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Premium Hatchback Comparison : Maruti Baleno vs Hyundai Elite i20 vs Honda Jazz

  • Dec 10, 2015
  • 13890 Views
The King of Compact Cars is now trying to go upmarket. Maruti has been trying to crack the premium-car segment in India for quite some time now, it started with the Vitara XL-7  in 2003, and then with the Grand Vitara in 2009 and the Kizashi in 2011 - and all of them have been a sales disaster. Maruti launched its premium brand, Nexa, earlier in 2015 to create a different aura around their premium offerings in the country. The Baleno is the second car to join the Nexa range of cars and takes the Hyundai Elite i20 and the Honda Jazz head on. Promises of better exterior and interior quality, a huge list of premium features inside-out, good performance and high fuel-efficiency along with an upmarket buying and servicing experience etc. should give the Baleno an edge - Maruti hopes.

While the competition here is the Hyundai Elite i20 and the Honda Jazz, it is the i20 which is a bigger threat to the Baleno. People have taken a liking to it, and even though it may be the slightly more expensive car in this test - it has been able to hold its ground very well (we'll delve into that a bit at the end of the comparison).

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The cars we have compared are the top-end diesel variants in their respective lineups and they are priced, ex-showroom, Delhi as on the date of review, as follows -

Maruti Suzuki Baleno Sigma - Rs. 8.11 Lakh
Hyundai Elite i20 Asta (O) - Rs. 8.30 Lakh
Honda Jazz VX MT - Rs. 8.68 Lakh

Exterior Design

In isolation all the cars in this comparison test look good, but when placed side-by-side - the Baleno looks plain, the Jazz looks overdone and the i20 belongs to another level.

Maruti Suzuki Baleno

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The Baleno has interesting touches but when all the elements are put together the design seems to lack cohesion. Maruti's aversion to making their cars too flashy has translated on to the Baleno too - it looks very toned down overall, the design will age very fast.

At the front, the Baleno gets swept back headlights which feature a chrome eyebrow, projector headlamps, a large indicator and LED DRLs along the bottom. The grille has a honeycomb design and tapers towards the top, with both the top edges joining the chrome 'eyebrows' of the headlights, it gets a chrome lining at along the bottom edge for some added bling.

Maruti Baleno left side profile

From the side, the Baleno has a soft, sweeping look. The hood has a gentle curve, the front windshield is gently raked, the roof tapers gently to the rear meeting a sharply raked rear windshield. The window-line also follows this curvy design theme; apart from the window-line, the body-mounted (as opposed to window-mounted) ORVMs and silver grab-type door-handles, there is no relief at the side. The 16-inch alloy wheels are the most staid part of the whole design; when Suzuki unveiled the car at the Frankfurt Motor Show earlier this year, the display models had much better looking units on them - wonder why Maruti couldn't offer those here too.

At the rear, the Baleno gets a heavily raked windshield topped by a spoiler, a thick chrome bar runs along the bottom of the windshield, the bootlid is short and flanked by large multi-element taillights and a tall bumper which also houses the number-plate. The rear parking camera is integrated nicely into the chrome bar, while the taillights contain LEDs as stop-lamps.

Maruti Baleno rear right quarter

There's also this feeling while looking at the Baleno that it is a stretched and toned-down version of the Swift. The headlamps, lower air-dam design, the tall rear-bumper and short tail-gate design etc. are too reminiscent of the Swift, Maruti could have done more to make the Baleno look different from its less-premium offering.

In conclusion, the Baleno looks premium and will stand out from the crowd for some time - but it is too plain to make heads turn in the long run.

Honda Jazz

Honda Jazz left front quarter

The Honda Jazz, at least to us, is the most exciting looking of the three. You can see that this car has been designed to appeal to the younger generation of buyers (whether that be in physical age or mental age) - the design is more dynamic. The design also gives off the feeling that the car is spacious, the sharply-raked hood continues on to the front windshield, the cabin-forward design is very evident from the side and the rear is almost vertical. The funny thing is that the Jazz is smaller than the other two cars here in terms of overall length and width but looks bigger, thanks to its clever design, height, and smaller front- and rear-overhangs.

