Baleno RS

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February 21

R and S. To car enthusiasts all over the world, these two letters mean a lot. Used individually or together, they conjure up images of performance cars – cars that are the stuff of dreams for most. Over the years, Ford, Skoda, Audi, Porsche – all have successfully taken the RS name to great heights. Calling the Baleno Boosterjet, an RS, is bound to set the expectations high. But can it deliver?

For a start, the front and rear bumpers are new. The rear bumper has a squared-off lower section which we are not so sure if it goes well with the rest of the curved body. The mesh grille and the subtle skirting aren’t very big differentiators and they have taken the easy route and painted the standard wheels instead of giving it a sportier new one. What’s more, only the outside of the wheels are painted black and the insides are just left silver. It costs a whopping Rs.1.4 lakhs more than the regular Baleno 1.2 Alpha, which is a lot. Especially when you consider, this is the engine that you will get, as standard, in future Maruti small cars when the emission norms are in place.

The engine in the RS is a 1.0 litre 3 cylinder turbo petrol. It uses direct injection at 200bar, has a built-in exhaust manifold, features larger radiator and oil cooling for the pistons. While it makes 111bhp abroad, the Indian car has been detuned to 102bhp to cope with 91 octane fuel. You also lose a healthy 20NM of torque which from 170Nm has fallen to 150Nm. On top of that, the Baleno RS weighs almost 60kgs more than the 1.2 petrol, which is partly down to the extra ancillaries like turbo, intercooler etc. It is also partially due to the extra strengthening that the chassis gets, which is very well indeed. But does the extra weight and detuned output, leave you disappointed?

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The RS may be heavier than the regular Baleno, but it still only weights 950kg. Plus the engine is a willing performer considering its diminutive size. We did a 0-100kmph time of 10.31 seconds which is over two seconds faster than the 12.58 seconds taken by the Baleno 1.2 K series. It also feels faster thanks to well thought out gearing. There is good shove in the back and performance is midway between a Punto Abarth and a Polo GT TSI both of which did 9.42 seconds and 11.28 seconds in our earlier 0-100kmph tests respectively. It is a lot easier to live with, in the city, thanks to a light clutch and fairly easy shift action. There is good amount of power right from 1700rpm all the way to the limiter at 6000rpm.

Maruti says the car has 10 percent stiffer suspension, but honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. It handles not so differently to the regular Baleno which is a very predictable car. The balance is so neutral through the corners and even a novice would be able to get to the limits in this one. We do wish the steering offered a bit more feedback and it was more eager to turn into corners. The Baleno RS also gets disc brakes at the rear which gives a lot more confidence. Even after repeated pounding at the Buddh International track, they remained fade-free and offered good bite and feedback.

As a daily driver with a dose of performance, the Baleno RS is up there with the Polo GT and Punto Abarth. It is a good chassis for a fun car and has got most of its basics right. Light kerb weight, a willing engine, a manual gearbox, good brakes – this is the full blown KFC meal and all you need is to add your sauce or gravy. While it is Maruti playing safe, a good remap should bring the engine close to 125bhp and 190Nm, according to most international tuners we talked to. Plus, unless you overdo it, it will be endlessly reliable and retain its value over time. Get your own wheels and some grippier rubber and you have a fun car for the track or weekend drives.

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