Maruti-Suzuki.. and the tale of three 'RS' cars..

After two unsuccessful attempts at a swanky Nexa outlet in the city, I managed to test-drive the recently-launched Baleno RS in Chennai. Though the drive was too short to form a definitive verdict, what was evident were Maruti-Suzuki's efforts to justify the RS suffix (Read that as 'Road Sport', not Rally Sport).

While I do understand this is hardly something to write about, we are talking about a car-maker whose previous attempts at launching RS-badged versions were laughable to put it at best.

2013 is when the first RS from Maruti-Suzuki debuted. Based on the Swift, the Sport variant of which received rave reviews abroad, the expectations were naturally high when the news of a Limited Edition RS came out. What we got though was a 'wannabe racer' hatch with so-called racy graphics and a few cosmetic add-ons that were collectively worth nothing. How about black wheel covers (not even alloys!) and mirrors painted blue? The mechanicals were left untouched from the regular variants, which was a shame considering the potential the Swift's chassis had.

With all the flak they received for their efforts, or lack thereof, on the Swift RS, you would expect them to not repeat the act. 

But they did and came out with yet another RS, this time based on the Ciaz. In what was a recap of the Swift episode, the mechanicals of the Ciaz RS were carried over from the regular variants, thereby dashing our hopes of seeing that stonker of a diesel engine - the 1.6 DDiS from Fiat - under the hood. Skirts, spoiler and all-black interiors don't make a RS but Maruti-Suzuki were either too naïve or over confident to realize that. I was happy though. Why, you wonder? My eyes weren't subjected to the torture of looking at gaudy graphics. For that alone, I can't thank the folks at Maruti-Suzuki enough.

Times have changed and so has Maruti-Suzuki. They are no longer focussed at the budget end of the automotive spectrum (Ciaz leads it's segment over the all-conquering Honda City), aren't averse to bringing in new technologies to the Indian market (pioneered introduction of AMT and SHVS) and are very well prepared than ever before to defend their turf, if the need arises. You couldn't have said any of these about Maruti-Suzuki five years back.

Coming back to the Baleno RS, it is clear Maruti-Suzuki has cleverly thought this over. For the first time ever, genuine​ efforts have gone in to live up to the RS tag. The car gets Suzuki's all-new 'Booster Jet' engine that's force fed through a turbocharger, the springs are stiffened up ever so slightly over the standard variants and there are discs all round boosting the braking performance. Even in my short drive, I felt the Baleno RS to be fast, agile and surprisingly fun to drive.

Of course, I expected more. A snazzier set of alloys, tastefully done two-tone colour options, sporty interior visual differentiation and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) would have made it a complete package but that's for another day.

I am glad India's largest car-maker has made a welcome start. And that doesn't augur well for it's rivals.

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