What is it?
Crossover by name, crossover by design, the Maruti Suzuki S-Cross is a sort of halfway house between an SUV and a large hatch. Designed to deliver the best of both worlds, and do it well, the S-Cross, however, started life in India, at something of a disadvantage. No, there wasn't anything intrinsically wrong with it, and it wasn’t lacking in any important area either; far from it. It's just that the drooping bonnet and crouching profile didn't exactly match with what Indian buyers expect an SUV should look like. No surprise then, that the S-Cross – first launched in 2015 – wasn't exactly a runaway success.
Initially the S-Cross came with two Fiat-sourced diesel engines – a 90hp, 1.3-litre unit and the imported (and rather fun) 130hp, 1.6-litre mill. The latter was too expensive and found few takers, and was subsequently discontinued with the introduction of the refreshed S-Cross in 2017, which also gained a mild-hybrid system for the sole 1.3-litre diesel.
Crossover design not to all tastes.
The 2017 S-Cross facelift came with a larger grille and a new SUV-like chin, which added a much needed dose of muscularity. It was very well-priced too. However, Maruti’s midsize SUV never quite enjoyed the success the Hyundai Creta, for example, did. And that's despite being just as capable.
Fast forward to 2020 and, with no BS6 diesel engine and no new turbo-petrol unit and no all-new model on the horizon, does the S-Cross with just a 1.5 litre naturally aspirated engine actually have that much to offer? Especially considering the segment has moved so far forward with the introduction of the Kia Seltos and second-gen Hyundai Creta. The 2020 S-Cross gets both, a petrol engine and an automatic gearbox, for the first time, but is that truly enough to get customers interested? Let's get right to answering that.
What's the S-Cross petrol like to drive?
Maruti's 1.5-litre petrol engine is familiar. Putting out 105hp and 138Nm of torque, it is the same naturally aspirated motor that powers the Ertiga and Vitara Brezza. It isn't the most powerful or torquiest engine in its class. Rivals like the Creta and Seltos come with 140hp and 242Nm of torque from their turbo-petrol versions and even their naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol units churn out 115hp and 144Nm of peak torque. And then there's the new Nissan Kicks turbo-petrol and the Renault Duster turbo-petrol, both of which get a 1.3-litre direct-injection mill belting out a stonking 156hp and 254Nm of torque. So the S-Cross is clearly outgunned in the power and torque race. Also, take into account that the S-Cross only comes with an old-school 4-speed torque convertor automatic – compared to its rivals’ CVT and dual-clutch automatic units – and things don't look too good on paper.
105hp, 1.5-litre petrol engine shared with the Vitara Brezza, Ertiga and Ciaz.
Specifications, however, seldom give you the full picture. The S-Cross automatic is actually quite accomplished when driven in the city. It is smooth and quick on the draw in start-stop traffic. There are no hesitations or jerks when you get on and off the throttle, and the S-Cross even scoots into gaps in traffic nicely. The torque convertor gearbox firms up low-speed responses and works nicely with the 1.5 K-series engine. And with fewer ratios to play with, the gearbox holds on to a lower gear for longer. Also, keep your foot down and let the engine rev past 3,000rpm and it even accelerates well; the strong top-end adds considerably to the driving experience.
Performance isn't strong per se and gear shifts are a bit slow, which results in a leisurely 14.2 seconds to do the 0-100kph sprint (in the wet). There’s a big gap between 2nd and 3rd gears, after which acceleration flattens out for a bit. Still, if you are looking at the automatic S-Cross primarily as an urban runabout, it will more than get the job done. In stop and go traffic, it’s responsive and smooth, which is just what you need; no more, no less. Just don't expect too much by way of performance when you drive it on more open roads and highways.
The S-Cross auto excels in the city but isn't at its best on the highway.
The old-school automatic also has no tip-tronic or manual mode, no paddleshifters and no drive modes either. You only get low, 2nd and an overdrive lock-up button for when you want to overtake on the highway. The automatic stop-start function, however, is extremely quick to react and very useable as a result.
The 4-speed automatic's shifts are on the slower side.
