Snapshot: The Maruti Baleno is squarely aimed at the Hyundai Elite i20 in every which way. So is it better?
The Elite i20 has been a raging hit for Hyundai. With sales of over 1.50 lakh units in just around a year it is the undisputed king of the top-end of the premium hatchback segment. Maruti’s main challenger in this segment has been the Swift, which clearly looks and feels a sub-segment smaller. So Maruti decided to bring in the all-new Baleno and plans to eat into the i20’s piece of the pie. With sophisticated looks, lots of cabin space and a long list of features, the Baleno has what it takes to be the best.
There is no two ways about it. The Elite i20 is still the better looking car of the two. Not only does it look striking and upmarket, it also has a chic European look, something the Baleno simply cannot match. Key elements on the i20 include that big hexagonal grille upfront, the swept back lamps which complement the classy looks.
The Baleno looks like a grown up version of the Swift hatchback(which it is). The grille design is unique as is the headlamp treatment. The rear end though isn’t as stylish as the one on the i20. Sure, the Baleno will turn heads, but only because of its novelty value.
The Baleno scores over the i20 when it comes to rear seat space and comfort. It offers more leg and shoulder room than the i20. And it also has a wider cabin. The front seats on the Baleno are better for cushioning and support as well over the i20. The best part about the Baleno’s seats is the fact that unlike the i20, you don’t sink into them but sit up high on them.
That said, the i20 has the advantage over the Baleno when it comes to overall cabin quality and materials. The beige and black combo works really well on this car and even the design is much more stylish than the one on the Baleno. The i20 feels a lot more premium than the Baleno’s cabin.
The boot department is another area where the Baleno scores in. Its 339-litre boot trumps the 285-litre capacity on the i20, which means that for longer journeys the Baleno has greater flexibility to accommodate an extra duffle bag.
Engine, performance and gearbox
We’ve compared the diesel version of these two cars for this review. The Elite i20 comes with a 1.4-litre CRDi engine with 89bhp of power, while the Baleno gets a 1.3-litre unit with 74bhp. Being a lighter car, the Baleno’s power difference is negligible. That said, the i20 has a clear advantage in the refinement as well as outright power delivery department. The i20 also gets a 6-speed manual gearbox over the 5-speed unit on the Baleno, which gives it greater flexibility on long highway trips. With the engine spinning at a lazy 2,000rpm, the car is doing 100kph, making the cabin a very quiet place to be in. Both cars though suffer from a lot of turbo lag before 2,000rpm. Once you get past this mark on the rev band, both cars deliver good power all the way up to their redline. The Baleno’s engine isn’t as smooth or refined as the i20 and when revved hard can become a little annoying inside the cabin. The gearbox on the Baleno is slick and precise just like the i20’s. But it is the i20 which feels a lot lighter to operate.
Ride and handling
The i20 with its light steering wheel and softly set up suspension will appeal to city dwellers, where minimum effort is required to move around the steering. The i20 though tends to feel light when speeds increase and doesn’t display the same level of confidence as the Baleno does when speeds rise.
The Baleno has the better balance between ride and handling and feels better planted when speeds increase. It is also the car that will appeal to keener drives since it has a more communicative steering which offers plenty of feedback. The Baleno is just at adept at slower city speeds as it is on the highway to soak in those bumps.
Safety and features
Both cars come well kitted. The highlight on the Baleno is the big 7-inch screen, which also has Apple’s Car Play app. Using this app you can mirror all the apps on your iPhone to this system and use it directly from the infotainment system.
The i20 also has a touch screen which houses the maps as well as other infotainment systems. You get ABS and twin airbags as standard on the top end version of both cars. Feature by feature, there’s little difference between the two cars here.
The Baleno comes across as a solid package, it offers plenty of features and space. However, it doesn’t offer the same refinement or flexibility that the i20’s motor does and neither is the cabin as well made as the i20. The i20 also has better interior quality. So unless you desperately need the extra 50-odd litres of boot space, the i20 makes better sense in the diesel variants atleast.
Images by Pawan Sharma