sharp, but the steering is direct and weighs up nicely at high speeds. The body roll and side-to-side movement is well contained to not make occupants feel uncomfortable. Then, of course, with a power-to-weight ratio of 100bhp per tonne it still has the knack to be a fast car. Also, its braking capabilities have gone up thanks to disc brakes at all four corners.
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||101bhp @ 5,500rpm|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||150bhp@1,700rpm|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||37|
|Tyre size||195/55 R16|
|1.0-litre BoosterJet engine||Yes|
|Four disc brakes||Yes|
|automatic climate control||Yes|
|touch screen infotainment system||Yes|
|60:40 split secodn row seats||Yes|
|Projector headlamps with DRLs||Yes|
Competition All Specs
|Variant||RS||T-Jet 1.4 Abarth|
|Max. Power (bhp@rpm)||101bhp @ 5,500rpm||145bhp@5,500rpm|
|Max. torque (Nm@rpm)||150bhp@1,700rpm||212bhp@2,000rpm|
|Fuel Capacity (in litres)||37||45|
|Tyre size||195/55 R16||195/55 R16|
Priced at Rs 8.69 lakh (ex-showroom New Delhi), the Baleno RS has most of the points necessary to appeal to an enthusiast like an eager engine performance, being nimble around corners, have a great straight-line stability and good braking power. And then with a claimed fuel-efficiency of 21.4 kmpl, the Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS is still the most fuel efficient petrol hatchback in its segment. The Volkswagen Polo GT TSI and Fiat Abarth Punto might be a little more powerful than the Baleno RS, but then they are more expensive too. So overall, Maruti Suzuki seems to have played their cards well that should help the Baleno RS to be considered as an interesting proposition in the performance-oriented affordable hatchback segment in India.
Pictures by : Ameya Dandekar