Honda Jazz left side profile

On the flip side though, there may be some who find the Jazz... well, too jazzy! The front grille has a black wing-like element under which there is a slim wing-shaped chrome strip, the headlamps are slim and gel well with the grille, the front bumper is aggressive looking with faux-side intakes housing the fog-lamps. Move to the side and there is a very prominent deep-crease which begins just after the front wheel-arch meets up with the body-coloured door-handles and ends at the tail-lamp, there is another crease placed low at the side to give some relief. The 15-inch 5-spoke pin-wheel like alloy wheels look sporty and add to the dynamic look of the car.

Honda Jazz right rear quarter

At the rear, the design gets really confusing - there are just too many surface-details and different elements jostling for space. The roof-mounted spoiler, red-reflectors beside the rear-windshield, the large multi-element tail-lamps, a thick chrome bar running along the bottom of the windshield, the aggressive rear bumper (which mimics the one at the front) make the rear too fussy to look at. The LED stop lamps look good though, and stand out nicely.

Honda does not offer LED-DRLs for the Jazz in India as standard equipment, even on this top-end variant - which is saddening considering it is available in many other markets. See the vertical black plastic bits beside the front  fog-lamps? In many other markets, these spaces would have occupied by smart-looking LEDs, the cover stands out like a sore thumb here.

Hyundai Elite i20

Hyundai Elite i20 left side profile front left quarter

First impressions are important - and the Hyundai 'Elite' i20 creates a very good one. Its design is premium as well as sporty at the same time. The i20 looks decidedly different from its Asian counterparts - the Japanese design theme is evident when you look at the Baleno and Jazz but Hyundai has been able to make the i20 more European. The design flair is limited to the front and rear fascia, but there is something about the i20 that makes you feel that it is better put together than the others - there is certainly something masculine about it.

The front is dominated by large side-swept headlights which flank a thin grille. The main grille is placed lower and is shaped like a trapezoid with honeycomb-mesh inside. The lower air-dam is slim and encapsules the large fog-lamps, while the bumper features an aggressive lower-lip. The headlamps feature trick-elements which look like DRLs, especially the white elements that run along the top of the headlamps.

Hyundai Elite i20 left side profile

 

From the side, the i20 looks taut and well-proportioned. A gently rising belt-line, chrome grab-handles, the blacked B- and C-pillars and the shiny 16-inch 8-spoke alloy wheels make it look sporty.

The i20 looks the best from the rear-quarters, methinks. The stretched taillights with three stop-lamps (the outer one lights up during braking, while the others light up with the front pilot lamps) are the main highlights here, while the prominent Hyundai logo, the roof-spoiler and the simple bumper add to the looks. The rear-view camera, placed separately right below the company logo stands out a bit weirdly though.

Hyundai Elite i20 rear left quarter

Overall, the i20 looks the best in its lot. It is premium and sporty while not being too loud (or conversely, too boring).

Interior Design

Three different approaches can be seen when the interiors of these three cars are compared. The interiors reflect each car's exterior design theme - the Baleno is interesting but not exciting, the Jazz is snazzy while the i20 is simple and upmarket.

Maruti Suzuki Baleno

Maruti Baleno India

The Baleno gets an all-new design inside, though there are a number of parts in the car which are from the company's popular parts-bin.

Open any of the front doors and you notice the sea of black inside - which seems to be a 'Nexa' trademark now - from the fabric seats to the plastic bits around the cabin. The monotony is broken, thanks to the use of silver highlights and trim-bits and the grey head-liner. Sit in any of the comfortable front seats and you notice the all-new dashboard design of the Baleno with familiar-looking bits like the three-spoke steering wheel with multimedia and (separate) hands-free telephony controls, the headlight-leveler switch, the gear-knob, etc. The A/C vent design, climate-control console, touch-screen multimedia screen, instrument cluster, light/wiper stalks etc, are new additions.

Maruti Baleno India

The new 7.0-inch multimedia screen juts-out from the upper central console and is cocooned neatly on both sides by the central A/C vents. Below this you find the new climate control console which features a circular display for the temperature, fan-speed and mode - this small screen is surrounded by buttons to operate the system. The TFT screen in the instrument cluster is also a eye-catching feature, while it can display useful things like the time or the instant/average fuel-economy or the average speed etc, it also displays the power and torque delivered by the engine in real-time. The thing may look gimmicky, but it does make your drive more interesting!

Power / torque curves (light up)

The design may look impressive, but the quality of materials used inside makes the cabin feel like that of a typical Maruti. Hard-wearing and utilitarian - good traits if you were looking to buy a economical hatch, but not something that would fit a 'premium' tag. The non-utilised spaces on the dashboard, like the blank space where the passenger-side airbag deactivate button sits (beside the hazard-warning lamp button) and the array of buttons beside the headlight leveler also remind you of the cost cutting Maruti has done.

Honda Jazz

New Honda Jazz India 2015 (37)

I was a big fan of the previous-gen Jazz launched in India, it looked like no other car on the road from the outside  and the interior design was also unique and funky. Not that it was easy on the eyes or anything, but you would get why the cabin was how it was - and love it for its craziness.

The new Jazz gets an all-black interior theme - which mimics the sporty exteriors of the car. This includes the prominent piano-black trim-piece on the central console surrounding the 6.2-inch multimedia touchscreen, the black climate-control console - all this black-ness is given relief via silver trim around certain parts such as the A/C vents, a wing-like trim on the steering wheel, and a trim at the base of the gear-lever. The centre-console is driver-oriented, another touch to make it look sporty. The cabin is the most airiest of the trio in terms of space available, the almost-white headliner augments this feeling even more.

New Honda Jazz India 2015 (30)

The design looks a bit messy around the steering wheel, with too many elements jostling for space: There is an A/C vent on the top-right of the dashboard which is similar in design to the two central A/C vents, under this is a larger un-highlighted A/C vent, under which there is an extendable cup-holder. The instrument console gets three-pods - the rev-counter, the speedometer and a multi-information display, the centre console gets the multimedia-screen beside which there is a very empty portion occupied by the hazard-warning switch, on the right side of the climate-control console is another yawning space occupied by a circular cover. This cover tries to hide the fact that even after paying over Rs. 8 Lakh, the customers do not deserve a start/stop button.

New Honda Jazz India 2015 (28)

The gear-lever head is a ball of hard-plastic with a design that mimics that of a leather-unit with stitching on it - it looks and feels downmarket. The pedals are spaced nicely and there is a pad on the floor beside the clutch pedal which acts as the dead-pedal.

The instrument console looks interesting, the lights around the centrally-placed speedometer change colour according to how the car is being driven - it stays blue under normal driving, turns green if it notices eco-friendly driving and turns red when the car is pushed hard. The multi-information display screen, placed on the right of the console is blue-backlit and has two permanent displays and a larger adjustable display. A gauge at the top of the screen shows the instant fuel-efficiency, while the bottom gauge shows the engine temperature. Meanwhile, the larger central portion can be used to see any of the two trip-meters, average speed, outside temperature, edo-reading, etc.

Hyundai Elite i20

Hyundai Elite i20 with AVN Dashboard

The Hyundai i20 is not confused about what it wants to be, it is a large, spacious, premium hatchback. If that idea was evident from the outside, the interior design makes that even more apparent. The i20 follows a dual-tone black-and-beige interior theme, this liven up the interior even on a gloomy day - and also adds a bit of premiumness to the cabin. The way the beige part of the dashboard flows onto the front doors looks classy, while the beige part on the doors also add to the occasion. Unlike the other two cars, Hyundai has not tried to overwhelm on-lookers with fancy design, it is simple, it is functional and it is easy-on-the-eyes - a welcome change, personally speaking.

