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evo India|August 2020
In the rush of SUVs we’d forgotten that premium hatchbacks even exist. That is set to change
SIRISH CHANDRAN

IT HAS BEEN AGES SINCE MY first and only time behind the ’wheel of the Altroz, and it’s not like I was caught up with big V8s and didn’t bother asking for one. First, of course, Tata Motors wanted us to wait till they announced prices. Then their supplier’s warehouse got gutted and cars got stuck on the line without headlamps. Then we got busy with the Auto Expo. And then the pandemic struck and everything ground to a halt. Seven months since I first sampled the Altroz on arrow-straight roads around Jaisalmer and we’ve finally got our hands on another one, and I must say it still looks fantastic. It hasn’t aged one bit, helped by the fact that I haven’t seen a single one on the road, so the novelty factor remains strong. That slim, thrusting nose; the sliver of chrome framing the headlamps; the blacked-out window line that gives it the impression of a rising shoulder line; the blacked out roof flowing into the tailgate; the door handles in the C-pillars; the muscle in the arches; it really is a very good looking car. And it will continue to turn heads even when the new i20 hits our roads very soon.

Of course you’ve seen images of Hyundai’s new i20 that is just a month or two away — it’s all over social media. And while not as polarising as the Creta, well, it isn’t going to be universally loved like the Altroz. Anyway, that’s a topic for later — we still have this Elite i20 and it doesn’t look half bad, does it? It’s still pleasing to the eye and, more importantly, has good proportions. In fact the wheel arch gaps are better resolved than on the Altroz, as are the panel gaps. Look closely at the Tata and you will not notice gaping gaps but you will notice inconsistencies in the gaps.

As for the Polo, there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said before. Yes it is a ten-year-old car. Yes it is way too familiar. And yes, it has aged remarkably well.

The Baleno you see here is before the BS6 facelift that has sharpened up the nose with a new bumper, projector headlamps, wider grille and new alloys. It also gets an uprated engine with the power-up by 7bhp thanks to the SVHS mild-hybrid system that also includes automatic stop-start, brake energy regeneration which is then used to torque-fill, and better fuel efficiency too. We will have a test of that soon, but we had to have a Baleno in this test and so borrowed a friend’s mum’s car. After all a comparison of premium hatches would be woefully incomplete without the car everybody is buying.

STICKING TO THE ENGINES, I MUST highlight that both the Baleno and Polo no longer get diesels. The Baleno sticks with the 1.2-litre K12B 4-cylinder with and without SVHS and it is the former we have here on test — a wonderfully refined motor. The refinement, silence, absolute lack of vibrations and smooth power delivery does the hard-earned reputation of Japanese engines proud. At a gentle cruise you cannot hear the powertrain at all, and this particular example is mated to a CVT gearbox that is a delight for pottering around in the city. It is such an easy, undemanding car to drive at eight-tenths. Great visibility, good driving position, lots of space, wide and supportive driver’s seat, spot-on ergonomics, no wonder our friend’s mum swears by it. Push it though and there’s a pronounced rubber-band effect from the CVT, and because the engine is revving its head off the noise levels are rather alarming.

On paper this is the least powerful in this test but because it is also the lightest — by a fair margin! — it doesn’t feel underpowered. I suspect with SVHS the Baleno will be even quicker and, with experience, I know the manual gearbox will make it great fun to cane the engine.

It is the i20’s 1.2-litre mill that you could term dated. Refinement is great but it doesn’t rev as eagerly as the Baleno, nor is it as powerful. But then again there’s a turbo-engine coming in the new i20 and that will turn the tables around as far as the fun factor goes.

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