Maruti's new compact MPV opens up a new segment. Nikhil Bhatia has the details

The Ertiga MPV has got the basics right. It has three rows of seats, it can seat seven and it comes with the option of both petrol and diesel engines. Also, its monocoque construction promises much in terms of car-like comfort and driving manners.

With a length of 4265mm, the Ertiga is a fair bit shorter than the other MPVs in the market. It also sits lower than the other MPVs, so those upgrading from a small car will immediately take a liking to it. Styling at the front is instantly recognisable as a modern Suzuki. The headlights that sweep back towards the A-pillars are reminiscent of the Swift (on which it is based) and there is more than a hint of the Ritz in the front grille and bonnet. A large air dam and neat enclosures for the fog lamps add a touch of sportiness.

The styling of the rear is rather ordinary and just conforms to the MPV design template. However, there are no complaints about the fit and finish or paint quality. The Ertiga is quite spacious on the inside and it's not hard to see why. With the wheels placed at the front and rear extremities, the Ertiga boasts a wheelbase of 2740mm which is just a shade shorter than the Innova's and Xylo's. The chief beneficiary of this is cabin space. The middle row sits on rails and can be pushed back a full 240mm, so there is acres of space to stretch out on the second row. And even after adjusting these seats to accommodate a pair of adults in the third row, you are left with more than sufficient legroom. Middle-row occupants will also like the view out of the TV-sized windows, and the easy ingress and egress courtesy the large rear doors and ideal seat height.

Getting into the last row via the rear doors is not that straightforward though, and requires some amount of contortion. The seating position is not as ‘knees-up' as on other MPVs, which is a good thing, but the seat squab is short and this compromises thigh support. Shoulder support is good and headroom is decent so long as you don't recline your head all the way back on to the headrests.

The front seat occupants also get really supportive seats. While there is no dedicated dead pedal, the spacious footwell allows drivers to rest their clutch foot on highway drives. You also get a good view out of the windscreen, though the thick A-pillar can be a problem at crossroads. That said, the driving position is really nice and car-like. Contributing in no small measure to this feeling is the neatly laid out dashboard that is identical to the Swift's. However, as on the new Swift Dzire, the use of beige, grey and silver plastics in the Eritga cabin does make it look more upmarket in comparison to the hatchback.

If you plan to travel long distances with a full complement of seven occupants, there will not be much space for your luggage. For more space, the last row seats can be folded flat. For cargo van-rivalling space, you have the option to fold the middle row too, and the 60:40 split in the middle row further aids flexibility.

Maruti will sell the Ertiga in three variants each for both petrol and diesel models. Save for the base petrol model, all variants get ABS while the top models also get driver and passenger airbags. Climate control is not available on any trim level, though middle- and top-spec cars do get twin air conditioners.

Powering the Ertiga is a new 1.4-litre petrol motor from Suzuki's acclaimed K-series family of engines. Peak power output is 93.7bhp at 6000rpm and torque is 13.26kgm at 4000rpm. As with all Maruti's newer petrol motors, refinement is really impressive with a very quiet idle. On the move, what you get is a good spread of power, which makes the engine fit for both city and highway driving. Driveability is fairly good, though the build-up of power is sometimes slightly slow in the mid-range. However, stay in the same gear and the engine will happily spin right upto its 6200rpm rev-limiter.

The other engine on offer is a 1.3-litre Fiat-sourced turbo-diesel that also does duty on the Swift, Dzire and SX4. Peak power here is 88.7bhp, which is made at 4000rpm. As on the other Marutis, initial power is only decent but there is a surge of power once the turbo takes effect at about 2000rpm. You do have to get used to this sudden build of power in the city, but out cruising on the highway the engine works like a treat. Both petrol and diesel variants come with smooth-shifting five-speed gearboxes and light and user-friendly clutches.

Maruti's goal with the Ertiga was to make it as car-like to drive as possible and as our driving impression collates, it has succeeded in its mission. Key to this is the Ertiga's use of a car-like monocoque chassis as opposed to a more rudimentary body-on-frame construction as on the other MPVs on sale in India. Even the suspension is what you'd usually find on a hatchback or saloon. The benefits of this set-up are evident from the word go. Firstly, the ride is always flat and pliant at speed and there is also no low-speed bounciness that's associated with typical MPVs. Even sharp bumps are tackled with aplomb, though you can hear the suspension at work. But it's really from behind the wheel that the Ertiga impresses. You can take turns with confidence, body roll is well-contained and in general the feeling of control is very reassuring. The steering offers good feedback and is light enough at city speeds to make you believe you are driving a small car. Manoeuvrability is one of the USPs of the Ertiga.

Its engines score well on refinement and driveability and also come with an ARAI-certified fuel economy figures of 16.02kpl (petrol) and 20.77kpl (diesel). While prices will be revealed only at the official launch in mid-April, we expect it to be in the price range of Rs. 7 lakh to Rs. 9 lakh. If Maruti nails this price point, it would be really hard to not recommend the Ertiga.