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Stylish, green—Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara Hybrid gets a thumbs up, but not for its engine

With its fabulous brakes and excellent mileage, the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara Hybrid is made for Indian roads.

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Rajasthan is a peculiar state. You think of it as a desert, but in reality, the region of Mewar is lush and green, incredibly so after the monsoons. And this year, the monsoons have been generous to this part of the state. The reservoirs are full and, in some cases, overflowing. I would like to think that there are no digital displays out there that can exhibit the hundreds of shades of green.

But the monsoons have another side effect. It brings out what I have started to describe as ‘Cow-me-Kazes’ after the Japanese pilots of World War II (also known as Kamikazes), who sacrificed their lives while trying to stop the American invasion. Our ‘Cow-me-Kazes’ are not charging at you in a screaming Mitsubishi Zero. They lie in the middle of the road, with not a care in the world.

And then, when you barrel over the crest of a hill with a bovine a few feet away, you wonder who is the suicidal animal. Anyway, long story short, the new Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara Hybrid has fabulous brakes and can manoeuvre around bovines and other roadblocks. Awesome.

Listen, I understand why certain things are the way they are on Indian roads. While there are few excuses for cows to roam on urban roads other than unscrupulous dairy farmers sending them to munch on vegetation on the central verges, in rural areas, particularly in the monsoons, there are no other places for them to sit and laze without sinking into the ground. Or for them to go from the hut of their owner to their pastures. So they use the road as much as you do and if you drive, particularly in Northern India during the monsoons, you have to be wary of the bovine threat to your car and possibly your life. I’m not here to debate the rights and wrongs of that today, but to tell you about the car in question—the new Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara.

A comfortable and sturdy C-segment SUV | Kushan Mitra
A comfortable and sturdy C-segment SUV | Kushan Mitra

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Impressive mileage

I had driven this car for a few laps at Maruti’s excellent new test track in Rohtak a month ago. Now, that was a test in a controlled environment and gave us some feel of the capabilities of this car. But it is a different thing altogether testing the vehicle properly in all sorts of conditions—crowded urban roads in Udaipur, the brilliant highway to Mount Abu and the rural patches in the extreme southern reaches of the Aravalis.

So what did I learn? Let me talk about the Hybrid first because that is the variant everyone will want to know about. The headline numbers, after driving around 100 kilometres, were a fuel economy of 19.5 kilometres per litre. Now, I must clarify that while I didn’t drive for economy, the hybrid distinctly had a better economy, albeit not on highways, because the batteries kicked in more on smaller roads and in the city. So instead of the constant speed driving on the highway, but considering that this is a large C-segment SUV to take on the Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos, this was darn impressive mileage.

That said, I also drove the regular automatic and the all-wheel drive variant with the standard 103PS K15 engine that also does duty on the Maruti Suzuki Brezza.

These are distinct variants. The Hybrid comes with a Toyota engine and a hybrid drivetrain system because Maruti Suzuki and Toyota are co-producing the car. That variant has a CVT gearbox, total power output from the petrol engine, and batteries of 114PS. The K15-equipped variants have a power output of 103PS. Truth be told, it felt a bit underpowered on the hills, especially compared to the fact that even the lower output engines from their rivals have a minimum of 115PS.

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Lacks meaty engine

Clearly, the Grand Vitara has been tuned to economy. But it was also evident on the twisting roads in the hills above Udaipur that the platform could do with a meatier engine, something like the turbocharged 140PS that both the Creta and Seltos have or the brilliant 1.5TSI on the Kushaq and Taigun. Of course, those cars don’t have the fuel economy of the Brezza, but sometimes Maruti Suzuki does feel a bit stuck in their ‘Kitna Deti Hai’ mindset. Yes, I know that is the environmentally friendly thing to do, but I am also a guy also wants to have some fun occasionally.

That is not to say that you cannot have fun with the Grand Vitara. No siree, the ‘Allgrip’ all-wheel drive system offered on a distinct variant of the Grand Vitara is a level up on Toyota’s rivals who don’t offer all-wheel drive systems on the cars. This is available solely as a manual and is a capable car, dealing with things you genuinely would not expect a comfortable C-segment SUV to do.

But that brings me to another issue, the slight confusion with variants and specification levels. For example, the Hybrid came with ventilated seats and a wireless charging pad, but none of the other top variants did, which was odd. However, all cars with the SmartPlay Pro+ infotainment system came with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a first for a Maruti.

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Stylish, green, economical

Now, how much will the Hybrid cost? Toyota has priced their equivalent Hyryder at Rs 18.99 lakh, and one expects the Maruti Suzuki to be around Rs 25-50,000 cheaper. Personally, the Grand Vitara is better looking than the Hyryder, but customer choice will not be down to just looks. The customer will consider many aspects. For instance, does it make sense to buy a Hybrid car over a diesel one? The numbers are marginal right now if you do the maths around total costs of ownership and fuel, ignoring, of course, that buyers in the National Capital Region (NCR) have a ten-year rule for diesel vehicle ownership. The Hybrid makes immensely more sense for that subset of buyers, at least.

However, next April, a stricter set of emission norms, the Bharat Stage 6B, comes into force, and that will add to the cost of vehicles with small diesel engines, which means the maths could change even more. Plus, the government is clearly trying to promote more efficient and less polluting vehicles, and Hybrids could be a step in the right direction. But, then again, we are also not too far from an explosion of choice of electric vehicles by the 2025-26 timeframe. So you do have that to consider as well.

@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)

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