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Old 8th August 2013, 15:11   #1
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Default Summer Drive: Maruti A-Star

Summer Drive: A-Star!

Madras. Summer. This bustling port city is alive, hot and humid. Traffic is thick. The roads are a meandering maze and the thirst for change means construction zones and diversions are a way of life.

I havenít driven a lot in India. Last year, I drove for the first time. One month was spent in an archaic, off white Maruti 800. The car was one of character, with an intimidating horn and little else. The air conditioner when run would make the engine seize. The brakes worked but not very well. The clutch was a foot warmer with a pedal and the lack of power steering meant maneuvering the girl through narrow, thronging, Mylapore gullies was... hard.

But I liked driving and I liked her. We had a good time.


For my second innings of driving in India, the game has changed and at my disposal for thirty days, is the Maruti Suzuki A-Star. At first glance a compact, well-put-together car with feminine traits.

Summer Drive: Maruti A-Star-astar2.jpg
Not pushing ranks in any masculinity contest.

This write up aims to explore the car, its functionality in an exclusively urban setting and why it fails to catch the attention of the average Indian small car buyer.

The A-Star comes with a one litre, three-cylinder engine (KB10). The heart is docile, but well suited to the car and its intended usage. What I like the most about the engine is that it feels like it is a part of the car - like it was always meant to have this particular engine. Mismatched engines irritate me.

The KB10 is a relatively torquey machine. Peak torque (90 Nm) is always within reach at ~3000 rpm. Its nature however is rather blunt - you have to row through the gears and keep it on the boil, almost like you would a diesel. Racing the engine is a pain and she doesnít sound... good.

All that accessible torque however, makes the KB10 a very, very capable urban power plant. I like being able to crawl at a reasonably brisk pace with zero a-pedal input. I like not having to make the engine exert itself. As a daily, use-or-misuse-in-the-city drive the 67 PS KB10 makes a strong case for itself.

As mentioned previously, the engine and by extension the powertrain feel like one, well-thought-through unit. They work together. The gearbox is good, with well-defined gates. It isnít modern buttery smooth like say, the i10. It is more orthodox in nature, but pleasing to use nonetheless. One shortfall is that engaging reverse is a procedure that involves an element of luck - very irritating when youíre trying to make a three point turn on a suddenly busy road.

Summer Drive: Maruti A-Star-astar1.jpg
Being cheerful at the beach.

The ride can be a little jarring at lower speeds but quickly settles down as you push onwards at decent knick. A little more suppleness would be ideal but you are instead rewarded with virtually unrivaled handling at the given price point. A longish wheelbase and wheels out in each corner make driving the A-Star rather enjoyable. The low c.o.g (as opposed to most of itís tall-boy competition) helps this cause further.

Itís easy to become one with the A-Star. The driving position appeals to me, and is inviting. The ergonomics are good and controls, light. The stalks feel well made and the steering wheel is well proportioned and nice to hold.

You invariably spend a lot of time in the cabin when youíre driving in India and the A-Starís interiors when viewed in isolation are... ok. The build is good, but not consistent. There are parts that feel good, or even nice, and others that are very mediocre. Dark interiors and a small greenhouse make for a rather depressing environment for the other occupants - they suited me, the driver, just fine. I like focusing on my driving.

Like anyone on a summerís day in Madras, my first line of attack upon entering the A-Star was the AC. Which left me with mixed feelings as it just about coped. Not a chiller, but sheíll manage. My gut feeling tells me that the unit in the car I was driving needed servicing so Iíll reserve judgment.

Comfort isnít exactly the A-Starís forte. But it isnít a deal breaker either. Everything about this car is balanced. Finely poised neutrality. Fundamentally itís hard to fault the car. It is a very competent urban runabout. So why isnít it a force to reckon with in India? As per the sales thread here on Team BHP the A-Star managed to find a minuscule 310 new homes in July. To put this in perspective over 6700 i10ís were sold simultaneously.

Pricing surely cannot be the anchor. A quick glance reveals that it is on par with similarly sized and specíd competition. Perhaps the greatest hindrance in the A-Starís path is Maruti itself. Enter any Maruti showroom with a check in cash for the A-Star and you are sure to be swayed. Thereís the cheaper Alto. The more practical Wagon-R. The within reach, more premium Swift.

Perhaps Maruti simply arenít interested enough to sell volumes. There have been several mentions both online and offline of how the A-Star is actually an export market car. Here in Europe the car is pitted against the likes of Toyota Aygo.

