After living with the Maruti Suzuki Ritz for over six months now, I am completely taken aback with the freshness of the Chevrolet Beat. It looks like a concept car even now and the kind of effort that General Motors has put in it to make it different from the other small car lot is obvious. The freshness it brings to the segment plus its killer value proposition plus GM’s new thrust to make the ownership experience cost-effective is reason enough to go for the Beat. Besides it’s kind of unfair to compare it with another car that is sits a notch up in the marketplace. But as everyone knows, life isn’t fair. So can the Beat beat our Car Of The Year 2010?
Concept car vs conservative smart
The Beat was the name of the concept that GM showed at Detroit in 200X, and suitably the name of the production car that seems to be virtually untouched from the concept wears the same name in India. The Beat is an adventurous looking small car. It looks as if it should belong to the Transformers rather than the bumble-bee Camaro. Each section of the car is a beautifully crafted facet and its youthfulness even five years down seems guaranteed. By placing the rear handles up on the doors’ edge is something that Walter de Silva did with the Alfa Romeo 156 way back when – so it’s surprising that it took so long for mainstream cars to incorporate them. Even the Honda New Small concept had these grope handles (I call them that as you have to keep groping for them at the usual place!) and I am pretty sure it will feature in the production car.
Enough has been said about the Ritz’s appearance, but allow me my two bits. I have observed that older people like the front while younger people like the rear treatment. I am not surprised because I think there have been two sets of designers – one for the front and one for the back – and they didn’t talk to each other. What then explains the conservative, geometric front end and a dramatic, raked rear-end? The other key feature about the Ritz’s appearance is its wide, planted stance and the way the rear wheels seem to be pushed outwards as far as possible add to the effect. The Ritz, of course, looks and is bigger than the Beat – and that makes it also look like a car for the grown-ups.
Chevrolet Beat: 4 out of 5 stars
Maruti Suzuki Ritz: 3 out of 5 stars New-age vs conventional
As mentioned before, GM is trying extra hard to be different. It did that with the Cruze and now you can see it here in the Beat. The materials and technologies used in the Beat are available to all manufacturers, but GM has used it all very cleverly and in an interesting manner. This is best seen at night when all the round controls come alive in a cool blue colour. The central console looks as if it’s part of a car made by Apple! The LCD display for the airconditioning is also very clever. Then there is the motorcycle inspired instrument panel. The speedometer dial is conventional but the LCD display (which shows the rpm meter, fuel gauge, etc) surrounded by little circles for the idiot lights would make any biker feel at home. It may be a bit cumbersome for those used to conventional displays, but there’s no doubt that it’s a good conversation starter. That apart, the materials used in the car is mostly good, but the plastic door panels seem a bit tacky while the black inserts function beautifully as fingerprint magnets. But that doesn’t stop us from using iPods and iPhones with touchscreens, right? The seat backrests are grippy and supportive, but the lack of underthigh support means travelling long distances can be tiresome. And there is surprisingly adequate legroom for rear passengers – but the compromise is a small boot.
With the Ritz, Maruti Suzuki has made a big leap in the quality of plastics, fabrics and textures – they have excelled their own internal benchmarks - but it still pales in comparison to GM’s innovative usage. The Ritz also has enough cubbyholes and storage areas like the Beat and I particularly like the one above the dash that can take in CD covers (yeah, I still listen to music from conventional CDs). The layout of controls in the Ritz is simple, easy to operate and ergonomic, but you have seen the same in other cars like the SX4 and the Swift – so you can get a bit jaded. Okay, so it has an aftermarket-like pod that houses the tacho... so what? The important thing in the Ritz is its excellent front seats plus the car’s overall height allows you long hours of enjoyable traffic jams. The space for rear passengers is also adequate, while the boot is bigger than that of the Beat’s.
