Ever since the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara was announced there has been a lot of anticipation around the most expensive vehicle from Maruti that brings back the Vitara moniker. This is the same vehicle that will be sold by Toyota as the Hyryder with a different design but for this article we’ll stick to the Grand Vitara only. While I expected to drive the Grand Vitara sometime in September, Maruti Suzuki threw in a good surprise during a visit to their R&D centre in Rohtak. We got the chance to drive the Grand Vitara in all of its three forms – strong hybrid, mild hybrid and all-wheel drive around the test track of the research facility. While our time with the new SUV was limited it was enough to provide an initial impression of the vehicle and its capabilities. Interestingly, it also left me with some confusing observations about the vehicle so read on to know more.
The Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara strikes the right chords right from the moment you look at it. The SUV looks bigger than it really is and this is something that Indian buyers will appreciate. Despite similar dimensions, the Grand Vitara looks bigger than the Toyota Hyryder and I personally found it to be better looking too. The chrome has been done tastefully and gives the SUV a premium character. The Grand Vitara’s upright stance helps it portray a muscular and dynamic design that one would expect from an SUV costing close to Rs 20 lakh in its top trim. The sleek LED DRLs and the tail lamps give the car an expensive feel while the vertically-stacked tail lamps truly stand out from the rivals. Overall, the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara comes across as a modern and muscular SUV that looks premium and that’s exactly what most buyers in this segment want.
The cabin layout of the Grand Vitara matches its name as well as the expectations set by the exterior design. The dual-tone finish on the dashboard along with the impressive quality of materials gives the cabin a plush feel. The front seats are comfortable, offer good space and are ventilated as well in the strong hybrid version. The instrument cluster in the strong hybrid version is fully-digital and looks the part. The AWD and mild hybrid do with a slightly redesigned version of the digi-analogue clusters seen on the XL6 and Baleno. We didn’t get time to test the rear seat but front occupants will surely find themselves to be comfortable. The feature list on the Grand Vitara is quite extensive and includes a panoramic sunroof, wireless charging, climate control, touchscreen infotainment system, ventilated seats and much more. The touchscreen is similar to the one seen in the Baleno but the displays are slightly different in the case of the strong hybrid version. One thing that came across as an area of improvement for me is the sunroof curtain, which was light in colour, pretty thin and allowed too much light to filter inside the cabin. I wouldn’t want to have a car with so much light filtering inside in a country like India where the Sun shines pretty bright all around. Beyond that, the cabin felt well-appointed with sorted ergonomics, impressive build quality and a good combination of form and function.
Now onto the most important part, how does the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara drive? We drove all three versions starting with the much talked about strong hybrid version. This version uses a 1.5 litre petrol engine running on Atkinson cycle and is paired with Toyota’s hybrid system including a battery pack and electric motors. There’s no plug-in charging available but the self-charging hybrid system can propel the vehicle on electric power alone in low-load conditions and assist the engine at other times, thereby improving fuel-efficiency. If accelerating gently or driving at speeds up to 50 kmph, the vehicle can be driven in EV mode only using a button but whenever more power is required the engine kicks in. What’s really impressive is the smoothness with which the engine adds power or stops completely. The entire operation of switching between engine and the motor or to a combination of both is impressively seamless and can only be made out by the sound of the engine. Total power output for the entire system is rated at 115 ps, all of which is delivered to the front wheels using a CVT gearbox. Because of the CVT, the Grand Vitara strong hybrid is smooth but not engaging to drive. While urban speeds are easily managed, progressing to highway speeds with urgency will exhibit the rubber-band effect of the transmission. Under such a situation, the engine makes a lot of sound but there is a lag between the velocity gained and the sound made. Drive it gently though and the hybrid powertrain shines.
Its biggest USP is fuel-efficiency and Maruti claims the vehicle can do a 1,000 km on a full-tank! While I didn’t get time to test the fuel-efficiency on the track, I did manage to see system indicated numbers of around 30 kmpl showing up without me trying to drive solely for the cause of efficiency. That proves that the Grand Vitara should be one hell of a vehicle in the ‘kitna deti hai’ department. Its biggest trump card will be the fact that it is expected to be priced less than the diesel versions of its rivals but will deliver significantly higher fuel-efficiency.
Next, we drove the version with AWD, which is called All Grip by the company. The system provides power to all four wheels, thereby giving it better traction and the ability to go through surfaces with low traction. At the test track, there was no opportunity to go off-roading but this Suzuki system is a proven one and should work well to handle a fair amount of off-roading. This variant, to the best of my knowledge, will only be available with a five-speed manual gearbox. In terms of driving, this variant was the most fun-to-drive and felt very confident even when going through some wide turns at 100 kmph. The steering also felt a bit more weighted and accurate than the strong hybrid version. Clearly, this version is the one to go for if you’re looking for a capable SUV that is engaging to drive.
The third version we drove was the mild hybrid one with the same petrol engine as the AWD but with a six-speed torque converter gearbox. This is the same unit that made its debut in the new Brezza. This version was refined and hassle-free to drive and felt more inclined towards comfort and efficiency. Acceleration was linear and three-digit speeds were attained with ease. We managed a top speed of 135 kmph with this version and it felt quite comfortable at this point.
Clearly, the Grand Vitara checks pretty much all the right boxes when it comes to performance and driving. What did leave me confused though was the way the packaging has been done for the powertrain. It reminded me of my school days when I had to convince my parents to buy me my favourite toy if I scored well in my exams but I could only ask for one thing and no more. With the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara also the situation is quite similar since you can either go in for a strong hybrid but will then not have the option of AWD, which I completely understand. The complexity and cost of merging these two systems will be too high to make sense but for a customer zeroing on AWD and not having the option of going in for an AT is beyond my understanding. I’m sure Maruti would have tons of market research data to back their decision but anyone buying the AWD version is making more of a heart over mind decision. For such a buyer, cost is not the most important factor and hence some buyers would be willing to pay more for AWD capabilities along with the option of not having to torture their left limbs in the city traffic. The third version that we drove makes good sense as not everyone needs a strong hybrid or AWD but needs to have an automatic transmission and this one comes with paddle-shifters as well.
In a nutshell, the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara turned out to be super impressive in terms of design, cabin comfort, features, engine performance and handling. Given the track record of Maruti Suzuki, the Grand Vitara in all probability will be priced very competitively, making it a problem for the competition. Add to it the fact that the Grand Vitara along with Hyryder will be the only proper SUVs in this segment where all other rivals are either jacked-up hatchbacks or only pretend to be an SUV. The only issue like I explained is that the version that will be a proper SUV isn’t going to be high on driving convenience. The other two versions are bound to outsell the AWD versions and already almost half of the bookings received for the Grand Vitara are for the strong hybrid version. So another blockbuster from Maruti Suzuki? That already seems to be a certainty and will help the company regain lost ground in the SUV space. That said, I have a feeling the Grand Vitara will achieve a lot more than just initial success and could very soon become the king of its segment despite not having any diesel option!