The Grand Vitara could be the game changer that Maruti has needed to step out of the mould of being a manufacturer of conventional vehicles. NEXA brand vehicles have helped it branch into the premium category within the size and price segments that are its core. The Grand Vitara comes at an opportune time for Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, when Indians are upgrading their personal mobility experience and looking for VFM (value-for-money) premium vehicles. 

Last week, I got an opportunity to test drive the upcoming Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara at the sprawling test tracks at Maruti’s research and development centre in Rohtak, Haryana. The 700-acre facility houses multiple tracks to simulate real world conditions. I drove the Grand Vitara on the main high-speed oval test track with steep banked turns, the highway simulation track, and the city-driving cycle simulation track for low-speed manoeuvrability testing. The 3-lane high-speed track is about 5.8kms long with the banked turns. The highway track offers simulations for straight line acceleration, tight corners, and parabolic turns. And the city-driving simulation track offers patches of paver-blocks, gradient parking slots, speed-breakers, tight 90-degrees turns, and kerb spots for parking. 

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After driving the final production-spec Grand Vitara on all three tracks, here are my first impressions. These tracks only simulate real world conditions, so I won’t be able to offer a final opinion until I take it out on actual roads for a full day of testing. That will have to wait till mid-September when Maruti is expected to have its media test drive. 

Design and build

I did get a chance to see the new Grand Vitara in the flesh during the official launch last month. But, walking up to it on tarmac is a whole lot different, especially with the design being highlighted by natural light. This is one good-looking compact SUV from Maruti Suzuki with some elements reflecting a brand design language. The bold upright design, despite the mildly tapering roofline, and the simple, yet attractive, character lines give the new Grand Vitara a sort of universal appeal. LED headlamps, new grille design and connected LED tail-lamps lend a lot of modernity to the design, making it neither too flashy nor too underwhelming. Deeper Blue NEXA signature paint job sits well on the Grand Vitara. 

What I test drove at the R&D facility track was the final production spec versions of all three powertrain variants that will be offered with the vehicle. Overall, the build also feels like a step up for Maruti Suzuki. Shut lines are tight, doors close with a heavier, healthier thunk than Marutis of the past. And the general impression one gets is that this exterior design and build can hold its own in a segment that is already fairly crowded. 

Cabin

We will have a full review of the new Grand Vitara in September. But my first impression about the interior is a bit of a mishmash. I like the fact that the overall fit and finish quality has improved, and the fact that the dashboard and door panels now feature a wider variety of materials and textured finishes. The colour theme was a bit too black for my liking and I was looking for a few more trim elements that could have delivered the perceived quality that premium SUV customers may be looking for. It still represents a sizeable jump for a vehicle from the Maruti stable. Lots of new features, none of which could be fully experienced during the short track drive. But one of the features that I’m guessing will make the aircon system work overtime is the rather thin synthetic mesh roof-lining for the sunroof. 

Performance

The Grand Vitara is offered with two petrol engines. One is the Suzuki K15C, 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine that is offered with a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. This sports Maruti Suzuki’s own smart hybrid system that we’ve already seen in the XL6. The difference for this power unit in the Grand Vitara is that the manual transmission also gets Suzuki AllGrip Select, an electronically controlled 4-wheel drive system. The other mill is the TNGA 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine that is essentially a Toyota powertrain sporting the company’s proprietary strong hybrid technology. This ‘intelligent electric’ hybrid’s is an Atkinson cycle engine and is paired only with a e-CVT (continuously variable transmission). So, while the former feels very much like the K15C in the XL6 in terms of its refinement, the latter Toyota powertrain feels very different. Both are focused on delivering efficiencies, though the Suzuki engine feels like it breathes better and has more stamina. The TNGA engine and strong hybrid combine feels more restrained in its performance, with a clear bias towards maximising mileage. 

On the oval, high-speed track, I tried some of the drive modes too. In the strong hybrid, the default (city) mode and Eco mode feel very similar in the way power and torque is put down to tarmac. There is also a Sport mode, where it feels a shade quicker, and there is an EV mode, where the Grand Vitara is capable of being fully powered by the battery-motor combo. It is a self-charging system and the test mule I was drove had a low state-of-charge and so a pure EV mode wasn’t available. 

Ride and refinement

The ride quality in the new Grand Vitara was a highlight during the short test drive that I experienced. Expectedly, the city-drive circuit was the one that threw up the most opportunities to test the suspension. Typical urban challenges, including paver block patches, kerb climbs and gradient parking were all put away with ease. The suspension offered the right amount of support. The ride also seemed to have been assisted by the 215/60 R17 Apollo Apterra tyres that the Grand Vitara sported. 

Focused on efficiency, Maruti claims that the strong hybrid will be India’s most fuel-efficient vehicle. That is a good thing given the absence of a Diesel engine version. The new Grand Vitara will be offered in four trim variants for the smart hybrid and two top trim variants for the intelligent electric hybrid powertrain. I expect prices to range from about ₹14 lakh to ₹19 lakh. Come back to this section in a few weeks to read the full, on-road test review.

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