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Big hatch or crossover? We drive the Maruti Suzuki S-Cross (Update: w/video)

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The Maruti Suzuki S-Cross has been available in the international market for quite some time now and we are finally getting it here in India (with a few tweaks to the specifications, and I’ll elaborate on that later).

So, what is the S-Cross? According to MSIL, it’s the first true blue crossover to hit our market. Now, the question that pops to the mind is what does Maruti mean by this. After all, we already have the Hyundai Active i20, the Volkswagen Cross Polo, the Toyota Etios Cross and the Fiat Avventura, so how is the S-Cross the first one? To answer that requires us to understand what a crossover is in the first place. Apart from the S-Cross, all the other ones are based on a hatchback that has been tinkered with to possess certain attributes that a crossover has. The S-Cross on the other hand has been conceived as a crossover from the drawing board. It has been built to have sedan-like qualities while offering certain characteristics that are commonly found on SUVs, thereby making its drive dynamics very different from what you would expected from a cross-hatch (for the want of a better word to describe the other cars).  It’s also a larger car than the others mentioned and in that sense it makes for a great lifestyle vehicle.

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In terms of styling, the S-Cross does resemble the now discontinued SX4 sedan; however that is where the similarity ends. It is popular belief that the S-Cross was indeed the hatchback version of the SX4 but there isn’t a common part between the two. Having said that, the S-Cross looks quite good in the flesh. The lines are clean and there is a hint of a muscular tone to the vehicle and the individual exterior features do add their own bit to the visual appeal. Take for example the headlight cluster. Those HID projector lamps with LED strips look awesome and they gel well with the rest of the snout including the two slat chrome grille. The cladding and functional roof rails also set it apart from the rest. You also get these rather neat skid plates as well as large 16 inch alloys to complete the package.

MSIL S-Cross interiors

The interiors have also been kitted out extremely well, and convey a premium feel, plus the cabin is rather spacious which further enhances the experience. The seats are nice and comfortable, the rear bench has rather decent legroom and you also get a fair amount of flexibility in seating with the split rear seats that allow you to accommodate quite a bit of luggage should the need arise. In terms of creature comforts, the S-Cross gets a high end infotainment system – a very nicely integrated touchscreen that we found to be one of the highlights. The steering wheel is nice to grip and has controls for audio as well as cruise control mounted on it and you also get a nice start stop button rather than a key insert. The dash and center console have been crafted well and add to the premium feel thanks to the soft touch plastic that has been used. There’s a lot of storage options on board as well including a large glove box and a number of cup holders. To put it simply, the S-Cross has the best interiors we’ve seen on a Maruti till date and we hope this trickles down to other products like the Ciaz and the Swift in the future.

Maruti Suzuki S-Cross DDiS 320 engine

Another area where the S-Cross really scores lies under the hood. Maruti Suzuki has decided to stick with only diesel engine options for the S-Cross (and that is honestly a good thing) and there are two engine options to choose from. These include the 1.3 DDiS that is found on the Ciaz and Ertiga as well as a larger 1.6 DDiS (which is what we got to drive). Now, MSIL has changed the way they’re talking about these engines and the 1.3 diesel is now known as the DDiS 200 and the 1.6 version is the DDiS 320. One look at the tech specs of the S-Cross reveals that these numbers signify the amount of torque the engine makes .

We got our hands on the DDiS 320 as that will obviously be the top spec version of the S-Cross for the Indian market. The engine pumps out 118hp @ 3750 rpm and 320Nm of torque @ 1750 rpm. It has been sourced from Fiat, however MSIL is currently importing it and not manufacturing it here like they do with the DDiS 200. Paired with the larger engine is a six speed manual transmission that is rather slick to use. Capable of going from 0 -100km/h in just 11.3 seconds, the S-Cross doesn’t disappoint in the efficiency department either for it returns an ARAI claimed mileage of 22.7 kmpl (we got closer to 16 kmpl in real world conditions). To put that in perspective, the smaller DDiS 200 makes 89hp @ 4000 rpm and 200Nm of torque @ 1750 rpm is capable of offering 23.65kmpl according to ARAI.

Maruti Suzuki S-Cross

Where the S-Cross DDiS 320 really shines is in the way it drives. The diesel motor is smooth and refined with very little sound creeping into the cabin. Get past the turbo lag at around 1800 rpm and it turns into a performance car. Alright, that is a bit of an exaggeration, however it does kick in with an abundance of power and you surge head rather quickly. The S-Cross is great in the ghats as well, however the JK Tyres that the test vehicle was fitted with didn’t do justice to the car and there was a lot of squealing happening on the corners without us even pushing too hard! Having said that, body roll is minimal and the car responds extremely well to steering inputs which allows for an engaging drive experience.

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While we have been quite impressed by MSIL’s crossover, there is a downside. The main issue being the fact that while it is being called a ‘true blue’ crossover, it doesn’t get an all-wheel-drive system (AWD). From a marketing standpoint, we understand that this would have escalated costs and with the DDiS 320 already having just a 60 per cent of localization in parts, this would have made it rather expensive to offer. Fine, we understand that, but from a sheer enthusiast level and in terms of sticking with the definition of a crossover, it would have been nice to see that on this car and our gut instinct is that this single feature would have really set the S-Cross apart from the rest. Anyway, there is always hope on that front and maybe MSIL will eventually come around and manage to stick in the AWD system once they further localize the parts on the S-Cross (yup, its wishful thinking but there isn’t a ban on doing that just yet in our country!). The other grouse that a lot of people have is to do with perception. Now, we found the S-Cross to be a rather decent set of wheels, however there are a number of critics who have found the car to lack in terms of visual appeal. Further to that, it is also being compared with compact SUVs such as the Renault Duster, Nissan Terrano, Ford EcoSport and the Hyundai Creta.  While on a sheer technicality, these products are not competition to the S-Cross as they don’t sit in the crossover category (currently the S-Cross would be the only one in that category), the consumer isn’t going to see it that way. For them it’s simple math “What all can I get in X amount of money?” Anything that falls into that price bracket is competition and while we don’t know the pricing on the S-Cross, we do expect it to be slot between the cross-hatches and these urban compact SUVs – sort of overlapping both segments. So, is it better than the Creta? Or for that matter, is it better than the other SUVs mentioned?  It’s hard to tell. The S-Cross has its merits, but these new breed of SUVs come packing quite a punch as well and it would be easy for people to sway in that direction and the answer to this in all honesty lies with the market and how consumers take to these products.

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Having said that, MSIL does have one trick up its sleeve for the S-Cross and that goes by the name of Nexa. Nexa is Maruti’s answer to changing the perception of the customer. The S-Cross will not be sold through standard MSIL dealers, rather it will only be available through a Nexa dealership – of which 35 are already up and running and 100 will be operational by the end of this year. The Nexa experience entails a premium service that starts right from the moment a customer walks into the dealership. Further to that, MSIL is also offering a lifetime relationship manager to each customer. It’s a personalized service and definitely something new in the service space.

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On a parting note, the S-Cross does come across as a refined product and the DDiS 320 is definitely our choice to go for. MSIL is also revamping their brand image with the S-Cross and through Nexa dealerships (which incidentally will offer more premium models in the near future), however, like every tale told about a new car coming to India – the deal maker or breaker is the price. With everything that MSIL is offering, the S-Cross isn’t going to be cheap, however it is up to the customer to see past the price point and evaluate just how much a value-for-money proposition this crossover truly is.

Update: The full first drive video of the S-Cross is right here, but just in case you missed it we’ve also listed out the top 10 things we like about Maruti Suzuki’s premium crossover for those of you who want a quick look.

 

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