Maruti Suzuki’s first-ever midsize premium SUV packs in several firsts and is more than just an all-new entrant in its segment
The Grand Vitara nameplate evokes some interesting memories. Back in 2007, it was the first ‘big’ vehicle I drove as a fledgling journalist. It impressed, with the refinement and performance from its petrol engine and dynamics both. In fact, it’s these very virtues that helped the Grand Vitara find favour with enthusiasts and also made it popular in motorsport, especially in rally-raids like the Raid de Himalaya and Desert Storm! But times change and so has the Grand Vitara which is back to our shores, this time, as a hybrid SUV. There’s a lot more to it than just that though – it is Maruti Suzuki’s first ever midsize premium SUV, meaning it goes up against names like the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, Volkswagen Taigun, Skoda Kushaq and of course, the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder that it has been developed alongside. But besides being the first ever Maruti to use a strong hybrid powertrain, it’s also the first one to be equipped with AllGrip, Suzuki’s all-wheel drive system. And that makes it a very strategic product for the country’s largest car maker!
It looks eye-catching from the very first glance – new-age Marutis look very striking and this one follows the trend well. More importantly, it looks very different from the Urban Cruiser Hyryder and has a distinct identity of its own. It also looks very premium from all angles and has the poise and stance that make it look very upmarket. The Grand Vitara sports the split-headlamp design that’s become the norm and the execution is very appealing looking, thanks to the three-element DRLs. The grille uses a gloss black pattern with thick chrome surrounds and overall, the mug looks very good, especially in this ‘Nexa’ blue colour. Its boxy silhouette confirms the Grand Vitara’s SUV status along with the squared wheel arches, while the 17-inch wheels use a familiar-looking design. A taller stance would have enhanced its appeal as a midsize premium SUV though. The rear end is one of my personal favourites thanks to the tail lamp design and the LED strip running from end to end. These heighten the Grand Vitara’s premium quotient thanks to the intricate design and the translucent plastic cover for the lights. The rear is thus very good looking overall, but I would have liked a different finish for the faux skid plate to make it look more rugged.
The interiors here are the most premium we have seen on a Maruti yet. The dual tone theme (especially the wine red-like colour in the mild hybrid) with black, soft touch materials and overall ambience help the cause. The contrast stitching on the dashboard rib, and the quilt-like pattern on the top half of the seats all add to the rich feel, as does the large panoramic sunroof which lets in lots of light as it only has a thin fabric below the glass panel. This is besides the sunroof having the largest opening, as the rear glass slides behind too! That said, while it adds to the cabin’s airiness immensely, the thin fabric under the sunroof will also let in a lot of heat during summers, meaning the air-conditioning will need to work overtime to cool the cabin!
Coming back to the spaciousness, the cabin looks compact but is spacious, be it at the front or at the rear. The driver and co-passenger have enough space to move around while rear occupants get ample kneeroom and legroom, also thanks to the 2,600mm wheelbase. Boot space in the strong hybrid can be called decent at best, as the battery pack eats into luggage space, though an additional flat board has been added to make it flat. The mild hybrid offers more space in comparison. In keeping with its positioning as a midsize premium SUV, the Grand Vitara is also equipped with a long list of features. You thus get a lot of kit, right from ventilated front seats, a head-up display, 360-degree view to a 9.0-inch standalone touchscreen display for the infotainment system which offers an array of information.
It includes the tyre pressure monitoring system, current and average fuel efficiency, energy flow graphic and of course, the 360-degree view system we first saw in the updated XL6. The head-up display is the same that we first saw in the new Baleno and offers a wealth of information depending on the view chosen and you can also adjust the display height.
The strong hybrid version obviously gets a fully digital instrument cluster, while the mild hybrid version uses conventional clocks with a coloured multi-information display in the middle which also looks crisp and uses bright colours. It’s this display that tells you about the driving modes in the all-wheel drive version. The Grand Vitara is also high on connected tech and gets a long list of functionalities like remote engine start-stop, air-conditioning on/off, geo-fencing and a lot more, all accessed via the Suzuki Connect app.
