C‘mon, list out the attributes of a good car. It should look cool, getting in and out should be easy, it should have lots of space for its occupants, should be refined, should have adequate power, should have diesel and petrol versions, should feature decent safety kit and it should be attractively priced. And yes, it helps if it is built by Ferrari or Rolls-Royce so that your neighbours are suitably impressed.
Alas, Maranello and Goodwood are busy catering to soccer stars, business tycoons and a few drug peddlers, so the onus of making sensible cars is left to companies like Suzuki. And after owning three Maruti Suzukis over the last decade or so, I am ready to substitute the Holy Bible with a car wearing the ‘S’ badge and swear upon it. Nothing, I am telling you, nothing happens to these cars. You can drive them till their drive shafts fall off and that too without oil, and in most cases, on mere fumes of petrol. They take more abuse than a well-thumbed paperback and they become part of your life story without being demanding or intrusive. But if you pamper them – like I have done to my Swift by feeding her super expensive Mobil 1 oil and getting her serviced before and after the monsoons – they even start entertaining you. On quiet nights, when you are driving home, you can even hear the car sing ‘Is it me you’re looking for…’ in karaoke mode.
I am the biggest fan of the Indian-made Swift and have recommended it to so many people that if Suzuki were to pay me a small commission for each recommendation, I would have long stopped writing on cars and would be driving Phantoms. But they don’t. That said, they did kindly invite me to sample the next car based on the Swift platform – radies and gentlemen, the Litz… solly, the Ritz. And I am sorry if I am tempted to compare the Ritz to the hot-selling Swift on almost all the parameters.
First things first – if you are looking for a petrol-powered hatchback that is fun to drive, well, you are better off buying the Swift with its supremely flickable chassis and typically Japanese high revving motor. The Ritz has other talents, like a practical body and a thoroughly driveable European engine... we will reach there soon. Like the new A-Star, the Ritz belongs to the funky school of design. It is taller than it has any reason to be, it has got prominently flared wheel arches, inwardly kinked tail architecture with matching lamp structures and a stance that can be loosely called ‘lounge’. Brilliant? Well let me say that I like the effort that has gone into the design and detailing. It is exciting, but falls short of being ‘proportionate’ to look at – which, ahem, the Swift is. Inside, the Ritz is genuinely path breaking – if a colour-coded dashboard and a centre console mounted gear lever (like in the i10) don’t impress you, the overall ergonomics will. Then you see bits and pieces from the Swift and the SX4 all over the place – which is not a bad thing at all. The single, large speedo is very Mini-like and I love it. Finer details like the tachometer that is made to look after-market and the rubber surround to the gear lever makes the interior one of the finest amongst small cars in India. With the arrival of small cars like the Skoda Fabia and the impending launch of the Honda Jazz and the Volkswagen Polo, Suzuki has realised the importance of providing Indian customers with quality textures and materials and has passed on the Euro interiors to us without any compromise. Height adjustable seats are comfortable for the long run and it is really a boon to have adjustable steering and seatbelts. Compared to the Swift, the Ritz makes you feel less claustrophobic thanks to the larger greenhouse and a more efficient utilisation of space.
An all-new engine from Suzuki’s new K-line of engines powers the petrol version of the Ritz. This new K12 engine is important for Maruti Suzuki in India since it falls on the right side of the excise bracket and soon will power the Swift and other models. This 1197cc DOHC motor features drive-by-wire throttle and develops 84 bhp at 6000 rpm and 11.3 kgm of torque at 4500 clicks. This engine is reasonably quick off the block and should return a time of 6 seconds for 60 kph (we have not tested the car yet) and should do 100 kph in around 13 seconds. What we did though was to drive the car over a 100 km loop and the Ritz impressed with its driveability. Gearing is good for our driving conditions and you are never really ‘hunting’ for power. The shift quality of the 5-speed box was extremely good too.
The diesel motor is the familiar Fiat developed (though better executed by Suzuki) 1248cc DDiS motor that is good for 74 bhp at 4000 rpm and 19 kgm from 2000 rpm onwards. The diesel Ritz is almost as quick and fast as the petrol version and it loses out only on the refinement levels. Modern small diesels can match similar capacity petrols on performance, but petrol engines still hold the advantage when it comes to overall refinement.
The Ritz rides on 14-inch wheels (185/70 R14s for the ZXi and 165/80 R14 for other models including diesels). The quality of ride on most road conditions was good. Our test loop in and around Vizag had all kinds of road surfaces, from smooth to broken and even a proper highway section, and the Ritz felt nicely damped for most conditions. There is no rocket science in the struts – it’s a torsion beam suspension layout, but it’s just that Maruti Suzuki has understood rebound damping better with the Ritz. Yes, this is one area where the Ritz can trounce the Swift. Mind you, what the Swift loses in ride quality it regains in handling – the Ritz can go around corners, but the Swift will put a smile on your face while you are at it. Get the difference?
Like with most of the new cars in the Maruti Suzuki lineup, the Ritz will be available in LXi, VXi and ZXi versions for the petrol model and LDi and VDi versions for the diesel. Sadly there is no diesel model with airbags as well as ABS/EBD, while the latter is made optional for the VXi and VDi versions. One can only hope that Maruti Suzuki will stop linking diesel economy and passive safety features when they are doing product packaging. More importantly, one can only hope that Maruti Suzuki is not waiting for legislation to make safety features mandatory.
To sum up, the Ritz is a cheerful car that will serve your needs in the city (where it will spend most of its life) and play the role of a weekend car pretty well. What it is not is the acute driving machine that the Swift is, but lots of families will appreciate the finer detailing that has gone into the interior of the car as well as the newfound space. The petrol version is expected to return 14 kpl while the oil-burner, as we know, is known to stretch a litre of diesel to 20 kpl plus. The biggest challenge to Maruti Suzuki will be to build enough diesel models – the Swift and the Swift Dzire still have a waiting period of two to three months, recession be damned. As for me, I am thinking of ways to pamper my Swift even more – a turbocharger and NOS kit won’t be all that bad an idea, what say.