Maruti Suzuki S-Cross: Image Makeover

Maruti Suzuki is known for being the champion of the aam aadmi and that's the reason why four of the top five best selling cars in the country are from its stables. Models such as the Alto, Swift, Dzire and WagonR were specifically targeted at the price conscious hatchback and sedan segment. Now, India's number one car maker is all set to come out of its comfort zone and enter the premium segment. Last year, it showed a glimpse of what you can expect with the launch the mid-segment sedan, the Ciaz - which received a mixed response. Maruti has decided to go a notch higher with the sparkling new S-Cross, which is likely to help it muscle its way into the crossover and urban SUV market.

I have seen photos of the S-Cross' doing the rounds of the Internet for a while now, and I was hoping Maruti would give it a nip-and-tuck and make it more aggressive. Even though it might not be the most macho or the flashiest vehicle in the segment, the S-Cross did get a lot of attention when I drove it from Mumbai to Nashik. We received many thumbs up along the way, and when I stopped for a break, the car was flanked by bystanders volleying me with one question after another. One has to keep in mind that the car is a crossover and not an SUV, which means it combines the comforts of a sedan and the practicality of a hatchback. So it might not have an imposing stance but it surely looks solid, with a no-nonsense trapezoidal grille and twin chrome wide slats smack in the middle of the nose in between the enormous headlamps. The lower lip gets a silver skid plate, which is more of an ego boost as it adds a dash of sportiness. Special mention must go to the high density headlights with LED position lamps to ensure a brighter view without distracting other drivers on the road. Its exteriors might not be its strongest feature but it is not something I would keep harping about it because to me its looks simple, yet there is something about it that is attractive. But what Maruti could have done is give the 16-inch alloy wheels a much more attractive design as they lack a premium feel and look like plastic wheel covers.

The wide cabin will instantly bring a smile on your face - not because there is plenty of space - but because of the top notch quality that Maruti has managed to pull off. The S-Cross has predominantly all black interiors that I personally love as it brings a classy yet sporty feel to it and doesn't age quickly. The centre console of the dashboard has a hexagonal layout with middle air conditioning vents and a 7-inch touch infotainment screen, which also comes with an in-built navigation system. The dash is smartly made of touch and hard plastic, which further enhances the experience.

The front seats are very supportive, though they could have been a bit bigger in size. For rear passengers, the split 60:40 seats can recline for additional comfort. Apart from this, there is also enough legroom space for passengers who are over 6 feet. When it comes to practicality, the S-Cross comes loaded with cubby holes including 1-litre bottle holders around the front and rear doors. Also, there is plenty of luggage space with boot capacity of 353 litres, which can further increase to 810 litres once the rear seat's backrests are folded. The S-Cross cabin has beautiful balanced premium class interiors with a lot of practical purpose. What was a bit of shock for me was the lack of rear AC vents. This is one feature that is required to counter the muggy weather.

We all knew that the big 1.6-litre diesel engine from Fiat would make its debut in the S-Cross along with the tried-and-tested 1.3-litre one. But one didn't expect the S-Cross to have no petrol option. This seems like a very smart move by Maruti as petrol cars in this segment make up 5-8 per cent of the volume, basically making them quite insignificant. As I drove the new 1.6 engine, I was instantly swept away by its refinement and its linear yet swift response. Many may complain the powerplant lacks the punch or grunt a 1.6-litre should have, but it runs smoothly. The engine noise only tends to seep inside the cabin after crossing the 3,500rpm mark, which is decent. Though a mild lag can be felt, but its hardly unnerving or a worry as the S-Cross quickly soars pass this. But on an incline, the lag becomes a lot more evident. The gear ratios of the 6-speed manual transmission is spot on, as you aren't forced to keep changing the cogs on a frequent basis. What is even more impressive is that on empty long stretches on the highway, you could step on the accelerator and the 118bhp will keep on going ensuring the power flow continues effortlessly.

The S-Cross is a very strong product as it has powerful yet fuel efficient engines, premium interiors and comes with all comfort features. In terms of safety, only the entry-level S-Cross comes with a driver's airbag, while rest all variants come with twin airbags and four disc brakes is a standard feature. The S-Cross held its own on twisty roads as no excess weight could be felt and there was hardly any body roll. The suspension set up was on the stiffer side but it managed to gobble up most of the potholes without any problem. Pricing is going to play a big part in the S-Cross' success and if Maruti can price it aggressively, this could be another super hit for the company - this time in the premium segment though. I expect the S-Cross to cost Rs 8-12 lakh.

Engine: 1598cc, DDiS 320
Power: 118bhp@3750rpm
Torque: 320Nm@1750rpm
0-100km: 11.3 seconds
Mileage: 22.7km/l

Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX