When P Chidambaram, then Finance Minister, introduced the 2006 Union Budget, few expected the contents of his briefcase to trigger the birth of an entirely new space in the Indian car market. With the arrival of what is now commonly known as the sub-four-metre rule, carmakers figured they could, with a little nip here and a sneaky tuck there, squeeze their sedans within a slot 3999mm long. Tata beat everyone to it, lopping a chunk off of the rear of the Indigo to come up with the first-ever compact sedan. But it looked like this\:There was no doubt about it – compact sedans were always meant to be a bit of a compromise. These were budget solutions for those who aspired to own a sedan, but could do so only with tax sops. It didn't matter if the guillotining of a perfectly normal three-box car resulted in the creation of something sorry-looking. The compact sedan was here to serve a purpose\: meeting requirements, fulfilling aspirations – all on a budget.That has changed and how.Compact sedans have evolved bit-by-bit, but it is the new Dzire that marks the completion of the shift in approach to the sedan lite game.One look at the pictures of the third-generation Dzire is enough to understand what Maruti decided to focus on this time around\: the way the thing looks. By no means is it the prettiest car on the planet, but it does seem like Maruti really put some effort into this, an underlying feeling confirmed by Maruti's executive director engineering and all-round nice guy C V Raman.'The product brief for the third-gen Dzire was different in the way that this time, design was at the top of the list of priorities.'At the onset, compact sedans were little more than a boot grafted on to the back of their hatchback siblings. In essence, that is what the first two generations of the Dzire were, too. This time, however, Maruti decided to do things properly.'The approach this time is different because of the styling change between the hatch and the sedan. The brief for the first two generations was that the two (Swift and Dzire) had to be common up until the B-pillar. Back then, we could only change the rear door and the boot section. Here, everything has been changed, right from the front to the rear.'If they were to achieve that level of distinction between the two, the sedan couldn't play second fiddle to the hatch. Breaking tradition, this time, development of the new Swift and Dzire began at Suzuki's R\&D facility, in Japan, at the same time, towards the end of 2013.'We started working on the Swift and the Dzire simultaneously, because both are built on the global (Heartect) platform. While there are similarities between the two, our aim was to see how we could make the two more dissimilar. We had to, from an Indian customer's perspective, make two different vehicles', says Raman.It took some dexterity (and about four years to piece it all together), but Suzuki seems to have gotten really close to solving the sub-4m puzzle. This is – without a shadow of a doubt – the nearest a compact sedan has gotten to looking complete. It may even trick casual observers into believing it's longer than it actually is.'If you look at the first and second-generation Dzire, both were based on the hatchback. Then, the Swift was converted into a sedan. This time, we just had to get the proportions right. The Swift had an upright A-pillar and a wedge-shaped daylight opening. For the new Dzire, we reclined the A-pillar, so it moves away from the uprightness. We reduced the front overhang and increased the wheelbase by 20mm, dropped the height by 40mm, and stretched the rear overhang. The width was also increased by 40mm, so the stance is more planted. It was cutting the height and boosting the wheelbase that helped fix the proportions', explains Raman.But why, you'd ask, has Maruti spent so much time perfecting an aspect which is purely subjective? The answer to that is to be found in Maruti's market study.'Our study showed a couple of things\: one was that aspirational value in the compact sedan segment was not there. It was purely built upon performance, upon convenience. Compact sedans were more about what they signify\: reliability, ease of servicing, and the value proposition was what was driving sales. This time, two things came out distinctly\: one was design, and second was the aspirational value. Design has become crucial to this segment. The voice of the buyer compelled us to make an authentic, elegant sedan', Raman adds.You see, the basic formula remains the same. The Dzire has no lofty ambitions. It's still very much a family car, a practical, efficient small sedan that will continue to be sold through Maruti's aam aadmi dealerships. It doesn't have to do anything differently. In essence, Maruti chose to work on the Dzire's only shortcoming\: its appearance. And frankly, it needn't have, considering even with its supposed shortcoming, the Dzire has consistently been India's second highest-selling car.Raman explains how the Dzire went from being the proverbial icing on the cake to becoming the cake itself.'The segment size has increased manyfold. In 2008, we were only looking for additional volumes from the Dzire, of about 50,000 to 1 lakh units, but now, today, what we see is 18-20,000 Swifts and close to 20,000 Dzires being sold every month. Both have become individual brands in their own right. One thing which has happened with the compact sedan segment, because the Indian mindset views a three-box car as aspirational. In 2008, it was aspirational, but over time, it became more value and utility-focused. Now we want to make it aspirational once again.'With the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax looming large, many thought compact sedans, under threat of losing their price advantage, would become redundant, but that's not how manufacturers see it. Demand is present and growing. It's just that the expectations from a car of this sort have changed. The people wanting to buy a compact sedan have changed.The compact sedan, as we've known it, has changed.