Hyundai Elite i20 touch-screen multimedia system

The centre-console is driver-oriented - the upper centre-console features two A/C vents flanking the hazard-warning lamp, a large 7.0-inch touch-screen flanked by two vertical rows of buttons for easier selection of features, meanwhile the lower centre-console features the climate control system with knurled circular controls for setting the fan-speed and temperature and individual buttons for setting the ventilation direction. The lower centre-console features a card-holder, a space to keep your mobile, two charging ports and connectivity ports for the multimedia system. The gear-lever features silver surrounds around the gear-gate map, at the base of the gear-head and around the base of the gear-lever. The hand-brake lever is also covered in leather and gets a chrome cover for the -push-button control. Two cup-holders occupy the space beside the hand-brake, go further back and there is a black plastic covered hand-rest with storage space if the cover is lifted. Two A/C vents are also placed behind the front-central armrest for the rear-passengers, the i20 is the only car in this test to offer this feature.

Interior Space and Comfort

The dimensions of the cars are as follows (L x W x H and WB in mm):

Maruti Suzuki Baleno - 3995 x 1745 x 1500 and 2520
Hyundai Elite i20 -  3985 x 1734 x 1505 and 2570
Honda Jazz - 3955 x 1694 x 1544 and 2530

Honda Jazz Black Interior

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It is easy to see that the Jazz has the most spacious cabin in this comparison, even if you gloss over the figures mentioned above. Everything - from the ease-of-entry into the cabin thanks to the Jazz being taller, the acres of space thanks to the intelligent use of the cabin area, the flexibility of the cabin thanks to the numerous cubby holes (including the innovative cup-holder in front of the A/C vent on the driver side) and the 60:40 splitting 'magic' rear-seats, the ease-of-mind knowing that the Jazz can swallow a lot of luggage in that cavernous and easy-loading boot (which has a capacity of 354-litres) of its etc. make the Jazz the place to be in if space and practicality are your priorities.

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The Baleno comes next in terms of space, though its lower height does affect taller passengers. While most of the other testers on our team did not find the low-roof a problem, Mr. Bunny's view out from the front was severely hampered by the IRVM after setting the driver seat to his preferred driving position. The Baleno also gets many storage spaces, including a phone-holder in the lower central console, phone holder placed under the rear charging socket, a very deep storage bin under the front-central arm-rest and the door-pads with storage for a large bottle and other things. Though the Baleno is only down by around 10-litres in terms of boot-space as compared to the Jazz, the high loading-lip along with the low-roof and the parcel-tray hamper easy access to the space.

Hyundai Elite i20 Cabin

The Hyundai Elite i20 loses out on cabin space even though it has the longest wheelbase in the segment, though it may not look like it in the pictures or in real life - the i20 is the slimmest of all the cars in this comparison. This, along with the robust interior trim and cushioned seats, make the i20 the most cramped, though it is not stifling. The i20 also has its fair share of storage spaces dotting the landscape inside, these include bottle holders on the door-pads, door-pockets on the front and rear doors, front cup-holders, a large glovebox (which is cooled, by the way), etc. It is also the only car here to offer a sun-glass holder, but apart from some unique touches, it fails to make its mark in the space department. The i20 is good enough in terms of flexibility, the rear bench folds-flat and has a 60:40 split like the other cars in this category.

What the i20 lacks in terms of absolute space, it makes up through the sheer quality and comfort it offers. Maruti has not been able to match the premiumness of the i20, and even though the Baleno costs lower the difference in price does not warrant the difference in quality! The superbly cushioned seats, the soft-touch materials used at crucial points around the cabin to give a premium-feel, the well-damped suspension and the superbly-low NVH-levels help the cabin of the i20 feel the most special and upmarket of the lot here. The Baleno comes second, but there is a huge gap here - most of the plastics used on the Baleno feel as if they belong to a class below, the switches don't function with the same finesse, and there is a noticeable increase in the engine-noise and road-noise inside the Baleno. The Baleno has good quality front seats, though the bench at the back is a bit low on cushioning. The suspension is good, it is fairly comfortable over rough patches but also has a stiffer setup than the others - which means minimal roll. The Jazz falls flat on its face when the comfort and quality of materials inside are taken into comparison - the plastics are of a lower quality, there are visible signs of cost cutting - for example a very visible cover for where the start/stop button would have been, the fact that there is no keyless entry-and-go function (even after costing more than competition). The comfort rating of the Jazz falls even further when you consider how loud it can be sitting inside one after driving the others - the engine is very coarse and makes its presence felt as the revs climb - while the engine-note is lower at higher speeds - road noise takes over and spoils the atmosphere inside. The saving grace comes in the way of the superb seats, front and rear, and the cushioning suspension which handle most road-conditions with aplomb.

