Hyundai i10 has belied its size to cause serious damage to Maruti Suzuki’s market share in the country. It swept all the Car of the Year Awards within months of being launched, amazed one and all with its segment defying abilities and sold in numbers large enough to shake up the sharpest brains at the nation’s top car making company. The i10 has been no less than a revelation. Ever since it was launched, Hyundai has been registering double digit month-on-month growth (50 percent or more in some cases) owing to unprecedented demand and surging exports. Maruti Suzuki, without a fitting contender, however, has been losing ground to the Korean carmaker. Their sales have stood flat, even dipped marginally for some months in 2008. MSIL desperately require an effective interceptor to slow down this stomping Korean juggernaut. If they fail, they’re in trouble. In comes the A-star to the rescue.
So how does the new saviour look? Unusual, is the first word that flashes in my mind. Huge, popped out headlamps reminiscent of a frog’s eyes, an enormous bumper with an equally humongous central air dam – the A-star is a big departure from your regular city hatch. The lip for the unusually small bonnet is unusually high, a big Suzuki ‘S’ fills in for the missing grille.
The A-star persists with its sharp looks at the rear. The sporty theme is continued with the huge rear bumper positioned high above the ground. The loading lip for the boot is a little too high for convenient loading and unloading but adds to the racy attitude of the car. Angular, somewhat trapezoidal wraparound tail lamps are well done and come together seamlessly with the overall design. The high mounted brake light is a standard feature on all the three variants.
The A-star’s design is somewhat a trade-off between a full blown tall boy and the traditional small hatch with a low roofline. It looks unusual, in a good way. It’s got taut, athletic lines and unlike the i10 which doesn’t seem willing to make any enticing style statements; the A-Star looks agile, nimble and sprightly. Functionally, the i10’s design may augment the perception of space inside with its bigger rear window, but the A-star looks decidedly livelier. For those looking for some visual vivacity, the A-star makes for a more apt choice.
The i10 looks bigger from the outside. You’d think by glancing at the two cars, that the i10 is more spacious from the inside too, and you wouldn’t be wrong. We carefully measured both cars for head, leg and knee room at the front and rear and realized that the i10 has a reasonable advantage almost everywhere. It has more shoulder room as well. The A-star offers more knee room at the front, both maximum and minimum, and more maximum front legroom as well. But adding up the maximum front knee room and minimum rear knee room (total knee room available) reveals that the i10 allows your knees to stretch 3.5 centimetres more than the A-star. As discussed earlier, the smaller rear window of the A-star doesn’t help the perception of roominess either – the i10’s back bench then, is most definitely a better place to be in.
The i10 redefined the quality of interiors for its segment when it was launched. It’s nice to see the new Maruti easily matching up with the Hyundai in terms of quality and finish. Between the two cars, there isn’t much to choose from in terms of interiors. Be it the quality of plastics, the finish, the readouts or the ergonomics; both cars offer good functionality with good materials and neat workmanship.
I had the i10 as my long term car for more than six months. At the time, I wouldn’t have chosen any other car for a drive through the city in rush hour traffic. The i10 is a bespoke city tool. It’s refined, spacious, compact, has a superb gearshift and a suspension that reminds you of cars a few lakh rupees more expensive. I knew it’ll be tough for the A-star to match the i10’s versatility when I took it out for a spin. While the A-star outclassed its nemesis in a few departments, the i10 maintained its authority is some others. For starters, the fuel efficiency wasn’t one of the biggest virtues of the i10. It returned us an average fuel efficiency of 14.87kmpl when tested in Dec ‘07. The A-star, as our stint with it for three days suggested, is more fuel efficient. It gave us about 14.5 kilometres to a litre in the city and did 20kmpl on the highway. While testing, it registered a true top speed of more than 155km/h and it didn’t show even the slightest signs of nervousness even as we made it take a series of long sweeping corners at that speed. The i10 too is a very stable car. It has a slightly wavy feel to it after 140km/h though, which is absolutely absent in the A-star.
The 998cc powerplant of the A-star produces a class leading 67PS, though just fractionally more than the i10. The latter, however, outclasses its new rival’s peak torque figure of 90Nm by a good 9Nm while still producing it at 800 revs lower at 2800rpm. No wonder, the i10 pulls more reassuringly at low speeds than the A-star, which needs to be revved slightly to gather momentum. With 88ccs less than the i10’s 1086cc four-pot mill, that difference is quite understandable. The A-star engine is a three-pot motor and the angry burble, characteristic of three-cylinder engines is unmistakable. It makes more noise than the i10’s iRDE powerplant, which is creamy smooth and ultra refined. In terms of smoothness, silent operation and relaxed nature, we think that the i10’s iRDE engine still remains unbeaten, although it’s not as fuel efficient as the Maruti’s new KB-series motor.
It’s been one of the closest duels we have witnessed in a long time. Both these small hatches have their own virtues and neither of them has a significant advantage over the other in any department to give us a chance to declare a clear winner. Price, equipment, features, size, performance – these cars are so closely matched that it won’t be fair to adjudge an outright winner. The only two areas where the balance swings is space and fuel efficiency. The i10 has more space to its advantage with a torquey engine, a cushy ride and a super refined feel complimenting it. The A-star, on the other hand, is more fuel efficient plus it’s got more flair and flamboyance to its design and its great fun to drive.
So which one should you buy? If space, comfort and refinement are high on your priority list, the i10 is the car for you. If, however, you could do with slightly less back seat comfort and want a youthful, vibrant car which is great fun to drive, the A-star should make the cut. Trust us; you can’t go wrong either way.