Hatchbacks: Today’s buyer spoilt for choice

All good, reliable and economical, offering good styling and many conveniences for comfort

Cost and convenience make hatchbacks very popular. In 1983, the little Maruti 800 began the trend in South Asia that led to over 20 good choices being available today. The Maruti Suzuki Swift was the first of the large hatchbacks that offered the comfortable inner space of a small saloon in a car that is less than four metres long. It was soon followed by a number of models from Hyundai, Tata Motors, Ford, Fiat, Honda, Nissan, Renault, Skoda and Volkswagen. Many of the early models like the Indica and Santro are gone as are some carmakers. The survivors are all good, reliable and economical cars that have to offer good styling and many conveniences for comfort to stay viable in a competitive market.

The Maruti Suzuki Swift, that has been through numerous upgrades in its long career, remains one of the leaders of the pack. Its peppy 1200 cc petrol and 1248 cc diesel engines give quick and smooth acceleration with good ride and comfort. The latest models also offer a wide array of gadgets for entertainment, navigation, convenience, and comfort. Despite poor boot space and a slightly cramped interior, it remains the champion. The top model is with automated manual transmission (AMT) gears.

Facing stiff competition from all the many brands, it also offers a very sleek and stylish model Baleno with similar engines and transmissions. It is stylish and full of features that make it more expensive.

Its main rival — the Hyundai i20 — offers better looks and a bit more inner space. It also offers more powerful 1400 cc diesel engine but the 1200 cc petrol plant is a bit sluggish. It is also well kitted out but at a slightly higher price. It also offers an AMT version.

After they withdrew the Indica, Tata Motors quickly offered a range of greatly improved and stylish hatchbacks like the Bolt, Tiago and Tigor. The Tigor is a very sporty looking larger hatchback with small but powered by surprisingly capable 1200 cc petrol and 1050 cc diesel engines and good ride quality. It not only offers AMT but an automatic power shift from normal to automatic and sports mode.

The Ford Figo has had a successful run with peppy 1500 cc diesel and 1200 cc petrol engines. It offers a solid ride and inner space most things a buyer would want except for slightly dated interiors.

The Honda Jazz is a snazzy looking spacious and comfortable hatch with peppy 1200 cc and 1500 cc petrol and diesel engines but they are expensive.

Nissan and Renault share the same factory and the popular Nissan Micra has been repackaged as the Renault Pulse. Both are elegant, spacious, reliable, and very comfortable cars with 1200 and 1500 cc petrol and diesel engines. It offers a continuously variable automatic transmission. Datsun, a subsidiary of Nissan, also offers a hatchback called GO.

Fiat’s Punto and more powerful Abrath Punto cars are excellent products but seem to have lost the market. Skoda has also withdrawn the Fabia, but Volkswagen is pushing their Polo that is an excellent option though it is pricy.

Buyers are confused with such a dazzling array of choices and these make brand loyalty fragile. All these cars are reliable and economical but they are different so you need to spend a little time studying their features and test-driving them before you buy.

The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist