Maruti Grand Vitara has upped its game with more power and better equipment, while Honda CR-V combines practicality with strong performance and easy handling. Ameya Dandekar reports

Ever since its launch, the Honda CR-V has been the automatic choice for buyers looking out for an easy-to-drive SUV. But being the largest car manufacturer in India, Maruti won’t give up so easily.

Now in an effort to get to the top of the urban SUV pile, Suzuki has put a bigger and more powerful engine in the Vitara’s bay and has added a host of other improvements. But with a price hike of nearly Rs 2.5 lakh, do the improvements justify the extra dough you have to shell out? Considering the CR-V is still a whopping Rs 6 lakh dearer, the Vitara makes a good case for itself.

Step in

The Vitara’s interior design is recognisable as a Suzuki. You can see SX4 and Swift parts all around. Hard plastics abound and the all-black interiors are not very inviting either — not something you expect from a Rs 17-lakh car. However, on the plus side, the Vitara’s interiors do deliver a lot of comfort. The front seats are wide and very supportive to the shoulders, back and thighs. The driving position is good too, with the steering and the driver’s seat adjusting for height. The design of the centre console is quite attractive as well with deep red illumination.

The two-tone interiors of the CR-V look fresh and crisply designed. The dash is neatly laid out and there is much more of a quality feel here, similar to what we find in the other Hondas. The cabin is substantially more spacious. The dashboard design is also very clever and frees up a lot of space between the front seats. The contoured seats are supportive and cushion your body. It is also easy to find the perfect driving position in the CR-V thanks to a host of adjustments, like seat height adjust and reach and rake adjust for the steering.

The Vitara is roomy with spacious and comfortable seats. The rear seats are particularly so with their high seating position and a reclining backrest. They also have the right amount of cushioning albeit they are a bit flat and not that well-bolstered. But the upside is that the third passenger gets a good seat and the legroom is adequate.

The CR-V’s cabin is a nice place to be in. The wide front seats are comfortable and supportive. Rear seat comfort is also terrific but the seat cushions are a tad stiff. The 40:20:40 split rear seat on the CR-V is versatile and offers all kinds of seating combinations.

The highlight of the Grand Vitara is its new engine. It now gets a 2.4-litre petrol, as compared to the puny 2.0-litre unit on the earlier car. It also gets hi-tech variable valve timing, which is quite similar to Honda’s i-VTEC system. The motor puts out a healthy 163.5bhp of power and 23kgm of torque. As a result of using the bigger engine, the Vitara now feels much brisker than the older unit.

It now surges forward in a strong and linear way. Throttle responses have improved across all engine speeds as compared to the older model and the Vitara feels more enthusiastic now. It reaches 100kph in a very respectable 11.73 seconds.

The 161bhp motor of the CR-V is very smooth in its power delivery and, unlike other motors, it becomes smoother as you rev it. Like most Honda engines, you have to work the engine hard to extract the most out of it. The highlight of this engine is exceptional top-end performance. The i-VTEC motor really gets into its stride once past 4000rpm and the CR-V starts covering pace rapidly. As a result, the CR-V goes past the 100kph mark in a scant 10.96sec and will reach a top speed of 207kph, which is truly exceptional for an SUV. The Honda’s gearbox feels very refined and the six-speed manual is a joy to use.

Ride & handling

Both these cars come with four-wheel-drive transmission which allows owners to occasionally indulge in a spot of off-roading. The Grand Vitara is a better off-roader. The stiff suspension ensures that it is a good handler even on road. It corners with ample agility and you feel always well-planted, like you would in a saloon. The Vitara also feels more secure in the wet , thanks again to its permanent four-wheel-drive system. Additionally, the well-weighted, responsive and accurate steering, when coupled with Vitara’s good body control, inspires a lot of confidence. But the stiff suspension compromises the ride comfort and we wish the ride was more supple.

The CR-V is a very enthusiastic handler and feels more like a sporty hatch. Turn into a corner at high speed and the fairly direct steering and tight body control inspire such confidence that even some saloons can’t match its handling prowess. With disc brakes all round on both the cars, stopping power is great. However, like the Grand Vitara, the CR-V’s suspension is on the stiff side. There is a hard edge to the ride and sharp road irregularities can be felt. Overall, the CR-V has a flatter and more consistent ride and you are not tossed around. The Vitara retails for Rs 17.23 lakh, which is substantially less than the CR-V’s Rs 23.52 lakh, and comes loaded with decent equipment. However, we missed features such a powered driver’s seat, electric folding mirrors and leather seats which are standard on the CR-V.

The CR-V comes with dual-zone climate control, auto-folding mirrors, powered driver’s seat, telescopic steering wheel and sunroof as standard.

Suzuki offers a standard warranty of two years, limited to 40,000km. This can be extended by another two years and 80,000km. Honda offers the same warranty package as the Suzuki.

The Vitara returned 6.8kpl and 10.2kpl in city and highway fuel consumption tests respectively. The Honda returned 7.3kpl and 11.3kpl in the city and on the highway. The Grand Vitara’s trump card is its price, which is a whopping Rs 6 lakh cheaper than the CR-V. Honda spare parts usually cost more than Maruti’s, but Honda’s reliability is top-class. So trips to the workshop will be occasional. While the Honda may have better resale value, the CR-V’s inflated price tag makes it much more expensive to own.

Verdict

The new Grand Vitara has upped its game with more power and better equipment. The 2.4-litre engine offers lusty performance and has fantastic pulling power that makes it effortless to drive. You always feel there’s a surplus of power thanks to the linear and seamless power delivery. Other pluses include very comfortable seats and impressive off-road performance.

The CR-V has been the best-selling petrol SUV in India for many years now. It combines practicality with strong performance and easy handling. It is well-built and refined as well. The engine is a jewel too. However, Honda has jacked up the CR-V’s price in recent times. So is it worth the extra Rs. 6 lakh you have to pay over the Vitara? Yes, but only just.