Compact SUV comparo: Brezza vs Magnite vs Nexon vs Sonet vs Venue vs XUV300
Four decades of outselling your rivals is no mean feat even for a mammoth like Maruti Suzuki, and that success hasn’t just come from hatchbacks. Maruti may have had its lion’s share of success on the affordable end of the spectrum, but the Vitara Brezza launched in 2016 shook that status quo and made us sit up and take notice. It was the Brezza that actually made the compact SUV segment a favourite of the masses and Maruti only bolstered the SUV’s success by capturing the pulse of the buyer and offering it with a diesel engine first, then in vogue. What ultimately clinched the victory in its favour was value. It cost a shade under ten lakh rupees when launched, and Maruti Suzuki sold them by the bucketload. But does that mean the new Maruti Suzuki Brezza is no longer relevant with the onslaught of the upstarts?
The Hyundai Venue and Kia Sonet have taken the desirability quotient of C-SUVs to new levels, and Indian manufacturers like Tata Motors have cottoned on to the trend as well, with the Nexons on our roads dazzled up in cosmetic editions. Injecting a shot of adrenaline in this bunch is the Mahindra XUV300, and rounding up the pack is the Nissan Magnite, with its clever positioning ensuring that it can go toe to toe with its more established rivals.
The Venue is a reminder of just how lucrative this segment is. Four years since it was first launched, the Venue battled its way to being one of our favourites C-SUVs, thanks to its fundamentals – an appealing design, a seemingly endless list of features, and it only helped the Venue’s case that it is fun to drive. After three years, the Hyundai received a facelift, specifically to take on the likes of the Brezza, and unlike the Maruti which can only be had with a 1.5-litre nat-asp petrol under the bonnet, the Hyundai leaves you spoilt for a choice with two petrol engines and a diesel, with a variety of transmission options. The only thing missing is a diesel-auto, which can only be had with its cousin, the Sonet. Regardless, the freedom of choice has clearly given the duo an edge in the segment.
On the design front
You need not give up on the Brezza that easily however. The new one loses some of the earlier brutish charm but it still looks handsome. The proportions are identical to the older Brezza but in place of the chrome moustache, you get a slimmer grille flanked by the projector headlamps with LED DRLs. Black cladding has been generously used, though the squared-off wheel arches do make it look under-tyred even on 16-inch alloy wheels. The LED tail lamps are slim as opposed to the earlier Brezza and the overall design feels very grown up. Unless you slap on massive wheels and Range Rover badges on the clamshell bonnet that is.
Stepping inside the Brezza
Looks are subjective, but one will have to unanimously agree that the Brezza’s cabin is one of the nicest on this test. The layout is a fair bit different from before, with a dual-tone dash that has the 9-inch infotainment touchscreen sitting in your line of sight. This is also the first Maruti to be offered with a sunroof, which won’t make or break buying decisions but buyers are increasingly demanding sunroofs so you now get one with the Brezza. You also get segment-first features like a 360-degree view camera (nicer than an Audi S5’s!) and a head-up display, but I prefer to stow the latter away. I love that the steering is adjustable for rake as well as reach (the only car in this test to allow both), and it enables you to get into a good seating position easily. That does not come at the expense of space in the back and the Brezza also gets AC vents and two USB ports at the rear. Despite an all-black interior, the Brezza has plenty of room at the front as well as the rear.
Upping the ante
But if the Brezza’s cabin was a nice place to be in, the Sonet and the Venue feel a lot more on the money. They share the same platform with identical dimensions, but take two different approaches when it comes to the interior. The Venue gets a dual- tone colour scheme, which improves the sense of space, though there are no changes to the dimensions. The top-spec turbo-petrol gets a sunroof, digital instrument cluster, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, connected car tech via Bluelink, and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat to name a few of the creature comforts. If there’s a chink in the Venue’s armour however, it is the rear seat space. It was never the most spacious offering in its class and seating three at the rear is going to be a squeeze. You get a two- step recline for the rear seat, but that does not take away the fact that the Venue is not the most spacious.
It’s a similar story with the Sonet. The GT Line with all-black interiors and red contrast stitching feels more expensive than the Venue’s. Both the Hyundai and the Kia are on par when it comes to equipment, the Sonet featuring additional niceties like a Bose sound system and a rear shade, but the biggest difference between the two has to be the dash layout. It looks like a smaller version of its larger sibling, the Kia Seltos – who doesn't want that?
