Size and price are big influencing factors when car buyers start the process of identifying their vehicle from the myriad options that are available now. The duo are in even sharper focus in the fast growing multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) or family van category.

Similar to what has happened with the other segments, like small cars and sedans, the family van segment too is witnessing a sort of ‘Indianisation’. And we are going to be seeing more and more brands launch smaller vehicles that will still essentially attempt to cater to the buyer looking for a family van that can accommodate more than six passengers.

Maruti has just about managed to get a head start with the launch of the Ertiga. More such vehicles from other brands will follow soon. But in the meanwhile, the Ertiga is enjoying all the attention from buyers who are new to the segment and have till now been intimidated by the size and price of the other options like the Toyota Innova, the Chevrolet Tavera and the Mahindra Xylo.

The Tavera had fast ceded its share of the market for individual MPV buyers to the Innova. Even in the institutional (read taxi) segment, the Innova has become the dominant vehicle over all else. But, with the Ertiga coming into the frame the dynamics of the MPV segment is already undergoing a change.

The Ertiga’s proposition is simple – appeal to MPV buyers looking for compactness, and low cost. But it also manages to package the other important parameters that buyers look for such as reliability, versatility and easy maintenance.

From the heap of feedback and queries we regularly get in Smartbuy, it would be easy to gauge that there is huge bunch of MPV buyers looking for a more manageable size for the vehicle, so that driving on crowded city roads, and reversing and parking in tight spots is easier. These buyers would still want the vehicle to be a seven-seater, they would still expect decent leg room and space in the vehicle, and they would prefer diesel.

The Ertiga manages to satisfy all these parameters and offers it all in a much more compact form. It is clearly shorter in length, width and height, so much so that it looks just like a large hatch next to the Innova and the Xylo. But, the Ertiga is also smartly packaged to optimise the space in the cabin.

What is missing is the longer overhang at the rear. For the most part this seems to affect only the amount of space available for luggage at the rear, with all three rows of seats in use. The Eritga’s luggage space is the lowest of the three. But then, with most owners, the number of times they’ll need to load up the luggage space to the brim would be far fewer compared to the number of times they’ll have all three row occupied.

With differential in the wheelbase in the Ertiga compared to the Innova and the Xylo being much lesser, the amount of legroom and kneeroom for the three rows of seats in the Ertiga is only a bit lesser than the other two. Yes, it is a tight package and Maruti engineers know about it, and to lessen the effect of the space constraint they have offered a longer rail for more seat adjustment of the second row. The third row is, as a result, truly usable even by adults, though it may not be as comfortable as the second row fully stretched out.

Family business

The Ertiga is also easy to pick on for its reliability factor, a key trait that helped the Innova build its reputation over the years. Built on the same platform as the Swift and the DZire, the Ertiga gains strength from the history of reliability and quality that the Swift has built over the years. From its lineage, the Ertiga also gets its looks being more car-like and less van-like, which is also a plus point given the dowdy image that a van conjures up in the minds of most buyers.

The only weak design aspect of the Ertiga is the rear where the small tail-lamps (chosen to promote its hatch orientation) give it a less authoritative stance. In terms of width, the Ertiga is the thinnest and while that makes it easier to park in tight spots, the amount of shoulder space available on the second row bench is lesser. It will be a squeeze for three adults.

But the Ertiga gets one other benefit from its platform lineage – the refreshed, improved quality cabin from the new Swift. The overall quality of the trim in the cabin, the comfy seats and the improved quality of the plastic parts and knobs carried forward from the Swift give the Ertiga’s interior an appealing and upmarket feel. The perception of quality in the Innova’s cabin is also similar, though the overall layout of the dash and interior features feels a bit dated.

Performance

In terms of performance, the Ertiga’s petrol and diesel engines are not the most powerful. For example, the Innova petrol is definitely the peppier and despite the extra heft compared to the Ertiga, the former will still feel quicker off the block and stay that way all along the rev-band.

The Ertiga’s new 1.4-litre K Series petrol engine is smaller, less powerful and more focused on fuel efficiency compared to the Innova’s 2-litre mill. The diesel engine is a slightly different story. The Ertiga gets the same 1.3-litre DDiS diesel engine that is also offered in the SX4 and the Fiat Linea.

Though in terms of sheer displacement this engine is half the size of the Innova’s and the Xylo’s 2.5-litre engines, the peak power output of the Ertiga’s diesel mill is still respectable. The Ertiga’s power to weight ratio is higher per tonne than the other two. But the Ertiga diesel doesn’t really tear up the road due to the peak torque kicking in later in the engine’s rev-band compared to the Innova engine, in which the turbocharger spools up quicker and delivers peak power early.

Bottomline

All other things considered the Ertiga’s biggest draw will be its VFM packaging. Loaded with most features that buyers look for in this segment, trim-to-trim the Ertiga is still priced lower than the others.

Compact, lower priced and reliable, many buyers will agree that the Ertiga manages to get the job done of moving their families in relative comfort.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

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