Thursday, 5 April 2012

Maruti Suzuki Ertiga : FAQs Answered!

Editor-in-Chief Adil Jal Darukhanawala unmasks the all new Maruti Suzuki Ertiga MPV after a very spirited first hand drive experience in Goa

Is it a van? Or is it your stereotypical Multi-utility vehicle that's fitted with enough seating for 6-7 passengers, but compromises on comfort and in-car entertainment features? Where does Maruti Suzuki's newest MPV, the Ertiga really fit into the country's multi-faceted utility vehicle market, where competition exists more in the numbers sold than passengers satisfied. Having experienced the soon to be launched Maruti Ertiga on a recent media exclusive drive in Goa, Editor-in-Chief Adil puts pen to paper and tries to make sense of the new compact vehicle from the eyes of the customer. Out of the countless queries that have surfaced here are the most relevant answered by Adil himself.

Is the Ertiga the final outcome of the Suzuki RIII concept which appeared at the 2010 Auto Expo?
Yes, that indeed was the ideas car, the basic concept behind the Ertiga. It was used to gauge public opinion for a small-size people carrier which was more car-like than van-like. Maruti Suzuki already has people moving vans like the Omni and the Eeco but the RIII was a move towards the personal space, more car-like and certainly in sync with upward aspirations. The RIII dazzled everyone with its concept-car turn-out but there was no denying the internal packaging which is what lies at the basis for the Ertiga's evolution.

Describe the basic make-up of the Ertiga which seems to be a conglomeration of many Suzuki models.
On the face of it, the outward visual cues hint as if the whole package was a lash up, albeit a tasty lash up conjured up by the simple expedient of diving into the ample Maruti Suzuki parts bin and coming up with a car which has the look of the Ritz up front but based on an extended floorpan of the Swift with a sporty Honda-like rear-end treatment thrown in for good measure. Keeping these observations aside, the rest of the structure, the build and the internal packaging are sterling qualities which deserved much better on the exterior treatment. Maruti Suzuki shouldn't have let itself down by doing very little on the front end and that too so very obviously by using many parts already in production thereby depriving the new model of its individuality.

Speaking with a Maruti official on this very detail, he said that this was done so as to keep this vehicle within the Swift family and while I agree on the concept, the fact that they went out and named it differently does give rise to this line of questioning. However, with a floorpan having an extended wheelbase of 300mm (that's 12 inches mind you) and yet having a finely pencilled profile with the right glazed to sheet metal proportioning makes the Ertiga come across as very pleasing. 

Maruti Suzuki had earlier done the same, if we are not mistaken, on a  three-row seat vehicle with the earlier Versa. Will it finally banish the horror story from Maruti's psyche or what exactly is your take on this front?
Good question but again it stems from a van and a car approach. The Versa was more commercial vehicle application put to personal use and the high tall stance plus one critical element which hampered sales was the atrociously high price point meant only the Bachchans - father and son, were the big winners with Versa! Jokes aside, this line of pricey thought can't very well be used by Maruti now and the second and most telling aspect is that the new vehicle is bang on in the concept which is for a maturing market and a niche that's waiting to unfold. If anything, this sort of a vehicle should have come much earlier, if anything the leader was guilty of not having gone down this route at least five years ago.

It doesn't look too big, Does it really have the space for three rows of seats?

This is the beauty of the vehicle's build and design - the small visual proportions disguise the fact that it has added a third row of seats which make it appealing to a small family. Having seen the seat configuration, the access into and out of the vehicle plus the H-points for the Indian physique, the Ertiga scores high on every count and yet has the means to take in seven in reasonable comfort.

Must be really cramped on the last bench then. Can an adult fit in there at all?
Yes, this is another obvious question and while the third seat should be pressed into operation for two adults in an emergency, this is an emergency which can happen every day and the Ertiga will be more than capable of living up to its designed application. The important thing here is about the rear seat back which can only incline so much and not more plus there is a limit on the headroom so very tall passengers need not get tied down into contortions by selecting the middle row rather than the third. However, on most occasions the third row does very well and with great space for the feet underneath the second middle row playing an important role to make the third row seat occupants comfortable.

Can the second row accommodate three full sized adults?
The answer to this is a resounding YES and this is the most versatile of the seat configs here in the Ertiga. In fact, the slide rails for the second row in the vehicle allows a large operating span for the occupants and with a fully reclining seat back this is the place to be for the junior after he returns home from a triumphant outing in the school cricket tournament!

It must get very stuffy in the last row. Any kind of air con vents for the back benchers?
The air con throw from the blower just ahead of the middle row is adequate though I think that this could be an issue given the Ertiga comes with small motors and there has to be a quid pro quo on performance vis-a-vis comfort and convenience across the length and breadth of the vehicle. In our first drive the air con seemed to be just about adequate but lets wait for the full impact of the typical Indian summer to kick in and we will have the answers.

