The Wagon R gets a fresh lease of life and finds a cheaper fuel to run on. Can the car really make a difference to the way we spend on petrol? Wheels finds out

Auto LPG works out cheaper than diesel to run, and costs half the money that petrol does... If you are looking for an economy hatchback, the Wagon R Duo probably might fit your bill. Parallel to the recent, butch facelift of the Wagon R, Maruti came up with this version that lets you choose between two fuels - the Duo runs both on petrol and auto LPG. Auto LPG works out cheaper than diesel to run, and costs half the money that petrol will, every time you gas the car up. And since the Duo is factory-fitted with this LPG kit, it comes without the headache and worry associated with an aftermarket job. Besides, you get full warranty on the car too. But more on this later.

Change of face

The Wagon R's facelift has given it a mini-SUV stance, which isn't at all unappealing. Bigger headlamps sweep back into the side fenders, cutting high into the bonnet. The massive, muscular grille gives the car an aggressive face, and the bigger chrome strip in the middle adds flavour to the package. The Suzuki "S" is quite an attention grabber by itself and its prominent position does not go unnoticed. The rear has also gone under the knife and has emerged rather well composed, with reshaped tail-lamps being the most obvious difference. The number plate had been relocated from the bumper to the boot lid and this has seen some of the boxiness of the original package being somewhat been reduced visually.

Change of attitude

The insides have undergone a transformation as well. The older rear bench seat design, which could be split, was not comfortable to accommodate three passengers together. The middle passenger had to invariably compromise due to the split seats. Now, that design has been scrapped and new seats, which accommodate three, have made their way into the car. However, the width of the seating remains a disappointment and really speaking, two's comfortable but three's still a squeeze. Besides, dull coloured upholstery has been replaced by brighter cloth, and the old, two-spoke steering wheel has given way to a stylish three-spoke unit that looks and feels better. The gear knob has received a dash of faux-aluminium on top - though it looks good from afar, this bit is really quite poorly finished and could do witrh a rethink from Maruti. What are welcome though, are new rotary knobs for air con control - chunky to grip, they are also a lot easier to operate. Electric door mirrors, have also made the driving experience a lot more pleasurable - gone are the ordinary units that would need painful manual re-adjustment every time a cyclist brushed against the car. Overall, the attempt has had a positive outcome, but in the quality of plastics used to trim the interiors, the Wagon R is still a disappointment - the Santro definitely has a huge edge here.

Change of heart

Getting back to the LPG option, the Duo offers you a switch that switches from petrol to LPG. Given the size of the car, the LPG kit has been packaged very cleverly. What would occupy huge space - the LPG tank - is a toroidal, doughnut-shaped unit that fits cosily into the wheel-well of the spare tyre in the boot. Sadly, this means that the spare is now mounted in the boot itself, and though this does eat into luggage room considerably, you won't be complaining too much if you had your eye primarily on running cost. LPG mode also saps the Wagon R Duo of a bit of grunt - its performance is slightly compromised compared to what it delivers while sipping petrol. The Wagon R's engine is otherwise not very different to what it was earlier - it is a bit buzzy and unrefined at high rpms, and because it characteristically produces its torque at a relatively high engine speed compared to the Santro, it does come across as a bit unrefined. Improvements seem to have been directed at the gearshift action though - going through the 'H' reveals a more complaint, less rubbery action, though the original, notchy feel is still a gremlin that somewhat dilutes the driving experience of the Wagon R. The Wagon R Duo seems to be a viable option if you want a car that is cheap to run... if, we repeat, if you find an Auto LPG outlet on your daily commute. Sadly, LPG is still to catch on in India for car use, and till then, the Duo might not be the rosy picture for fuel economy that it paints. It costs more than its petrol-only variant, but even then, we have to admit, it's one of the cheapest alternative fuel vehicles around. The facelift gives Wagon R a fresh lease of life too, but until LPG filling stations spring up all over like a rash, the car will have to let the larger sales figures and greater success stay withits arch-rival, the Hyundai Santro.