Naturally-aspirated versus turbocharging
I’m familiar with the Hyundai and Kia’s turbo-petrol engines, which is why I jump into the Brezza first to sample its 1.5-litre nat-asp petrol making 102bhp of power and 137Nm of torque, and my first impressions are that performance is adequate. The engine is silent when driving at city speeds, but it does get fairly audible when you wring it hard. Part of that is also down to the six-speed auto ‘box, and while it is far superior to the old four- speed or an AMT, it can be a bit frustrating when you flex the right foot for an overtake. In part-throttle conditions, it is quick enough to respond, but even with paddles behind the ’wheel, this engine-gearbox combo does not feel sporty. The manual would liven things up significantly. Consequently, fuel efficiency is excellent. The Brezza AT delivers an ARAI-claimed figure of 19.8kmpl, and the manuals even manage to better that.
Step into the Venue or Sonet however and things get a lot more enthusiastic. Both cousins are powered by the same 1-litre turbo-petrol mated to a 7-speed DCT and the engine is very eager. Power stands at 118bhp with 172Nm of torque, and this engine enjoys being caned to the redline. If you like driving, the Venue and the Sonet will definitely be appealing, though that does come at the cost of fuel efficiency.
Then come the bends
Point them towards a set of bends and the SUVs are closer matched than you think. The only criticism we had with the earlier Brezza was that the ride was overtly stiff, but that has been rectified with the new one. The handling is the real treat though. The steering weight is spot-on, light enough to use in the city yet it weighs up nicely at speed. There isn’t much in the way of feel, but chuck it into a bend and apart from a bit of body roll, the Brezza feels confident, and the bite from the brakes is reassuring too. In the city, it is stress-free to drive with the start / stop cutting in unobtrusively, but on the open road, you end up wishing that the engine packed a bigger punch to do justice to the lovely chassis.
The Venue and the Sonet continue to remain a terrific steer, inspiring a lot more confidence through corners, and you carry a lot more speed too. That does come at the consequence of ride comfort however. With the Venue, you really need to reduce your speed when on a bumpy road as a lot more of the surface imperfections can be felt in the cabin. The Sonet is marginally plusher, though buyers looking to be chauffeur driven won’t be the happiest in either of the two.
India's best-selling SUV
If there is any SUV in this test that commands the same level of popularity as well as a lion’s share of the sales figures as the Korean duo, it is the Tata Nexon – India’s highest-selling compact SUV. In the last few years, the Nexon has become a hot favourite, more so with the last facelift giving it a more butch look. Production has crossed 5 lakh units, and while it might look familiar now, you have to hand it to Tata for the inherent rightness of the design, the macho appearance giving it the air of a larger SUV. They’ve also been chipping away with the updates and cosmetic editions which means that there is a Nexon to match every taste.
On the inside, the driving position is the most commanding of the lot, like a proper SUV's, and while the thick A-pillars might hamper your vision, one might let that slide, considering the Nexon scores five stars in the NCAP crash test. There’s all the kit you need too – auto headlamps, a sunroof, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, connected car tech and a Harman sound system. The layout of the interior is smart, though the overall fit and finish of the trim could have been better. Space on offer at the back is amongst the best on this test and it isn’t hard to deduce why the Nexon is the highest-selling SUV in the country!
Nexon has the best ride quality
Behind the wheel, the Tata isn’t as effortless to drive as the Brezza but it feels a lot more like an indestructible SUV. The way that the Nexon flattens out surface imperfections is sublime, and you can simply hammer through bad roads or over speed breakers without slowing down. If you rank ride quality highly, you might as well stop reading here and get yourself a Nexon, because it is the cushiest of the lot. The handling is rather good too. The softer suspension does mean that body roll is more pronounced than in the Venue or even the Brezza, but the Nexon never feels hairy to drive. The steering feels direct, connected to the front and possibly the best in the test. What holds it back from being fun to drive is the 1.2-litre turbo-petrol engine which feels nowhere as eager to be hustled as the Venue, despite making the same power. You get off the line fairly smartly, but as the speeds get higher, the engine does feel strained. Working the six-speed manual isn’t the most enjoyable experience either, though there is the option of an AMT.
City-slicking in the Magnite
The Nexon is more content on bullying traffic out of the way thanks to its awesome road presence. But another factor that ranks highly for C-SUV buyers is value for money, and the way Nissan has capitalised on that with the Magnite is a clear indication of the fact. With its compact dimensions, higher ground clearance and competitive pricing, the Magnite was launched to get buyers to upgrade from dinky little hatchbacks into their first SUV, and it has achieved that brief superbly. The styling plays a big role in that, especially in the louder colours, and the Magnite does look desirable. More so when you consider it is priced at hatchback money. It is also the smallest of the lot, but thanks to clever packaging, that does not translate to a cabin that is tight on space.
