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Maruti has made a name for itself by making fuel-efficient, reliable and cheap-to-maintain cars. But this is its first attempt at a performance version of one of its cars. Naturally, in this category, fuel economy isn’t important, power is. The Baleno RS uses a new 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, direct-injection, turbocharged petrol motor that makes 102hp and 150Nm of torque. The numbers may not say much at first, but it’s the car’s light 950kg kerb weight that makes the difference. Besides the new engine, Maruti has also gone about strengthening the Baleno’s body to make the car safer.
Maruti has made subtle changes to the car’s styling. There’s a reworked grille, and different bumpers at the front and rear; the rear now looks particularly aggressive. The blacked-out headlamps, side skirts and the RS badge are what help you tell it apart from the regular car.
The cabin remains unchanged - you get the automatic climate control, 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay and all the other standard infotainment features. There are a few low-rent plastic bits that have crept into the RS’s cabin though. The large front seats comfortable, with soft cushioning and generous under-thigh support. At the back, there’s ample legroom and a wide bench, there’s enough room for three adults. Maruti has attempted to find middle ground between performance and practicality with this car. It could have done with a few ‘RS’ bits in the interior to tell it apart from the standard car though.
Maruti has done a good job tuning the Baleno RS’s 1.0-litre petrol engine. There’s a bit of lag when you first set off but it once you cross 1600rpm, it’s a different story. The sweet spot of this engine is between 3000rpm and 5000rpm. The five-speed manual gearbox is on the firmer side, but it’s hardly uncomfortable to use.
This car comes with a stiffer suspension, aiding stability at high speeds. The car now handles better, even on sharp turns. The slightly heavier steering also aids confidence but it doesn’t bristle with feedback. The brakes on this car are great, Maruti has added discs at the rear.
If you are looking for a slightly quicker family hatchback, this car doesn’t disappoint. It’s much more fun to drive than the standard petrol car. It is not, however, an all-out performance car. The RS badge can be a bit misleading, it gives you the impression that the car can deliver so much more. At Rs 1.4 lakh more than the standard petrol, it’s quite price difference too. What you get though is a punchy turbo engine, slightly stiffer chassis and improved steering and suspension. This car is a great car to sit on this premium hatchback’s line-up, don’t expect it to blow your mind with its performance though.
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