Playing second fiddle is not something Maruti Suzuki likes to do and to address the S-Cross’ lacklustre performance in the mid-size SUV segment, it is readying the Grand Vitara. Besides being the company’s latest stab at the thriving segment, the Grand Vitara also brings in strong-hybrid technology as well as all-wheel-drive — both unique in this segment.
So, while on a media tour of its R&D facilities, when Maruti Suzuki asked if we would like a short drive, we said yes. And while it was a very short drive, with just a single loop of the banked track, highway loop and city simulation — we did gather some interesting first impressions.
Of the three powertrains we sampled, the strong-hybrid was the one we were most curious about given that it is a Toyota system integrated into the Suzuki Global-C platform that underpins the Grand Vitara. The three cylinder 1.5-litre Atkinson Cycle engine develops 92hp and 122Nm of torque and is paired to an electric motor that makes 79hp and 141Nm of torque. Combined power output stands at 115hp — modest numbers especially when held against the Creta 1.4 Turbo’s 140hp or the Skoda Kushaq’s 1.5 litre TSI that makes 150hp. And as you would expect it is not quick.
Off the line, it moves quickly, but the pace drops off as you build speed. Being the R&D facility, our phones were taken away and the only timing equipment with me was my wristwatch. Going by that, the Grand Vitara’s 0-100kph acceleration time was around 14 seconds, and I do not expect it to dip much more when strapped to our V-Box data acquisition system.
In-gear acceleration is also slow despite the kickdown; it is clear Maruti is chasing fuel efficiency and the company claims a 27.97kpl figure as per internal testing. That is really where this SUV will shine: remember Maruti Suzuki has no diesels and, in this segment, diesels are still popular. Thus, a fuel-sipping petrol should be much appreciated.
The strong-hybrid also has a dedicated EV mode, which you can access via a button on the center console. If the battery has sufficient charge and your driving style is relaxed, it will motor along happily with the engine shut. Maruti has not disclosed an electric-only range, but says that under a typical Indian driving cycle, the engine would only be running for 50% to 60% of the time, which is impressive.
We tried the EV mode and starting from a standstill, the acceleration is nice and smooth and we were able to keep it going with a pace comfortable enough for a city drive. However, put your foot down a bit more — to overtake for instance —and the engine does switch on.
There is no one-pedal driving mode as you find on some EVs, but you have a ‘B’ mode on the gearlever — this is in addition to the Normal, Eco and Sport engine drive modes — which maximises engine braking to charge the battery quicker. While driving in the regular D mode, the coast down feels like a normal ICE vehicle, while in B mode it feels like a slightly strong regen mode in an EV with the car slowing quite rapidly, although not to a full stop.
We also drove the mild-hybrid which uses Maruti’s four cylinder 1.5-litre K15C engine and, like the Brezza, it makes an identical 103hp and 137Nm of torque.
As long as you drive in a sedate and relaxed manner you will not be disappointed and the Suzuki power unit does feel smoother of the two with a lower sound level too. In the Toyota system, during transient phases like acceleration and deceleration you can hear quite a gruff note.
Interestingly, in-gear acceleration in the 20-80kph phase felt quicker. What was clear was the new 6-speed torque convertor gearbox, which, like on the Brezza, is smooth. What impresses is that with the paddle shifters, you can take control of gearshifts and the car lets you do as you please.
We also did get to drive the AWD version, which comes with only the 5-speed manual, not on any off-road or rough terrain. The manual gearbox shifts feel slightly rubbery, but they are smooth and require little effort. There really is not much to say at this point given the extremely brief drive and the specific tracks we drove on, but over the cobble stone section ride quality was nice and pliant. Over speed breakers the body does heave, but it did not feel uncomfortable.
What really stands out is the steering — the effort is low and at high speeds it feels secure and at parking speed, it automatically self-centers. This is unlike most Marutis that stay stuck and require you to twirl the wheel back.
Maruti is clearly not taking chances with the Grand Vitara. While it misses out on a diesel, it offers mild-hybrid tech that Maruti is known for as well as segment-unique AWD and strong-hybrid technology, which should really be a big draw for many, especially the latter. So, while it will not satisfy those looking for a peppy SUV, for those with an eye on efficiency it should do well indeed.