We’ve spent plenty of time in the Magnite on pan-India road trips, and during those long hauls, the Magnite felt very comfy to stretch out in. The dashboard layout is funky with thoughtful storage spaces, and the Magnite is the only one of the lot to get wireless connectivity for CarPlay and Android Auto. You also get a digital instrument cluster with nicely done graphics and while the Magnite definitely packs in a lot of kit for the price, it definitely feels built to a price too, with hard plastics and the fit and finish taking the sheen off what is a cleverly designed interior.
On paper, it is the least powerful, producing 99bhp from a 1-litre turbo-petrol, but the Magnite is surprisingly light on its feet. Acceleration is brisk and the engine feels eager to rev, though it can get a fair bit vocal. It is not the most refined either, particularly at idle with a fair bit of vibes creeping in through the pedals, especially noticeable in stop-and-go traffic. This engine can be had with a manual but we have always maintained that the CVT is our pick, as it suits the engine’s characteristics better. There are no sporty pretensions here and the Magnite is a perfect city commuter. The light steering and the seating position making it a perfect upgrade for someone moving up from a hatch. The ride is plush too, second only to the Nexon’s, and the Magnite even scores four stars in the ASEAN NCAP crash tests. Whatever we’ve said for the Magnite also holds true to its twin, the Renault Kiger, with only styling differences separating the two.
A rally car for the road?
The wild card in this bunch has to be the Mahindra XUV300. It might look like the oldest here, but the recent update in the form of the TurboSport has made it a lot appealing. The Venue and the Sonet look flashier, but the XUV looks more purposeful with its lack of visual flim-flam. It also gets a five star NCAP rating, is the only one to get rear disc brakes, and while the interiors are due for an update, the equipment offered is on par with the class. Space is excellent too, with the longest wheelbase in class allowing passengers to really stretch out. And it is a hoot to drive.
What we have here is the ‘old’ 1.2-litre turbo-petrol engine producing 109bhp and while that isn’t the most powerful, the XUV feels as eager to accelerate as the Venue once the turbo spools up. Chuck it into a corner and body roll is minimal, with the steering feels natural and communicative. It also gets lovely seats with bolsters that hold you well when cornering hard and the ride and handling balance is very good, with the robustness of the chassis meaning that it can take on bad roads like a champ. Hallmarks of a good rally car? You bet.
The only criticism I have was with the AMT that this particular example was equipped with, with the sluggish shift speeds really letting this gem of a car down. At the beginning of this test, I had a preconceived notion that the Venue / Sonet would leave the others whupped in terms when it comes to the Thrill of Driving, but the XUV gives the duo a tough fight. It may not have the desirability of the others but if you really like to drive your cars hard, you should definitely look at the XUV. Enthusiasts will also love the fact that the new turbo-petrol engine on the TurboSport is the most powerful in its class, mated to a manual gearbox!
When the new Brezza was launched, it was clear that it was not going to have an easy going against its rivals. The very first Brezza with its attractive pricing and the jack of all trades nature made it a hit amongst buyers, but that isn’t the case now, with the Magnite taking a page out of the Brezza’s playbook and raking in good numbers. On the other hand you have the Tata Nexon. With its plush ride and the robustness of a proper SUV, it ticks all the right boxes – but it isn’t the winner of this test. Neither is the XUV, which definitely enthuses us enthusiasts with its motorsport cred.
Which brings us to the Venue and Brezza. The Venue, and the Sonet, are definitely the most desirable here, and you cannot go wrong by putting your money down on either, as they put a smile on your face every day of the week. In the real world however, you aren’t always driving pedal to the metal, but dealing with the idiots who clog up our roads. And that is when you actually want a fun to drive car, but one that doesn’t mind being laidback.
That is the Brezza’s forte. It feels relaxed while also being up for fun, should you demand it. The ride is great yet it doesn’t compromise on dynamics. If you value thrills and thrills alone, the Venue or Sonet would be a straightforward choice. But despite it being the most expensive on this test (as it doesn't qualify for the sub 4-metre tax breaks with its 1.5-litre engine), it is the Brezza that is the better-rounded overall package, continuing to stay on alive as the reigning champ of the segment. Just make sure to spec it with the manual.