Maruti has almost played to perfection the balancing act in the Ertiga that combines space, practicality and ease of use

The Ertiga has answered all its critics with the kind of response it garnered since its launch. There’s already a six-month wait period on some variants. We’ve got our hands on both the petrol and diesel versions to find out how well the Ertiga does the job it set out to do.

Peel away the Ertiga’s skin and you’ll find it is based on a heavily modified Swift platform. The wheelbase, at 2740mm, is a considerable 310mm longer than the Swift’s and the kerb weight has increased by around 155kg. But this is impressive considering it’s a seven-seater. Suzuki has kept the Ertiga’s weight in check with extensive use of lightweight high-tensile steel in its construction. With a length of 4265mm, the Ertiga is a fair bit shorter than the other MPVs in the market. What’s more, it also sits lower than the others, which is not surprising considering it uses monocoque construction instead of the body-on-ladder-frame layout used by other MPVs. Styling is typically Suzuki, with swept-back headlights like the new Swift’s, and a grille and bonnet that resemble the Ritz. The overall design is pleasing, but not what you would call eye-catching.

The brilliance of the Ertiga lies in its exceptional space efficiency and the key to this clever packaging is the cab-forward design and flexible seating. Entry to the cabin is made easy by large doors that open wide. The dashboard is a straight lift from the Swift, which means quality and ergonomics are good. Even the door pads and other plastics are of good quality, and the Ertiga doesn’t feel built to a price. There’s a long list of equipment too, which includes a CD player, Aux and USB ports, steering-mounted audio controls, powered mirrors and power windows. However, the more affordable VDi/VXi variants do without alloy wheels, fog lights and airbags.

Visibility is decent from the front seats, which are taken from the Swift. They are broad with soft yet generous cushioning, which makes them truly comfortable even over long journeys. In the second row, the seat squab is a touch short, so under-thigh support is not as good as we would have liked; other than that, it’s hard to fault. The high ‘hip point’, adjustable backrest, terrific headroom and decent legroom make the Ertiga’s middle bench a pretty comfortable place to be. The narrow access means getting into the last row requires some contortion, and once you’re inside, shoulder room is tight and the squab is short. However, you sit a fair bit off the floor, so you’re not as ‘knees-up’ as in other MPVs.

Well-designed

The Ertiga’s best trick is the massive 240mm seat travel that allows you to deftly balance the legroom for both the second- and third-row passengers. The flexible manner in which the rear seats function is also pretty clever. With all seven seats in place, there is enough space in the back to hold just two soft bags, while a concealed storage bay hidden beneath can hold small items. For more space, the third row can be folded flat. You also have the option to fold the middle row, and the 60:40 split further aids flexibility. The Ertiga comes with two engine options — the familiar Fiat-sourced 1.3 Multijet diesel and a brand new 1.4-litre K-series petrol. The petrol produces a peak output of 94bhp at 6000rpm and torque is 13.25kgm at 4000rpm, and its crisp throttle response is its biggest trump card. Driveability is fairly good too, and gearshifts are kept to a minimum. It’s very quiet at idle but tends to get quite vocal as you rev harder, and the overall refinement isn’t as good as in the new Swift. The diesel Ertiga, on the other hand, uses the same 89bhp, variable-geometry turbo (VGT) engine that powers the SX4, but the gearing is quite different. So, despite it being heavier than the saloon, the Ertiga’s shorter gear ratios help make it quicker off the line.

The fly in the ointment is the considerable turbo lag below 2000rpm and the lack of response at low revs. Fall below 2000rpm and you will be forced to downshift to keep the engine on the boil. Once the turbo kicks in, there is a strong surge and the Ertiga picks up speed quite rapidly. However, the uneven power delivery makes driving in traffic not as effortless as we would have liked and this drawback is accentuated when you carry a full complement of passengers. Out on the highway though, the strong mid-range makes the diesel an able cruiser. Since you’re usually in the meat of the powerband at cruising speeds, it responds quite well to throttle inputs to make overtaking easy and fairly effortless.

The Ertiga’s driving dynamics are largely influenced by its long wheelbase — the 2.74-metre gap between the front and rear axles gives this MPV good poise and straight-line stability for most situations. The flipside is that it isn’t happy darting through corners and prefers a more relaxed driving style. The soft suspension means the low-speed ride is pretty absorbent, and even as speeds increase, the Ertiga handles bumps with aplomb and feels pretty solid.

Considering its MPV proportions, the Ertiga doesn’t roll excessively and the steering is fairly accurate too. In fact, the Ertiga’s manoeuvrability in town is really impressive and you tend to forget that you are piloting a seven-seater. What you do miss is a tighter turning circle and the ability to wiggle into tight parking spots as with a hatchback. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the Ertiga is by far the most urban-friendly MPV in the market today.

Given the Ertiga’s bluff proportions, we were quite impressed with its fuel efficiency. The diesel returned a frugal 12.8kpl in the city and 16.8kpl on the highway, while the petrol-powered car managed 10.2kpl in the city and 14.8kpl on the highway.

The Ertiga offers the practicality of a seven-seater and yet is as easy to drive as a mid-size saloon. The petrol Ertiga is quite strong and tractable, and feels equally peppy in the city and on the highway. To offset the upward spiral of petrol costs, Maruti has priced the base petrol variant at a mouth-wateringly low Rs. 5.89 lakh, which makes it outstanding value.

The diesel Ertiga, however, is significantly more expensive, with the top-end ZDi stretching to Rs. 8.45 lakh. Also, the diesel motor feels sluggish at low speeds and the spiky power delivery can be annoying in traffic.

However, for sheer versatility, there is no other vehicle at this price point that even comes close, and as a pure family car the Ertiga is hard to beat.