I like the Aygo - especially for the motor it packs. Like the KB10 it is also a three cylinder with an eerily similar 68 PS and 93 Nm of torque at 3600 rpm. But in nature, they are oh-so-different. The Aygo likes being revved. The engine feels light. Sprightly. The Aygo despite it's the engine, has a rather disappointing powertrain. The gearbox is notchy with hints of vagueness and the brakes are a little... spongy. The suspension setup is nice, but I still think the A-Star has the edge.

The Aygo itself feels wafer thin. The A-Star feels substantial in comparison and offers a so much more car. You feel cocooned in the A-Star whilst somewhat exposed in the Aygo. Unfortunately the A-Star never really managed to attract the European audience like the little Toyota did. Like in India, the A-Star is the cheerful little car that no one cares for.

Summer Drive: Maruti A-Star-astar3.jpg
Urban sprawl? No problem.

The A-Star thrives in the city at it is a great tool for the Indian urban environment. I liked piloting her through the narrowest of lanes and the worst of construction madness. Perhaps last year's experience with the Maruti 800 is clouding my vision a little, but still as a package, the A-Star is very competent.

Given how dismal sales has been, I think there is a real opportunity of lapping up an underdog if youíre in the market. Cracking a good deal in the showroom shouldnít be exceedingly hard and Iíve seen some great used pieces too. There's a new A-Star on its way and that can be additional leverage.

With a well-calibrated powertrain, functional (if-not-a-little-drab) interiors, appropriate proportions and good build, the A-Star has a lot going for it. Give the A-Star a chance Ė it might win you over.

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Old 14th August 2013, 14:31   #2
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Default Re: Summer Drive: Maruti A-Star

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Initial Ownership Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 15th August 2013, 00:06   #3
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Default Re: Summer Drive: Maruti A-Star

Originally Posted by anekho View Post
Summer Drive: A-Star!
Give the A-Star a chance Ė it might win you over.

I have and it has won me over. Smallest car after Nano and with wheels at each corner and tight squeak-free body, two year down the road I have no regrets I picked this one over i10. The smallish glass area is the in thing these days and it works fro me. That is what I chose it for. Swift, Evoque and every other sportish car these days have to have small glass area and high beltline, with sqaut butch looks. I like to see the outside world through small window glasses and dark interiors rather than be seen upto my waist , in a car with huge glasses and reflecting beige. Especially, with sunfilms gone, smaller glasses provide some privacy for occupants from snooping eyes.

Even otherwise, personally, in a car with big window glasses, I feel like I am driving a van or bus, not a car. That is why I hate Wagon R and i10. Why so big glasses? BTW, my A-Star is AT and it is even more fun in crowded city streets.

Never mind that it is a failure. Our Inidan psyche is strange. If a car fails in first 6 months, it just sinks. No second coming. Other goods cars like Getz, Jazz failed too, albeit for different reasons but fail they did. But that doesn't mean they are not good. On the other hand cars I consider downright ugly are super-hit. I wonder why would anyone choose an Alto over Eon ( best looking hatch from Hyundai, IMO ).
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Old 15th August 2013, 12:58   #4
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Default Re: Summer Drive: Maruti A-Star

We have an AStar-AT (the 1st one on tbhp, bought just with the info in ajmat's review as no TD cars were available) and now we are shopping for the MT variant as a replacement for our M800 which will be 15 years old come Feb-14. Having driven only the AT version, we asked for a TD of the MT model at various dealers, but none had any. Finally a TD car was driven down some 70kms from Trivandrum to Kollam. And the first thing that stood out was the ultra-soft clutch, which almost feels like pressing a block of sponge - mighty impressive. Also the gearshifts were neat (unlike usually notchy shifts in most Suzukis even my Baleno).

It might be a failure (the Baleno also did not set sales charts on fire, but even after 8 years it is a pleasure to drive), but does not bother me much since as a package it has lots of stuff going for it :

1) A strong build unlike the other hatches. Possibly because it is exported and would have to meet the stringent requirements in those markets. To get an idea, consider that at around 900kg kerb weight, this car weighs as much as an Esteem or even the modern-day Etios sedan.

2) At 4.8L ex-showroom pricing for the ZXi-Opt trim, I don't think there is another car that packs all the safety features in like the A-Star - dual-airbags, ABS, EBD and ofcourse other features like alloys, ICE, driver-seat height-adjustment etc that make it fully loaded. And this is not counting the 55-60K discounts available on this car year-round.

3) Other strong points going for it are a great FE thanks to the K-series engine and great handling.

Last edited by supremeBaleno : 15th August 2013 at 13:00.
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