Maruti Suzuki Fronx review, first drive ft. Baleno RS - Booster shot
For a country that loves to make a statement with the cars we drive, cross-hatches should have been an easy gateway to the cachet of an SUV. Far from it, there hasn't been a successful SUV-themed hatch, and carmakers seemed to have given up on the idea. But if anyone can make this work, it'll probably have to be Maruti Suzuki. This is where the Maruti Suzuki Fronx comes in, which also now conveniently slots into the gap created by the Maruti Suzuki Brezza becoming quite a bit more expensive.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx styling, dimensions
The Maruti Suzuki Fronx may be mechanically identical to the Baleno, but Maruti Suzuki has done a convincing job of visually differentiating the two cars. The Fronx is 5mm longer, 20mm wider and 50mm taller than the Baleno, but in the metal looks quite a bit more substantial than this. The 20mm of added ground clearance over the Baleno, now at 190mm, helps but it is the SUV styling that is the real highlight.
Maruti Suzuki has over the past year brought in a more nuanced, homogenous design theme to its Nexa offerings and that continues with the Fronx. The full-faced grille with the chrome band merging into the three-segment DRLs draws directly from the Grand Vitara. If anything, the three-part headlamps give the Fronx a touch more flair than its larger sibling. The high bonnet line is another element that amps up the SUV character.
In profile, the Fronx is distinct from the Baleno. There's the requisite cladding around the wheel arches to further the SUV theme but the well-defined haunches over the wheels as well as the more raked glasshouse give this crossover quite a modern look. The wheel size remains the same as the Baleno though with a new alloy wheel design. The rear is a bit of a mixed bag in our books. The taillamp signature does look striking with the bladed lighting and the full-width lightbar, again a play on the theme set by the Grand Vitara. But like with the Baleno, the boot's loading lip is still quite high and this space is filled by what seems like too large an ornamental skidplate. But this is a small patch on what is clearly one of the more attractive cars Maruti makes.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx interiors, features
Unlike the outside, the interiors of the Maruti Suzuki Fronx are far less divergent from that of the hatch it's derived from. The basic dash design has been carried over but is now accentuated by a pair of angular motifs that are again inspired by the Grand Vitara. This does give the cabin a slightly different, more beefy feel which is further enhanced by the brown plastics that replace the blue from the Baleno.
As with the Baleno, you have a spacious and comfortable atmosphere inside the Fronx. The plastic quality and material finish are what we have come to expect from Maruti Suzuki after the Baleno and Brezza. So the dash is mostly hard plastic but with soft surfaces on the most common touch points. The new steering wheel feels handy and has tactile switches which are also what can also be said of the AC controls. As with the Baleno, we would have liked more than one USB port in the front and maybe fewer of the parts-bin switches for the windows and stalks.
A notable difference in the Fronx is the view out for the driver. The seats are the same as in the Baleno but with the new bodywork, the edges of the bonnet are now visible making for again a more SUV-like ambience. The seats aren't placed any differently than in the Baleno but the raised ride height also marginally adds to this high-riding sense.
The features list is carried over. So the useful 9-inch touchscreen as well as other amenities like the HUD, wireless charger, tilt and telescopic steering adjustment, climate control and a height-adjustable driver's seat are some useful additions.
Expectedly, the rear seat is the same as the Baleno. You get rear AC vents and two chargers here but a central armrest is still a stark miss. There's still no sunroof either but the slightly smaller glass area hasn't hit the sense of spaciousness too much. There are masses of legroom and knee-room while the seat is fairly supportive too.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx driving impressions ft. Baleno RS
The biggest talking point with the Fronx though is that the enthusiast's favourite Boosterjet turbo now makes a comeback. So it's only fair that we bring in the Baleno RS, the last car to come fitted with this motor, only for some perspective. To start with, this 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo is now locally assembled, unlike the direct import that went into the Baleno RS. The version in the Fronx makes about 2PS and 2 Nm less than the one in the Baleno RS possibly to accommodate the new emission regulations.
This BoosterJet motor has always been impressive with its rev-happy nature and its wide and linear powerband, where unlike many other small turbos there's some payoff when you rev it to its high 6,200 rpm limiter. In the Baleno RS, this experience is a touch raw with the hatch's slightly lesser sound deadening and general refinement.
The Fronx though packages it in a more widely accepted form where you get that crisp rorty note that easily makes this one of the nicer sounding small engines around, but with most of the gruffness dialled out from earlier. That this motor wasn't prone to too much of a three-cylinder's vibrations anyway helps. The new version has been tuned for better low-end performance so the same energetic and easily accessed performance continues with the Fronx. Also new is mild-hybrid assistance, it's as well integrated as in other Maruti cars and should improve efficiency to a small extent as the 21.5 kmpl of the manual and 20.01 kmpl of the auto suggest. The slightly lighter Baleno RS for perspective was rated at 21.1 kmpl
The big leaps in the way Maruti Suzukis ride and handle since the Baleno RS hold the Fronx in further good stead. Yes, it doesn't quite have the flat, light-footed cornering ability of a hatch but as far as a crossover goes it's engaging. You gain a plush ride and there's a substantial sense to the way the Fronx covers ground. To be fair, not at the cost litheness. A big improvement is the new steering from the Baleno, which seems to add quite a bit more fluidity to the driving experience. It recentres easily and is far more linear and predictable in all situations.
Also for the first time, you can pair the Boosterjet turbo with the six-speed automatic. This makes a very strong case that all automatics do with the convenience they offer in traffic but it does seem to sap some of the engine's energy. That sharp edge to the power delivery is somewhat diluted here and the gearbox also seems to drop the engine out of its powerband every time it shifts up which makes for slightly sluggish performance in stop-start traffic. There is no Sport gearbox mode to override this but you do get a manual mode. It'll hold revs here but even with the paddles shifts aren't as snappy as with the manual.
If you can live with it, the manual suits this motor far better. The hydraulic clutch that came with the new Baleno is much lighter and more progressive, it takes less effort and you can make smoother shifts faster.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx safety
The Maruti Suzuki Fronx shares the same safety features as the Baleno. So you get dual airbags, ESC, hill hold and ISOFIX child seat mounts as standard. Higher variants further add side and curtain airbags, auto-dimming mirrors and a 360-degree camera. Sadly, the Fronx doesn't get rear disc brakes, unlike the RS.
An infuriating addition is that of the seatbelt warnings for all passengers. It isn't tied in with seat or door sensors so the Fronx will constantly keep beeping even if unoccupied seats have the seatbelts unbuckled.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx verdict, expected price
It's interesting to see that the Boosterjet makes a comeback, not in a new RS but on an SUV-themed derivative of the Baleno, maybe a sign of the times we live in.
As for the Maruti Suzuki Fronx, it's safe to say this is one of the more convincing executions of the cross-hatch formula we've seen so far. It'll sell in good numbers with its smart looks, the turbo engine and long features list. The N/A motor in the lower variants should satellite more value-driven buyers too. But it still remains to be seen if it can directly rival the presence that the more traditional sub-four-metre SUVs offer. The Fronx should be priced between Rs 7.5 to 11.5 lakh.
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