It’s not as easy as it used to be to buy a decent car under the P700k mark. At this price point, there are some pretty big compromises in the form of build quality, materials used, and the lack of some basic features. If you’re after a car with an automatic transmission, your options are limited to a handful of choices.
Suzuki has long been known as a master manufacturer of small affordable cars; and their latest entry into the market, the Suzuki Dzire, shows you don’t have to compromise if you’re looking for a good commuter car on a budget. Here’s why.
Despite the Dzire’s humble looking sedan exterior, a lot of what makes the Dzire great lies underneath its skin. Suzuki’s new Heartect platform is lightweight while managing to stay rigid. Compared to the previous model Dzire, the new Dzire is 175 kilograms lighter, which means better handling, a better power to weight ratio, and better fuel economy.
Inside, the Dzire shares many components that you’ll find in its more expensive brother, the Swift; and that’s a really good thing. Buttons and knobs have great tactile response, and they don’t feel like they’ll fall off after some years, like other cars in this price range. The highly legible (and quite attractively designed) tachometer and speedometer are covered in sporty looking cylindrical shrouds, with a digital information display nestled in between. The steering wheel feels great to hold, and the flat-bottom design is a nice, fun touch. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and there’s a surprising amount of room at the back row. The cabin’s overall aesthetic is simple but effective. While hard plastics dominate the interior, I actually prefer this more honest approach over fake stitching and plastic that tries to pretend it’s carbon fiber. And while you won’t find radical space-age designs, the Dzire’s cabin is designed tastefully, with enough modern touches to keep things interesting.
One pleasant surprise is the large seven-inch touchscreen display that handles entertainment and communication duties. The unit allows you to mirror your phone’s screen on to the display using a USB connection, which is highly convenient when it comes to using apps such as Waze or Spotify. This isn’t a feature you’d normally find in a car at this price, but just when I thought I’d seen everything Suzuki had under their sleeves, it turns out they were just getting started.
The most intriguing aspect of the Dzire is its gearbox, which they call Auto Gear Shift (AGS). AGS is essentially a manual gearbox that acts like an automatic transmission. I know it’s confusing, but the key thing to understand here is that AGS still uses standard manual transmission parts such as a clutch disc, and release bearing, as opposed to an automatic transmission’s torque converter. The system employs an electro-hydraulic actuator and sensors to operate the clutch, giving the impression of an automatic transmission.
Does it work? Well, there is a learning curve involved to get the most out of it. The system isn’t perfect. And it simulates manual gear shifts a little too well, to the point where you feel a split second of deceleration whenever the car shifts gears; the same slight deceleration you’d feel lifting off the gas pedal before changing gears in a manual car. The system is much more behaved if you actually drive it like a manual car. When you lift off the gas pedal yourself at around 2,000 rpm, the car automatically shifts to the next gear. Learning how to drive this way makes the system less jarring, and a whole lot more predictable. Of course, you can opt to take full control of the gear shifting yourself by using the standard +/- manual override.
The plus side to all of this is of course, cheaper maintenance costs in the long run, and excellent fuel economy. I managed to get 14.5 kilometers per liter on mixed city and highway driving conditions, which is about the same figure I would expect from a manually-driven car of this weight with the same displacement engine. The 1.2-liter engine that produces 82-hp and 113-Nm of torque provides enough power for almost any urban city scenario but won’t get any hearts racing any time soon.
What the Dzire can’t be beat in is sheer value for money. From the base model GL to the top-of-the-line GL+, the Dzire comes with dual front airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, power windows, Bluetooth, USB, and Aux connectivity, a 12-volt socket at the rear console with rear AC ventilation and remote power locks. The Suzuki Dzire’s excellent build quality and features are normally things you’d find in cars above its class, and for that reason alone, makes it the new car to beat at this price point.
Text and photos by Chris Van Hoven