What is it?
Hyundai has just launched the Creta SUV in India. It enters a popular and hotly contested segment currently dominated by the likes of the Duster and EcoSport, and with a with three engine and two gearbox options and several variants spread across a Rs 5 lakh-rupee range, there's plenty of choice too. However, unlike true sub-four-metre compact SUVs like the Ford EcoSport, the 4.3m long Hyundai looks and feels half a size bigger. It has a long bonnet with an upright SUV stance, a rising shoulder line and a tapering glasshouse accentuated by a 'floating' roof. The full-sized look also works well with the big front bumper and the upright grille. It's attractively proportioned around the back too. The lower half of the car is wider, so it looks well planted, and the simple but attractive tail-lights look neat.
On the inside, dashboard is attractive and not over-styled. The centre console is blended neatly into the surface of the dash and to make the insides more attractive, Hyundai has used a lot of beige, and even some nice brushed silver accents. The chunky grab handles on the doors are a nice SUV-like touch, and the leather-covered door pads on this fully-loaded car just add a touch of class. On top-spec Cretas, at the centre sits a seven-inch, sat-nav-equipped touchscreen, while lower down, there are the climate control knobs similar to those on the i20. It's also a rather practical cabin, with loads of cup and bottle holders, small nooks for your phone and other knick-knacks and even a nice covered bin between the front seats. The 405-litre boot is not class leading when it comes to volume, but at least it is flat, well shaped and the full-size spare doesn't intrude into the loading area.
The long 2,590mm wheelbase gives it an advantage, especially as far as packaging is concerned. This translates to good room inside and legroom and headroom are quite impressive as well. The front seats offer good support while rear seat passengers will love the space and comfort on offer, with an almost flat floor aiding a middle seat occupant. The seats themselves are quite well contoured but we would have liked more thigh support in the rear. The other issue is that you are seated a bit low down in relation to the front seats, and the high window line just adds to that impression. Overall, your view from the back seats is more akin to what you'll find in a sedan than an SUV.
Feature-packed interiors are a Hyundai hallmark, and that’s quite evident in the Creta as well. The top-spec SX(O) is loaded with equipment that includes push-button start, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, navigation system, rear air-con vents, steering-mounted audio and telephony controls and leather upholstery. It's a shame, though, that this trim is exclusive to the Creta 1.6 diesel manual - if you want any other engine-gearbox combination, you have to settle for a lower-spec car with less equipment. For example, the automatic version is only available in the SX+ trim and it misses out on features like leather upholstery. Also, it gets smaller 16-inch rims instead of the 17-inchers on the top trim and only two airbags instead of the full six. The petrol car too has SX+ as its top trim, while the 1.4 diesel version doesn't go beyond the S+ trim. We hope Hyundai offers more options in the future.
What's it like to drive?
Hyundai's SUV is powered by a set of engines shared with the Verna - 1.4 and 1.6 diesels and a 1.6 petrol, all of which get a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, though the bigger diesel gets the option of a six-speed auto as well. We managed to drive both the 1.6-litre motors - petrol and diesel - and came away quite impressed. The 1.6-litre diesel engine is smooth, silent and feels very punchy in its band of operation. While its high power output of 126bhp is important, even more important is the healthy torque figure of 26.5kgm; the latter helping with the additional weight of the SUV. There is a fair bit of turbo lag initially and the engine hits its stride only after 1,700rpm, so you do sometimes find yourself needing to shift to a lower gear at times in traffic. Performance after that, however, is strong and overtaking is just a flex of the right foot away. And the Creta is also well-suited to highway use, the punchy midrange and tall gearing working well on open highway roads to deliver plenty of useable performance. So what you want to do with the diesel is stay in the 2,000 to 4,000rpm powerband. What remains a strength of this motor, however, is refinement - it's smooth and silent at just about any RPM, and even the clutch action is super light.
The gearshifts on the six-speed manual 'box are positive, with precise and short throws. As for the six-speed automatic on the 1.6 diesel, in normal D mode with a relaxed driving style, it shifts up very early, so progress is relaxed but adequately rapid. Thanks to the torque converter masking the engine's initial turbo lag, the power delivery is quite linear, making this Hyundai SUV easy to drive. The gearshifts are smooth and remind you that refinement and comfort have been given more priority than ultimate performance. It does help that you can shift gears manually via the gear lever when you need that sudden acceleration for overtaking. Even in this mode, however, it will automatically upshift at the red line, and it's slow and reluctant to downshift manually. It's a very old-school slush-box, and for most this should be fine, but if you want to drive quickly, it's nowhere as good as something more modern - like VW's DSG dual-clutch unit.
We also drove the smooth and very refined 121bhp 1.6 petrol. Initial responses are quite immediate and this makes it fairly nice to drive at a relaxed pace. So it feels at home in the city and does well as an urban cruiser. Performance, however, is better termed brisk rather than outright quick. The mid-range of the engine feels a bit flat and it doesn't enjoy being spun fast; so if you are looking for scintillating performance, it will disappoint.
The Creta also has an absorbent ride. The suspension works silently even on heavily rutted sections of road, and bump absorption too is right up there with some of the best riding cars in its class. It may not ride as flat as the Renault Duster, and there may be a bit more movement of the body over bad roads, but the Hyundai comes close enough. Yes, sharp bumps filter through, and then the suspension does feel a bit fragile, but for the most part, especially at lower speeds, ride quality is excellent and Indian car buyers will like that.
What's also surprisingly good is the steering of the car. To begin with, it is light and easy to twirl, and what makes it better is the fact that it feels direct, with not as great a sense of vagueness around the straight-ahead as you find in most Hyundai cars. Straight-line stability is good, and the steering weighs up nicely as you speed up too, but that weight does feel a bit artificial. We also found the Creta surprisingly willing to turn into corners. It does roll a bit on its tall suspension and does not grip the road with the confidence of the Renault Duster, but all things considered, the Creta is quite accomplished in corners too, which makes it a good all-rounder.
Should I buy one?
Buyers looking for a compact or mid-size SUV will be pleased to know that the Creta is well built, comfortable inside and very well-equipped. It feels reasonably composed and easy to drive and what helps further is that the 1.6-litre diesel engine is one of the best around. So, as an overall package, the Creta works really well, with good powertrain options, smart interiors, generous space and of course loads of equipment. The fact that Hyundai will offer an automatic diesel from the off will only add to its overall appeal. The Hyundai Creta has been launched at a starting price of Rs 8.59 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the base petrol manual, but the top-spec diesel versions - manual and automatic - cost Rs 13.6 lakh and Rs 13.57 lakh respectively, making them a bit on the pricey side. The thing is, though, Hyundai has done really well to, on the surface at least, make this feel like a properly premium car, which should be (and has been, going by its great initial response) enough to draw in a lot of customers.