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Test drive: Maruti Suzuki Alto 800 vs Renaut Kwid

Renault has stunned the Indian small car segment with the Kwid. Can it dethrone the Maruti Suzuki's Alto 800? We find out

The Renault Kwid, a brilliant looking small car that mimics an SUV, heralds a new era in the Indian entry-level hatchback segment. Given its size and design, it looks like an ideal candidate for your first car. However, standing in its way to glory is Maruti Suzuki’s Alto 800, a car that has been ruling the sales charts and people’s mind for more than a decade now.

The Kwid’s design is clearly influenced by its elder sibling, the Duster. Renault has nailed that SUV-ish look and the interesting bit is that the designers have kept it so proportional that it looks like a scaled-down version of the Duster.
The Maruti Alto 800, on the other hand, has stayed true to its conservative nature. Even after being completely re-styled two years ago, the Alto still doesn’t stand out. But that doesn’t make it an eyesore either. It looks rather decent, if not outright gorgeous, like the Kwid.

Kwid's dashboard is clean and well laid out PICS/Sanjay Raikar
Kwid's dashboard is clean and well laid out Pics/Sanjay Raikar

The interior, too, shines brighter in the Kwid than in the Alto. The Alto may have a clear two-tone theme on the inside with funky seat covers but the Kwid’s modern-day design simply trumps the Alto. The Kwid is the first car in its segment to have a completely digital cluster digital instrument panel that adds a lot of value to the interior appeal.

The Alto still features an old-world-styled analogue speedometer with the only modern exception being the small digital display for the odometer, trip computer and the clock. The centre console and the basic stereo system also do not come across as exciting equipment, which clearly gives the Renault an edge over the Alto.

The Alto 800’s boot is a fair bit smaller than the Kwid's
The Alto 800’s boot is a fair bit smaller than the Kwid's

Feature-wise, the Renault gets further points for being offered with keyless entry and remote central locking, features that are lacking in the similarly priced Alto.

Although this Renault is only slightly larger than the Alto, it excels when it comes to comfort and space. Appropriately contoured front seats provide the right amount of overall support and generous amount of leg, knee and head-room in the cabin. The Alto has good room at the front but it can clearly do with more space at the back. Moreover, a 177-litre boot is no match for the Kwid’s 300-litre volume.

We now get to the mechanicals. Similar in nature, both the cars feature a 0.8-litre four-valve, three-pot petrol motor mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. The Renault’s 799-cc engine produces 54 PS and 72 Nm whereas the Alto’s 796-cc engine’s output is rated at 48 PS and 69 Nm.

he Alto also weighs a full 65 kilos more than the Kwid which tops the weighing scale at 660 kilos. So the white sheet clearly suggests that the Kwid has a better power-to-weight ratio. In terms of engine character, the Kwid again seems to surpass the Alto. Refinement levels, smoothness and linearity are the strong points of the newly-developed three-pot motor. The 72 Nm of strong turning force is so well distributed across the rev range that you hardly feel the need to rev the engine unnecessarily. The slick five-speed gearbox is also quite good with precise and positive shifts. The smoothness of this engine is commendable. You can drive the Kwid in city traffic in the third or even fourth gear and it never hesitates to lunge forward. Its lively nature truly puts a smile on your face despite just having 54 horses.

The Alto’s 796-cc unit, on the other hand, feels less lively and punchy. The refinement level and smoothness are decent, but the Renault’s feel is much better. And even though the torque difference is just three Nm, it’s not spread across the rev range in the Maruti. The five-speed gearbox is good and shifts quite efficiently, though its taller ratios mean that you have to shift down constantly to work your way through slow-moving traffic.

The Kwid’s superior performance is backed by the numbers. It takes 18.97 seconds to go from 0 to 100 km/h as opposed to the Alto’s 19.38 seconds. The roll-on timings of the Kwid are also better as it goes from 40 to 120 km/h in 16.58 seconds, a few seconds less than the Alto.

The Maruti Alto’s suspension setup is slightly on the softer side which gives it good ride quality and bump-absorption, but it also means that the suspension cannot handle bumpy roads with grace. The steering also behaves vaguely and lacks proper feel and feedback. In corners, body-roll is present. Stability at lower city speeds is not an issue in the Alto, but cross triple-digit speeds and you realise the need to slow down immediately.

Renault is known for their great handling and suspension combo and the Kwid is no exception. It felt as if the Kwid was swallowing bumps and potholes because we hardly felt any of them. In corners, body-roll did creep in, but it was manageable. Stability at high speed, however, can be bothersome. Renault did not compromise when it came to ride and handling as the Kwid is probably the best handling car in its segment with outstanding ride quality.

Now comes the germinal aspect: fuel-efficiency. Our figures suggest that the Alto 800 can go for a good 15 km in a litre of fuel in mixed driving conditions, whereas the Renault can go 2.75 km further, offering an overall efficiency of 17.75 km/l.
Safety-wise both cars are also pretty well matched. Both are equipped with good brakes that stop the car quite decently, although both come without ABS. Nevertheless, the presence of a driver-side airbag on the top-end variants of both cars is a welcome feature.

In the end, it all boils down to which car is the better to own. The Renault wins in looks, performance, handling and ride quality. The Alto offers best-in-class after-sales service and a huge dealer network. However, if you really want to buy a small hatch that is capable and can plaster a smile on your face, then the Renault is probably your best option.


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