No, I haven't gone all soppy on you - that's what Maruti Suzuki calls its latest product, the Ertiga. It stands for Life Utility Vehicle, and it sounds a bit silly, but that's what marketing tactics are all about, I suppose. In a game where the default thought, let alone buying choice, is something that answers to the name 'Innova', standing out from the crowd is important, and one way to do it is to invent a new name/category for yourself. So, what's new with Maruti Suzuki's LUV life?
Does it look good?
Hmm. That's an interesting question - when was the last time you saw a truly good looking MUV (it will be referred to thus, henceforth)? Having said that, when you compare it with the Innova and Xylo, there's no doubt that it's the freshest looking of the lot. The father of the Ritz also spawned the Ertiga, so it's not surprising that the front end looks rather Ritz-like. The swept back headlamps add a touch of flair and sportiness to the car (they also add a touch of Swift to it). The Ertiga is remarkably compact (the SX4 is longer, for example) - 4265 mm long, 1695 mm wide, 1685 mm high and with a wheelbase of 2740 mm - and in profile it doesn't have any of the bulk of larger MUVs. The rear is too bland for its own good - look long enough and it'll remind you of any number of small hatchbacks from the same stable. All in, it's a 'different' looking car, with just enough presence to get it noticed, but not enough to really turn heads. It plays safe, and it'll probably work for most people.
What's the cabin like?
It's about as Maruti Suzuki as you can get, which is to say that it's fairly bland and that everything is well built and finished, for the most part. The meters are clear and easily readable, all the essential controls fall easily to hand and the extensive use of beige gives the cabin a fresh, airy feeling. The middle windows are simply enormous, and play a big part in contributing to the sense of space. There are bottle and cubby holders galore, too. The top end cars that we drove came with these features, among others - ABS with EBD, twin front airbags, electric ORVMs with turn indicators on them, an audio system with CD, USB and AUX-in, remote keyless entry, alloy wheels, audio controls on the steering, rear wiper and washer and front and rear power windows. Will it keep most people happy? Yes.
Is it practical?
To their credit, Maruti Suzuki isn't outright calling the Ertiga a seven-seater - they refer to it as five-plus-two. I say this because it isn't strictly a seven-seater - three people seated in the second row will find it a bit of a squeeze, and ideally, the car is best suited for six adults. It's very practical, though - the second row can be moved as much as 240 mm, and getting into the row is very easy (the third row is more difficult, given the car's compactness). Moving that row's back rest only requires a pull on a lever, which is welcome; moving it back and forth is done by the standard under-seat lever. If you fold both the second and third rows flat, you get a whopping 735 litres of storage space, and you can work with various permutations and combinations to create space, depending on the number of people in the car. Space in the third row is adequate for a person of my height (5'11"), and although my knees touched the second row's back rest, I was comfortable over the course of a 50-odd km drive. With the car loaded with people, you can still put a couple of decent-sized soft bags behind the third row. Overall seating comfort is acceptable, with plenty of back support - more under-thigh support would be welcome. If you're of my height or taller, you won't want to stand upright while loading the back, with the hatch door up - you'll knock your head on it! Overall? A very clever 'little' car that's eminently practical and very versatile.
Does it go?
Depends on whether you're driving the 1.3-litre, intercooled, VGT diesel (88.7 bhp@4000 rpm, 20.4 kgm@1750 rpm) or the new, 1.4-litre VVT petrol (93.7 bhp@6000 rpm, 13.2 kgm@4000 rpm). The diesel is of course very familiar, and it has adequate power and torque for most conditions, but it's really not that much fun to drive - the drone intrudes into the cabin and it feels sluggish, but this is the one that will really sell! Claimed mileage is 20.77 kpl, a figure too good for most people to resist. The petrol is a different kettle of fish - it's refined, energetic, loves to be revved hard and is a lot of fun to drive (put this powerplant in the Swift - please!). Claimed mileage is 16.02 kpl on this one.
Does it handle?
The Ertiga's monocoque body lends it a measure of handling ability as well as a comfortable ride, which is well damped. There is a degree of roll and wallowing, but it's quite well controlled and isn't a major issue - again, it's aiming for a neutral, sweet spot and it manages to hit it. There's not much steering feel to be had, but then this car isn't meant to be belted around a racetrack. The brakes do a good job of hauling the Ertiga in - no fuss, no fade to complain about.
Is it better than an Innova?
No - and yes. The Innova is the benchmark (the bench, actually) for a reason - its combination of solidity, build quality, comfort, utility, versatility, frugality, resale value and reliability is legendary. Still, it's an expensive car, and not everyone wants an MUV that's as big as the Innova is. Where the Ertiga scores is in its combination of compactness and practicality - it manages to offer the best of both worlds (well, almost), and for many prospective buyers, this will be all the family car they will ever need.
What will it cost you?
Pricing is still being decided upon, but the Ertiga should slot in just above the SX4 in the pricing game. Expect the petrol version to start just under Rs 7 lakh, while the diesel would probably begin its life under Rs 8 lakh. The top-end petrol could touch Rs 8.5 lakh, while the diesel shouldn't exceed Rs 9.5 lakh at best. Unless, of course, Maruti throws a curve ball at us and completely bamboozles us with an even lower price!
The Ertiga is really a segment by itself - it's an Innova-like car, yet much more compact, better looking, almost as practical and, crucially, it's likely to be cheaper than Toyota's best seller. Others have tried and failed with undercutting the Innova, but when it's Maruti Suzuki that's doing so, expect fireworks!