When you own half the entire car market in India, every new product that you launch is watched very keenly. Maruti Suzuki has had a spate of new car launches this year, but none have generated more excitement than the upcoming S-Cross, a car with which India's largest car maker is targeting more than a few segments. In recent times, whenever Maruti has tried to go premium it hasn't really raked in the moolah, barring the Ciaz. But with the S-Cross, it is aiming to go a step further and create a segment that's now here to stay. The crossover space in India has seen a lot of action in the last one year. Almost half a dozen cross variants of cars from across the spectrum can now be seen on the roads. The S-Cross is all set to make that list longer. A first drive in the monsoon-doused environs of Nashik got us up close and personal with this crossover and here's what we came back with.Maruti’s latest premium
The major difference between the S-Cross and some other cars like the Active i20 or Etios cross is that this one is much bigger in dimensions. They are similar in the sense that you'll see that customary plastic cladding all around as also the roof rails. The car reminds you of the SX4, and in terms of design it slots itself nicely between a sedan and an SUV. The daytime running lamps that have LEDs are a striking feature of the car, that now tries to justify the premium tag in most cars. There's a decent amount of chrome on the smiling twin-slat grille and the fog lamps that are surrounded by the cladding. The rear design scores over the rest of the car with the tail lamps nicely integrated in the hatch. Overall, the S-Cross does have a dominating road presence, which works well for the segment Maruti is trying to slot it in. We're talking taking on cars like the Ford EcoSport and the soon to be launched Hyundai Creta.
The S-Cross comes with its fair share of "premium" features when it comes to interiors. An all-black theme welcomes you as you step inside the car. There's a soft touch dash on offer and its hexagonal shape looks very modern. Another premium feature is the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that offers GPS, a rear view camera and Bluetooth connectivity amongst other things. A start-stop button makes its way here too and so does a cruise control switch on the steering wheel. The backlit instrument cluster is pleasing to see and gives some vital information. However, the rear AC vents and electronically powered driver seat are two features that will be missed inside the car. The quality of plastics at some places could have been a shade better as well. Owing to the large wheelbase, there's a good amount of space inside the car. Despite the sloping roofline, the rear seat offers good room overall, even for tall people. The boot space at 353 litres is just about adequate and gets compromised as a result. But it can go up to a huge 810 litres once the rear seat is folded down.
Maruti has decided that the S-Cross will only be launched in two diesel avatars, both only manual. There's the ever reliable 1.3 litre 90 PS DDiS 200 Fiat motor that does its duty on several other cars from the brand. And then there is the more powerful and torquey 1.6 litre DDiS (also sourced from Fiat) that churns out 120 PS and an impressive torque of 320 Nm. This former is a five-speed transmission while the 1.6 is a mated to a six-speed transmission. Once again Maruti is claiming good fuel efficiency on both the engines — 23.65 kmpl for the smaller engine and about one kmpl lesser for the 1.6 litre motor. We got to drive only the latter during and two things that really work in its favour are its refinement as well as well controlled NVH levels. The pick-up can be a shade better too, but above the 2000 rpm mark the engine performs beautifully and is a joy to drive, especially on the highways.
Ride and Handling
The suspension settings on the S-Cross are tuned well in accordance with the Indian roads and takes to the bumps quite nicely. In fact, it won't be wrong to say that the car glides over them with ease. However, there is some bit of body roll which is a letdown considering the car isn't as high as some other SUVs that we see. The steering wheel could do with a little more feedback. The ground clearance at 180 mm is a shade lower that what would've been ideal for our roads.
The S-Cross is a good car coming at a difficult time. Price wise, it is going to take the Hyundai Creta head on that is coming with two diesel engines as well. Unlike its previous unpleasant experiences with selling premium cars like the Kizashi and Grand Vitara in India, Maruti is doing the smart thing by launching a new set of showrooms called Nexa that will sell the car exclusively. These showrooms will be in tune with the premium feel of the car and will help Maruti market the car in a much better way. The company will also appoint personal relationship managers for all S-Cross owners. The car will launch early next month and it's likely that it'll start retailing at Rs 9 lakh. Expect a lot of fireworks this festive season.
Shams Naqvi is an anchor/producer for the News X motor show Living Cars.