The S-Cross gets a striking new face, a few cabin design tweaks and mild hybrid technology for its 1.3-litre diesel engine.
What is it?
The S-Cross may not have sold in the numbers Maruti Suzuki hoped for but this crossover is still a very significant model for India’s largest automaker. Launched in 2015, it was the first car for the company to be sold out of the new and upmarket Nexa retail network. And with the Grand Vitara and the Kizashi bowing out, the S-Cross is the flagship and the most premium offering of the range. No wonder then, that despite selling a humble (for Maruti) 53,000 units in two years, the company is not giving up on it. The S-Cross is back with a fresh face, a host of tweaks and for the first time, a mild-hybrid system
The biggest change is to the face in a bid to address the S-Cross’ biggest weakness, its uninspiring looks. In fact, this is more than a facelift, with almost everything forward of the windscreen, apart from the fenders, completely new. The S-Cross gets a muscular new bonnet, with strong character lines that are visible even from the driver’s view point. What really catches your attention and is the large, toothy grille with strong chrome accents. The new headlights look very high-tech and remind of the previous-generation BMW 5-series. But it’s only the top Alpha model that gets LED projector lights and LED daytime running lamps, while the lower three variants make do with halogens. The front is rounded off by an eye-catching new bumper and the overall design, while not classically pretty, is quite striking and certainly enhances the road presence of the S-Cross. Changes to side are quite minimal, like most mid-life updates, but the car does get new machine-polished 16-inch wheels that look quite fetching. At the rear, the more observant will notice a new LED tail-lamp design.
Visually, the S-Cross gets a breath of fresh air and the fresh face catches a lot of attention. This will, no doubt, get more people into the showroom. However, it must be said that the S-Cross continues with its crossover stance and the facelift has not resulted in a more SUV-like design.
What's it like on the inside?
The interiors are quite familiar and largely carried over, and, though there are more soft-touch materials, the overall cabin feels quite plasticky and lacks the luxury quotient of cars in this price bracket. The touchscreen display is the same, but it now supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We had a go at the latter and found it nice to be able to use the phone functions from the car’s screen; but the system is a bit slow to respond. On the top two variants, the dashboard uses a new, high-gloss piano-black treatment and also gets some satin-polished chrome trim. If you opt for the top Alpha variant, you'll get leather upholstery as well.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive and the driving position is quite adjustable thanks to rake and reach adjustment for the steering wheel. The rear remains quite spacious and comfortable, but passengers at the back will miss having AC vents. The 375-litre boot houses an additional 12V power outlet and is large enough to hold luggage for a short vacation. The seats fold flat in a 60:40 split, allowing you to further increase space as needed.
The S-Cross has a good feature set in the top model, including auto headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control and more. The switchgear is shared with most Maruti products and you don't get the lovely full-colour multi-information display from the Baleno. Buyers at this price point will have liked the option of a sunroof too. Happily, the S-Cross now offers dual airbags, ABS and rear Isofix mounts as standard on all variants. The vehicle has been tested at Maruti's state-of-the-art R&D facility at Rohtak and the company says it is fully compliant with the upcoming safety regulations, including frontal offset crash, side impact and pedestrian safety.
What is it like to drive?
The S-Cross now comes with just one engine as Maruti has dropped the previous 1.6-litre diesel from the line-up, leaving just the 1.3-litre diesel engine. The 1.6-litre engine, fully imported (from Fiat), added Rs 1.4 lakh to the price of the car, which was just too steep for buyers to digest. But, with it gone, Maruti hasn’t supplemented the range with another engine. We would have also liked a petrol option but Maruti says it doesn’t have a suitable petrol motor at the moment. Also, there is no automatic option and, again, it’s down to the fact that the only option is an AMT, which the company is hesitant to use as the drive feel of an automated manual gearbox isn’t good enough for its flagship model. That leaves just the ubiquitous 1.3-litre diesel with a five-speed manual gearbox for the S-Cross, but the engine does see something new with the addition of Maruti’s smart-hybrid technology.
If you have any experience driving a 1.3 diesel Maruti Suzuki in the past few years, the engine and gearbox will feel familiar. It's a loud motor, but the NVH levels are the best we've seen from the current Maruti, and it stays relatively quiet in the cabin until you rev the engine above 3,000rpm. With 90hp and 200Nm of torque, the engine is adequate for the S-Cross for normal driving but when you want to drive with a sense of urgency, it’s a bit underpowered. The lack of grunt is most felt at low revs where this engine’s notorious turbo lag makes you work the five-speed gearbox a little bit more. On the bright side, the gearbox has a nice and slick feel while the clutch is not overly heavy.
This mild-hybrid set-up uses an Integrated Starter Generator motor to offer a mild torque-assist function that mainly aids fuel efficiency. It also features a start-stop system and brake energy regeneration. The system works seamlessly and the difference to the driving feel is negligible, but Maruti quotes a 7 percent increase in efficiency and a reduction in carbon dioxide outputs from around 115gm/km to 105.5gm/km.
The S-Cross has a well-judged suspension set-up. Ride comfort is good, with a supple and planted feel that absorbs all but the nastier potholes in the road. Factor in the generous ground clearance, and the S-Cross can handle broken roads without stress. High-speed behaviour is excellent as well, and the car feels planted at triple-digit speeds through flowing corners. We didn't get to test the outright fun factor on a tight mountain road, but the S-Cross impresses with how it balances comfort and dynamics.
Tyre size has risen from 205/60 R16 to 215/60 R16 and the new JK UX Royales are a big improvement over the previous JK Elanzos as they offer quieter performance and good grip. However, the tyre’s stiff sidewalls do result in a stiff-kneed ride at low speeds. Steering feel is typical of most new-age Marutis and there’s a decent amount of weight, but with a slightly light and vague feeling at the centre. Disc brakes all-round offer secure performance, but we'd have liked stronger bite in the initial pedal travel.
Should I buy it?
The updated S-Cross will be launched in a few days and pricing should be similar to the outgoing version, perhaps with some marginal increments. We expect the four variants to be priced between Rs 8.2 and Rs 11 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). This means that the S-Cross will continue to be priced significantly lower than its main rival, the Hyundai Creta 1.4. The S-Cross has received a fairly big makeover, but it continues to be a practical and pleasurable vehicle to drive and be driven in. However, Maruti was unable to broaden its appeal through the introduction of petrol or automatic variants in this facelift. As before, the S-Cross is just the right size to be a practical family car, while remaining compact enough to deal with the urban crawl. Its striking new face certainly gives it more road presence but it lacks the appeal of an SUV and doesn’t quite have the emotional clout of its rivals. Instead, the S-Cross plays to Maruti’s strengths and is worth considering if you’re looking for a practical, no-nonsense family car at an attractive price.