Maruti Suzuki India Limited has finally decided to set foot whole and heartedly into the passenger MPV space with the Ertiga. While the segment could do with some competition, the real question is whether Maruti can pull off such a vehicle in the first place. After having spent two days behind the wheel of the Ertiga, Vikram Gour has returned convinced of the fact that Maruti has a stonking winner in the making
Once bitten, twice shy might be the reason for MSIL to go slow on launching a people mover of this nature for offering an MPV isn’t a new idea to the company. They have witnessed success with the Omni, but that vehicle has finally dwindled to being a last mile courier operator or a taxi. The second vehicle MSIL tried their luck with was the Versa, and while it did offer numerous creature comforts, being based on a van platform and not really catering to the private buyer market led to its demise. Yes, MSIL has managed to resurrect the Versa as the Eeco, but that is solely for the commercial segment and has found few takers in the private space.
Having said that, there was a moment of brilliance that caught our eye at the 2010 Auto Expo in Delhi. Maruti showcased a prototype van, namely the RIII, which boasted everything that one might desire from a people mover while keeping the private buyer in mind. While the RIII isn’t the direct concept that has resulted in the Ertiga, it definitely is the ‘idea car’ which allowed MSIL to gauge customer interest in such a vehicle. With a lot of positive response and the desire for a car-like MPV, the decision to make the Ertiga finally received the green light and the result is an exciting new car from MSIL which has a lot of potential, both at winning the private buyer’s heart as well as market dominance.
To ensure a brand connect and play a safer game than announcing a whole new line, MSIL has stated that the Ertiga is part of the Swift family of cars. While it does share the same floorpan as the Swift, albeit with an added extension close to 300mm in order to factor in the extra space needed to incorporate the third row, it looks like the result of designers dipping deep into the MSIL parts bin and putting together a vehicle that should look the part. Surprisingly, the Ertiga has turned out to be quite a head turner.
The Ertiga boasts of fine neat character lines that come together to offer you a vehicle that glows with an aura of having a no-nonsense appeal. There is an air of familiarity with the vehicle and that is thanks to the inspiration that MSIL has taken in design for the front is reminiscent of the Ritz and the rear features elements that will remind you of the Honda Jazz! However that isn’t such a bad thing for these elements lend a sporty undertone which can also be seen in the lines of the Ertiga. Measuring 4,265mm in length, 1,685mm in height and 1,695 in width, the Ertiga has been crafted rather proportionately and no matter which angle you set your eyes on it, the MPV is bound to catch your eye. The flair in the design comes from the sleek flowing look and, of course, those pronounced wheel arches that neatly house the stylish 185/65 R 15 alloys.
Step inside the Ertiga and those who are familiar with the Swift’s interior will definitely have a deja vu moment. In fact, the dash is straight out of the new Swift albeit the new colour scheme. The light brown two-tone dash is right at home in the airy light beige interiors of the Ertiga. While we can argue the use of light beige in India considering how fast such interiors get dirty, we cannot but help love the level of fit and finish, quality and overall texture that the interior exudes.
As far as equipment, entertainment and safety are concerned, MSIL has ensured that the Ertiga comes impressively packaged. For starters, the top end variant gets electronic power steering, power windows, steering-mounted audio controls, a high-end stereo system with AUX/USB in, electronically adjustable ORVMs, air conditioning and heating with blowers for the second row of seats as well and safety features such as ABS, EBD and two front airbags are standard. It isn’t a lengthy list, however the major elements are there and come to think about it, there isn’t too much more than this that you actually need onboard. MSIL has also ensured that there are numerous cup holders and knick-knack storage spots for your convenience.
While the interiors might be top notch in terms of fit and finish as well as equipment levels, the real question that is plaguing everyone’s mind is the sensibility behind having seven seats on board a vehicle that is much smaller in length than a Toyota Innova. That is where you get to enjoy the innovative packaging that MSIL has executed on this vehicle for the Ertiga actually manages to offer a ride to seven passengers in reasonable comfort!
Ok, with seven adults on board there is no scope of any luggage coming along except for a few small bags, and that is a bit of a let down. My personal outlook is that the Ertiga should best be utilised as a plush five seater and if you feel the need to take along some extra folks, it’s just a simple fold of the rear seats and, viola, you can house a whole new row!
The flexi seating is great and what is a revelation is the fact that the rear two rows of seats fold flat to free up tonnes of loading space, which adds that element of versatility to the Ertiga’s all-round reputation as well. The bottom line is that the Ertiga should come to be known as a 5 + 2 flexi-seater, rather than a 7 seater. This equation speaks leaps and bounds about the intention as well as where the Ertiga fits in terms of market space.
When it comes to what lies under the hood of the Ertiga, there essentially lie two choices, namely a brand-new 1.4-litre VVT petrol engine and the tried-and-tested state of the art 1.3 DDiS diesel unit fitted with a turbocharger. Both engines are highly refined units and have their merits and post having driven the Ertiga in its petrol and diesel avatars, I can safely say that the petrol engine was quite the revelation. I didn’t expect so much grunt from a 1.4-litre petrol motor; however I was in for a surprise as this engine proved to be an able performer. The 1373cc mill features a VVT system and is capable of making 95PS @ 6000rpm and a rather decent 130Nm of torque @ 4000rpm. Mated to a five speed gearbox, the power translates to great in city driving and fantastic cruising along highways. A bit of downshifting does become apparent, but it’s nothing to write home about.
The diesel mill is a familiar unit and can be found under the hood of the SX4 diesel. The 1248cc DDiS unit churns out 90PS @ 4000 rpm and a solid 200Nm of torque @ 1750 rpm. The numbers sound great and performance is in that region of judgment as well. A little bit of turbo lag is apparent, however once you get the diesel motor running at a boil, it offers a driving experience that will always bring a smile to your face as the simple joys of driving a competent vehicle shines through.
The Ertiga also proved its mettle in the ride and handling department. While I expected the ride quality to be in check considering MSIL’s expertise in that department and the fact that they have almost three decades of experience on delivering comfortable cars for Indian conditions. The question that I needed answers for were in the handling department; after all MSIL has extended the Swift’s floorpan by 300mm to accommodate the Ertiga. The first few minutes and a couple of corners later, I had my answers, which was only fortified after powering through some twisties later on in my drive. The Ertiga impresses in terms of handling.
The steering feels well weighted and precise, the body roll is under control and it’s only under rather tight corners that the length of the vehicle can be felt, or rather that the back steps out a bit. In city driving is enhanced by the Ertiga’s tight turning radius of 5.2 meters, and the overall dynamics definitely benefit from the large 15 inch wheels fitted on as standard, regardless of variant. The reasonably high ground clearance of 185mm allows the Ertiga to traverse over rough roads in considerable ease and there isn’t any reason to cringe while trying to tackle large speed breakers in the urban jungle either.