The first impression of the Creta is that the car is very well proportioned. It doesn't look too compact, and also looks very agile and sporty in its stance. The car's cabin is well finished but not overwhelming - in the sense that unlike recent Hyundai cars that try almost too hard to wow you, this one's a bit understated. The cabin is reasonably roomy and there's good leg and head room at the rear. But it doesn't have the airy and roomy feel of the Duster's cabin.
The Creta is a very important product for the Koreans, especially because Maruti remains weak in the 10+ lakh segment and the S-Cross is unlikely to change that. Profit margins on SUVs are fatter than mass market hatchbacks & sedans too. The Creta will be manufactured in India and exported globally (they haven't specified exactly which countries yet). The Indian arm has pumped in 1,000 crore rupees on the Creta, and it is the company's 10th model on sale. The Creta fills up a void in the 10 - 20 lakh SUV category rather well. For some, the EcoSport is too small and the Duster too old and crude.
There's also the case of the extremely competent XUV500 which is priced in the vicinity. It's much bigger, gets 3 rows of seats, superb equipment levels, a powerful 2.2L engine and benefits from Mahindra's improved engineering skills. XUV500 owners are generally a happy lot too. Not everyone wants to buy an XUV500 though, due to its sheer size, the Mahindra brand and hit-or-miss dealer network. The Creta is backed by Hyundai's marketing muscle, reputation for quality & excellent after-sales service. In that sense, it carries a good differentiator as an all-round package. The Creta is a fairly neutral product with no real deal-breaker.
Design wise, the Creta certainly comes across as a shrunken Santa Fe. It wears Hyundai's new Fluidic 2.0 design language, with a big Santa Fe-like triple slat grille dominating the front end, along with Santa Fe-like headlamps housing projectors, LED positioning lamps & static bending lights (like in the XUV500). That flat bonnet is quite large for an SUV of this size. The shiny black A-pillars look stylish (à la Maruti Swift) while the bottom part of the body has black cladding all around. At the rear, the smart horizontally laid-out tail lamps blend well with the overall design. The only thing I found odd & out of place was that ugly chrome garnish above the rear number plate. It doesn't gel with the SUV at all. The top SX(O) variant wears 215/60 tyres on 17" diamond cut alloys, while the lower variants ride on 205/65 R16 rubber.
Thanks to the excellent engine, the Creta AT can be a competent highway cruiser too. The highway experience is calm & comfortable. When you want to overtake, the kickdown response time is around half a second before the gearbox downshifts. Par for the course, we'd say. Even on the highway, the Creta AT doesn't feel underpowered at all. However, when we wanted to overtake a 90 kph truck on the expressway, we couldn't execute the move as quickly as we'd like. If there is a fast vehicle ahead and your overtaking window is narrow, you'll have to carefully plan the move (or use 'manual mode'). While the gearbox takes half a second to react in most conditions, there are some where it'll take a full second.
This 6-speed AT isn't lightning quick like the VW DSG, yet it's performance is acceptable for a torque converter unit. The gearbox is suited to calm driving, maybe even a little bit of pushing, but not an aggressive driver. Push hard with constantly changing throttle inputs and the AT can end up confused...not shifting when you want it to and vice versa.
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