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Will Vitara overtake the CR-V?

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The new Vitara is priced a lot less than its direct competitor, the CR-V. Will great pricing by Maruti be enough to take on Honda? OUSEPH CHACKO finds out

Maruti’s new Grand Vitara, which was launched internationally in 2005, is here and the new Vitara bears very little resemblance to the earlier version. This is a good thing given the original wasn’t well received as it was priced very high, not fuel efficient and had the traditional SUV underpinnings of a non-independent rear suspension bolted onto a body-on-frame chassis and this gave it below par ride and handling, especially when compared to a car. Today’s SUV buyer wants a vehicle with the looks of an SUV but one that can perform like a car and drive well on paved roads.

While the earlier Vitara had a long wheelbase, it was called XL-7, a powerful 2.7-litre petrol V6 motor and seven seats, the new Vitara has a much smaller engine, five seats and the biggest advantage is that it is priced brilliantly. Modern soft-roaders have rugged SUV looks and a high driving position but owing to the way they are engineered, they drive like cars. Therefore, the new Vitara has a lot to accomplish. The biggest challenge for the Vitara though is the Honda CR-V, which is its direct rival. The Honda is a very competent car as well but then again, the Vitara has that tempting price. Would it be enough to defeat the CR-V? We find out…

Design and engineering

The Honda CR-V has quite the radical design even though it hasn’t been very widely appreciated. Built on the Civic platform, with a ground clearance of 185mm and big overhangs, the CR-V is definitely not built for pure off-road use. The headlights on the CR-V are eye-catching and the transition from horizontal to vertical from the nose to the fenders is lost in the curves and cuts and the steeply raked windscreen is very car-like.

Suzuki is known for its off-roading prowess so it is no surprise that the Vitara has ladder-like chassis rails and cross-beams pressed into the bottom of the monocoque body for greater rigidity.

Most of us who saw the Vitara liked its looks and felt the designers efficiently balanced the straight lines of a traditional SUV and more modern flowing lines and curves.

Both cars use similar suspension systems; a MacPherson strut suspension at the front and a double wishbone rear set-up. Other common features include ABS brakes and anti-roll bars, front and rear, to keep body roll in control.

The interiors of the CR-V are fresh and it comes loaded with features like auto-folding mirrors, powered seats and steering wheel adjustment for reach to name a few. The contoured seats are supportive but slightly hard. The CR-V has a lot of extra space and the dashboard design is quite clever and frees up a lot of space between the front seats. The stubby six-speed lever is placed in the dash and the centre console is sharply truncated.

The interiors of the Vitara are a big let down. Nothing about the interiors makes one feel like this is a luxury car and most parts are borrowed from the cheaper SX4 and Swift. However, the seats are comfortable and the front seats are wide and offer good support to the shoulders, back and thighs. The rear seats are comfortable as well and there is sufficient legroom as one is seated high. However, the lack of sufficient separation between the front and rear seats makes you feel cramped.

Engine and performance

The Honda’s engine is a lot more smooth and refined compared to the Vitara. Maruti’s new Vitara has a two-litre DOHC four. Suzuki’s J20A was engineered along with Mazda and on this car, features technology like variable-length air intake (for better low and high engine-speed torque), four valves per cylinder and lower compression for India. The gearbox of the CR-V is light to use. If you switch to low-range via the switch on the dash in the Vitara, the low gearing make it easy to tackle the most difficult inclines.

Fuel economy

The Vitara’s full-time four-wheel-drive running gear penalises economy while the Honda’s sixth gear gives it a huge advantage. The Vitara delivered 6.7kpl and 9.5kpl on the city and highway respectively and the Honda delivered 7.3kpl in city conditions and 11.3 on the highway.

Verdict

Maruti usually achieves tremendous success because of its smart pricing.

There is no doubt that the new Vitara will probably do a lot better than its predecessor. In addition, it is Rs 4 lakh cheaper than the CR-V and that gives it a huge price advantage. However, is that enough to overthrow the Honda? Not quite! Besides the off-roading skills and Maruti’s strong service network, the Vitara isn’t very fuel efficient, does not come with the kind of features one would expect on a car of its price and even performance isn’t the best. In contrast, the Honda has a brilliant engine and really good interiors.

It might be more expensive but we feel it is worth it and these factors contribute to the fact that the CR-V remains winner.

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