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'DNA' drive: Hyundai Eon vs Maruti Suzuki Alto

Friday, 26 October 2012 - 11:00am IST | Agency: dna

Two smashing new entrants into the small hatchback scene means that buyers are going to be more confused than ever. We attempt to clear that up for you.

The small car segment is heating up now more than ever, the entry of the Eon sending the competition scurrying back to the drawing board. Now, the Alto 800 is back and it’s better than ever. We pitch them against each other to see which one comes out on top.

This was traditionally a segment that had dull-looking cars, but looking at these two, you’ll most certainly beg to differ. The Eon is a new model from the ground up and the Alto is a significant refresh of the older Alto, so looks wise, they’re both as modern as modern can get.

The Alto 800 borrows bits from its larger siblings though, like the rear end which seems to have been derived from the A-star while the front end is all new. Those petal shape headlamps and new grille design make it one distinctive looking car from the front. Even the roof, with its ribbed design, stands out from other cars. All in all, the Alto 800 turns out to be one good-looking car.
But in the other corner, the Hyundai isn’t too bad either. In fact, some say that the Alto was revamped primarily because of competition from the Eon and its modern looks.

There are a lot of family cues in the Eon, thanks to the Fluidic design language that’s been used liberally on it. Right from the sharp headlamps to the rising waistline finally to the sharp tail-lamps, everything about this car screams premium. The older Alto was completely blown away by this design when it came out.

This is where you’ll find the most improvements. When the Eon first came out, it had features like a completely integrated double-DIN music system, a driver’s airbag and well designed interiors that liberated a lot of space in that interior. In comparison, the Alto was lagging well behind it in this aspect.

That’s where the Alto 800 comes in, with its significantly revamped interiors, there’s not much to complain about anymore. The old rectangular air-con vents, dated instrument cluster and controls make way for much better looking switchgear, moulded dashboard and an instrument cluster with a digital readout in it.

Space wise, the Alto 800 is actually 100mm shorter than the outgoing model, but most of that comes from the inefficiently designed engine compartment, so passenger space remains more or less the same. They’ve managed to reduce the thickness of the door pads and the seat-backs to liberate a lot of space inside for the occupants. The result is a compact car that feels surprisingly roomy on the inside. The colour scheme also helps matters a lot, with the light colours giving it a very airy feel.
In comparison, the dark interiors of the Eon and the rising waistline leave the rear seat passengers feeling a little claustrophobic.

Ride and handling
On the face of it, we have two very light, nimble cars that were meant to be used as city cars, so light controls and quick reactions are tuned in to chassis for better manoeuvrability in the city rather than high speed stability. And at this price range, the ride isn’t going to be the most plush you’ll find, but one drive on the craters we call roads and you’ll come away mighty impressed with this duo.

The Eon takes on low speed bumps in its stride, smoothing them out completely and continuing on along its way, with the higher speed ones unsettling it a little. The handling is surprisingly sporty for something that’s supposed to be a city runabout, with quick responses and good feedback from the steering wheel. Just don’t try to go too high on the speedometer though, it’s not exactly the most stable.

Coming to the Alto 800, it’s more or less the same case here as well. The suspension has been revamped for the new model and the body shell is also a lot more rigid now, leaving you with a more controlled body movements. Low-speed ride is fantastic, with only the largest of bumps ruffling the Alto 800, but this behaviour also holds for the high speed ones, unlike the Eon. The Alto K10 is a great handler, and now, it’s younger sibling is also up there for the perfect, nimble car to get you around the city.

On the spec sheets, they’re both quite similar. Both of them come with 800-odd cc engines mated to five-speed transmissions sending power to the front wheels, but that’s about where the similarities end.

The differences in the way the two engines make power and send it to the wheels are like night and day. The Eon has more of a powerband, it doesn’t have too much of a bottom end, so you’ll have to slip the clutch a little to get going and it’s not a screamer of an engine either, so the mid-range of RPM is where you want to be to keep getting a constant supply of power. Of course, there’s a shift indicator in the dash to help you figure that out.

The Alto 800, on the other hand, is a mid-top end engine. It’s also a little weak on the lower end of the RPM, but as the revs start to rise, you’ll have a linear wave of power all the way till the rev-limiter, which is quite satisfying if you’re the sort that holds off on shifting till the red-line.

For an all-round package though, we’d certainly have to pick the Alto 800 as the better powertrain package.

So, which one is it, then? There’s really no easy answer to this question, really. In terms of looks and interiors, it comes down to your personal preference. On the engine front, the Alto has a slight edge, but the Eon scores a lot elsewhere. We would say the real winner in this war is the customer. You simply just can’t go wrong with either of these cars.

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