Maruti 800’s second coming
Duo, the LPG version of the 800, is easy on the pocket but it’s not a great performer
Fill it, shut it, forget it Nothing can beat Duo on the cost front
The Maruti 800 was the car that put India on wheels when it was launched way back in 1986 (1983 for the original model) but 22 years down the road it is far from being the car everyone once lusted for. Maruti is hopeful that the Duo, the LPG version of the 800, will stop this ageing model’s inexorable slide in sales. We all know what the 800 is like. The question is: should you be tempted by the cheaper running costs to buy one today?
In LPG mode, max power drops from 37bhp to 35bhp. A 2bhp drop may not seem much but the power loss is accentuated by the 33kg increase in weight (thanks to the heavy LPG kit). 100kph from rest comes up in a lethargic 30.7sec. Compare that to the petrol mode, and you’ll see the difference is about four seconds. You notice this difference when you have an open stretch of road ahead of you. The throttle response is jerky especially in the lower gears and in start-stop traffic, which can get irritating. Also, the engine feels rougher when it is running on LPG that further detracts from the overall lack of refinement of the 800.
When you accelerate hard in LPG mode, the engine sputters momentarily before it hits the 6400rpm redline. This hiccup is because the engine switches from LPG to petrol when revved hard to prevent damage to the engine. The system is also designed to completely cut off gas flow to the cylinders when you lift off the throttle in the interests of efficiency.
For normal city driving and on part-throttle, you will be hard pressed to tell the difference between LPG and petrol modes. Driving the 800 around town, we rediscovered its perky throttle response and loved the ease with which it overtakes taxis struggling up flyovers. The key to getting the best out of this car is to shift up early. The engine isn’t the most refined around and there’s not much point in revving it. The four-speed gearbox feels vague and the spindly gear lever doesn’t help.
On the highway, the 800 feels completely out of place. The engine sounds strained even when doing 80kph and the dinky dimensions make sure that everyone else on the road gives you the last right of way. If you do go long distance, you won’t have place to keep luggage either. This 800 has no boot because the spare tyre and the cylindrical tank leave you with space only for a toothbrush.
What about the all-important running costs? In LPG mode, expect 10.2kpl and 15.1kpl in the city and highway respectively. In petrol mode, the corresponding figures are 12.2kpl and 17.5kpl. But though the 800 drinks more of LPG than petrol, the price difference per litre means you end up saving more than a rupee for every kilometre with LPG. So if you drive around 15,000km a year, you’ve recovered the extra you pay for the LPG option. But remember, LPG-filling networks are still not widespread and limited to the city – exactly what this car is built for. The ride at city speeds is more than acceptable and in fact the suspension works silently for most of the time, making it feel more refined than some very expensive luxury cars. The ground clearance is terrific as well.
The 800’s non-assisted steering is another of its specialties. It’s not too heavy and feels delightfully direct. The only problem is the non-assisted brakes, which require a hefty shove to bring the car to a halt. The skinny tyres also mean that braking distances are considerable, especially if the road is wet.
Its small dimensions make it the perfect city car. You can squeeze through gaps in traffic almost like a motorcycle can. You can park it in places where two Royal Enfield bullets would fit side by side and since the car has no central locking; the diminutive size also means you can unlock all doors without having to stretch from the driver’s seat. All convenient till the time you come head to head with a bus. Its tiny size makes you feel vulnerable to the dangers of Indian roads. Everything else on the road, including taxis, makes you feel almost naked when you are in the matchbox-sized 800.
It’s about as well equipped as a matchbox too — there’s no tripmeter or left-side rear-view mirror and you are lucky to get intermittent wipers and air-conditioning. It does come with an immobiliser system though — a good thing as the 800 is one of the easiest cars to break into.
The plastics are dreadful, the overall fit and finish betrays the age of the car and even the touchpad on the dash — to switch between LPG and petrol — lacks any tactile feel. This car was designed to be cheap to buy and this is exactly what it does.
At Rs 2.45 lakh, ex-showroom , Mumbai for the Duo AC, it costs just Rs 15,000 more than the regular 800 AC model which is pretty good value for a fairly sophisticated LPG system that comes with the backing of a factory warranty.
The 800 Duo is cheap to buy, cheap to run and if you go by the car’s history, it’s reliable too. This is the fill it, shut it, forget it car if there ever is one and nothing can quite beat the 800 on the cost of ownership. As a cheap city runabout, it makes a lot of sense but if your budget allows, there are better options.
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