What is it?
The new Maruti Suzuki Wagon R you see on these pages exists nowhere else in the world. There are other Wagon Rs, like the one sold in Japan, but for India, Maruti has engineered and built a car that is all but bespoke, tailored specifically for our regulations, conditions and customer needs.
Like most of its sister cars like the Swift, Baleno, Ignis and Ciaz, the new Wagon R is also based on the company’s Heartect platform. Benefits of the new platform include improved performance during crash tests, a lighter kerb weight for improved fuel economy and performance, and improved dynamics too.
Compared to the outgoing model, the new Wagon R is now 13mm longer, 125mm wider and has a wheelbase identical to the Ignis. It’s also lighter than its predecessor; the top-of-the-line ZXi trim weighs 835kg and you need to add another 10kg for the AMT or robotised manual gearbox.
It also has an all-new style quotient. Yes, it’s still a tall boy and clearly so, but the new car is also wider, comes with a bulkier and more rounded-off nose; and unlike the quirky and very functional old Wagon Rs, it even has some nicely styled bits. Stuff like the ‘arrow’-shaped headlights, the sporty chin, the nicely sculpted shoulder-line, the well-defined wheel arches – all look good; and then there’s the ‘floating roof’. Even the big Honda CR-V-like tail-lights work well. It’s also interesting to see that the Wagon R isn’t slab-sided, for once; the glass house clearly is ‘in-set’ from the base of the car.
What’s it like inside?
On the inside, the new car is better appointed. The two-tone black-and-beige theme works well and Maruti’s new touchscreen, dubbed ‘Smartplay Studio’, has an attractive new interface. On higher variants, the instrument panel adds more to the appeal with its integrated digital tachometer, and the presence of the Ignis steering wheel lifts the quality quotient even further. No, there are no soft-touch bits, but the nicely textured top of the dash makes it feel more upmarket than before and even the door-pads are a bit better-finished.
The design of the dash is disproportionate and slab-like and the centre console is placed at a jaunty angle, which further adds to the visual dissonance. Then there are the odd-looking vents and plenty of bits carried over – like the window-winder buttons. Also, although the new seats are larger, they have fixed headrests and are quite flat and featureless; which means that you don’t so much as sink into them as sit on them.
The cabin is much wider now. The driver and passenger don’t sit shoulder-to-shoulder and the new car is also more practical when it comes to stowage and storage. The glove box, for one, is larger, the door-pockets up front are more useable, and you even get small albeit very useable pockets in the rear doors. The little cubby hole above the gear lever isn’t very practical, though. It’s small, there’s no USB socket (other than the one in the Smartplay system), and since there’s no rubberised mat, your odds and ends keep sliding around.
Rear-seat passengers will clearly be more comfy. Legroom is plentiful now, especially as you sit high, the wider cabin allows three in the back to sit without shoulders having to overlap. Headroom, as always, has never been an issue. Maruti’s new Smartplay Studio even lets you use your phone as a remote from the rear seat! Nice.
Boot space is also increased – being longer, wider and deeper, there’s clearly room for more baggage here. On some versions the seats even split 60:40 for even greater practicality.
What’s it like to drive?
On the new Wagon R you can now choose either the 68hp, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine or the 83hp, 1.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. The four-cylinder engine, which we have driven briefly, is clearly more refined, more powerful and (for the most part) smoother. However, take off from rest and the same 1.2-litre engine hesitates for a nanosecond before taking off again.
As I drive on, the light kerb weight and the responsive K12 engine combine nicely and make the new Wagon R feel easy to drive. The easy manner in which the Wagon R pick up speeds makes it a breeze to drive; the mid-range is fairly good and the engine likes to be revved. But when you visit the top end of the power band, between 5,000-6,500rpm , Wagon R gets noisy. You can tell that this car doesn’t have much by way of sound insulation. However, it has performance in spades. Using all the revs in the lower gears whips the tiny front wheels into a frenzy; the Wagon R shoots forward with a never-before-experienced sense of purpose. Get this – the new Wagon R 1.2-litre variant has a power-to-weight ratio of nearly 100bhp per ton! Is it any wonder?
All in all, however, the additional performance feels like a bit of an overkill, as the new Wagon R seems to get overwhelmed by all the power often. The smaller 1.0 litre motor will do just fine in this lightweight car and you’ll end up saving some cash too. I wish the gearbox were a bit better, too. It’s light and easy for the most part – and this may help in traffic; but you also need that second push to slot gears in, at times, and that’s a bit of a chore.
I also drove the 1.2-litre automatic variant briefly. Yes, this AMT induces some head nod and the long pauses before you shift up to a new gear are there too. However, it’s still better and smoother than many other AMT versions in the same price bracket. If you are looking for additional convenience and ease of driving, you should look at this version.
On its wider track and stiffer Heartect floorpan, the car’s stability in a straight line is also improved. This is clear once I get up to speed, and the Wagon R feels a bit more stable over poorly surfaced roads as well. While the light and lifeless steering still has almost no feel, the new-generation Wagon R is a bit more sure-footed in corners and more confident at speed.
What’s however clearly improved is this car’s ride. It’s no longer choppy to begin with, large bumps can be ridden over without the car being tossed around and the suspension also works a bit more silently than before. Even cabin insulation is marginally better. However, because of the light build, a fair amount of road- and suspension-noise still filters in.
Larger on the inside, now available with a more powerful engine, better-equipped and better-built, the new Wagon R has a lot to offer. It’s fairly well priced too with the base 1.0 LXi version priced at a competitive Rs 4.19 lakh though the top end 1.2 ZXi automatic is a pricey Rs. 5.69 lakh. (ex-showroom, Delhi). Remember that this is not a car to buy if you enjoy driving and its appliance like character won’t appeal to enthusiasts. What the WagonR does is retain its original formula of an incredibly functional budget car. For spaciousness and sheer practicality, the new Wagon R is the still the car to beat.