Dissecting the premium crossover: The Maruti Suzuki S-Cross Drive Review

Be it a hatch, sedan or an SUV, new vehicles that are launched in the market usually find their place within a neatly defined segment. Carmakers seldom venture out of their comfort zone and rarely does one see an offering that redefines categories to create a unique niche for itself. The Maruti Suzuki S-Cross was one such bold and ambitious attempt. Launched with much fanfare in August 2015, it was meant to pull the company out of its middle class roots and push it into the premium orbit. But blame it on bad timing, positioning or pricing strategy, it wasn’t the runaway success that one expected it to be.

The S-Cross was launched back to back with the Hyundai Creta, and comparisons were inevitable. The Creta was pitched as the ‘perfect SUV’ and there was little dispute. It has been a runaway success on the back of a solid product, aggressive pricing and clear positioning. The S-Cross on the other hand, was launched at a higher than expected price, and positioned as a ‘premium crossover’ which was hard to decipher at first glance – it neither looked premium on the outside, nor was it a crossover in the real sense. Availability was also restricted through the exclusive NEXA retail channel which was meant to be a premium shift in the entire consumer experience. Whether the experiment has been a success or not, is a matter of further debate. But nothing seemed to work in favour of the S-Cross, which wasn’t a bad product in the first place. Customers were clearly unwilling to bet on a vehicle that was essentially an oversized and overpriced hatchback, with a very average road presence.

Our earlier article on the S-Cross reflected on these shortcomings during the launch, and it hasn’t surprised us that the market played out as anticipated. But things are different today. While it was rare to spot an S-Cross on the roads for many weeks after the launch, one does see quite a few now. Massive dealer discounts have helped, as 2015 stocks had to be cleared out. If you are lucky, you could still get the 1.3L Sigma and Delta trims at a mind boggling discount of upto INR 4.0 lacs. But chances are, stocks would have run out already. You could still grab a bargain with a discount ranging from INR 2.5L to 3.0L for the top end 1.6L Alpha trim, on an ex-showroom Delhi price of INR 13.74 lacs. Still very lucrative, we’d say.

These discounted prices combined with the driving dynamics of the S-Cross suddenly make it quite an attractive proposition. Had these been introductory prices, things would have looked very different and the S-Cross would have been a worthy and differentiated competitor to the Creta, giving consumers in the price segment a wider choice.

The external appearance of the S-Cross is not likely to make you fall in love with it. True beauty as they say, lies within. This one is an average joe. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing adorable either. It has the SX4 like front fascia, with disproportionately large wraparound projector headlamps and daylight running LED lamps. The chrome clad grille with bold horizontal slats and chrome surrounds encircling the fog lamps are all very nice, but sadly don’t add up to an integrated design. Nor do they enhance the road presence of the vehicle in any way. The side profile features a drooping nose, angular shoulder lines and faux cladding under the doors, which is a design element that is carried through at the rear as well, under the bumper. The angular rear tail lamps complete a smart but uncharacteristic all round look. The overall build quality however looks quite solid, topped with a superior paint finish.

The S-Cross does try to enhance its rugged side with black plastic cladding, scuff plates and faux roof rails. But it can’t hide the fact that beneath all the paraphernalia, it is still just a largish hatchback. Larger than traditional hatchbacks, it is long, wide and low; and more mini estate-ish in its visual appeal. It has a higher ground clearance than the current crop of crossovers such as the CrossPolo and i20 Active, but sadly, its proportions fall short when compared to its immediate rivals like the Renault Duster, Nissan Terrano, Ford EcoSport and the Hyundai Creta. It has the weakest road presence when viewed alongside.

While traditional Maruti Suzuki customers may have had low expectations from design, the young, new, aspiring set of car buyers today do care two bits about appearance and flair, and the car maker could well do with some more attention on this front.

While the conservative exterior of the S-Cross may not appeal to many, it certainly impresses with its premium, sporty and stylish interiors. In a departure from their other cars, Maruti Suzuki has gone for an all black interior here. The cabin design is sleek and very European, with brushed aluminium inserts and a textured soft touch dash. Some hard plastics do take away from the poshness, but the overall clean lines, material, finish and trims are appreciable. The cabin is extremely spacious, with nicely contoured leather seats, offering excellent legroom and headroom both at the front and back. There is more than adequate stowage all around with cup holders and large bottle holders on all doors. The central armrest is perfectly placed, and the deep rear luggage tray above the boot is a particularly handy space to throw in just about anything without cramming up the passenger space. At 353 litres the boot space is not much, but with the 60:40 rear split one can get upto 810 litres of space, which is quite massive. So what the S-Cross has really done is to take advantage of its long 2600mm wheelbase and offer rear passenger maximum knee room and comfort. That also makes it feel much bigger and spacious when you step inside than what it looks on the outside. Which is a pleasant surprise.