Features

For the asking price of these cars, people expect them to be filled to the brim with features. Look through the brochures of any of these cars and it feels like you are standing in between a shouting match. Let's get through all the noise and see beyond.

Keyless-entry is standard on all cars in this comparison - while the i20 can be accessed by the driver without taking the key out, thanks to the lock-sensor on the driver-door handle, the other two require you to press the lock/unlock button on the key. Automatic climate control system is also standard, so are fabric seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, driver-seat height adjustment, front and rear adjustable headrests, fully front-folding rear seats, one-touch up power window for the driver, power windows for all four doors, turn indicator integrated ORVM covers, electrically adjustable ORVMs, rear wiper and defogger, a multi-function driver display in the instrument cluster, etc.

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The Baleno is the only car in this comparison to get projector headlamps, LED DRLs and LED brake-lamps, electronic-dimming IRVM and a lamp for the glove box. It does not get one-touch down driver-side power window as compared to the other two cars.

Hyundai Elite i20 Smart Key

The Hyundai i20's unique features include automatic folding ORVMs on lock/unlock, sensor for lock/unlock on the driver-door, rear A/C vents, cooled glovebox, sunglass holder on the roof, remote-openable boot-lid and separate front- and rear-cabin lamps.

New Honda Jazz India 2015 (27)

The Jazz gets unique features like a touchscreen for the climate control, chiller cup-holder for the driver, the magic rear seats, rear-seat centre armrest and rear cup-holders. It misses out on the start/stop function, speed-sensing door-lock, telescopic-adjustable steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering-wheel, front-central armrest, automatic headlamps, rear parking sensors, etc., as compared to the Baleno and Elite i20.

So, the Jazz is the car that misses out on most features as compared to the competition.

All the cars in this comparison are offered with 2-DIN audio-video and navigation systems with coloured touchscreens. While the Baleno and the i20 get 7.0-inch screens, the Jazz gets a 6.2-inch multimedia screen. All the units have CD/DVD/USB/Aux-In/Bluetooth compatibility with hands-free voice function as well. The Baleno's unit is the most advanced in the group, with the best clarity and the 'oooh!' factor, thanks to the Apple CarPlay compatibility and smartphone connectivity. The Jazz's unit also gets iPod connectivity, but the connector for the same is placed inside the glovebox and looks like an aftermarket fitment. Out tests of the navigation units on these cars could not be comprehensive, also the Elite i20 did not have the SD card necessary for the function to work.

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The multimedia systems on the Baleno and the Jazz are paired to 4-speakers each, while the Elite i20 gets two tweeters along with 4-speakers. The sound was tested via Bluetooth connected to a phablet, the equaliser on the phablet was kept constant while the equaliser on all the systems were set to 'normal' - the Baleno's system was clear but was too bass heavy, the Jazz's system was okay while the Elite i20 had the best combination. The multimedia system on the i20 has the best mix between bass and treble while also being the clearest even when the volume was raised.

Engine Performance and Efficiency

The powertrain specs of the cars are as follows -

Maruti Suzuki Baleno - 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel unit developing 75PS @ 4,000rpm and 190Nm @ 2,000rpm mated to a 5-speed transmission.
Hyundai Elite i20 -  1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel unit developing 90PS @ 4,000rpm and 220Nm @ 1,500-2,750rpm mated to a 6-speed transmission.
Honda Jazz - 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel unit developing 100PS @ 3,600rpm and 200Nm @ 1,750rpm mated to a 5-speed transmission.

While the numbers might suggest an outright win for the Jazz, it is the Baleno which steals the show. The Jazz, in this top-of-the-line 'VX' trim, has a kerb weight of 1154 Kg while the Baleno weighs 985 Kg - a whopping 169 Kg lighter! The power-to-weight ratio is similar for both the cars, but in most situations, the Baleno will pull away easily. The Jazz also produces all the power and torque at a lower engine speed and is out of breath easily.

