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Suzuki Intruder 800 and Maruti Alto 800: Colonial cousins
Both have Suzuki badges on them, both are propelled by 800cc petrol units. We take them to one of the most historic sites in India...
It’s a dreary Tuesday afternoon and the Samjhauta Express has chugged out of Attari railway station a few hours ago. This is the only train service connecting India with its neighbour Pakistan, and Attari – 3km from the border at Wagah – is the last Indian town before you cross over.
We’re in the parking lot of this notable station, answering the relentless questions of the railway authorities, policemen and locals. Did these people catch us sneaking into Pakistan? No. We’ve travelled to Attari to check out this railway line that connects the two great nations.
On the one hand, we’re disappointed that we couldn’t catch a glimpse of the iconic train; on the other hand, the entourage of policemen and authorities we’re thrilled to check out our transport – a Maruti Alto 800 and a Suzuki Intruder M800. We’re grilled about every minute detail, and most of the guys are amazed that both vehicles are powered by engines of similar cubic capacity. A villager asks if they both have the same engine. The answer is a big “no”.
It’s quite impossible for the Alto 800 and the Intruder M800 to have the same engine. Fitting the Intruder’s four-stroke, 2-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 805cc V-twin, motor in an Alto 800 would result in a power-to-weight ratio disaster. And how on earth would you plonk the hatchback’s 3-cylinder, 796cc motor into a Suzuki motorcycle? It’s like asking Priyanka Chopra to be on the daily diet of a sumo wrestler and still stay as slim as she is.
What are we doing with this unconventional combination of vehicles? The answer is simple. Or not. TopGear India turns eight this year, so we decided to set out on a unique trip – 800+ kilometres driving an 800cc car and an 800cc bike. So we’ve taken an 800cc Suzuki hatchback and an 800cc Suzuki motorcycle on an 800km road trip from Delhi to the Wagah border via Amritsar. Which seems like a good opportunity to test the two Suzuki 800s in the real world – and while we’re at it, have sumptuous meals at Punjabi dhabas, and visit historic sites such as the Wagah border, Jallianwala Baug and the Golden Temple.
The hatchback, of course, needs no introduction. The Alto is currently the bestselling brand in India, and probably the best value for money too. It may not win any beauty pageants, but on pure merit, it plays the practicality and value-for-money card like no other car.
On the other hand, there’s this younger sibling of the legendary Japanese cruiser motorcycle, the Intruder. The M800, as the badge says, is the smaller version of the M1800R, and the cheapest model in Suzuki’s superbike catalogue. So here’s another analogy – apart from the 800cc motors, these two automobiles are the cheapest models in their respective line-ups.
Back to the Intruder. It’s wrapped in a classic form that stands out in the crowd, and our little Alto is quite envious of all the attention its distant cousin is getting. The Intruder’s trapezoidal headlamp, stylish fuel tank, elegantly carved twin exhaust pipes, and all-chrome V-twin motor attract attention like magnets. Plus, it may be a smaller version of the M1800R, but by no means does it look any smaller than a full-size cruiser.
As on any regular day, leaving Delhi at peak hour is like waging war, every inch of road fought over, and no mercy shown. Add to that Delhi’s searing weather. In these conditions, the Alto 800’s air-conditioned cabin makes more sense than getting toasted riding the cruiser under the blistering sun.
Eventually, we emerge unscathed from the mayhem that is National Capital Region traffic, but after that continuous clutch-brake-accelerate routine, the Suzuki is heating up and about to have itself a giant tantrum. Just then, fortunately, we reach the iconic Grand Trunk Road (GT Road) in Haryana. It’s a silky smooth stretch of highway – and precisely what the Intruder wants.
Out of city limits, the Alto 800 also comes into its own, darting in and out of traffic, cruising at over 110kph, driving well over bad patches, even standing up to a boorish Haryana state transport bus driver. We really push the baby Maruti to its limits, and it’s apparent the 46bhp, 3-pot motor doesn’t exactly love being revved hard – it gets insanely loud past 4,000rpm. Yet, it doesn’t mind whenever we play catch with the cruiser.
