Like most families in India from my generation, our first family car was a Maruti. In that bygone world of fat Ambassadors and unreliable Padminis, this small Jap was a wonder. Easy to drive, reliable, inexpensive to maintain — all that buyers wanted then, Maruti had it. However, the brand has come a long way since. Such a long way that it now wants to cross over into the premium category a second time over (remember the Ciaz? That is pretty succesful). And it has got the right car to do so — the S-Cross, which Maruti calls a premium crossover.
LOOKS DON’T KILL
Don’t get me wrong, the S-Cross is not bad looking, but it did not win me over with its looks. The front is a very obvious carry over from the SX4, which does not give it a very ‘new’ look. The skid-plate garnishing, projector headlamps with LED position lamps and a nice chrome grille try to distract you from the SX4 look but only half-succeed. There are elements like the roof rail, body cladding and 16-inch wheels which attempt to give the S-Cross an SUV-ish look, but I don’t think many will fall for that. The rear is better looking and comes together rather well, though. Everything’s better in hind-sight, right?
This is a surprise — no petrol engines on offer in the S-Cross. For years we have been hearing how diesel engines have been outselling petrol engines, even though the price gap between petrol and diesel has reduced. Who better than India’s highest-selling car brand to know that, right?
The S-Cross gets a new 1.6-litre motor, which makes a healthy 118 bhp and 32.6 kgm. The other option is the 1.3-litre motor from the Ciaz which gives out 89 bhp and 20 kgm. The new, bigger engine comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, whereas the older smaller one continues with the 5-speed ‘box. Automatic transmission has been given a complete miss; maybe a new variant a couple of months later will come with it. Gone are the LDi, VDi variants, too, replaced by Sigma, Sigma (O), Delta, Zeta and Alpha nomenclature for the S-Cross.
We jumped straight into the 1.6-litre S-Cross and it is probably the best diesel engine Maruti has on offer currently. Once you cross the familiar lag territory up till 1750 rpm, the engine has a pleasing punch to it, making it fun to drive. The turbo kicking in is actually kind of nice — you start looking forward to that surge, and boy does it surge! You can easily cruise at 140-150 kph (wherever it is legal to do so, of course) without feeling any strain. The car feels stable, solid and the diesel noise does not disturb you until you cross the 4500-rpm mark. It feels surprisingly stable at high speeds, much like a European car and unheard of for a Suzuki-badged car!
We got a short section of the Ghats while driving to Nashik and the S-Cross was well up for it. The clutch is light and the engine responds well when put to task. The seats are supportive and the driving position is nice, too. The steering feels nice and there is not much body roll, either. The front-end chassis grip is pretty good, but it’s the low-rolling resistance tyres that make the car squeal after a point and into understeer. For a Maruti, ride quality is pretty neat, too. It’s not Renault Duster-beating just yet, but it’s got a good balance between low and high-speed ride.
YOU HAVE BEEN UPGRADED
The interior is where Maruti has really stepped up. The cabin has a definite premium feel to it and feels plain sorted. There is a new Smart Play Infotainment system with an 18-cm touch panel with navigation, 6-speaker audio system, rain-sensing wipers, auto IRVM, self-adjusting clutch, high-definition TFT screen, automatic air-conditioning, leather upholstery and much more. The S-Cross also comes with cruise control but good luck with that on our unpredictable roads.
Legroom in the back is decent and Maruti’s decision to not scrunch the car to under 4-metres gets our thumbs up. The biggest miss in the back is a rear air-con vent. Maybe there is some research with Maruti which says it’s not needed! At 353 litres, the boot is not very spacious, but a 60:40 rear seat split should take care of your extra luggage.
LEAP OF FAITH
Some may feel that whatever is being offered on the S-Cross is standard on so many other cars, so what is the big deal? Well, the big deal is that Maruti is doing this and this time we feel they are doing it right. Most of you may remember Maruti’s earlier forays into the premium segment with the Grand Vitara and the Kizashi which were good cars that didn’t do very well. With the S-Cross, Maruti seems to have learnt from its past.
To make us believe that it is serious about going premium, Maruti is setting up 100 premium dealerships that go by the name NEXA. The NEXA dealerships will only sell the premium range of Maruti cars — the S-Cross, the Ciaz, the soon-to-be-launched hatchback codenamed YRA, and the Vitara — and aim to give customers a truly international experience. NEXA (we asked everyone at the launch, but no knows what the acronym stands for or whether it is an acronym at all) is a philosophy, says Maruti, built on the pillars of ‘pampering, innovation, global standards and reliability’. We are really looking forward to the pampering bit.
Maruti is bravely attempting to create success in a new category here — the crossover category, as we know it, is pretty much non-existant in the Indian market. The S-Cross does not go head-to-head with any of the mini-SUVs in the country (our video comparison of the S-Cross with the Renault Duster is here) which makes Maruti’s task both easier and tougher.
Maruti has been known for space, reliability, service support and, probably most importantly, value. The S-Cross checks all the right boxes, but if it’s not priced well, the value part will suffer. With a lot of surprises packed into the S-Cross, we are hoping Maruti pulls off a surprise on the price, too!
Maruti Suzuki S-Cross DDiS 320
Displacement: 1598cc, I-4, turbodiesel
Max power: 118 bhp@3750 rpm
Max torque: 32.6 kgm@1750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Type: Rack and pinion with EPS
(F/R): McPherson struts with coil springs/torsion beam with coil springs
(F/R): Ventilated discs/solid discs
(F/R): 205/60 R16
L/W/H (mm): 4300/1765/1590
Wheelbase: 2600 mm
Kerb Weight: 1275 kg
Rs 8-12 Lakhs (expected)