Maruti’s Swift-based Dzire is India’s hottest-selling compact sedan, and also the carmaker’s most profitable model. So it comes as no surprise that Maruti has poured everything into the brand-new Dzire, despite compact sedans losing ground to sub-4m compact SUVs. In fact, so important is this sedan to the brand that Maruti cleared the decks before its launch.

To give the Dzire more breathing space, it strategically upgraded the Ciaz sedan to its Nexa chain of premium showrooms. Maruti even dropped the Swift moniker from the car’s badging, calling it just the Dzire, to give it an identity of its own. And this time around, the Dzire was launched before the Swift, which will also be upgraded over the next few months.

The Dzire has received a massive upgrade in the looks department. No longer ungainly or gawky, it looks smart and nicely proportioned; something that can seldom be said about compact sedans. Details like the hexagonal grille, LED headlamps and the new chrome-lined chin add to the car’s handsome looks. It’s quite a step-up on the inside too. There’s a new, two-tone dashboard with plenty of wood finishing, and a sporty flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel. The top-end variants get automatic climate control and Maruti’s SmartPlay infotainment system with a reverse camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Maruti has paid special attention to safety, by making dual airbags and ABS standard across all variants of the Dzire. However, quality, fit and finish are a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the plastics are hard, and the build isn’t as good as that on the Hyundai Xcent.

Where the Dzire does score is space. The cabin is nice and wide, the front seats are large and supportive, and the rear get loads of legroom too. There’s an air-con vent at the back, a 12-volt socket has been provided, and the backrest is nicely reclined. However, the rear seats aren’t very supportive, and if you are tall, headroom can be a bit tight.

It is powered by the same engines as the earlier car—a 75hp, 1.3-litre diesel engine and an 83hp, 1.2-litre petrol engine. Both the petrol and the diesel can be had with automated manual transmission (AMT) options too. The diesel is the most practical of the lot, and its high fuel efficiency of 28.4 kmpl means it should remain popular as well.

Refinement levels are a clear improvement over the earlier car. There’s less clatter from the diesel engine at idle and it feels smoother off the mark. It still isn’t responsive at low revs, but once past 2,000 rpm, there’s a strong surge of pulling power that makes the car fun to drive. But the Fiat-sourced motor isn’t the most refined unit around. Also, the diesel’s clutch is a bit heavy to use, which could be a bit of an issue, for this car needs a lot of gear changes in traffic to maintain smooth progress.

Power delivery isn’t effortless in the AMT-equipped diesel variants either. Yes, AMTs are improving and becoming relatively smoother, but the fact remains that they are still quite jerky, especially when you put your foot down for a quick move. The petrol AMT is marginally better when you drive it in a relaxed manner, but it too jerks when you press hard on the accelerator. The pick of the range is the petrol manual gearbox variant, which is smooth and responsive.

In terms of ride quality, this car glides over rough patches and potholes and is impressive around corners. It has a fair amount of grip, so it’s quite fun to drive around winding roads. What spoils the experience somewhat, however, is the steering, which offers little in the way of feedback from the front wheels.

The Maruti Dzire ZXi+ is priced at Rs7.94 lakh and the ZDi+ at Rs9.39 lakh. Both prices are ex-showroom, Delhi.