The vehicle comes with several nifty features that make the interiors a nice and happy space to be in. It has a long and impressive equipment list that is more than adequate to ensure in-cabin comfort and convenience. Keyless entry and go, steering mounted controls, rain sensing wipers, vanity mirrors, a six speaker audio system with a touchscreen infotainment system, satellite navigation, park assist with a rear camera, smartphone integration and bluetooth connectivity are just a few. The touchscreen could do with an updated interface though, as it looks rather dated. There is automatic climate control but no rear AC vents, which is a disappointment. The company claims the AC is so powerful that you wouldn’t need rear vents. But that’s a tall claim, considering the havoc peak summers can create, specially in northern parts of the country. In terms of safety, all but the base model of the S-Cross come with dual airbags and ABS as standard, and the base model gets a driver’s side airbag.

The S-Cross comes in two engine options. The 1.3L DDiS 200 Multijet diesel engine from the Ciaz is the one that most would opt for, since it is priced better, without compromising on the feature list. But for its sheer driving dynamics, the new 1.6L DDiS 320 engine is the one to go for. And that’s the one we drove in the top Alpha trim, during our week long drive review. The S-Cross doesn’t come in a petrol variant for now, but if it were to be launched, I would imagine it would do well. Other notable omissions are options for AWD and automatic transmission.

The 1.6L diesel variant we drove is dubbed the DDiS 320 for the 320 Nm of torque it produces. The engine makes nearly 120 BHP and while power delivery in lower revs is smooth with minimum lag from the turbocharged engine, it is irritatingly noisy when idle. The pick up is rough and it gradually smoothens out only when you step up the pedal. Unfortunately, cabin insulation is not at its best and a lot of noise creeps inside at speeds above 70 km/h. With 120 BHP on tap and a six speed manual transmission which has been featured for the first time in this segment, the S-Cross makes for a great highway cruiser, for those long distance trips that you may want to throw in during the weekends. The all leather steering grips well and one can engage the cruise control on the highway for a comfortable, fatigue free journey. Within city, you would rarely get a chance to engage the sixth, and it is advisable to always keep it one gear lower at slower speeds, to tame the lag. The gearbox is smooth and has short throws, adding to the overall sporty dynamics of the car. It offers a good turning radius and maneuverability, is quick and easy while overtaking, and remains a very solid, stable and effortless drive even at speeds above 120 km/h.

The ride quality on the S-Cross tends to be on the firm end of the spectrum, although that doesn’t make the car uncomfortable by any means. It effortlessly smoothes out irregularities in the road surface with ease, making for a pliant ride. On the other hand, the sharper suspension setup does make for a more stable driving experience. The car remains balanced even while cornering at high speeds, and the S-Cross handles like no other car from the Maruti Suzuki stable. Better and bigger tires would have helped though. There is nevertheless, a certain refinement in the way the car feels on the road, and that itself sets it apart. It’s a huge improvement in terms of driving dynamics, ride quality and handling. Going forward, we hope this would continue to be the benchmark for all the new vehicles coming out from their stable.

We returned a fuel economy of 15.5 km/l during our review. There is an instant fuel economy indicator in the instrument cluster which allows you to monitor fuel efficiency in real time, and that works out to be quite helpful.

Prices for the S-Cross start at INR 8.34 lacs and go up to INR 13.74 lacs for the range topping 1.6 ZDi Alpha variant, and Maruti Suzuki has struggled to justify the premium at the top end. But with the massive dealer discounts on offer, it is undoubtedly a fantastic option to consider now, if you looking for a powerful self drive vehicle with a budget hovering north of INR 10L. The 1.3L variant is of course available much cheaper, and if your usage is mostly within city limits and comfort for your family is a priority, that’s the one you should opt for.

In conclusion, the S-Cross is a car that most people would like, but few would love. You need to step inside and drive around a bit, to appreciate what is offers. It is undoubtedly a great all rounder – an excellent drive, well equipped, refined, spacious & comfortable, and has one of the finest engines in its class. However, it falls short on exterior styling which is anything but expressive. As we said, it doesn’t look bad, but its drab exterior may be a deterrent for many prospective buyers.

So, while the S-Cross may not win our hearts with its styling and on-road persona, it certainly performs very well. And compared to Maruti Suzuki’s previous offering, it is a huge leap forward in almost every aspect. It has the practicality of a hatchback, the comfort and roominess of a sedan, and the semi rugged appeal of an urban soft roader.

So go for it if you are in the market for a comfortable, well equipped and dynamically sorted crossover. The S-Cross is just the car for you and there is no better time to get your hands on it than now.

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