Chevrolet Beat: 4 out of 5 stars
Maruti Suzuki Ritz: 3 out of 5 stars Attempting vs accomplished
You would think that with the proliferation of 1.2-litre engines, it would all be the same in character. Surprisingly, it’s not. The 1199cc four-cylinder Chevrolet motor puts out 79 bhp at 6200 rpm and 10.91 kgm of torque at 4400 revs. And the 1197cc Suzuki power unit develops 84 bhp at 6000 revs and 11.5 kgm of turning force at 4500 revs. Both are 16-valve units with DOHC.
The figures itself show how the Suzuki unit completely ‘overpowers’ the Chevrolet motor. The new K-series motor is a brilliant piece of engineering and it’s quite different from the older Suzuki engines we are used to. Though it revs and redlines like a motorcycle (which the old ones did), the engine is also tuned for low-speed driveability, quick pickup from standstill and a decent mid-range. The engine is also much more refined than the last-gen Suzy engines and the sound that emerges finally from the tailpipe is also surprisingly muscular. The five-speed gearbox is also a major improvement compared to previous Suzukis – it slots well and the gearing is pretty versatile.
The Beat’s motor is however not as refined as the K-series engine. Up to about 3000 rpm, it is dignified, but once the revs rise, it sounds stressed. And most of the action with the Beat takes place well beyond 3000 rpm, so you need to spank it a little bit for some excitement. The engine is does its job of moving the Beat quite well, considering the little Chevy is not too heavy. GM has ensured that the five-speed gearbox is tuned mostly for city driving with the first three gears while the fourth and fifth are closely set for the highway run. The quality of the gearshift is also vastly improved compared to the U-VA and the Spark, but it’s nowhere near the benchmark Hyundai i10 gearshift – same with the Ritz’s.
When put to the test, the Ritz is not surprisingly quicker in most aspects, but the Beat acquits itself quite well (<I>See Auto Data<I>). Weight comes into play here, as the Beat is about 65 kg lighter than the Ritz.
ENGINE & PERFORMANCE
Chevrolet Beat: 3 out of 5 stars
Maruti Suzuki Ritz: 4 out of 5 stars Beat there vs done that
If you wake me up from my sleep and suddenly ask me ‘Quick, which is more fun to drive, the Beat or the Ritz?’, I would without missing a, er, beat say ‘Ritz’ and go back to sleep. As far as the FTD factor goes, the Ritz is comprehensively better. The reasons are more than just the sparkling K-series motor. One, the Ritz steering provides excellent feedback, it has the right amount of feel. And two, the handling of the car belies its height. The effervescent platform of the Swift is so good that even the tall Ritz is fun to throw around corners. It is an eminently chuckable car and the wide stance keeps it well planted too. The Beat’s steering wheel is again an improvement over the other Chevys in terms of feel, and the shape is also sporty and cool. The Beat is not as fun to chuck as its underpinnings and weight balance is not as good as the Ritz’s. Besides it is hampered by narrow tyres, ostensibly to improve fuel efficiency – even 165/70 R 14s in the LT version would be nice, in terms of grip, handling and looks.
Where the Beat outclasses the Ritz is in ride quality – it’s way superior compared to the bouncy Ritz and does a great job of keeping the rough stuff away from your rear-end. The ride quality of the Beat is surprisingly brilliant for a car of its size. But other than that, when it comes to dynamics and driving pleasure, the Ritz is the winner.
Chevrolet Beat: 3 out of 5 stars
Maruti Suzuki Ritz: 4 out of 5 stars
Value and looks vs driving pleasure
Okay, I am well over the word count, so I’ll make it quick. The Beat is fabulous value by itself, and when compared to the Ritz, even more so. At Rs 4.57 lakh for the LT version with the ABS and airbags options ticked, it is cheaper than the Ritz ZXi by half a lakh of rupees. That apart, the reasons I would go for the Ritz is its funky concept car looks, the interiors (barring the tacky plastic sections), ride quality and rear comfort. The Ritz would be the car I would go for its engine, driving pleasure, handling and overall driver comfort. And there is your answer too; I would go for the Ritz for myself, but I would have no hesitation in recommending the Beat to others.