Mid-size SUV comparo: MG HECTOR vs Tata Harrier vs Hyundai Creta
Say that when you’re sitting in the MG and the Hector will talk back to you in a thick British accent. No, not to entertain you with conversation when you’re doing a 15-hour highway stint but to make sure you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel every time you want to adjust the volume or open the sunroof. The Hector is voice-command enabled, and that’s just one of the many connectivity features on the SUV with the boastful, and borderline tacky ‘Internet Inside’ badge on it.
The Hector is an important launch. It is MG Motor’s first car for India and it sits in a segment which has seen huge success. Look at the Hyundai Creta! When it was launched, questions about whether people would pay Rs15 lakh for something with a Hyundai badge were being thrown around, but it still consistently sells 10k units a month four years on – at least it used to until the Hector rocked up. The Hector goes head to head with the ageing Hyundai, yes, but there’s another, even more direct rival in the mix – the Tata Harrier. It might have taken abnormally long for Tata Motors to do the obvious but they’ve finally gotten hold of a Land Rover platform and the result is their most polished vehicle to date. But which of these three is really the best?
I’ve heard people tell me they love the way the Hector looks. I’ve heard an equal number of people tell me that a centenarian tortoise without its shell is prettier. But no matter what side of the fence you’re on, you cannot deny that the Hector has presence. The face and the stance are the most imposing here and it will get you the most noticed. Now whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on who is doing the noticing. Personally, I’m not averse to the way the Hector looks from the front though it looks undertyred from the side and the rear is plain unappealing. But then again, that’s my opinion, and you’re free to draw your own conclusions.
The Harrier has similar styling elements, in fact it kicked off the split headlamp trend in India, but the overall design is much more cohesive. It has got the presence on road, and reactions to it always seem to be positive. It has got a nice, wide stance, the styling elements like the thin taillamps and chunky cladding all work well.
The Creta, on the other hand, looks dated. Sure, it was a fantastic design when it came out and the mid-cycle refresh did give it a new lease on life. However, the updates weren’t drastic and the competition has evolved on the design front. The fact that they sell like hotcakes also means you see one at every street corner and they don’t look special any more.
Interior and features
The MG decimates the competition on this front. The Hector feels hugely spacious and airy — it has got a huge glass area and the massive panoramic sunroof only enhances the sense of space. The interiors are well finished and quality is good. The massive 10.4-inch touchscreen looks good and makes the cabin feel like a much more expensive space. As for the rear quarters, the Hector is better off than the rest too. Much better off! Legroom is astounding for an SUV at this price point and the lack of a transmission tunnel frees up a lot of space for your feet (though it is narrower than the Harrier). The Hector is by far the most passenger-focussed of these three SUVs. It is the most feature laden too — the whole suite of connectivity options enabled by the Airtel 4G e-SIM definitely adds value to the package. The SIM also enables the Gaana app that is actually pretty good and the TomTom maps along with connecting you to the helpline and geo-fencing the car, is also configured for over the air (OTA) updates. It is even 5G ready, though our country is far from it. If I had to complain, I would say that physical buttons for the air-con would have been better than having to go into the touchscreen menus and the system is a bit laggy. But then again, you can just go “Hey MG”, and get it done.
Getting into one of the other SUVs from the Hector is like moving from the lovely tall-ceilinged, balcony houses that you can buy in Pune to the pokey flats in Mumbai. They just don’t feel as airy and spacious. The Harrier’s interior layout is good-looking, but the screen already looks last generation when compared to the Hector’s and there are a few ergonomic issues. The driver’s footwell is too narrow, leaving a very small dead pedal, the wing mirrors cause massive blind spots, the narrow glass house makes it more cooped in, the USB socket is tucked away in the most difficult to access place, and the handbrake may look cool but is a pain to use. That said, the driving position is spot on — the seat mounting points are straight off the Land Rover — and the seats themselves are the best in this company. You don’t sit on the Harrier, you sit within it and that’s what we like. It doesn’t have the rear seat space of the Hector, but it is certainly more than the Creta’s. There’s not much the Harrier can boast of in features over the Hector save for the driving modes, which we will come to in a bit.