With the added weight, fuel efficiency must definitely be much lower than the Swift and Ritz, right?
This is another question for which the answers should be in within the next few weeks when we put the Ertiga through its paces in the course of our test drive. Of course, physics cannot be asked to do the unthinkable and there is both more bulk and mass to move plus also the fact that the new petrol engine is perfectly sized to do the business in such a vehicle and this could be a real eye-opener! That said, expect the Ertiga to be ultra reliable and also on par with best in class as regards fuel efficiency - a hallmark of vehicles built by Maruti Suzuki. 

How much space is left in the boot when the third row is in place?
The one area which suffers the most in the Ertiga is the minimum amount of luggage space. For a car that is a family-carrier, the amount of luggage space or the lack thereof is pretty telling! Not exactly the LUV which Maruti Suzuki suggests, LUV as in Life Utility Vehicle which is the clarion call for the vehicle by its maker.

Do you see this more as a family car or is it something that will be a hit with fleet operators?
In India the first and most obvious choice will be the personal family type of buyer who will take to this sort of a vehicle but then fleet operators enamoured by a lower price point will also try and take to this. In the overall scheme of things for the latter class of car operator, it is return on investment which will make them take to this vehicle as also customer requirement. If the price points for hiring an Innova and an Ertiga are the same, it is a no-brainer, the Innova will be there ten times out of ten and only if the hire charges for the Ertiga are lower then there could be some movement against the Innova on the hire taxi front. 

Suzuki is saying that the Ertiga is going to start a new segment with Ertiga. But how different is it really from the Innova or the Xylo?
It is completely different from the Innova and the Xylo in that the essence might be the same but the execution and the turn-out is mighty different. Also it operates in a segment much lower than where the Innova and the Xylo operate in plus the fact that it is in the way Maruti Suzuki spreads out its product portfolio, offering everything from the most basic entry level mini to the mid-range sedan at pleasing price points, the Ertiga adds to this thought and marketing process and just builds on that.

What will power the Ertiga at launch?
Under the bonnet there will be a choice of a petrol and a diesel engine. Taking the latter first, this will be the 90bhp Suzuki-breathed-on version of the Fiat 1.3 Multijet now with a variable geometry turbocharger and intercooler. This engine is mated to a five-speed gearbox and unlike the manner in which this same engine works in the SX4, in its mini-MPV application the engine needs to be worked through the gearbox more to get the best out of it. However, this is mentioned in relative terms considering the sporty nature of the SX4 and how it has become an even better car with an oil burner thumping under its bonnet. The ample torque will be a big ally in operation for the diesel-engined Ertiga because the 200Nm is perfect when hauling the full complement of seven. What is also important is that with peak torque coming in at 1750rpm and then running strong in a linear manner all the way up, it should make for a vehicle that doesn't run out of breath. I said earlier about the car needed to be worked through the five-speed gearbox but that was because of the nature of the Goa roads - tight and twisty and with very little traffic which saw it being made to run spiritedly only for its pilot to go down the box when coming up to traffic and needing to get the thrust back on. 

The diesel should be the more frugal performer and any case as has been proved in the Swift, the Ritz and the Swift D'Zire, Maruti Suzuki makes the basic Fiat powerplant deliver better than even Fiat can in its India model range!

For me the new 1.4-litre K14B VVT four-cylinder petrol engine was a revelation. Smooth, torquey and not running out of puff on the drive to Karwar and back from Goa hints at a very strong contemporary petrol motor which features a 16-valve dohc top end. Featuring multi-point fuel injection, this motor is from the same engine family which gave us the K12 and in the present application it has had an increase in bore to hike it by 173cc. Bore and stroke measures 73mm x 82mm and this long stroke unit is strong and has the displacement to deliver the thrust and the muscle for this seven-seater without being stressed and thereby delivering good fuel efficiency. For the record, Maruti Suzuki states the petrol-engined Ertiga will do 16.02kmpl while the diesel will deliver 20.77kmpl as per the present day CMVR mandated fuel efficiency tests.

On paper these small capacity engines sound like a lot but are they good enough to do duty in a seven-seater?
A question which is par for the course and here it is all about the way the car is geared for its intended application plus also the overall weight of the vehicle. The gearing is solid and steady for seamless motoring in a very progressive manner and please do not expect Swift-like acceleration and a very high top end. It is in the mid-range and in the low down torque take-off that the Ertiga needs to excel in and that she does. Also when one factors in its weight - 1760kg GVW for the petrol and 1845kg GVW for the diesel, you need the torque to do the talking more than the power to hit the ceiling. Intended application for the whole family (including the mother-in-law who could be banished to the third row!) means no feathers need to be ruffled and so smooth progressive power delivery will be just as important as outright performance.

