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Ertiga to make a cut
Maruti Suzuki may be king when it comes to small cars, but the company has never been able to maintain its grandiose status when moving on to bigger segments. Except for Dzire that has managed to carve out a strong position in entry sedans, Maruti's run beyond compact cars can simply be described as dismal - something evident from the catastrophic performance of the now-defunct Versa (its first three-seater, now doing well as the Eeco) or the shoddy run of the premium sedan Kizashi, or even the more mainline SX4.
The company, however, has refused to give up and is now on the verge of making yet another attempt in the bigger segment with Ertiga, a multi-purpose vehicle it hopes will help it make a cut in one of the fastest-growing segments of the auto industry.
And the vehicle does not disappoint, if we talk about first impressions. We got an exclusive drive of the Ertiga in Goa, ahead of its formal launch on April 12, and the vehicle showed clear signs that it is going to be a tough match for rivals.
DIMENSIONS AND HANDLING
First things first. The Ertiga - based on the RIII concept the company had showcased at the Delhi Auto Expo in 2010 - will certainly be a rival not only to fellow MPVs like Toyota Innova or Mahindra Xylo, but also to many of the sedans that would come within its price range (yet to be announced, but expected a little upwards of Rs 6 lakh).
Maruti has taken pains to ensure that the vehicle while being a seven-seater like its other MPV rivals, feels and drives more as a car. Design aspects as well as the feel of the drive are aimed at making the Ertiga appear more 'car-like' rather than give the unwieldy and heavy feel of driving a bigger vehicle.
With an overall length of 4, 265 mm, it is shorter than the Innova (by 320 mm) and the Xylo (by 255 mm) and is also lesser in width. The sobered dimensions take away some of the bulkiness associated with the other two vehicles and the Ertiga looks manageable, even on crowded city roads and narrow lanes. While on the run, the vehicle is well planted and the suspension is also good enough to handle bumpy rides, aided well by a smooth gearshift. Further ease in handling is provided by a turning radius of 5. 2 m.
Coming to the powerhouse of the Ertiga, it will offer both a petrol and diesel drive. While the diesel variant is powered by the company's trusted 1, 300-cc engine (manufactured under licence from Fiat) that also does duty on the SX4, the petrol engine is an all-new 1, 400-cc one that owes its lineage to the famed K-series line. The diesel engine produces 90 PS of maximum power at 4, 000 rpm and 200 Nm of maximum torque at 1, 750 rpm and while it lacks a big initial thrust for quick overtaking, it shows its strength at over 2, 000 rpm.
The petrol engine comes across as very refined and offers maximum power of 95 PS at 6, 000 rpm and a torque of 130 Nm at 4, 000 rpm. It is smooth and torquey. The company claims a mileage of 20. 7 km per litre for the diesel variant and 16 km per litre for the petrol, though these could not be independently verified during the drive.
As mentioned earlier, the intention of Maruti has been to give the Ertiga the feel of a car not only in the way it drives but also in the way it looks. The bulkiness is removed due to the relatively smaller dimensions of the vehicle and its lower height of 1, 685 mm (Innova 1, 760 mm, Xylo 1, 895 mm) just adds to that.
The Ertiga comes across as a smart and practically-built vehicle, but borrows in design from one of its siblings, the Ritz. The front of the Ertiga looks like the Ritz and robs it of any individual facial characteristic. The overall exterior design of the car is pleasurable and the wide glass windows for the middle row passengers is sure a delight. The tail lamp cluster is not heavy, perhaps to make it not look imposing like the other MPVs, while the headlamps flow back just as in the Swift.
In the interiors, the company has decided to stick to the time-tested beige, and the overall quality of the trim and plastics is decent, which surely will make it appealing to someone looking to upgrade from a premium compact car. The company also has given a lot of space for storage across the seats, including for third row passengers, and the air-conditioning feels good even for the third row passengers (there is a duct over the middle row).
Now we come to what is left desired and what seems to be missing. Firstly, luggage space seems to be one of the biggest problems. When the vehicle will actually carry seven passengers on a family outing, it will leave negligible space for luggage at only 135 litres. This defeats the whole purpose of long-journey outings with family, until you install a luggage carrier on the roof. And if the whole family is not travelling, you have the option of folding the third row seats to make space, and even the second one. And while the second row offers a 60:40 split, it could have been good had the company given a similar option in the third row as well.
In terms of leg space inside the car, there is no doubt that the Ertiga does not disappoint. However, the third row passengers will surely struggle during long journeys and the headroom for the back-benchers is a concern if you are tall. The company can also do well by offering captain chairs in the second row to make for a more comfortable ride, just as it is an option in the Toyota Innova.
While this is yet to be announced, Maruti is expected to go aggressive. Initial indications suggest that the Ertiga petrol will be priced a little upwards of Rs 6 lakh while the diesel will start from around the Rs 7 lakh price point. If the company does go in for such a pricing, it will surely be a big hit as not only will the Ertiga manage MPV customers but can steal many sedan buyers as well.
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