Drive Review: The Ciaz Alpha Diesel 1.5L is a compelling package that combines style and substance

Amongst mid-sized sedans in India, Maruti Suzuki has made a mark for itself at the entry level with the Ciaz. But it has continued to struggle against more well entrenched adversaries like the Honda City and Hyundai Verna at the top end of the segment. While the Ciaz has always been appreciated for its matured styling, well appointed interiors, generously spacious cabin and fuel efficiency, it lagged behind a bit in power and performance even though it offered the best value in the segment. In the hierarchy of premium-ness, drivability becomes a key factor that influences brand choice, and the Ciaz needed some improvement on that front.

We saw Ciaz go through a much needed facelift in the second half of 2018, and a new 1.5L Smart Hybrid petrol engine was introduced alongside. That was followed by the introduction of the indigenously developed BS-VI compliant 1.5L 4-cylinder DDiS 225 diesel engine in the first quarter of 2019. This engine will eventually go on to replace the 1.3L Fiat sourced Multijet diesel in the portfolio after new compliance norms kick-in from April 2020.

The new powertrains have made a significant difference in how the Ciaz behaves. We spent a week with the top of the line Ciaz Alpha Diesel 1.5L and were impressed by its vastly improved character and sporty appeal. While on paper the peak power of 70kW @4000 RPM isn’t quite up there, it is the 225Nm of peak torque across the @1500-2500 RPM range that makes a significant difference to the drive experience. The low end surge makes it sweet to navigate through city traffic without downshifts, and that is a huge plus for urban commute across Indian cities. The engine is surprisingly refined and silent for a diesel, and things get even better while cruising. There is absolutely no sign of strain at higher RPMs and improvement in NVH levels make the overall in-cabin experience better than before. The newly introduced 6-speed transmission complements the engine well, giving it some much needed relief at higher revs, and responds to unplanned throttle inputs with great alacrity. It slots in accurately and coupled with a light clutch, is a breeze to handle. The combination is a winner when it comes to fuel efficiency as well. We drove about 500 kms across the city, and returned impressive figures of 16.9 km/l. Though we didn’t get a chance to test it extensively on open highways, we reckon the figures out there would be significantly better. Low running cost has always been an advantage that Maruti Suzuki cars have enjoyed, and the new Ciaz takes it forward and makes a strong case for itself in the mid segment.

The Ciaz is smooth, stylish and spacious. In terms of looks, the revamped version has several modern touches, bold chrome highlights and the overall look is sharp, edgy and angular – no contours or soft curves here. The refreshed styling is more evident in the front with the multi-pixel grille encased in chrome, LED projector headlamps with DRL, and the chrome housing around the LED fog lamps. The 16″ alloys and chrome door handles give the profile some added character, and the rear features smart LED tail lamps and more chrome around the fog lamps.

The spacious flowing interiors retain the original form and feel, and the dual tone dashboard is familiar territory. The faux birch blonde wood accents add a touch of nordic appeal, though it would have blended better with a deeper brown & beige combination, instead of black and beige. The hard black plastic looks a bit inferior and doesn’t quite integrate well with the otherwise plush interiors. The SmartPlay touchscreen infotainment system in the central console has an in-built navigation system and supports Android Auto/ Apple CarPlay. A full colour 4.2″ TFT multi information display has been incorporated too – from trip details to fuel consumption, real time power & torque figures, driving range and gear shift indicator, it throws up all vital information that a driver would need on the go. The infotainment system supports Mirror Link for smartphone connectivity, bluetooth/USB/AUX connectivity, steering mounted controls and voice commands, and the 6-speaker audio system impresses.

Creature comforts like keyless entry, push start/stop button, tilt steering, height adjustable driver’s seat, climate control, rear AC vents, pollen filter, cruise control, electrically adjustable & foldable ORVMs, central arm rest in the front & rear, make for a relaxed drive. The leather upholstery in beige is well bolstered, comfortable and together with the leather wrapped steering lends a premium appeal to the interiors. There are some subtle chrome touches on the wheel, door handles, AC louvers, knob and brake lever, that add to the look.

The biggest selling point of the Ciaz however remains its roominess. The cabin is quiet and filters out road and wind noise effectively. Space is carved out with great efficiency, providing ample leg room and shoulder room for five adults. The headroom is slightly compromised and may be an issue with taller occupants, but this still remains the most spacious car in the segment. Storage is ample and the 510L boot space is more than sufficient. A sunroof would have added some oomph, but is sadly missing. It is now a feature that has made its way into mid-size sedans and compact SUVs and the Ciaz could have well afforded it. The other practical feature missing was the lack of additional USB charging points at the rear. With Apple CarPlay on, the USB slot in the front is always taken. Considering that all adults are likely to carry smartphones, an additional USB point would have been convenient.

The ride quality of the Ciaz was always impressive. A softer suspension adds to the ride comfort and the light construction and well weighted steering improves handling and drivability. It is remarkably stable at high speeds and manoeuvres around corners with ease. Turning radius isn’t the best and the 170mm ground clearance would need some care while navigating bumps. Though not an enthusiast’s favourite toy, the new Ciaz does manage to balance well between driving pleasure and passenger comfort, with a sharp eye on fuel efficiency.

In terms of safety, the new Ciaz gets dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, reverse parking sensor and camera, speed alert system, seat belt reminder, anti-theft security system and auto headlamps with auto levelling. While dual airbags come as standard in all variants, the top trim honestly, deserved more.

Overall, the new Ciaz is a fantastic package for the value conscious mid-segment market. With more power and performance, it is an even better package than before – supremely spacious, fuel efficient and an immensely refined drive.

Priced attractively in the INR 8.19-11.38 lac range (ex-showroom Delhi), the new Ciaz is undoubtedly a compelling package that combines more style and substance, and continues to offer the best value in the segment.

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