Hyundai are back with the all-new 2020 Creta to take back the mid-size SUV crown from the Kia Seltos, MG Hector and Tata Harrier?
Nobody saw the opportunity of a car-like, mid-size SUV before the Hyundai Creta came along five years ago and set the segment ablaze. Over those years it has consistently sold over 10,000 units a month, only slowing down with the arrival of the Kia Seltos, MG Hector and Tata Harrier. No, I haven’t forgotten the Renault Duster, also a game changer, but that was more SUV than car. The Hyundai Creta, it took everything that was good and great with the Elite i20 and lifted it off the ground by a couple of inches. The ride height, the seating position, the whole shebang got jacked up, fresh new styling was slapped on, more features than you could wave a stick at were thrown in and—in the proverbial blink — Hyundai went from a maker of small cars with a Rs 10 lakh price ceiling to a mass- premium manufacturer that could easily command at least 50 per cent more.
Just that one car achieved an image transformation for Hyundai, something that Maruti Suzuki required a whole new Nexa line of dealerships to match. It was an instant best-seller. In a year, in my very immediate family, there were over a dozen Cretas. Over the five years, 4.67 lakh units were sold in India and 1.93 lakh were exported. It Won Every Single Group Test, every single award, and funnelled profits into Hyundai’s coffers like nothing else. You wouldn’t be wrong to surmise that the Creta’s success gave the Hyundai Motor Group the cash and confidence to launch the Kia brand in India — and of course the unprecedented response to the Seltos proved they were right on the ball. In fact, it was only the arrival of the Seltos that knocked the Creta off the top ten charts.
Of course Hyundai weren’t sleeping. We knew a new Creta was in the wings and now it is here. Sure it hasn’t come at the best possible time — we scrambled to collect our test car, film and photograph it, clock some decent miles behind the wheel testing it and send it all to press before India went into the lockdown. We had the full story in our April issue which is available as a free digital download here and now that the embargo on digital and social has been lifted we can put it up on the website and also have a full video review here.
I’ll be honest. When I saw it in the metal at the Auto Expo, I baulked. This isn’t good-looking in the traditional sense — in the way the old Creta was universally liked and the Seltos universally turns heads in all round appreciation. It is all a bit radical, a touch overdone if we are being perfectly honest. There’s so much going on — headlamps in the bumpers with the LED DRL element on the inner edge that travels upwards into the eyebrow DRLs and the two linked by an added dot-like LED element. The same three- element treatment carries on to the rear with the LED lighting element running through the three-piece taillamp cluster and via a dot-like element up to the eyebrows. There’s the added embellishment of the stop lamp above the Hyundai logo and the wide-and-bold Creta lettering on the hatch. The nose has a larger, wider and more chrome-embellished grille and below it the air-dam is blacked out to visually reduce mass and the black cladding runs along the flanks and to the rear bumper that has twin exhaust tips on this Turbo variant. These are not fake exhausts, I got on my hands and knees to make sure, and that gets the Creta brownie points in my books.
Our test Creta looks red but is actually called Lava Orange in Hyundai’s colour palette. For a moment I thought I’d gone colour blind! The Turbo variant also gets a blacked out roof, roof-rails and wing mirrors along with that Turbo badge on the boot lid and gun-metal grey 17-inch alloys. Those wheels are housed within large, flared arches that have prominent negative (concave) spaces to give it added definition. Every single panel, everything is pumped, pinched, flared, scalloped or worked on in some way or the other — this is Hyundai’s new Sensuous Sportiness design language and whether you like it or not you will be seeing plenty of it in the days to come; just check out the new Elantra.
Do I like it? At first glance, no I did not. But having spent two days with it before rushing this magazine to press, I can confirm that that it grows on you. It is brave. It is distinctive. It hasn’t been copied from anybody. It is uniquely Hyundai and will establish a future styling direction for the brand that doesn’t depend on any anybody else for inspiration. And it turns heads like crazy — more than the Seltos ever did, though it will be safe to assume that some of the reactions will be slightly uncharitable.
Impressive interiors on 2020 Hyundai Creta
That said, you will spend more time sitting inside the Creta and it is a very nice place to be in. As unconventional as the exterior is, the dash layout is conventional with a separate speedo nacelle and a distinct centre console that eschews the current trend for floating infotainment screens. Pride of place is taken by the new 4-spoke steering wheel with a flat-bottom that feels as good to grip as it is to look at. The instrument cluster has a 7-inch high-resolution screen for the speedo that has different colour schemes for Eco, Comfort and Sport modes (the latter obviously red) and is flanked by analogue gauges for fuel, revs and temps. The Drive Mode selector also has Mud, Snow and Sand modes but, just like in the Seltos (which has the same dial, in the same place and operated in the same manner) this has limited effectiveness because the Creta is purely front-wheel drive. The Turbo variant has an all-black colour scheme which would normally make the cabin feel smaller than it is but there is a huge panoramic sunroof that adds plenty of light and air into the cabin. In terms of space this is identical to the Seltos, down to the last millimetre, and that means slightly more space than the outgoing Creta though almost the same shoulder room. I’m 5-foot-9-inches tall and with me sitting comfortably in the driver’s seat I could be similarly comfortable in the back (though not with an abundance of free knee room). Five is still a squeeze, this is best used as a four-seater. The panoramic sunroof doesn’t pose any problems for headroom and you get cushions for the rear headrests, a la Mercedes.
While not as cushy as the Merc’s, it is a nice touch. The seats are comfortable,if a little lacking in side support up front and the steering adjusts only for rake, not reach. That said, the driving position suited me perfectly and the driver’s seat is also power adjustable. In fact let’s dive into the (relevant) feature list here — the front seats are cooled (absolutely brilliant feature for our Indian summers), the Blue Link app lets you remotely start and cool the car (now working on the manual gearbox also, not just the automatic), there’s a tyre pressure sensor, the sunroof opens with a voice command, there’s keyless entry and start, wireless charging, ESP, Bose sound system, a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen and paddle shifters for the DCT.
This being evo India, we naturally had to grab the sportiest version in the line-up, the 1.4-litre 138bhp turbo-petrol motor, mated to the 7-speed twin-clutch DCT automatic. This is the same engine as in the Kia Seltos, the same gearbox, and it performs in the exact same way — which we love! It is an enthusiastic engine and in Sport mode the gearbox quickens its shift speed and holds on is to gears longer while the steering weight also increases. The mapping for the steering is better tuned than on the Seltos — in the Kia, Sport mode makes the steering too heavy and rather difficult to effect quick direction changes in switchbacks (or when attacking a go-kart track like we did recently). The Creta didn’t throw up such problems on switchbacks (we have yet to take it to a track). It also sounds the same: powerful and a bit loud, but by no means irritating. And when thrown into a corner the front end grips very well. The ride quality has this European setup to it (which we’ve praised so much on Volkswagen Group cars) where you do feel small ripples in the road but as you pick up speed it stays unaffected by bumps on the road, doesn’t wallow or float, the nose doesn’t dive and you can drive it hard and fast over smooth and not-so-smooth roads. I thought the Creta would have a slightly more compliant suspension setup than the Seltos but they are dynamically identical. It even has the same brake feel, slightly spongy pedal feel but good retardation, thanks to all-round disc brakes. Understeer is well resisted and the nose bites strongly, though that said the Nexen tyres on the Creta do not grip as well as the Goodyear’s we sampled on the Seltos. There is more understeer and significantly more tyre squeal when pushed to its limit. As for body roll, it is evident, but is not too much to throw your passengers all over the place. All in all, the new Creta is good fun to drive and the addition of paddles for the gearbox makes it that wee bit more enjoyable on a twisty mountain road.
How different is it to the Seltos?
The answer is not at all. The wheelbase, length, width, height, weight, even price is bang identical. In fact Hyundai have resorted to giving the dimensions of the infotainment and speedo display in centimetres to differentiate it from the Seltos’ inches. The two are the same, and that’s a trend you will be seeing plenty of. The VW Taigun and whatever they call the Skoda will be the same. The next Mahindra XUV500 will be twinned with a Ford. Eventually Maruti Suzuki and Toyota will have mid-size SUVs and both will drive the same, while looking different. And that’s the key, the styling. How easy they are on the eye is going to sway your buying decision. You might prefer the sportiness of the Seltos GT-Line or the, err, Sensuous Sportiness of the new Creta. Either way, you cannot go wrong, but with the Creta you do get a slightly better value proposition because it costs a few thousand rupees less while also getting a panoramic sunroof and paddle shifters.Enough to take back leadership of what should rightly be called the Creta segment? I would hardly bet against it!
Sirish Chandran (@Sirishchandran)