For more than a decade now, the Maruti Zen has represented motoring nirvana for the Indian masses. I suppose it is the only other Maruti which has come anywhere close to emulating the tireless 800’s phenomenal success. In the face of newer, fresher cars from the competition, the Zen was beginning to look a bit tired, but since it would never do for Maruti Suzuki to stop making one of their largest-selling cars, they’ve given it a proper cosmetic makeover instead. Good thing too, for it would’ve been a sad thing to let the Zen go. Personally, I’ve always liked the nifty little number – it’s as nimble as a rat scurrying around in a house full of cats, has a swift and precise gearshift (better than the Wagon R’s and the Alto’s), and despite its age, the car’s all-aluminium 59 bhp MPI engine doesn’t bore you to death, even on out of town drives. Maruti also made limited numbers of sportier two-door derivatives – the Carbon and Steel, which don’t go any faster than the stock car, but are great fun to look at and sit in. Whatever way you look at it, the Zen’s overall feel has always been one of verve, light weight, reliability and yes, fuel economy too. So have things changed with the new Zen?
Unlike the Wagon R, which has also been given a facelift recently, the new Zen really does look different from the old one. The most noticeable restyled bits are the front and rear bumpers, front grille, clear-lens headlamps and foglamps front and rear.The bonnet and the hatch are also new. Initially, I was a bit undecided about the new styling. At the front, the car definitely does look more handsome than before. At the back, things look a bit more... um, aftermarket. The rear number plate has been moved up to the hatch from the bumper and the tail-lamps are also new. The effect is, ultimately, pleasant enough. The car looks sportier, and when viewed from the back, slightly more compact than the old Zen (actually, exterior dimensions remain unchanged from the old car).
Inside too, things have been spruced up a bit. Instrument dial faces are a sporty new white now – still no rev counter though, and the leather-clad gearlever has a sliver of plastic-chrome atop it. The steering wheel is also clad in leather, while seats get cloth upholstery. There are no painted metal surfaces visible inside the cabin, and while there’s still lots of drab, grey plastic in there, at least there are no rough edges anywhere. It’s undeniably 1990s – very much so – and though I prefer the Zen’s facia to the Alto’s or the Wagon R’s, this is one area where I wish Maruti had put in more effort. With the Santro Xing, Hyundai have done a more substantial revamp for the top of the line variant’s interiors, and a similar revamp for the Zen’s innards wouldn’t have gone amiss. And yes, elbow-room for front seat passengers is limited as ever, and don’t even think of putting any more than two passengers in the back seat.