We drove the mild hybrid (called the SmartHybrid) and strong hybrid versions both. The mild hybrid uses the same 1.5-litre, four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine we’ve seen in the Brezza and XL6 and outputs are the same at 103PS and 136Nm. Transmission options are the same too and you can choose between the five-speed manual and six-speed torque converter automatic, with paddle shifters. While the engine itself feels sprightly and power delivery is linear, on the road, at times you do feel the need for additional grunt considering that the Grand Vitara is heavier than other cars we’ve tried it in. I only managed to drive the automatic version and the gear changes are smooth, but gearshifts and responses both could have been slightly quicker. That said the paddle shifters do help matters. The gearbox is also sure to impress buyers looking for hassle-free driving in traffic.
The strong hybrid powertrain is the bigger talking point though, being Maruti’s first-ever hybrid. This is the same powertrain as Toyota’s Urban Cruiser Hyryder that uses a three-cylinder, 1.5-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine along with an electric motor and power is sent to the front wheels via an e-CVT. The biggest highlight here is its claimed fuel efficiency number, which at 27.97kmpl is the highest number for an SUV in the country. And Maruti claims the strong hybrid version can do 1,200km on a tankful of petrol – a feat even small hatchbacks can’t boast of! Of course, only a real-world test will help us assess the claim but over 1,000km should certainly be doable. The three-cylinder engine produces 92PS and the electric motor produces 80PS, but the combined output is 115PS, while the peak torque produced is 122Nm. The strong hybrid focuses on being extremely fuel efficient so it isn’t a driver’s SUV, but will certainly appeal to those looking for hatchback-like fuel efficiency numbers from a premium SUV. I expect it to be around 40 percent more efficient than regular petrol engines.
The engine does not come on when you press the start button and you take off silently in EV mode and the engine comes on only when the hybrid system’s battery needs to be recharged or when additional performance is needed, like when accelerating hard. Effectively, the Grand Vitara feels like an EV when taking off from a standstill but press harder on the throttle and the engine comes on and also makes itself heard inside the cabin, being a three-pot engine. The petrol engine’s primary job thus is to recharge the battery pack and not power the wheels directly. All this flow of energy can be viewed directly on the instrument cluster display itself.
We got to test the Grand Vitara’s off-road prowess on a purpose-built off-road track and the SUV certainly impresses off the tarmac. Now, Maruti Suzuki isn’t a name that comes to mind when you think off-roading but the Grand Vitara is quite a capable SUV. Obviously, given the technical complexities of strong hybrid powertrains, all-wheel drive is on offer on the mild hybrid only. The Grand Vitara’s ground clearance, approach and departure angles allowed it to take on all the obstacles with utmost ease, including a deep pit, articulation pits, a steep incline to experience hill hold and hill descent and a slush pit. The metered power delivery and precision of the AllGrip system, in conjunction with the ability to lock a mode, helped the Grand Vitara impress on the tricky stuff thus.
The Grand Vitara also impresses on tarmac, feeling stable at highway speeds and holding its line well around corners. More importantly, it has Maruti Suzuki’s secret sauce that makes all its car engaging to drive! We’ve always liked Marutis for their road manners and the Grand Vitara continues the trend, feeling confident and offering a good feel and feedback via the steering. There’s a good balance between ride and handling too and the Grand Vitara soaks up undulations well and will also impress buyers looking for a family SUV.
In a nutshell, the Grand Vitara is easily the most impressive Maruti Suzuki yet. The car maker has certainly come well-prepared to enter the midsize premium SUV ring and not only does it tick most boxes for a wide range of buyers, but it also impresses on various fronts, be it fuel efficiency, a sharp, appealing design, exhaustive feature list or dynamics. Prices for higher variants of the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder have been announced but not the lower ones, and I’m expecting the Grand Vitara’s pricing to undercut them slightly. Add to that Maruti Suzuki’s unmatched sales and service network in the country and it isn’t easy to guess that with its kind of packaging and the Maruti Suzuki brand name, this one is a guaranteed blockbuster!