With people-movers getting more and more popular with families, Maruti crack open a new niche with its Swift-based Ertiga. We take a closer look at India’s first baby MPV.
Maruti has the largest model range in India and that’s a problem. What does India’s biggest car company do next? It currently offers a choice of six affordable hatchbacks with petrol, diesel, CNG and LPG options available for many models. It has three saloons on offer and an SUV too. It looks like Maruti has all the bases covered but there are still small gaps to fill. One options is to go upmarket but the company seems to be a victim of its own success; we Indians just don’t seem to want a premium car from a mass-market and omnipresent brand like Maruti. Just looks at the dismal performance of the Grand Vitara and Kizashi.
Logically then, the way forward is to find new niches laterally and fill them, and Maruti believes it has found one. India’s most successful small car maker is training its guns on the compact MPV segment with the all-new Ertiga which made its debut at the Auto Expo this year. Maruti made its intent pretty clear two years ago when it unveiled the RIII concept at the 2010 Auto Expo. This concept, designed in-house and built by Dilip Chhabria Design in Pune, pointed to the mini-MPV Maruti was developing. However, the production model was designed and developed by Suzuki back home in Hamamatsu but with the deep involvement of Maruti engineers. Though India is the primary market for the Ertiga, it will also be sold in Indonesia, which is the capital of the MPV world. The substantial volumes generated by the Indonesian market and the common parts shared between the Ertiga and other Swift derivatives hint at the phenomenal economies of scale Maruti can achieve. In car-buyers speak, this means the ability to price components (and hence the car) very competitively, which is exactly what we expect Maruti to do.
Though the Ertiga is based on the new Swift’s platform, it is anything but a stretched hatchback. This thoroughly engineered compact MPV is actually considerably bigger than it appears in pictures. Just to put things in perspective, the Swift measures in at 3850mm in length while the Ertiga stretches the tape another 415mm to 4265mm. The Innova is even longer at 4585mm. Falling into a class below the Innova, it shares the Toyota’s basic proportions and has a similar cab-forward design, but that’s where the similarity ends.
The Ertiga’s design cues are all Suzuki. The edgy, peeled-back headlamps echo the ones on the Swift, the slot-like grille is typically Suzuki and the A-pillar and bloated bonnet look very Ritz-like. Still, Maruti designers have given the nose plenty of character. There’s a degree of separation between the flared wheel arches, the big aggressive chin and the rest of the body, and the blacked-out pillars lend the Ertiga a sporty look too. It does, however, look a tad under-tyred in relations to the bulk of the rest of the body – the Swift-size 15-inch wheels seem a bit small While the front looks quite distinctive, the rear isn’t. It’s a little plain in comparison and the tiny wraparound tail-lamps can only do so much to liven things up. Some chrome and a more enthusiastically stylised rear could have helped. However, compared to other MPVs, the Ertiga is a massive step up on something as plain as the Innova or awkward as the Xylo.
The key difference between the Ertiga and the other MPV in the market is not just the size, but in its construction. Unlike the traditional body-on-frame chassis’ of other MPVs like the Xylo, Innova and even the Aria, the Ertiga is built on a monocoque. Sharing the platform with the Swift, the Ertiga is built like any modern hatchback or saloon and hence is easily the most car-like MPV we have today. The wheelbase, of course, has been stretched by a substantial 310mm and now stands at 2740mm – which is longer than the XUV500’s wheelbase!
To compensate for the loss of rigidity that accompanies such a stretch, Maruti has used plenty of high-tensile steel and a corrugated roof to provide strength to the structure, and this helps the Ertiga remain both light and stiff. In fact, the Ertiga diesel weighs 1235kg, which is 155kg more than the Swift.
What helps make the cabin spacious is the fact the wheels are pushed out almost to the corners of the car. The spare is mounted below the floor for further flexibility and Maruti engineers went through the difficult job of moving the fuel tank forward to aid space efficiency further. You can tell the fuel tank has been moved as the middle row is mounted on a slightly higher base, which actually helps thigh support.
Maruti has done an impressive job on the insides too. In fact, the packaging is incredibly clever with plenty of versatility engineered into the cabin. The Ertiga is supremely flexible in terms of space and seating and it makes us wonder why more cars can’t be like it. Even with all the seats up, there is useful boot space and you can easily carry two small-sized bags in the rear, which is hard to do in the Xylo. Another useful touch is the generous storage bin under the floor, which is good for holding loose bits.
The real key to the cabin’s flexibility, however, is the middle-row seat. It splits 60:40, and, like the front seats, slides an amazing 240mm fore and aft on its rails. All it takes is one pull of the lever to access the last row. Getting into the last row though is not easy and the bench itself could have been better in terms of under-thigh support. The middle row, however, is much easier to access. The floor is high as with a ladder frame design, so you don’t have to climb up, and stepping in and out is, well, like stepping in and out of a hatch. Also helping with ingress and egress are those big rear doors that open really wide. The middle-row seat itself is also very comfy and affords good all-round support. With the middle row pushed back, there is ample legroom for even the tallest of people but that leaves next to no room in the third row. This, however, can be fixed. Slide the bench forward enough and the last row becomes useful for average-size adults, while the middle row still retains sufficient room. We have one gripe though – to fold the last row of seats completely flat, the middle row has to be moved ahead. This compromises the legroom a bit but given the amount of boot space it yields, it’s probably worth it.
All passengers get adjustable headrests and the Ertiga even has six bottle holders in the cabin. A roof-mounted blower helps cool the cabin quicker, you can recline the backrest of the middle-row seats and because the floor isn’t very high, you don’t get the typical ‘knees up’ seating position seen on most ladder-chassis cars. There is, however, no climate control even in the top-of-the-line ‘Z’ trims and the central tunnel intrudes by a couple of inches.
This does nothing to take away from the light and airy feeling of the cabin. It is swathed in beige and even the passengers on the last row don’t feel claustrophobic. The quality of the dash is as good as that of the newly launched Dzire but the light colour takes away a bit of the upmarket feel.
The Ertiga will be available powered by both petrol and diesel engines, and don’t rule out a CNG version in the future either. The diesel is the same 1.3-litre DDiS from the SX4, geared differently (the first four gears are shorter while fifthe is taller to improve highway economy) and tweaked to handle the heavier loads this car is capable of carrying. A new petrol engine will be introduced with the Ertiga – the new K14B engine. Displacing 1.4 litres and producing 93.87bhp and 13.25kgm of torque, it will be the third K-series engine to go on sale. And going by our experience of the K-Series family of engines, this one too should be efficient, refined and free-revving. The gearbox is shared with the Swift and should be slick to operate and easy to use in the city. Given the relatively small engines, we expect the Ertiga to be economical to run too. It won’t be as frugal as something like a Swift but some way more efficient than the much heavier Aria or Innova. What’s also pretty certain is that the Ertiga will be very car-like to drive and this should appeal to large families who want an easy to drive and park car yet crave for space.
The Ertiga is Maruti’s Swiss army knife – versatile, multi-role and flexible. It’s compact but spacious, should be fun but frugal and if it drives as well as we think it will, it should appeal to the head as well as the heart. Maruti has always been about selling the right product at the right price and here too pricing will determine how well the Ertiga is received. We understand that Maruti is looking to price it between Rs 7 to 9 lakh cars when it is launched in the middle of April and going by what we’ve seen, the Ertiga looks set to exploit its own new niche as well as steal market share from many adjoining segments. It could upset many an apple cart for the competition and could be just what Indian families are looking for.
Source: Autocar March 2012