Peak hour traffic jams - this is something most of us face during our daily commutes. And then there are the other traffic snarls : during metro constructions, around big markets and during the festive season. This is when most of us have at some point of time wished for an automatic transmission. Driving in stop-go traffic can be a pain in the, err, left foot along with the mental agony that comes attached with such driving scenarios. Hence with slowing average speeds and increase in demand for pocket friendly small automatics, manufacturers are now eyeing this segment. The Honda Brio automatic was the latest entrant and now Maruti has also joined the bandwagon with the automatic option on the new face-lifted Ritz.
The new Ritz in itself is more than just a face-lift. It looks slightly better in terms of looks with a restyled front end including headlamps, grille and bumper while the interiors have also seen a fair amount of tweak, the biggest one being the two-tone theme for the mid-level and top end versions. This along with improved rear seating makes the cabin a much better place. The high seating position has always aided visibility and is a boon for the fair sex and the elderly while getting in and out of the car. We have often praised the Ritz for the high quality and practical interiors with the only let down being the slightly cramped rear seat, especially with tall passengers up front. We love the neat touches though - like the smart storage box under the co-driver's seat as well as the small storage space above the fascia. The pop-out tachometer simply adds to the sporty touch!
As expected, Maruti continues on with the same 1.2-litre petrol and 1.3-litre multi-jet diesel engines though both the units have seen a few changes. While the petrol motor now gets the VTT technology and feels a touch more smoother, the diesel one has become more efficient, upping the ARAI rated economy to 23.2kmpl - brilliant for a tall hatchback. While we do love the diesel engine for its performance, the KB12 petrol unit did delight us with its super low NVH levels. The biggest change, or inclusion, in the new Ritz is the optional 4-speed automatic available in mid-level trim with the petrol engine.
Now while this transmission has one gear less as compared to the Honda Brio Automatic, its mated to the engine in a good way with the right ratios. Not only does the peppy and responsive motor help, the transmission is super slick and goes about doing its duty in a very able manner. Gear changes are hardly felt and the gears drop instantly when you go down on the accelerator pedal. Even pedal to metal, the Ritz Automatic is not a lazy car and gathers speeds quickly. Its only when you reach triple digits speeds do you miss the 5th gear with the engine spinning at the wrong side of 2500rpm. A typical user of this segment though won't have a reason to complain and the newly integrated fuel economy indicator will actually help drivers to squeeze out max from the engine. We averaged around 8.5 to 9L / 100km in Delhi's traffic which translates into almost 12kmpl : now this included stopping, parking, reversing etc for our photography shots and video. Infact, as per ARAI, the Ritz Automatic is only 7 % less efficient as compared to the manual sibling.
The new gear level does look nice and has the usual modes like P: Parking N: Neutral 3D: Drive mode : the one that will used mostly, with the transmission upshifting on its own 2: The transmission remains in the 2nd gear and is useful for steep inclines etc 1: The transmission remains in the 1st gear only and is useful for tough driving conditions including slush et al
The transmission also has a shift lock wherein the transmission sticks the same gear without any upshifts. I commute 70km daily and for a change, yesterday turned out to be an easy affair. The light steering only aids in city traffic and an automatic can make your life so much easier. The drawback ofcourse is the high sticker price with the VXI A/T costing Rs 1.28 lac more than the manual VXI ABS version. That is a lot of money but does offer you one of the most fuss-free and easy to drive automatic hatchbacks in India. As for running cost, the difference amounts of half a rupee per km as compared to its manual sibling. So if your monthly driving is 1200km, you would end up paying only about Rs 600 extra on petrol - not bad, eh?