The 5-speed manual is clearly the sprightlier of the two gearboxes on offer, especially on an open road. The 1.5 K-series engine – while down on power – is still typically Suzuki: smooth, free-revving and imbibed with a sense of fun in the top-end of the rev range. This makes it particularly pleasing to drive in an energetic manner. Performance is also quite sprightly; the manual S-Cross did the 0-100kph in 12.08 seconds, again in the wet. Thanks to the slick-shifting gearbox, driving the S-Cross with some enthusiasm comes almost naturally.
|2020 Maruti Suzuki S-Cross petrol performance (as tested)*|
|S-Cross MT||S-Cross AT|
|20-80kph||12.61s (in 3rd gear)||8.34s (in kickdown)|
|40-100kph||15.87s (in 4th gear)||9.87s (in kickdown)|
*Performance figures not to Autocar India test standards
The crossover is even light and easy to drive in traffic. The engine is quick to respond at low revs – you get a bit of a nudge in the form of an electric assist from the hybrid drive after 2,000rpm – and the clutch is nice and light. The mid-range is quite flat, however. Squeeze down on the accelerator a bit harder and nothing much really happens for a couple of seconds, and that means you do have to downshift. The mid-range kick of a diesel is missing for sure.
Slick 5-speed manual gearbox helps make the S-Cross enjoyable to drive.
What makes the S-Cross pleasant to drive and be driven in is a comfortable, mature ride. The suspension functions silently and thuds are muffled effectively when it goes through potholes. Since you are not tossed around in the cabin too much, you can carry a good amount of speed over bad roads. In fact, the designed-for-Europe setup (Suzuki and Fiat developed this platform together) works so well, the S-Cross is even entertaining to drive. There's plenty of weight and feel coming through from the steering, confidence at speed is very good and the S-Cross is even surprisingly agile and willing to dive into corners. You can't quite flick it through a set of bends like you can a Swift. However, what's clear is that with its neat and tidy handling, it is, in fact, so good, that this is among the best driving Maruti cars. The brakes are very effective too and with discs all-round (rare in this segment) the S-Cross’ stopping power is among the best in class.
Ride/handling balance is excellent.
What's the S-Cross petrol like inside?
If you're familiar with the S-Cross, you’ll notice there aren't too many changes on the inside. The S-Cross petrol gets the updated SmartPlay screen interface, with its improved user experience. The dashboard, dials and everything else in the cabin is just the way it was and isn't necessarily a bad thing. Wide, spacious and airy – despite the black interiors – the S-Cross’ interior is an extremely comfortable space to spend time in. The large front seats are supportive and well cushioned, quality levels are quite impressive and the cabin is also ergonomically sound and easy to get in and out of. Even the switchgear is very well constructed and functions in a slick manner.
There's no real change on the inside.
The S-Cross also has one of the most comfortable rear seats in its class. There's plenty of legroom, the long squab of the seat means thigh support is good and what makes sitting in the rear even better is that the backrest is nicely angled and can even be reclined by a small amount. However, you don't AC vents in the rear, and there are no USB or 12-volt sockets to help you charge your devices.
Rear seat comfort is a highlight of the S-Cross.
Where the S-Cross falls far behind is when it comes to features. You do get LED projector lamps and automatic headlamps and wipers, but not much more than that. Things like cooled seats, wireless charging and even a sunroof are missing.
New SmartPlay Studio infotainment system is nice to use.
Should you buy the S-Cross petrol?
It's a much overused cliché, but the petrol S-Cross is a car you buy with your head, not your heart. This midsize crossover is spacious, comfortable and nicely put together on the inside, it has a great ride and handling balance and, with a Rs 12.39 lakh sticker for the top-of-the-line automatic version, it undercuts just about every automatic in the vicinity – the range-topping Creta 1.5 auto costs Rs 4 lakh more, and upgrade to the Creta turbo-petrol auto and the difference in price rises to Rs 5 lakh. The automatic, though old school, actually works quite well in city.
The S-Cross petrol is another great value for money Maruti.
The manual S-Cross is even better priced and starting at Rs 8.39 lakh, it is outstanding value for money. Sure, the engine isn’t very exciting, it’s a bit short on features and it's a crossover rather than a proper SUV, but at the end of the day, it is a car that is great value for money. Living in the shadow of its super star rivals, the S-Cross is possibly one of the most underrated models around and in this new petrol avatar, which will seek out a new genre customers (who only want petrol and not diesel), the S-Cross has a good shot at finally getting the success it deserves.
All prices, ex-showroom, Delhi
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