A modern, more capable, safer and better-built Maruti Suzuki Wagon R! It was high time it happened and I am glad it has. And this one is rather exclusive. I say that since it has been developed just for India and is not like the Japanese Wagon R for instance. That is because unlike the ‘kei car’ spec Wagon R the one we have got now is bigger. Much bigger. That is primarily because it moves to the company’s ‘heartect’ platform that also spawns the Swift, Ignis and other siblings. What this does is allows the car not just be bigger in size and cabin terms, but also in muscle and therefore design terms too.
I am in Rajasthan’s city of lakes Udaipur to drive the new car. And even before I could get here, I’ve been rather amused by all the comments I got on my ‘first look’ video and tweets from the Maruti Suzuki Wagon R launch. While I said that it’s nice to see that the Wagon R has got to being better looking, with some sculpting in the metal to boot – the reaction I had was rather adverse. Many of you piled on me and said, ‘hold on it looks like a bread box’! To that I say this – if you’re comparing it to a Chevrolet Corvette – yes, you will be disappointed. Compare it to the last Wagon R, and well that’s a whole different story! I mean did you ever say ‘good looks’ and ‘Wagon R’ in the same sentence before?
The new Wagon R gets more character in the face. The style factor comes in with the new headlamp cluster, front grille and all that metal work I was referring to. The floating roof and smartly done taillights complete the job to ensure the car conveys that it has in fact grown wider, and a touch taller. Compare to the outgoing car and build quality is also up. If I really want to nitpick, the wheels are too small, and bigger ones would have made the car look much better. A thicker rear overhang would have also helped proportions somewhat better. In general though I like the design, and the sense of width and interior space it implies. The height is terrific too and you will soon know why. But first, let’s get this baby on the road.
I am driving the new 1.2 litre petrol engine with the AMT or AGS as Maruti calls it. Both the manual and auto are 5-Speed, and the whole idea was to offer a more powerful Wagon R based on customer feedback. So in came the K12M from other siblings and joined the K10B in the lineup. The K12 puts out 82 bhp and 113 Nm of peak torque and has impressive mileage at 21.5 kmpl. Straight away its easy to see how this car is miles ahead of the last Wagon R.
Sure, you expect that of each new generation. But the changes are not marginal in this case. The new Wagon R has improved in every department, and improved by some distance. The ride quality has a bigger car feel, and is more stable and comfortable. And this is surprisingly enhanced by the overall ride height and even seat back angles. Handling is much improved, and the car is more precise though the steering is still dull. The engine also gets rather noisy in the higher revs, which is a bit off-putting. But the car is overall so much of a step up.
That is also true of the AMT. So unlike some of the previous AMTs we saw from Maruti, and like with the Vitara Brezza, the Wagon R’s AMT is quite smooth. I’d have liked for it to be a little bit quicker, both in terms of upward gear changes, and also the response time you need to go from reverse back to drive, or vice-versa. It hesitates and pauses a little bit too much, and if you hurry it – fails to engage despite the gearshift position being changed. But that’s the downside of going AMT isn’t it? Having said that you do have better AMT’s on the market now, like the one on Santro.
The engine is definitely quicker and allows for good initial acceleration. It has been tuned to eke out better mileage though, and while that is obvious on the AMT I wanted to wait to drive the manual to see just how much. Do remember though that Maruti has played it smart and is also offering the old car’s 1 litre K10B engine too, which offers 67 bhp and 90 Nm of torque. And frankly given how light this new platform is that will do the job well enough. The good news is that the 1 litre gets the AMT option and has been retuned to offer higher than before mileage as well at 22.5 kmpl – a whole 2 kmpl higher than the outgoing car. Having spent enough time with the AMT, it is time to switched from the Autumn Orange to Poolside Blue manual! This is still the 1.2 though but unlike the winding roads I was driving on till now, I decided to get the manual out on the highway.
The manual transmission is still the 5-speed box we have been used to. But it is on the manual more than the AMT that you appreciate the higher position of the gear shifter. It is easy to reach and well placed for quick and easy changes. Now as its true with any manual and AMT, there is a stark difference and of course the manual is lot more fun. The gearbox is nicely mated to the engine. While this motor is more obviously powerful, it still does not make the Wagon R a highway cruiser. It is still a good urban family car, and while it gets to 90 or 100 kmph pretty quickly on the highway, anything higher is a tedious task. If you patiently push it harder, it might get you to about 120-130 kmph at best.
But that does not disappoint me in the least. This is not meant to be a high-speed cruiser anyway. It is quite purpose built and I believe as Wagon R customers and their needs go, it does the job very well. Does that mean I can’t be greedy? Of course not – I would definitely have liked to see more happening in performance terms – especially on the 1.2 litre version. Fatter tyres for better ride and handling and a stiffer more precise steering would have also been great for that matter! Oh well!
Now in the past many people always called Maruti cars tin cans, and many are still insinuating the same of the new Wagon R. But I want to assure you that is not the case. I say this with confidence based on the fact that it is now built on a bigger, safer platform. Yes I know there are no crash test results to prove my point, but even Maruti’s own approach to designing and building new cars has changed dramatically – complete with its own in-house crash lab now as some of you may recall. Plus the newer cars have to meet the new updated safety norms that go into effect in the imminent future anyway. So I have to say I feel pretty confident about how this car would be a lot better built than the last Wagon R was.
Now time to jump inside where a lot is also new. It is a very refreshed cabin with a completely new appeal and a huge sense of space. Massive headroom is the first thing that strikes you, as well as the ample legroom and lighter colour palette used. Plastics could be a touch better, but the layout is nicely done. Steering controls, a smart instrument cluster (albeit with dated amber display) and a brand new touchscreen infotainment system. The Wagon R has the distinction of debuting Maruti Suzuki’s new Smartplay Studio infotainment, which moves away from the touchscreens seen on everything from the Baleno to the Vitara Brezza. In fact the new Baleno facelift this week has also got this system after the Wagon R did. So it offers not just a new graphic interface that’s much nicer, but also some new features. In built navigation through the studio app, access to internet radio, being able to connect up to 3 devices for simultaneous use (one could be on music, one for navigation through a phone app, and the third making a call for instance) and of course the now to-be-expected Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
At the back you get even more space. And frankly for those who want to be driven by a chauffeur this is pure gold. Huge legroom, massive headroom and a reasonably comfortable seat too. The lack of contouring on the seat back, and no drop down armrest are the only sticking points.
The Maruti Suzuki Wagon R is still priced quite attractively. Prices do start just above ₹ 4 lakh for the 1 litre version (so there was no undercutting of the competition like the Hyundai Santro). But that second engine option is a smart idea like I said, and that takes prices up to ₹ 5.69 lakh ex-showroom. The new car will move to BS6 engines only next year, but launching it with auto options on both engines – and finally a top spec auto trim at launch – were smart on Maruti’s part. So yes, big new Wagon R does move the segment benchmark higher overall, as it gets almost everything right.
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