The Creta, once again, shows its age on the inside. The layout of the dash is simple but effective, and everything is exactly where you would expect it to be. Fit and finish levels cannot be complained about and the Hyundai is the one that will age the best, in terms of sheer build quality. However, the Creta is a whole size smaller than the Hector and it just doesn’t give you the sense of space and luxury that the Hector does. It gets wireless charging for your phones, but that’s about the only unique feature it brings to the table. The Creta update cannot come soon enough!
Performance and dynamics
The Hector looks like it's in a great position to win this comparo, doesn’t it? That’s until you get into the driver’s seat. Performance is sprightly, but the dynamics are all over the place. The Hector gets the same FCA-sourced 2-litre diesel that the Tata Harrier does. In the Hector, it makes 168bhp and 350Nm and that translates to the sprightliest performance in a straight line. The Hector is set up to be soft and cushy and while the low speed ride quality is great, show it a bump at speed and it is thrown all over the place. It has a tendency to pitch and wallow, and can be a bit unnerving if you tackle a bad road at a fair clip. The dynamics are questionable too — it rolls a lot and the steering is inconsistent with its weight and feedback leaving you guessing just how it is going to react.
The Harrier has the same engine but it has been detuned to 138bhp, taking some edge off its performance. That you can live with, to be honest. What will irritate you is the fact that a lot of the engine clatter enters the cabin, and you’re left with a drivetrain that could do with some polishing. It works best in Sport mode, though you can leave it in Eco to boost fuel economy. That said, the Harrier is dynamically the most sound — the ride quality is a bit stiff at slower speeds but show it a bad road and you can hammer through it with confidence. The robustness of a body-on-frame SUV? The Harrier’s monocoque comes closest to giving you that experience without the ponderous nature of an old-school SUV. Show it a twisty road and it transforms to the most driver-focussed SUV of this lot, giving you confidence to chuck it into corners. The steering too is much better, feeling more direct, though there’s nothing in the way of feel.
The Creta has the smallest engine here — a mere 1.6 litres with the lowest output too. 126bhp and 250Nm isn’t too much in this competition but the Creta has weight on its side. The Creta is light and that means in a straight line, it isn’t as quick as the others but doesn’t fall too far behind either. The dynamics are sorted too — it isn’t a driver’s car, and lacks the Thrill of Driving but it can handle varied terrain and conditions from bad roads to highways very effectively. In fact the Creta carries more speed through corners, feels the most car-like, has the most car-like driving position, is the easiest and most hassle-free to drive, and… well… doesn’t feel anything like an SUV in this company. That could be a very good or not-so-good thing depending on your preferences. But what stands out about the Creta is the lightness of controls and ease of manoeuvring it around town.
It’s impossible to give a verdict without factoring in the prices. The Creta is the most affordable, the top-end diesel auto coming in at Rs 15.2 lakh and the top-end manual with a few additional goodies being Rs 40k more. The Harrier’s top variant costs Rs 16.55 lakh (Rs 20k more if you want a dual tone one) and the Hector is Rs 16.88 lakh. That said, for the amount of features it packs in, the Hector is actually a fantastic value proposition despite the highest price tag.
Which one should you get? It depends what your priorities are. If you want a comfortable SUV and the experience behind the wheel is secondary, get the Hector. It offers you the most space and (low-speed) comfort, it definitely offers the best value for the money you’re forking up, and the features list is incredible. If you’re going to be chauffeured around, the Hector remains the top choice.
If you want an SUV that makes you smile when behind the 'wheel, the Tata Harrier is what you should be looking at. NVH aside, there’s very little to criticise about the driving experience. You compromise on space (though we have to clarify it isn’t small or cramped by any yardstick), and don’t get as many features but you do get an SUV with solid, mature and very well-sorted underpinnings that is great to drive while also turning heads with its styling.
The Hyundai Creta remains the safe, sensible choice. It will provide you a stress-free ownership experience (there’s no guarantee of that with the other two), and will be the lightest on your wallet. It isn’t an enthusiast’s SUV, nor is it a chauffeur-driven SUV, but it is the easiest to live with. Figure out what you want from your SUV, and you will know who to address those cheques to