This is a car which is longer than any in the Swift family. Does it complicate on the ride and handling front?
The basic overall monocoque is the same as on the Swift but it has been extended by 300mm to carve out that much needed space to accommodate that third row of seats. The chassis has been strengthened at various places (this also tells on the obvious weight mark-up) and while the suspension remains the same in character and configuration, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam type rear axle, the spring and damper rates have been revised, the electrically-assisted steering system plus the brakes have been re calibrated. Again I must stress that unlike the Swift this is not intended to be a sporty performer but a solid no-nonsense offering for everyday use. It excels in this application and the ride and handling are in sync with its appeal and prowess. 

I found the ride quality be truly of a very high order and the way she rode the bumps and the ridges was exemplary - lends credence to the ruffled feathers theory I attempted to expound a little earlier. The steering is very well weighted and precise and the brakes seemed to be up to their task of scrubbing speed quickly and safely. If anything, I could feel the length of the car when going through the tight roads in and around Goa but then I have been using the spanking new Swift D'Zire as my city car for the past few weeks and its agility and behaviour have made me fall for its charms so much that I could clearly relate to the nimbleness of the D'Zire thanks to the Ertiga coming round that wee bit slower. Also the familiarity between the two in the layout and style of the dashboard and interior controls is another detail which is both good and bad, good because the uniformity helps many to move from car to car in a seamless undaunting manner and bad because it seems the company has taken the easy (but cost-effective) approach. The interior treatment is the typical smart yet safe approach and the quality of plastics and the trim is pleasing though I wish all car makers and not just Maruti Suzuki alone, need to re-think beige interiors. They look good and smashing when new but they don't stay that way in our environment.

Is it going to be as expensive as the Innova?
I don't think the Innova is expensive if you look at it from an operations point of view. Sure the initial outlay is large but then everything about the vehicle is like that - engine, drivetrain, equipment, refinement, safety and what have you. The Ertiga will do an Innova so to speak but in a segment one or two notches lower down. While the pricing hasn't been announced as yet (expect this on April 12) I don't think Maruti Suzuki would be attempting to do the unthinkable by pricing it high. A slight mark-up over the Swift D'Zire should be the right approach.

Will maintenance costs be higher than the Swift and the Dzire, considering that it’s a bigger vehicle?
Again the answer to this question is in the negative because all Maruti Suzuki products are a paragon of reliability and the same should hold true for the Ertiga as well. Most of the aggregates are proven and more importantly reliable and refined which should keep the operating  costs on par with others in its class within the family.

What about equipment levels? Music player, ABS, airbags, and the whole shebang?
The Ertiga will come with a choice of petrol and diesel power and in each of these it will be offered in the time honoured Maruti Suzuki tradition of three trim and equipment levels - LXi, VXi and ZXi for the petrol variant and LDi, VDi and ZDi for the diesel-engined variant. The top line models in both, the ZXi and ZDi come fully stocked - in-dash music radio cum CD-player with Bluetooth compatibility and iPhone-USB connectiveity. Throw in airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, ABS with Brake Assist and EBD, alloy wheels, rear air con blower for second row of seats and the list is complete.

Will it have flexible seating options? Captain’s chairs instead of the second row? The option of not having a third row at all?
I think this is an area which Maruti Suzuki really missed out on. I think they could have made the third row of seats removable making the vehicle truly versatile but only if the seat guide rails for the middle row would allow the second row of seats to be extended right till the end. I also don't recommend having captain seats in the interior because it would make this into a four-seater and of course Maruti already has the Swift D'Zire and the SX4 straddling the Ertiga. In fact, the mix and match seating options with a removable third row of seats is where the action could be for the packaging engineers and the quicker they get going the better it would be for this segment and also the versatility of the package.

What will it cost to buy and run?
Initial pricing is going to be key, more so in the present times where the excise rates have been hiked up. I think I have already answered on this subject earlier in the feature when we said this car is an extension of the Swift family and so expect a slight incremental hike over the Swift D'Zire. I am sure the Ertiga would be straddled between the Swift D'Zire at the lower end of the spectrum and the SX4 at the upper end of the scale in Maruti Suzuki's product portfolio. It wouldn't make any tangible sense to have the new vehicle closer to the SX4 for that would be counter-productive. On the subject of operating costs, it would be frugal like any Maruti Suzuki product is renowned for and the manner in which the car performs, indicates that it is another winner on the way from the country's largest car maker. How effectively it rules this new segment though will only be known some months from now.


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