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It’s evening and the collective cackle of journos are having a gala time at one of the countries finest vineyards. I’ll let you in on automotive journalism’s not-so-well-kept secret. Professionally, it might look like fierce competition straight out of the bowels of Sparta, but when the driving is done and it’s time to let our hair down (or in this case learn to make pasta!) – with a few exceptions – we are thick as thieves. These evenings are spent in animated and spirited conversation, always around cars, bikes and attendant comparisons. And since we’d just driven up from Mumbai in the Maruti-Suzuki S-Cross the conversation centred around Maruti’s brand new crossover and the likely competition it will face from the upcoming Hyundai Creta that some of us had the pleasure of driving in Chennai. But that, I think, is missing the point because the Maruti-Suzuki S-Cross is not an SUV. You’ll struggle to compare a hatch to a sedan, won’t you? Similarly, you will struggle to compare the S-Cross to the Creta, or the Duster for that matter.
So what we have here is a car that – genuinely – belongs in a segment of one. Sure you’ll point me to the Cross Polo, i20 Active and Avventura as crossovers that are already available for your driving pleasure. But these are hatchbacks with 20 kilos of plastic cladding, and a spare wheel on the boot. The S-Cross is a genuine crossover and not
a hatchback. At 4.3 meters in length it does not fall under the sub-4 meter tax bracket
and that means it doesn’t have to be shackled by engine size restrictions either. And so we have the first 1.6-litre diesel engine in a Maruti Suzuki S-Cross. Let’s get on with it then.
If the S-Cross reminds you of the SX4 then you are spot on. This is the second generation of the crossover; the earlier one was called the SX4, was twinned with the Fiat Sedici and sold across Europe and Down Under, and also formed the basis of the short-lived SX4 World Rally Car. The design of the second-gen is an evolution, rather than revolution, and has more than a few hints of the SX4. But this is not the SX4 and as Maruti Suzuki engineers insist, this is a new platform that has nothing to do with the old SX4. The headlamps are the saving grace, neatly incorporating LED daytime running lights and HID projectors. As you move towards the rear, there is a strange disconnect from the A-pillar onwards. The rest of the design has a European vibe and is the best angle to view the S-Cross. The body cladding adds a rugged appeal though styling isn’t one of the S-Cross’s strongest points.
Where it scores strongly are on the interiors. High-quality soft-touch plastics abound and the well-laid out dash is pleasing to the eye as well as the touch. The soft-touch buttons have a tactile feel to them. A 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system sits at the centre and the TFT screen is surprisingly intuitive and feature rich. It is loaded to the gills with navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and will soon have apps that you can install and connect to your phone. The leather seats offer good lumbar and under-thigh support. The rear seats are comfortable and capacious with excellent knee, shoulder and headroom. In fact the rear seat is where you will find the biggest difference to a regular hatchback with tons of space and a real sense of comfort. The only thing missing here are air-con vents.
The boot space, at 375 litres, is again quite big by hatchback standards and should swallow a couple of full-size bags. Your medium-sized canine companion should be comfortable here or if you have a larger-than-life buddy, the rear seat folds and splits 60:40. The driver’s seat is the place to be though. The driving position is spot-on and the layout is driver-centric, almost like a typical BMW. The pedals are well placed, the steering is meaty and the short-throw gearbox is ideally positioned for enthusiastic driving. Such a setup warrants an equally enthusiastic engine.
It’s a good thing then that Suzuki has brought the 1.6-litre Multijet diesel along. Dubbed the DDiS 320, the 1598cc four-pot mill puts out a healthy 118bhp at 3750rpm and an SUV-rivalling 320Nm of torque (hence the name) at 1750rpm. This makes it a completely different beast to the 1.3-litre units we’ve grown so very familiar with (now christened DDis 200 for the torque it produces) and is also available on the lower variants of the S-Cross.
The DDiS 320 uses a variable geometry turbo to reduce the turbo lag but below 1500rpm this is still quite noticeable. Cross that threshold and the engine pulls strongly till 4000rpm, after which it tapers off. It is a refined unit and only after 3500rpm does it begin to sound fruity. On the highway it is quite the relaxed performer with its tall gearing and wide powerband. We didn’t get to drive it in traffic, having left Mumbai in the wee hours of morning, though I suspect the tall first gear and turbo lag could be a bother. While the DDis 200 gets a 5-speed manual, the 320 gets a 6-speed manual with precise and slick short-throws.
The 1.6-litre diesel displaces similarly sporty characteristics as the 1.3 DDiS but with more power and enthusiasm. Performance is a given as the low kerb weight of 1275kg helps. The 320Nm of torque also means the S-Cross does display torque steer and that brings us to another facet of the crossover. In Europe the S-Cross has an all-wheel-drive variant (which made it ideal as a base for a WRC car) but in India we only get front-wheel-drive. And speaking to Maruti Suzuki engineers I doubt the AWD version is on the horizon either. Neither is there an automatic transmission nor – of even bigger note – a petrol engine.
Maruti Suzuki’s engineers offer the argument that neither the Duster, nor XUV or any of the SUVs in this segment have petrol engines and that is why they haven’t bothered to go down that route. I politely had to remind him that just five minutes ago we were being lectured on how the S-Cross is not in the same segment as conventional SUVs.
We drove the S-Cross from Mumbai down to Nashik via the brilliant NH 3. Once past Thane, the surface is excellent and the sparse traffic makes driving a delight and highlights the well-balanced suspension setup. The monocoque employs MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. The steering, while electrically assisted, has some feel and weighs up at speed so it doesn’t feel too flighty. High-speed stability is very good and it has strong grip round corners, courtesy the generous 205-section, 16-inch tyres with only mild understeer setting in close to the limit. The suspension setup also delivers a well-cushioned ride, probably the best of any Maruti to date. Take it on a bad stretch of road and the occupants remained unruffled throughout though they will hear the suspension crashing into those potholes.
Thanks to disc brakes on all four corners
it brakes well, aided by ABS which is
standard across the range. Furthermore, twin front airbags are also offered as standard. Speaking of which, Maruti Suzuki seems to be playing its cards right by offering up to eight trims – five variants with the
1.3 diesel and three variants of the 1.6.
And there is a whole new showroom concept
in the form of NEXA to give Maruti-Suzuki S-Cross buyers a more
premium experience. It really does mark a new chapter in Suzuki’s India innings – and if anybody can convince us Indians to spend their hard-earned dosh on a hitherto unheard of segment it is Maruti.
Words: Benjamin Gracias
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre