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Maruti Suzuki S-Cross

Introduction

Japanese engineering changed the perception of automobiles globally when their reliable and frugal engineering ousted the European finesse and American extravagance to emerge as global top players. Suzuki entered India through a joint venture and the face of the Indian passenger car market was transformed. The days of the rugged, old-school, unreliable guzzlers were numbered as the sophisticated refined machinery started making its presence felt. Maruti Suzuki, since then, has been a pioneer in many areas like the compact hatchbacks, compact sedan, entry-level MUV and even the introduction of the auto-manual transmission. 

Maruti has been the king of budget cars for years now, but it is the luxury segment that has been their Achilles heel. The Baleno, in spite of being one of the best sedans available, did not make a mark in its segment and neither did the Kizashi. The Vitara iterations lost out to the CRV and it seemed like Indians were not ready to spend luxury money on Maruti. This probably may be the reason the XA-Alpha concept did not materialise for years while the contemporary Ford EcoSport made it to the streets and became a success. With the launch of the Ciaz last year, and its steadily mounting sales numbers, Maruti is slowly finding acceptance in the upper segments and today, we have with us, the S-cross crossover, ready to enter the fray along with the about to be launched Hyundai Creta. As we drive the car, we try to find out if the S-cross is going to give MSIL the success story it needs in the higher segments.

Exterior

The S-cross stands true to its name. It is a crossover that finds synergies with big hatchbacks than an SUV, but it is a big car by all means. Unlike Ford, who shrunk the EcoSport to below four metres, Maruti Suzuki has brought the global car into India, which at 4300mm is as big as many of the C-Segment sedans. 

The front fascia is similar to the Ciaz while the overall design of the S-cross still carries cues from the muscular SX4 sedan. The big headlamps dominate the front along with the chrome grille that has two horizontal slats and the Suzuki badge in the middle. The silver bash plate on the blacked out lower half of the bumper and fog lamps complete the front look. Only from this angle, the S-Cross manages to look like a crossover, from both side and rear it looks more like an overgrown hatchback. 

The side profile is relatively ordinary. It isn’t too tall for a crossover nor does it offer extraordinary ground clearance at 180mm. We would also love to see a different design of alloy-wheels instead of the ones on the media cars. The rear is dominated by split tail lamps and the hexagonal number plate recess. Wraparound cladding, blacked out B and C-pillars and roof-rails give the car a much needed macho look overall, though we found it to be ordinary when compared to few of the contemporary designs.

The S-Cross may not get any awards  for the looks, but it does send across the right message. It appears premium, unlike most Maruti products on sale today, and that then forms a solid base to compete in the crossover segment. 

 

Interior

The interior of the S-Cross is quite different from rest of the Maruti cars. Step inside and the sporty all-black theme creates a positive impression. The dashboard is a mix of hard plastic and soft touch material with silver accents that looks nice but the fit and finish could have been a notch better. The three-spoke leather wrapped steering with audio and telephone controls feels good and uses the same theme as the leather seats with contrasting white stitches. 

The instrument cluster features an analog speedometer and tachometer with the multi information display between the two. The display reads out the electronic trip meters, average fuel consumption, distance to empty, fuel level, temperature and other relevant information. The feature list of the S-Cross includes push-button start, automatic headlamps, rain sensing wipers and even illuminated vanity mirrors on both driver and co-driver sun visors. The 2-DIN touch-screen infotainment system is enabled with navigation and is surrounded by hexagonal silver surrounds. The system interface is not very intuitive but sounds great with the two tweeters supplementing the four speakers. 

The front row space is good and three people can sit comfortably in the back seat if you can adjust with the transmission tunnel that has been carried forward as a part of the global body shell. Despite the black theme, the cabin feels roomy thanks to the greyish white roof lining and the third row window quarter panel. Although for a 4,300mm long car, the cabin space is slightly less than the expectations set by the new generation C-segment sedans. The bigger surprise is that the rear seats do not get AC vents nor a 12V power outlet. The boot space at 353 litres isn’t too big, though the design will allow maximum utilisation of the space. It can be further expanded to 810 litres after folding the rear seats.

The interior of the S-Cross scores over all the existing crossovers including the Ford EcoSport, Renault Duster and Nissan Terrano. It will probably be humbled by the Hyundai Creta, which is expected to offer a similar features list, yet impeccable quality that we have seen in all the recent Hyundai cars. 

Performance

The S-cross is available in diesel only with two engine options, the traditional old 1.3 variable geometry multijet engine that develops 90bhp of power and the brand new 1.6 litre multi jet diesel engine that develops 120PS power at 3750 rpm and 320Nm of torque at 1750rpm. The new 1598cc diesel engine’s characteristics are very similar to the other Fiat-sourced diesel engine, which means, there is a substantial amount of turbolag and the car feels almost dead below 1,750rpm, while the thrust beyond that is surreal. There is typical diesel clutter when idling but as the engine revs up, it smoothens out. This is one of the more refined diesel engines in the segment, especially at high rpms.

The first two gears of the six speed manual transmission are shorter which makes getting out of the blocks very easy but taking the feisty nature of the turbo surge, it may be tricky to handle in traffic. The clutch is fairly light but it doesn’t engage smoothly and will need time getting used to. The transmission is smooth, though not as much as the 5-speed box. You can cruise at about 120kmph in about 2000rpm in sixth gear which means the car will be quite economical on the highway runs. Maruti claims a fuel economy of over 22kmpl and we think it will comfortably return 14-16 kmpl in mixed driving conditions. We could not test the 1.3L S-cross but an informed guess would mean it is slightly underpowered, yet very economical.

The S-cross, being more of a crossover, sits lower with a ground clearance of 180mm which is more than enough to tackle most of the mountainous speed humps we get. The suspension setup – McPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear – is on the softer side. The ride quality is good at almost all speeds and soaks most of the road bumps and undulations. A larger pothole though will result in a thud. The car feels planted on smooth roads while it may feel a bit bouncy on rough roads. The NVH levels in the car have been kept low which helps the car mask speed in a better way. The all four discs – perforated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear –provide excellent braking which is only limited by the 205/60 R16 JK tyres. The tyres start squealing at the slightest provocation around corners and traction even on the straight line isn’t the best.The electronic power steering is light but weighs up at higher speeds – which is a good thing – but it lacks feedback.

Verdict

Maruti-Suzuki has played it quite safe with the S-cross. They have got in the new, powerful 1.6 diesel for the new generation that likes to move in the fast lane and the 1.3L for the ones who prefer economy over most things. The long feature list that includes cruise control, touch screen system, automatic headlamps and other things, ensures that the buyers will get good returns for their money. Being a Maruti Suzuki product, after-sales and good service is a given.

With the more powerful engine option, the S-cross is expected to be priced above the Ciaz, where it will face stiff competition. While the S-cross beats the Duster/Terrano twins on the equipment list and quality, it loses out on the off-road capability and handling front. The soon to be launched Hyundai Creta looks beefier, but might lose out in the driving dynamics. 

The pricing will play an important role in deciding the fate of the S-Cross and it might not be the best option if taking on the rough roads is high on the priority list. But if having a commanding position, adequate power and basic dynamics to tackle potholes and speed breakers is enough, then the S-cross will make lot of sense, especially if it manages to undercut the competition on pricing.

 

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