2020 Maruti S-Cross 1.5 Petrol-AT: First Drive Review
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Will the S-Cross’ new petrol-automatic combo impress or will a manual still be the better choice?
The S-Cross has undergone a big change. One look at the car and you will be puzzled by that statement and even a peek inside the cabin might not clear up your confusion. That’s because the change lies underneath the bonnet. Maruti has bid farewell to the 1.3-litre diesel motor that used to reside there, and swapped it with a 1.5-litre petrol engine. The obvious plus here is that the new engine brings with it the promise of an automatic.
So the questions that now arise are these. Has the switch to petrol upped the desirability of the S-Cross? And, is the new automatic apt for you?
Powertrain: 1.5-litre petrol with smart hybrid, AT
Price: Rs 12.39 lakh (ex-showroom India)
As we hinted before, you’ll find no changes on the outside of the S-Cross. The only change here is the absence of the ‘DDiS’ badges on the front fenders. The S-Cross, however, still continues to look good with its crossover muscular styling that will appeal to you if you are looking for a ‘big’ hatchback. And that big chunky chrome grille at the front still does enough to buy you some road presence.
There are two changes in total here. Firstly, you’ll find Maruti’s new updated SmartPlay Studio infotainment system on the dashboard. The colourful graphics on this new screen are not the best pairing with the suave all-black cabin of the S-Cross. And the fact that you do not get trip information on this screen did seem a little weird. All other cars in the Maruti lineup that use this system (S-Presso, XL6, etc.) get it. And to make things more confusing, the multi-info display (MID) continues to be a monochrome unit. Again, so many other cars in Maruti’s lineup get a colour MID that it feels downright strange that the S-Cross, which is Maruti’s priciest offering, continues to do without it.
If you go for the automatic variant, like the one we drove, the obvious change is the automatic shifter in the centre console. Apart from that, the S-Cross’ cabin continues to be a spacious place which will easily take in four, or even five, of your friends. The surprising bit here is that despite the all-black cabin, it feels quite airy. The seats are quite supportive and the two-step recline on the rear seats makes it quite practical. You also get armrests for the front and rear row for added comfort and you can store all your knick knacks in either the storage space underneath the front armrest or the glovebox. There is also space for 1 litre water bottles in all four doors. The cabin plastics feel premium to look at, although only the top panel of the dashboard makes use of soft-touch plastic.
The S-Cross offers a minimum of 353 litres of boot space, which is not the best when you compare it to segment rivals. However, the well laid out arrangement with no protrusions into the main cargo area means that it will take in the luggage of four or five for a weekend quite easily. If you position the recline of the rear seats at setting 1, the boot space increases to 375 litres and with the 60:40 split seats folded down all the way, you can liberate 810 litres of cargo space.
Engine and performance
If you have driven the Ertiga, Ciaz or the Vitara Brezza in their petrol avatars, you’ll find this 1.5-litre engine to be quite familiar. Like in all of those cars, it makes 105PS and 138Nm, and feels linear in the way it picks up speed. The refinement levels are also quite good. Under 3000rpm, you will barely hear it inside the cabin.
The 4-speed torque converter on offer will make your city drive quite smooth as well. You’ll find that its upshifts and downshifts quite smoothly. However, a little bit of planning is required for overtakes. While being smooth, it does take some time to downshift, especially if you go hard on the throttle. However, when going for an easy pass on the car in front, you will find that the linear acceleration of the motor coupled with the torque assist from the smart hybrid system is enough to get the job done.
The relaxed nature of the engine is quite evident on the highway as well. You’ll find that it can cruise all day long at 100kmph, with the engine just spinning at 2500rpm. It, however, takes some time getting to those speeds. This was reflected in our 0-100kmph acceleration test, where the S-Cross took almost 14.43 seconds to reach the triple digit mark.
There are a few workarounds that will give you a slight dose of swift acceleration. For starters, you can lock the transmission in 1st gear by putting it in ‘L’ mode or in second gear by shifting the transmission to the position marked ‘2’. But bear in mind, doing this will lead to the engine revving high, and you will end up sacrificing a bit of fuel efficiency. And this powertrain combo is not known for its frugality, so that can be a problem. You can also hit the overdrive button to deactivate fourth gear and keep the gearbox in third gear if you want to execute a quick overtake on dual carriageways.
In our brief time with the car, we found the braking performance to be adequate. The brake pedal feel was progressive and the bite was also good. It therefore took us by surprise when the emergency braking test revealed a largely sub-par braking distance of almost 54 metres when coming to a stop from 100kmph. Mind you, this was in the wet.
Ride and handling
The S-Cross will ferry you around in relative comfort, even if the roads in your city are perennially ‘under construction’. Small and big potholes are damped well enough, although a bit of sound does creep inside the cabin over the bigger stuff. At highway speeds, the S-Cross feels quite stable and planted. The suspension settles back quickly and results in a flat and consistent ride.
The comfortable ride doesn’t mean the S-Cross can’t be dynamic. When you show it a set of corners, you’ll find the S-Cross more than happy to oblige, making quick direction changes without any significant body roll. So you’ll find that those gaps in traffic become all that easier to navigate. While taking a corner, you'll appreciate the sureness of the steering. It’s direct nature means that the S-Cross will end up taking the line you have charted for it without you needing to correct yourself mid-corner.
And if you ever decide to venture off the beaten path in the S-Cross, the excellent ride and handling package means you will have a good time. And the 180mm of unladen ground clearance means you don’t have to worry about scraping its belly.
In terms of safety, you’ll find that the basics are covered in all the variants. You get dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, ISOFIX mounts and disc brakes on all wheels on all variants. But sadly, the top variant doesn’t add anything more. You do get hill hold assist with the automatic transmission, but that is it. Surely, Maruti could have indulged us with at least two more airbags in the top-spec variant of its flagship offering.
The petrol-auto combo that we drove is an excellent city-dweller. It’s smoothness and refinement mean you can effortlessly get from point A to point B inside city limits. It will even take in your group of friends and their luggage for a weekend vacation quite comfortably. So if a smooth driving experience and space are your priorities, then the S-Cross will be a match made in heaven for you.
However, the S-Cross does fall short when you try to infuse some energy into your driving experience. It’s not the best when it comes to accelerating and thus only those who like to drive in a relaxed manner will appreciate the S-Cross. In our opinion, if your driving is mostly limited to city commutes, then the automatic version makes a lot of sense. For highway driving, however, the manual version will definitely satisfy you more and it will prove to be much more efficient as well.