The Grand Vitara which was first rolled out in 2007 and was the apex offering by India's largest car-maker is back in a brand new avatar. Its aim now is clearly to service consumer demands for all-wheel drive, off-roading, and long-haul trips. For decades, Maruti Suzuki has been known as the maker of small cars that suited consumer needs perfectly. Indeed, even today, the vast majority of its sales come from hatchbacks or smaller cars that include the Swift, WagonR, Alto and Ignis and sedans such as the Swift D'Zire.
The Maruti Gypsy was an earlier utility vehicle, launched in 1985, much before other mass car-makers got into the space. As much as it was loved for its design, the Gypsy wasn't a big volume generator and was phased out globally in 2017. In the years between, there been other SUVs from Maruti, including the XL6 and the Ertiga, but they fall into the category of what purists would call “city-SUVs” or “people-movers”, an allusion to the fact that they don’t have the hardcore off-roading capabilities of a true SUV.
The Grand Vitara which Maruti has launched is a redux of the version that sold for a short while before being discontinued in 2013 here. The Suzuki Grand Vitara, however, has been quite popular in the international market. It didn’t take off in India because it was imported as a completely built-up (CBU) product that was too expensive at the time. Maruti Suzuki chairman, though, had a Grand Vitara, his other car being the sporty Kizashi sedan.
At first glance, the new hybrid-engined Grand Vitara stands square and tall with all-wheel drive features that promise to take on rivals that include the Ford Endeavour, Volkswagen Taigun, Hyundai Creta, Skoda Kushaq and Kia Seltos. At about 14 feet long, almost six feet wide, and a shade over five feet tall, the Grand Vitara is one of the largest SUVs in its segment. That also means there’s great legroom in the front and back and a seating arrangement that can house five occupants with ease.
As an all-wheel drive vehicle that sits at the top of all of Maruti's product offerings one would have expected its prices to start around ₹18 lakh. Instead, the brand has launched the SUV at an aggressive sticker between ₹10.5 lakh and ₹15 lakh ex-showroom. That makes it one of the more affordable SUVs in its league.
This vehicle is the result of a global alliance between Toyota and Suzuki, which bring together the best of two Japanese giants. Toyota, which has been among the early movers in hybrid cars (Prius launched first in 1997) brings its hybrid system to the table while Maruti Suzuki brings to bear its distribution muscle, proven manufacturing expertise via the C Platform, a four-wheel drive system, and a solid component supplier network. The result is a vehicle that is distinctively Japanese with clean, crisp features, which is high on technology and yet has market-beating price. Toyota's version of it is called the Toyota Hyryder.
On the inside, the Grand Vitara makes it apparent that this is a car with off-road capabilities. A driver has options that allow the car to climb hills, descend steep slopes and more. The six-speed transmission is sufficient, given that this is not a car to be used for speed-racing, but don't expect it to be as sharp or swift as a European counterpart.
The nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system is well located and easy to view and use. The rest of the dashboard and cabin is minimal but of quality that seems it will age well which is perfect for the kind of car this is. Interiors are not plush as say, Toyota or Honda’s more premium products, but are still several notches above run-of-the mill cars.
On the road, the Grand Vitara feels well planted and stable while light on the steering. The day I drove it across terrain that could be considered “off-road”, it was drizzling a little but that didn’t impact how the car moved thanks to its all-wheel drive with an easy-to-use control system. There’s also a mode for driving in snow and icy conditions. Uphill, downhill, on loose gravel or turf roads with rubble, or across streams or ditches, the Grand Vitara's modes allow you to tackle everything satisfactorily.
Cars such as the Grand Vitara have no business to be parked in one’s garage but are in their element when taken out on adventures. Regardless of whether they are in the wilderness, city, or countryside its best when its driven.
Grand Vitara Intelligent Electric Hybrid
Power: 68kW (92.45PS) @5500rpm
No. of cylinders: 3
Kerb weight: 1290-1295kg
Pavan Lall is a Mumbai-based business journalist and author of Forging Mettle: Nrupender Rao And The Pennar Story.