On the fantastic GT Road in Haryana, the Intruder is in no mood to keep a low profile. It zooms past slow traffic like nothing can stop it – nothing, except a brazen unit of Haryana police who charge us with dangerous riding. Cruising at 90kph in fuel-saving mode on a six-lane highway, we’re stopped for crossing the 50kph speed limit for two-wheelers. Fifty kph!
After treating our taste buds to some local flavour at a safe-looking roadside dhaba, we enter the state of Punjab, continuing the joyous, long journey astride the Intruder. And a large part of the joy comes from its well sorted ergonomics, which create a laid-back riding position, and a low-slung seat that is extremely comfortable. Not that the Alto is too far behind when it comes to comfort, but that’s largely in the urban cycle – the shorter seat squab means it isn’t comfortable on long drives.
Still, the powerful AC makes up for this by keeping things cool inside. We only start losing our cool when we enter Ludhiana, where the under-construction highway results in the chaos of poor roads, as well as random traffic – human, vehicular and animal – moving wherever they please. The Alto handles these challenges impressively, mainly due to its petite footprint. And with its inverted front forks and hidden monoshock at the rear, the Intruder too saves our backs from torture by crater.
NH1, for the most part, stays arrow straight – no winding roads, no sudden change in direction. And here, the Alto demonstrates excellent road manners on its way to the ton, as does the M800 with its wide handlebar, making it easy to steer, both ambling around in the city as well as out on the highway.
However, we don’t like the lack of a rear disc brake option on both the Suzukis. This is somewhat understandable in the Alto, but not in a Rs 9.5 lakh motorcycle – the front single disc and rear drum setup doesn’t work well to stop this 270kg cruiser. Also, the 50 horses the Intruder comes with aren’t as wild as you’d expect them to be, and it begs for more power out on the highway.
But the immensely torquey engine helps the M800 pull effortlessly from low rpm. And if you’re expecting any blazing tunes from its twin exhaust, you’re in for a rude shock. This thing is as silent as a regular 150cc sporty commuter in town. Total bummer.
Also disappointing is the city of Amritsar. We hadn’t expected it to be as tiny and congested as this. The narrow, one-way roads are confusing; combined with the pathetic traffic sense, you get complete disorder any given time of day. This is familiar ground for the Alto, but the Intruder quickly shows its distaste. It quickly goes to raging bull mode, the V-twin motor huffing and puffing to indicate its discomfort. Time for a much-needed breather for both, bike and rider.
The icing on the Amritsari cake is the final leg of the trip – Wagah. The last 25km from Amritsar to Wagah is smooth tarmac – an invitation for the Intruder to stretch its legs, and for us to hurry along so we don’t miss the Beating Retreat ceremony and the lowering of the flags just before sunset.
It’s an unmistakably thrilling feeling to be at the border and witness the parade by soldiers on both sides, ending with a perfectly coordinated lowering of both the flags.
As the carefully choreographed contempt plays out to its conclusion for the day, our tryst with Punjab’s most historic and spiritual city also draws to an end.
One final visit to the Golden Temple and we set off back to the capital of the country. Neither of the two vehicles has any proving left to do. Like its older sibling, the Intruder M800 is a mile-muncher and instant attention guarantee. And while the Alto may not be a head turner, it’s still the one ruling the streets across the country. Peace out.
(Words: Devesh Shobha, Photos: Nitin Rose)
Maruti Suzuki Alto 800
Engine: 796cc, in-line, 3-cyl
Power: 46bhp, 69Nm
Gearbox: 5M, FWD
Fuel efficiency: 16.3kpl
Kerb weight: 725kg
Price: Rs 3.35 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Suzuki Intruder M800
Engine: 805cc, 45-deg V-twin, 2-cyl
Power: 50bhp, 65Nm
Gearbox: 1 down/4 up, RWD, shaft-driven
Fuel efficiency: 22.1kpl
Kerb weight: 269kpg
Price: Rs 9.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Suzuki vs Suzuki:
Both are powered by 800cc Suzuki engines
Both are entry-level models in their respective line-ups
Both have a disc brake in front and a drum at the rear
Both have instrument panels that are half digital, half analogue
Neither of them have an tachometer
Both have digital clocks in the instrument clusters
Both have two outside rear mirrors – manually adjustable