Maruti Baleno India

Maruti's engineers have done a brilliant job of matching the 5-speed manual gearbox with the peppy 1.3-litre motor, by the way this motor is the same Fiat-sourced and Maruti-refined engine also used in a plethora of other Maruti products. The gearshifts are short and sure, and always help keep the engine in the sweet spot.

The 1.4-litre motor on the Hyundai Elite i20 suffers from a noticeable turbo-lag, a period in which the throttle input seems not to be doing anything - but once the turbo spools, the car easily picks up pace. This type of power delivery will make some think that the i20 has more 'punch', but when compared to the Baleno this actually feels slow - being the heaviest in this group also does not help matters.

All the three cars can reach and stay at 100+ km/h speeds easily, but the Baleno is the one that reaches those speeds with least effort and time.

In terms of efficiency, the Baleno and the Jazz are neck-to-neck with ARAI-certified figures of 27 km/l. We did not have all the cars for the same period of time to test their mileage figures, but the i20's sixth cog should help it post better figures on highway runs - you miss this easy cruising ability on the Baleno and the Jazz.

Handling

All the three cars here have the same chassis formula - a monocoque chassis with McPherson struts and coils at the front and a torsion-beam suspension at the rear. All of these also get electric-assist steering for the best compromise between low-speed maneuverability and high-speed stability. These cars are all front-wheel driven and are fitted with disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the rear. The Maruti Baleno and the Hyundai i20 ride on 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 195mm-section tyres while the Jazz gets 15-inch wheels shod with 175mm-section tyres.

Maruti Baleno India

The Baleno was the biggest surprise of the lot in this test in terms of handling, we expected Maruti to have dialed the suspension settings towards the more comfy side to satisfy customers of the segment - but that is thankfully not the case. Because of its lightweight chassis, you feel nice the moment you step on the gas - it takes of without any hesitation, maybe with a dash of wheelspin too. The steering on the Baleno is the most weighted in the group at lower speeds, this does not imply that it is difficult to maneuver at parking speeds though. The steering gets progressively heavy at higher speeds, it is the most communicative unit amongst the trio but in isolation it is still dull. Body roll is negligent when taking tight turns, and the ride remains stable even over undulations - this is also thanks to how light the Baleno is along with how rigid the new chassis is. The Baleno is based on a heavily reworked monocoque chassis from the Swift - it is lighter, stiffer and stronger. Ride-comfort over most surfaces is good, but it is not the most supple over very short-and-sharp bumps. Those who have come to love the ride and handling of the Swift will love the fact that its older sibling is also as good, if not better.

New Honda Jazz India 2015 (60)

The Honda Jazz, is at heart a practical and comfortable city runabout. The ride and handling of the car reflect this too. Getting into the best driving position is hampered a bit because the Jazz is not offered with telescopic-adjustable steering wheel, but only a bit. The steering is light and fast at low speeds, maneuvering the Jazz through tight spaces is also made easy, thanks to the good all-round visibility. The suspension has been softened as compared to the previous gen-Jazz, while this means that the ride is comfortable - coupled with the tall-stance of the car, going around corners can be a bit of a roll-y affair. It doesn't help that the Jazz has the slimmest tyres in this comparison, good for efficiency and conversely bad for handling. The steering weighs up at higher speeds, but as it is typical of most electric-assist steering systems in this price point, there is no real feedback from it. Straight line high-speed stability is good, but the rear tends to get bouncy over undulating surfaces. The Jazz is best enjoyed in the city where its light steering is a boon, its suspension can soak up most things that the negligent road works department can throw at it, and where the engine does not need to work too hard.

Hyundai Elite i20 left side profile front left quarter dynamic

Everything about the Hyundai Elite i20 is reassuring - the design, the interior space and quality and finally, the ride and handling. It was not too long ago that Hyundai cars were amusingly referred to as boats - take an older Hyundai to one of those roads with those wavy sections that you know of and you'll get to know why. Anyway, the Elite i20 has the best compromise between comfort and handling. My benchmark for the most comfortable suspension in hatchback below Rs. 10 Lakh is a car that is not in this comparison - the Volkswagen Polo - and the i20 is very very close to having that comfort and suppleness in its suspension. Sharp bumps tend to surprise the i20, the otherwise smooth and noiseless suspension protests with a thud. The good thing is that driving the i20 like a maniac is no longer the sign of being one - the mechanical grip from the tyres is good, body roll is minimal and the understeer is progressive. The steering is a let down though - it is too light for my liking - even at higher speeds. The steering feedback is also the poorest of the three, it feels overly assisted.

