Such is the stature of Maruti Suzuki in India that whenever they launch a car, even if it is just a variant, it arouses huge curiousity both among consumers and competitors. So when they enter a completely new segment, the interest borders on frenzy. So it is with the Ertiga. It is not, however, Maruti's first attempt at people movers. Remember the dud Versa of 10 years ago? Downsized and rebadged as the Eeco 2 and plying in the taxicab market these days.
The Ertiga, though, promises to reverse the trend and much more.
From some quarters it looks like a Ritz. Sorry, MSIL! Truth will out! Sure it is a big vehicle at 4.26 metres, one of the biggest Maruti has ever made. The swept back integrated head lamps are bigger, so are the grille, the sweeping air dam and the rather elongated fog lamps. It is also strictly built to a price, hence there is no chrome anywhere on the outside. From the front, at a distance, it looks very rusty..er..Ritzy.
The longer wheelbase and wide stance lend it a character that is so lacking in the Ritz, though. It is the shortest 7-seater in India (see box), hence very practical for the city. Thankfully, the rear is not Ritz-inspired: wraparound lamps give a compact posterior presentation.
Maruti and Suzuki seem to have invested a lot of time here. Despite the shorter length, it is still roomy and can seat 7 - two in the third row. Due to the sloping roof, head room at the back is compromised, but shoulder room is generous. The middle row can slide up a good 240 mm to make the back row easier. The dashboard and instrument cluster are inspired by the Swift Dzire, which also shares the Ertiga's platform.
Fit and finish are way better than so called rivals like Mahindra's Xylo or Bolero. Features are quite okay, nothing you would miss apart from a row vents in the back. On the flip side, making it a seven-seater has cost Maruti some boot space: at 135 litres, it is the only glaring chink.
There are two engine options - a spanking new 1.4-litre K-series petrol engine, and the tried and tested 1.3-litre DDiS Fiat-derived engine that also does duty on the SX4. On paper this is the smallest set of engines in an MUV. But Ertiga shows off that small is beautiful - and powerful too. Toe to toe, it is more capable than the three entines that power Mahindra's Xylo and the best-selling Bolero. The new petrol engine is refined, smooth and free revving, while the tried and tested diesel scores on economy.
Ride & handling
The DNA of the Ertiga is of a small car, hence it is no surprise that its handling is better than others in the class. The height - it is just 150mm higher than the Swift - helps it overcome the biggest menace in MUVs - body roll. It does have a tendency to understeer though, especially during hard cornering. The ride quality on the third row is much better than a Xylo, Tavera or a Bolero, but an Innova it is not.
This is Maruti's stronghold. It claims 16.02 kmpl on petrol and an astounding 20.77 kmpl for the diesel variant. This small car-like economy is head and shoulders above rivals including the Innova, though city conditions may see a dip in actual figures.
Few cars have the markings of a winner even before launch. Ertiga bears that stamp of class. Reminiscent of the Swift success, back in 2005. It may not quite replicate those numbers, but in a segment that is crying for quality, sophistication and better driving dynamics, it comes as a breath of fresh air. It is not without flaws, like the small boot, and still cannot be talked about in the same vein as the Innova, but it does come with a killer price tag. In a segment set to see a lot of action soon, with Renault, Ford and Nissan round the corner, Ertiga has set the benchmark.