The latest iteration of this frugal MPV now adds more performance to the mix
The current electric car scene in India seems ironic. Leaving the environmental benefits aside, electric cars are meant to be an affordable mode of transportation compared to petrol and diesel cars. But then how many electric cars are accessible to the majority of car-buying masses? Currently, Tata Motors makes the most affordable EVs though its two EV offerings are priced way beyond the Rs 10 lakh mark putting them out of reach of the masses.
Fortunately, we have had CNG-fuelled alternatives for a long time. They are affordable to buy and run and with the spate of CNG pumps springing up everywhere, are accessible too. Maruti Suzuki realised early on the importance of CNG and most of its cars come with a CNG variant. In fact, the Ertiga was almost always offered with a CNG variant.
In its new avatar, the Ertiga CNG variant gets the new 1.5-litre DualJet motor which according to the carmaker, is even more frugal than before. It costs Rs 95,000 more than the respective petrol-powered variant though. That's quite a premium in a segment where value for money is the most crucial factor. Does the new Ertiga CNG justify its premium?
Externally, the only distinguishing factor between the Ertiga CNG variant and the petrol-powered one is a CNG sticker on the rear windshield. In fact, the Ertiga itself sees a few minor changes over its predecessor, being limited to just a new grille, new 15-inch alloy wheels and a repositioned chrome strip at the back. Despite the updates, the Ertiga is a good-looking MPV and has presence especially when viewed from the rear.
Inside, you'd be hardpressed to tell the CNG variant apart save for the CNG information on the MID screen in the instrument cluster and a box in the boot that hides the CNG cylinder. It is a compact unit built to accommodate the third row of seats but its 60-litre capacity is among the largest in CNG cars sold here. The neat packaging does not compromise the 45-litre fuel tank capacity which is the same as the conventional petrol Ertiga. The CNG tank eats into the boot space significantly though the rear seats fold flat, freeing up enough luggage space for a weekend trip.
Despite feeling a bit dated, the cabin has a cheerful ambience thanks to light colour plastic trim and fabric upholstery for the seats. It is a spacious cabin with ample space for the second row of seats. The third row should seat two medium-sized adults in comfort.
The Ertiga CNG variant is available in the VXi and ZXi variants which sit below the top-spec ZXi+ variant. We are driving the ZXi variant which gets features like engine start-stop button, height-adjustable driver's seat and climate control but misses out on the new Smartplay Pro infotainment system from the new Baleno which the ZXi+ variant gets.
This one gets a colour touchscreen infotainment system which does not feel as intuitive. Also the lack of a reversing camera is glaring (The ZXi+ petrol variant gets one). That said, I like the cooled cup holders in the centre console that has tiny AC vents and does a good job of chilling the contents placed inside. The instrument console gets separate analogue fuel level gauges for the petrol and CNG tanks and that's beside a CNG level display shaped like a CNG tank on the colour MID screen.
By default, the Ertiga starts in petrol mode and after a few seconds switches to CNG mode. Switching between the two modes is easy thanks to a simple switch on the dashboard.
The Ertiga CNG now gets a 1.5-litre DualJet engine sans the Smart Hybrid technology. This in-line four-cylinder motor delivers 101PS and 136Nm in petrol mode and 88PS and 122Nm in CNG mode. That's 2PS and 15PS less than the conventional petrol-powered Ertiga. Also, the CNG variant weighs a substantial 100 kilos more. Nevertheless, it is the most powerful CNG passenger vehicle you can buy here.
Performance is sprightly enough to keep up with city traffic. The motor is tuned for low-end grunt and given that there is not much performance in the upper half of the powerband, you are better off shifting early to gain momentum. There is no automatic transmission option which is a glaring omission as even Maruti Suzuki's most affordable hatchback gets one. However, the five-speed gearbox has short throughs and with the light clutch needs minimal effort to shift.
In petrol mode, it offers decent performance on the highway but drive it in CNG and you will have to plan your overtaking moves well in advance. The carmaker claims a fuel efficiency of 26.11km/kg which roughly translates to a range of 200km. Of course, you also have a 45-litre petrol tank as backup.
The Ertiga is quite easy to drive in the city thanks to fantastic all-round visibility and light controls. It impresses most though, with its plush ride quality that brilliantly soaks in most road imperfections irrespective of the speeds. The Ertiga CNG is not a corner carver but feels stable at highway speeds.
Prices for the Ertiga CNG start at Rs 10.44 lakh and go upto Rs 11.54 lakh ex-showroom. The Ertiga CNG comes across as a no-nonsense and spacious people mover that you can economically and comfortably transport your extended family in. The lack of important features and an automatic gearbox is disappointing but the light controls make it easy to drive.
The Rs 95,000 premium might be substantial but when you factor in the fact that one unit of CNG costs almost Rs 30 less than petrol, the running cost is significantly lower. Also, unlike EVs, even if you run out of CNG, you can switch to petrol which makes CNG cars like the Ertiga CNG not just economical but practical mode of transportation.