Safety

While all the cars tested here were offered with Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake-Distribution (EBS), dual front-airbags, reversing cameras and an engine immobiliser, Maruti offers ABS, EBD and dual-airbags as standard across the Baleno range - which makes it our pick amongst the trio. It is also the only car in this comparison to be offered with brake-force assist, this keeps the pressure during an emergency braking situation at optimal levels even if the driver does not apply enough force. The Baleno is also the only car in this test to feature projector headlamps - these have great range and spread and certainly make night-time driving a lot safer.

I have a problem with the way Honda has installed the reversing camera in the Jazz. While the Baleno and the i20 have their's installed in the centre of the boot-lid, Honda has decided to place the camera in the Jazz off-centre - like quite a bit off-centre to the left of the car. To compensate for this placement, they had to make the camera face a bit to the right - this makes the video feedback on the multimedia-screen look wonky. Parking the car, especially when you have some obstacles on the left-side of the car, is a bit discomforting. I wish Honda would have thought of this during the design phase.

Verdict

Hyundai Elite i20 right front quarter

It was a very close fight between the Maruti Suzuki Baleno and the Hyundai i20. Many a heated discussions later, most of the reviewers in the office agree that the Hyundai Elite i20 remains the King of the segment, but by a whisker. The Baleno makes a strong case for itself, it is much better than the i20 in terms of performance, handling and efficiency, but loses out on design, space, flexibility and on the most important point of them all - premiumness. The Elite i20 truly deserves its place at the top of the segment because of the mature design, premium interiors, and loads of features that it offers at the price, while not being bad in the performance and efficiency department - the only place it loses out (and where the Baleno, and even the Jazz trump it) is when handling comes into the picture. The Honda Jazz? Well, it comes a distant third - despite being the most spacious and most practical car in this comparison. Though it looks the most dynamic and sporty in this comparison - its engine and transmission fail to make it feel as exciting, though the handling is the second best in the trio. It loses a lot of points due to being simply outclassed in terms of the premium feel and equipment offered by the competition.

-End-

Bonus

Maruti Baleno front right quarter

While this concludes the comparison between the three cars, it is time to think a bit about if Maruti has done the best it could to compete in the premium category of cars. The Baleno hatchback, Ciaz sedan and S-Cross crossover constitute Maruti's premium offerings in their respective categories, though only two of their cars (the Baleno and the S-Cross) are sold through the 'Nexa' premium-outlets.

The move to introduce a separate premium dealership/service network is brilliant, customers paying a premium for any product demand premium services along with it. But the cars that are being sold through the Nexa dealerships are not necessarily a different breed as compared to the cars sold at Maruti's 'regular' dealerships. The Baleno and the S-Cross still feel like Maruti products, they haven't been able to shrug off their inability to hold back, be it in terms of design, in terms of materials used inside or in terms of the features on offer. Look at the exterior design, for example, both the cars are the only products in the Maruti lineup which feature LED DRLs, how are they 'premium'? The wheels on them look like wheel-covers rather than alloy-units.

If you were a person who has never sat in a Maruti car before but has experienced other cars in the segments, the Baleno and the S-Cross are respectively competing in, you would feel the cabins of these cars to be a bit low on the 'premium' factor. The sheer number of shared parts between the Baleno and less-premium cars like the Swift would make you feel like you sitting in a modified version of the latter - which is not exactly the premium-feel most people are looking for. The Hyundai i20 feels more premium because it hides the fact that it shares components with more affordable products in the company' lineup. It also helps that most of the shared components (stalks, switches etc.) are themselves of very high-quality.

Maruti has to let go of  whatever is holding them back from doing the absolute best, because it shows.
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