Say hello to the brand-new Maruti Suzuki Fronx! That's a weird name for a car, and sadly, that's not the end of it, for there are other complications with this latest Maruti. You see, on the face of it, the Fronx comes across as a sub-4m version of the Grand Vitara…but that is before you realise that there’s already one in the shape of the Brezza. Go beneath the surface, and you'll come to know that it's actually a Baleno under the skin. And when you ask Maruti Suzuki, they say that the Fronx is an SUV and not a hatchback.
So, what is it, really?
Maruti Suzuki Fronx: Exterior Design
What happens when the Baleno and Grand Vitara snuggle off the road for a bit of fun? The Fronx, obviously! In short, it's a Baleno in the Grand Vitara's clothing. But that's not to say that it's a bad thing. On the contrary, the Fronx is a great-looking car.
The proportions are spot on, and the Fronx nails the SUV-crossover look. And even though it’s a Baleno underneath – the same Heartect platform and identical wheelbase of 2,520mm – there’s hardly any resemblance between the two. The Fronx looks beefier and more substantial than its hatchback counterpart, all thanks to its butch and Grand Vitrara-like front fascia. Like its SUV sibling, the Fronx gets a split headlamp setup, featuring triple LED DRLS on top and projector lamps integrated into the bumper. I also have to say that the front looks more muscular because of its curvy edges as opposed to the Grand Vitara’s flat profile.
At the sides, the Fronx is more of a hatchback than an SUV. Although, thanks to the black cladding all around, squared-off wheel arches, roof rails, and 190mm of ground clearance – 20mm more than the Baleno’s – there’s a hint of ruggedness here. The maximum wheel size is identical to the Baleno at 16-inch, but the Fronx's tyres have a slightly higher profile (195/60 vs 195/55). The rear profile is my favourite angle to look at the Fronx, thanks to its stubby couple-like backside, seamless LED taillamps, and chunky bumper. Overall, the Fronx's design is eye-catching, and indeed it will be one of its main selling points.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx: Interior, Features & Equipment
Step inside the Fronx, and you’ll find that, unlike its exterior, not much work has gone into making this cabin. The triple-layered dashboard and almost all of the features and equipment are identical to what you get in the Baleno. The only difference is that it gets a black-and-brown upholstery instead of the black-and-blue theme of the Baleno. The fit-and-finish levels are more or less the same – the panel gaps are tight, and the overall build quality is acceptable, except for the scratchy plastic bits in the lower section.
The top-end versions get similar equipment, meaning you get a vibrant and super-responsive 9-inch SmartPlay Pro+ touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a 360-degree camera, an Arkamys surround sound system, auto-dimming IRVM, a head-up display, a flat-bottom three-spoke steering wheel, and more. Unlike the Baleno, however, it also gets wireless charging. There’s no sunroof on offer, which might be a dealbreaker for some.
Like the Baleno, the Fronx’s cabin scores high in terms of ergonomics and practicality. You get into a comfortable driving position in no time, and every control and button can be easily accessed. Space-wise, there’s no difference here since the Fronx is as wide and long as the Baleno. But, then, the Baleno is already a spacious hatchback, so it ultimately works in Fronx’s favour. There’s ample space at the front and rear, and three adults can sit at the back. Rear-seat passengers will also appreciate the Fronx’s generous legroom. Interestingly, compared to the Baleno, there’s a better sense of space and comfort in the Fronx, owing to its increased height. Both ingress and egress are better in the Fronx, which also allows you to sit in a more upright position. The seat cushioning, however, could have been better though. Like all Marutis, the padding is wafer-thin, and over long drives, the seat tends to sink in, which is not good for your lower back.
The Fronx’s boot capacity stands at 308 litres, which is 10 litres less than the Baleno’s. Blame the larger wheel wells for the loss of space. Also, like the Baleno, the loading lip is a little too high, although the boot is quite deep.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx: Engine Performance & Gearbox
With the Fronx, Maruti Suzuki’s BoosterJet 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol is making a comeback. It’s largely the same engine that was offered in the now-defunct Baleno RS, although it’s now produced locally to keep the costs in check. The existing Baleno’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol unit is also on offer with a 5-speed manual or 5-speed AMT. The Booster Jet motor is available with a 5-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic (torque converter), which is what we tested.
Being a three-cylinder unit, the BoosterJet produces a typical 3-pot thrum at idle. It gets much better once you’re on the move though. Coming to its performance, with 99bhp and 147Nm on offer, it’s not going to win the game of top trumps against its peers. However, it’s a light engine deployed in a light car (1,015 – 1,060kgs), which makes up for the power deficit, claims Maruti Suzuki.
To an extent, the BoosterJet-powered Fronx does live up to the claims – it’s indeed a spritely, free-revving motor. However, it does have its peculiarities. Below 2,000rpm, there’s quite some lag. Spin it faster, and you’ll get some go, but it takes another 500 – 700rpm before it fully warms up and delivers the grunt.
Post that, there’s a strong surge of power. In the 3,000 – 5,000rpm range lies the meat of the powerband. It feels the strongest in that zone, and even a slight prod of the throttle pedal gives you a sudden (turbo) kick. The engine redlines at 6,200rpm, and in typical Suzuki fashion, this motor loves to be thrashed without feeling stressed. And interestingly, the performance doesn’t drop off a cliff at high rpm, something that we’ve experienced in some other 1.0-litre turbo engines.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is enjoyable and slick to use, and it compliments this engine really well. On the flip side, the 6-speed AT feels a bit sluggish. It’s the same gearbox that does duty in the Brezza, so this was more or less expected. However, with the low-end lag of the turbo motor, the AT’s flaws get highlighted even more. It feels as if the gearbox and engine are constantly playing a game of hide-and-seek with each other. The gearbox is a bit slow to react, especially when it’s time to downshift for a quick overtake. Similarly, when you’re driving at low speeds, you always find yourself in a higher gear and right in the middle of the engine’s flat spot, so the part-throttle response is also quite lethargic. Sure, you do get paddle shifters for manual controls, but even then, this AT is slow on the uptake. What’s more, the combination of an AT and a turbo motor that constantly needs to be revved hard would also result in not-so-great fuel efficiency.
Maruti Suzuki Fronx: Ride & Handling
Even though the Fronx is a high-riding Baleno, it still handles like a hatchback. The steering is precise, the front end is light and communicative, and you can flick it around corners with confidence. The increased ride height does result in a wee bit more body-roll around curves than the Baleno. Overall, though, it’s a predictable and well-balanced handler.
The ride quality, like any modern Maruti Suzuki car out there, is brilliant. There’s a firm and surefooted feel when you take it over bad roads. The suspension is taut, but the ride is never unsettling. You can glide over bad and broken roads without being thrown up and down inside the cabin. The damping is well-calibrated for everything that Indian roads can throw at it.
The Fronx may look like a confusing product at first, but when you come to think of it, it has its own merits. Under the skin, it is based on a cost-effective hatchback platform, while its exterior gets a premium SUV styling. Of course, a lot will now depend on how Maruti Suzuki positions it on the market and at what pricing.
From what we know so far, it will be positioned below the Brezza and above the Baleno, which should land it in the price bracket of Rs 8 – 12 lakh (ex-showroom). At that price, it should find a lot of takers, especially those who want to buy the Grand Vitara but aren't ready to shell out a hefty premium over a hatchback, or the Baleno, in this case.