It takes a lot of guts to be a car manufacturer, especially in this country and if you’re fighting for a piece of the A segment, then you really need to be on the offensive — it’s an all-or-nothing kind of market. So far, Maruti Suzuki has had the sort of stranglehold on the A segment that others can only dream about, and the Alto is the world’s best-selling car — it has become the default choice for people looking to buy their first car, and no other model has been able to dislodge it from its top spot. For Hyundai, therefore, to launch the Eon is a forceful statement of intent; it’s clear that it’s dead serious about shaking up this segment. Read on to see how it’s planning to do so.
The Eon looks best from the front three-quarters, which best display its fresh character. The car’s design is in keeping with Hyundai’s new “fluidic” design philosophy, with the characteristic hexagonal grille and the swept back headlamps. The creased bumpers, bonnet and lower sections of the doors add to its sporty look, and on its flanks, the character lines flow back in what Hyundai likes to call “kick-up” fashion, adding dynamism to the profile. At the back, the tail lamps are comma-shaped, with an integrated spoiler appearing on the hatch lid — the overall effect is one of freshness, with the design holding together well from the front to the back. This is undoubtedly an attractive little car.
The two-tone colour scheme inside the cabin works well, as do the metallic finishes on things like the door handles, steering wheel and centre console. Fit and finish is commendable for this segment, and the quality of the plastics and fabrics leaves no room for complaint. There’s plenty of head room all round, and with the Eon being the widest car in its class, with the longest wheelbase to boot, space for four average-sized adults is not a problem; only people who are near-six feet in height are likely to feel a bit cramped.
There are plenty of spaces inside the cabin to store things like water bottles, maps and the like, so the cabin is quite practical too. There is storage space on the doors, in and above the glove box, just under the centre console and, most important, in the hatch — it is large enough to fit three medium-sized suitcases, and it comes with a parcel shelf, in the top-end Sportz variant. There is also a space on the dashboard to put your Ganesha idol!
Ergonomically, all controls fall easily to hand and are logically laid out, with the chrome-lined dials being easy to read, and a shift indicator telling you when to move up a gear; an especially thoughtful touch is slots in the rear door frame to clip the rear seatbelts, to prevent them from getting lost behind the backrest. The AC cools quickly, the stereo system offers adequate audio quality and the tilt-adjustable steering wheel is nice to hold. The only drawbacks are that there is no tachometer, and that a driver-side airbag is offered only in the Sportz variant.
Under the Eon’s hood, you will find the Santro’s engine with one cylinder removed. This 3-cylinder, 9-valve, SOHC unit makes 814cc, with 55.23 bhp@5500 rpm and 7.65 kgm@4000 rpm. The engine is mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox, and sounds quite like the Alto when started up; it has a slightly gruff note to it, typical of 3-cylinder engines. Performance is quite adequate for city use — 0-60 kmph comes up in 6.9 seconds, while it takes 18.6 seconds to get to 100 kmph. Top speed is in the region of 125 kmph, which is not a big figure, but then this is no performance car; it has been tuned for mileage, a claimed 21.1 kmpl.
The gearbox is a little notchy in this car, requiring some effort to shift, especially from fourth back to third, and on a couple of occasions, it went straight from second to fifth, instead of third. I also encountered a flat spot when accelerating from standstill in first gear, which was annoying.
Given enough road to clear its throat, though, the engine is much happier, with a decent mid-range on offer, and 80-100 kmph cruising is very much on, without any strain; any more than that and the Eon begins to run out of steam.
With a MacPherson strut setup in the front and a torsion beam axle at the rear, the Eon’s suspension tends towards the softer side of things, but this car is going to be used largely in urban conditions, and its ride quality and handling characteristics are perfectly adequate for that. There’s not much feel from the electric steering, which could have been more involving, and the brakes could have been sharper, but all said and done, this is a well- planted and safe car.
Can it dislodge the Alto from its position at the top? It certainly has the potential to, because it looks better, is better built, has nicer and more spacious interiors with more features and is a contemporary car; in that sense, it has created a segment all by itself. At a starting price of Rs 2.69 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi (without power steering and AC) and Rs 3.71 lakh for the Sportz version, the Eon is a compelling alternative to the Alto — whether it can out-Alto the Alto remains to be seen!
The writer was invited by Hyundai to drive the Eon in Udaipur