Making a splash in the performance hatch segment is the new Baleno RS from Maruti Suzuki, a 100+ PS car with an all-new 998-cc BoosterJet turbocharged direct-injection three-cylinder petrol engine. This is the first of its kind from Maruti Suzuki as only a handful of their cars deliver over 100 PS. It's a welcome addition to the Nexa umbrella, especially with its price tag of Rs 8.69 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi).
Before we tell you more about the car, it's of utmost importance to understand that the 'RS' stands for 'Road Sport' and not 'Renn Sport', which explains why it doesn't have more than 350 PS. Among the highlights that complement its sporty image is the new front grille, with a new bumper and air-dam design that teases the intercooler behind it. The lower-lip aero bit is finished in a smooth contrast grey and looks cool. Also on offer are dark-grey/almost-black-finished 16-inch wheels, with grey-finished side-skirts adorning the profile. The rear also gets a sharp-finished bumper, as well as a chunky 'RS' badge. Unlike the Swift, it's not just stickers this time.
BoosterJet turbo-petrol produces 102 PS of power
Maruti Suzuki has given us an RS before in hatchback and sedan guise, but both had the same engine and power output as other conventional variants. This time, however, the heart of the matter is the all-new BoosterJet TDI petrol engine. The 1.0-litre unit puts out 102 PS at 5,500 rpm with a peak 150 Nm available between 1,700 and 4,500 rpm. A five-speed manual drives the front wheels. With a claimed efficiency of 21 km/l and over 100 PS, we're not really complaining.
We were at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida to put it to the test. There was palpable excitement as there was one whole hour to put in as many laps as possible.
Wheels have been blacked-out for added sportiness
Get inside and the first thing you see is how nothing is really different. The RS is being offered in only one trim level, with equipment level comparable to the top-spec Baleno 'Alpha', complete with the touchscreen display, sat-nav, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as the soft seats with a hint of bolster support. The steering wheel has some chrome highlights and the floor-mats have 'RS' embroidery. The car weighs just 950 kg, which means it does have a healthy power-to-weight ratio of 107 PS/tonne.
Start it up and the engine is near silent. We prod the throttle to see how it builds up the revs and it drones in response with the needle eventually rising to 3,000 revs. However, once you get on the move, that heaviness lets you keep it on the boil. The BIC is a mix of slow and fast flowing corners and the Baleno RS could do most of them in third, hovering between 4,000 and 5,500 on the tacho. It remained smooth and refined at peak revs.
Apart from new 'RS' embroidery, the interior remains the same. Pics/Saurabh Botre
The steering feel is a bit better than in the standard car, but maybe it was the track talking. The gearbox slots neatly. The company says they have altered the ratios to handle the enhanced torque output. Shifting into fourth at 5,600 does drop a good 1,500 revs. On the back straight, we couldn't get past an indicated 163 km/h in fourth. Fifth felt like it could do it but we'd need a straight like Shanghai to try and max that overdrive ratio. We were wondering if that was all that the three cylinders could muster breathing at their best. Moving along with a bit more foot down, the Baleno was more composed and felt balanced, with its seemingly never-ending duration and late apex.
Maruti Suzuki's 'RS' badge stands for Road Sport
The only letdown was the tyres. The 195/55 R16 Apollo 4G Alnacs are economy-focused and road-oriented, and out of their element on track. Tyre squeal accompanied by understeer was a common occurrence, although the Baleno didn't really let go, with a balance between throttle and lift. It would have been a bit more effective with stickier lower-profile rubber, on track at least. The brakes were not one of our favourite bits on the car. It now gets all four discs with ABS, but, on track, their abilities were teetering on their extremities.
Since we never got the Swift Sport, how does the Baleno RS fit into the 'hot-hatch' mix? It has a turbo-three with 102 PS and a five-speed manual. It packs a heftier punch than the Baleno 1.2 and is more fun to drive as well. It will be just under R10 lakh on the road in Pune, putting it in the reaches of the 145-PS FIAT Punto Abarth as well as the class-leading 105-PS Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. However, this is where Maruti Suzuki's presence, popularity and reputation will come to the fore. So, what if it has one less cylinder?