What is it?
Well, it’s not an SUV according to conventional perception, something that’s clear from the very first glance. Technically, all cars in this segment – the Duster, Terrano, Creta and even the smaller EcoSport – are crossovers too, but while they go out of their way to ape the styling of butch, rugged SUVs, Maruti’s new S-Cross doesn’t. In fact, the company acknowledges that, calling it a ‘premium crossover’ rather than an SUV. That makes it quite unique, and also gives it its biggest challenge, given our image-conscious market that likes its SUVs to look the part. Sure, it does have the requisite black plastic body cladding, scuff plates and roof rails, but its overall shape is clearly more akin to a very large hatchback, with its soft, rounded shape and drooping nose. And then there’s the fact that the ground clearance, at 180mm, is not in the same league as the rest. There are a couple of nice touches, however, like the big projector headlamps with their LED strips, the two-slat chrome grille, the strong belt line and the wing mirrors that sprout from the doors rather than the pillars.
What’s it like on the inside?
While the exterior is not the S-Cross’s strongest point, it more than makes up for that on the inside. The upholstery may be all black as it is in the Swift, but the design looks clean, smart and sporty. The material quality is the best we’ve seen in a Maruti, with good fit and finish, well damped buttons and generous use of soft-touch plastic. There’s even a nice textured layer on the top of the dash which has a nice soft touch, however the lower plastics like the glovebox have a hard feel and shiny look. Leather covers not just the seats (where it gets contrasting double stitching), but the steering wheel, gear lever and the door pads as well. The only disappointment is that Maruti has still retained some switchgear – like the window buttons and mirror adjuster – from the likes of the Swift and lesser models.
Back to those seats, and they too have been rather well executed. At the front, you’ll find them snug and supportive, and that there’s a good view out thanks to the relatively low dashboard. Move to the rear, and you’ll find a surprisingly generous amount of space, even for three. There’s plenty of room to stretch your legs, and shoulder room is great too. Headroom, meanwhile, while not class leading, is more than sufficient. At 353 litres, the boot volume may not sound like a lot, but the space is well- shaped and the loading lip is not as high as in a full-on SUV, so it’s a bit more practical. The seats also split 60:40 and fold almost flat, all at the tug of a very light lever – which is a very European touch. In fact, from the inside, the sensation you get is that this is a car engineered for the discerning European market, not something watered down for India, thanks to the solid, quality feel of everything you touch. You also get a lot of practical storages spaces all around the cabin for your knick-knacks, including a full-size bottle holder in each door.
Maruti has also acknowledged the importance of a strong equipment list these days, and given that the S-Cross is its most premium offering, you can bet it’s well kitted out. The top-spec S-Cross Alpha variant comes with keyless entry and go, a six-speaker touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone integration, satellite navigation, auto climate control, Bluetooth, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers, projector headlamps and disc brakes all around. It’s good to see that Maruti has equipped all but the base Sigma trim with dual airbags and ABS, though even that one gets a single airbag. The only big omission vis-à-vis the competition, is a rear AC vent.
What’s it like to drive?
You can have the S-Cross with the Ciaz’s 89bhp 1.3-litre Multijet engine with a five-speed manual, but the bigger news is the new 1.6-litre diesel. Dubbed the DDiS 320 (for its 32.6kgm or 320NM of torque), this engine makes a solid 118bhp and is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Incidentally, there won’t be a petrol version at launch, nor will there be an automatic or four-wheel drive. The one we’re sampling, of course, is the new 1.6-litre diesel.
Start it up and you’ll find it’s decently refined, though not quite in the league of Hyundai’s 1.6 from the Verna and upcoming Creta. The clutch is light enough and gears slot in authoritatively, though not with a buttery smoothness. What is smooth is the way it gets off the line, but then you soon realise that it feels a quite sluggish before the turbocharger kicks in. That only happens at around 1,800rpm, at which point the full force of that 32.6kgm comes in strong. It takes a bit of acclimatisation, and you have to learn to work the gearbox around the spiky power delivery. Also, the tall gearing, which only accentuates the lazy responses at lower revs. The upshot is that it makes for a great highway cruiser, sitting comfortably at 100kph in sixth gear at just 2,000rpm. Even overtaking manoeuvres at these speeds don’t take more than a small flex of your right foot, thanks to a really strong mid-range. The
S-Cross will continue to pull till about 4,500rpm, though at this point, you will get a significant amount of diesel drone.
The ride quality is also pretty good. Though the set-up is noticeably firm, it manages to smoothen out most of what our roads can throw at it, and only gets better as you go faster. Sharp bumps will register a solid thud in the cabin, for sure, but smaller irregularities get ironed out pretty easily. The upshot of the slightly firm set-up is that the S-Cross is very stable out on the highway, and really quite good at going round corners with minimal roll. This is where you’ll be happy for its classification as a crossover rather than an SUV; it really feels like a large hatchback in the handling department. The steering is not perfect – there’s a vagueness at the centre that makes itself felt at highway speeds, and you might find yourself making corrections to keep it in line. That said, it’s nowhere near as bad as the Ciaz, whose steering feels a lot looser and also doesn’t return freely to centre. As with the cabin quality, it’s in the handling too that you feel a sort of European maturity that’s missing from many of Maruti’s other cars.
Should I buy one?
The S-Cross doesn’t make the strongest first impression with its styling, but then Maruti is clear that this is meant to be a crossover and not an all-out SUV, so perhaps it’s best not to look at it that way. Seen purely as a premium car, it ticks most of the right boxes – it’s well equipped, has a strong engine, a high quality cabin, loads of space and pretty good comfort as well. Maruti, as always, is sure to price it aggressively too, which should give it a big advantage. So while it may not wow customers with its road presence or styling, like most cars from Maruti, it’s the sensible things that should draw buyers to the S-Cross – space, practicality, value and, of course, a hassle-free ownership experience.