Cars/ First-drive/ Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, Honda Elevate and Kia Seltos | SUV Smackdown

Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, Honda Elevate and Kia Seltos | SUV Smackdown

Compact SUVs don’t come cheap. Where should you be putting your money?

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Overview

What did one Japanese SUV say to another? ‘Hey there, are you a hybrid? Because you’ve been giving me some serious electric competition.’

I chuckled at the joke, but it dawned on me that many wouldn’t get it. Why? Because there are few takers for strong hybrid technology, and despite their impressive fuel efficiency, these SUVs are still far from mass acceptance. Not many users fully grasp the benefits on offer, which is why a staggering 70 percent of Grand Vitaras sold are the naturally aspirated four-cylinder variants.

Now that we know where the market trends are, let’s talk about how you can spend your money more wisely. Am I already suggesting that the Elevate is a superior vehicle? At least in terms of costs, yes, to begin with. It’s seventy thousand less, and you end up with a superior car.

Why superior? Because it’s a Honda. And sporting that emblem upfront sets certain expectations for the Elevate. Quality, fit and finish, the materials used, and the engineering behind it all—these are the aspects where the Elevate truly shines. Distinguishing between the two is tricky because they’re both Japanese SUVs, but it’s the Honda that truly makes you feel special.

For starters, it’s uncommon. Which means more people notice it for longer. And there’s plenty to admire—its flat, upright nose gives it an imposing presence. Unlike the Grand Vitara’s stretched length (which seems to be trying too hard to hide its Brezza-inspired proportions), the Elevate appears more proportionate. Its headlamps adhere to the conventional setup, eschewing the split arrangement, which lends the Elevate a much more mature face.

While both vie for attention with their connected rear LED lamps, it’s the Grand Vitara that catches the eye with its more appealing rear. Yet, pop open the hatch, and you’ll quickly realize that the Elevate’s boot space is significantly more generous, practical, and usable.

The interior approach is distinct for both, making it relatively easy to choose between the two. Grand Vitara opts for a safe design theme, featuring a cascading central console housing manual air con buttons. The screen is perched atop the dashboard, complemented by two analog dials I adore. However, the screen quality leaves something to be desired, and the 360-degree camera output lacks sharpness. Soft-touch materials and layers don’t snugly align with the underlying plastic. Our test car also exhibited faulty aircon vents, and the power window switches felt subpar in terms of quality and longevity.

In contrast, the Elevate employs a dual-tone interior theme, exuding an executive aura. The cabin execution feels modern, accentuated by a horizontally set screen that exudes superiority. The aircon controls offer delightful click-feedback, adding a touch of character. The driver benefits from better tech, including a crisp screen doubling as an analog meter. From a distance, it mirrors the Grand Vitara’s elegance, but up close, its modern sophistication becomes apparent. Notably, Honda’s startup animation on the central screen adds a unique touch, subtly signifying elevation in life.

The same sense of refinement extends to the rear seats. Unlike the Grand Vitara, getting in and out feels more elegant and natural, although the door screws could be better concealed. Once settled, the rear bench impresses with its flat, supportive, wide design and optimal seat angle, akin to a comfortable couch.

Enhancing the experience further is the Elevate’s suspension setup. While it thuds audibly over sharp potholes, it excels in other terrains – highways, undulating roads, broken paths – instilling confidence whether you’re sitting in the front or rear. The Elevate’s drive experience is notably superior too. Its i-VTEC 1.5-liter naturally aspirated engine delivers instant power, granting access to the band’s meat earlier than expected. Surprisingly, the Honda surpasses even the K-series engine in terms of freedom. Honda pairs its high-revving engines with CVT transmissions, appreciated widely for their smooth and effortless driving experience.

Despite the rubber band effect inherent in CVTs, the Elevate’s linear acceleration masks the shift delay effectively. Considering most SUV drivers adopt a sedate driving style, the Elevate presents itself as the smoother, more refined powertrain choice.

The standout advantage of choosing the Honda lies in its advanced suite of driver assistance aids. Utilizing cutting-edge camera-based sensors, these features provide an extra layer of safety, including blind spot monitors, auto high beam, lane centering, and adaptive cruise control with start-stop functionality. While not all of these features might come into play daily, several prove invaluable during city drives. Moreover, certain functionalities are best reserved for when you venture outside the city in your Elevate, ensuring a heightened sense of security and convenience wherever your journey takes you.

Yet, the Elevate remains underappreciated. It’s a Honda available at a lower price than a Maruti Suzuki, making it exceptionally appealing and desirable. Like all Hondas, it holds the potential to build a legacy over a decade, much like its legendary predecessors. Want to be part of this legacy? A test drive of the Elevate might just convince you.

And while you’re at it, I strongly recommend a visit to the Kia dealership to explore a captivating variant of the Seltos. Yes, it comes at a premium of around a lakh and twenty thousand over the Grand Vitara, and by no means is that a trivial amount. But consider the benefits. A turbocharged petrol engine! A cabin that surpasses both the Grand Vitara and the Elevate, and a transmission that offers the best of all worlds (once you adjust your driving style to it).

Let me break it down for you. I’ve just illustrated why investing in the Elevate over the Grand Vitara is a wise choice. However, I don’t wholeheartedly endorse the Elevate because it excels as a weekday car, not a weekend thrill. Enter the Seltos. Its new 1.5-liter turbocharged engine packs significantly more power than the naturally aspirated units we discussed, making it a joy to zip around in, especially when you venture beyond the city limits.

I opted for the clutch-less manual from the lot, or what Kia dubs an intelligent manual transmission. Why? Because it isn’t a traditional manual transmission in every sense, allowing your left leg some respite. Just slide the right gear, a process that comes with its perks. You remain in complete control of the power delivery, and when not needed, you can shift to neutral for optimal efficiency.

If these mechanical nuances don’t sway you, let’s dive into the Seltos’ cabin. Every surface is impeccably finished, whether it’s the hard plastics or the soft-touch materials. Not only is the infotainment screen superior to the Elevate’s, but it’s also more user-friendly and positioned lower, enhancing visibility outside the windshield. Then there’s the driver screen, offering a plethora of cockpit options tailored to your desires.

Features? Abundant. Ventilated seats, driving modes, enhanced sound system, and integrated sunblinds for rear passengers. Outside, there are sequential turn indicators and intricately detailed illumination units. The cabin is meticulously assembled – tighter panel gaps, superior quality, everything suggests longevity, surpassing both Honda and Maruti Suzuki.

The driving experience is sophisticated, slightly on the plush side, making the Elevate the better choice. Still, for city driving where the Elevate can be jarring, the Seltos ensures a far more comfortable ride. With a full load, the Seltos squats noticeably more than the Elevate, but honestly, how often do you drive with a car full of passengers? (If you do, perhaps consider a mid-spec Scorpio-N for the same budget.)

The Seltos T-GDi iMT offers an option that could elevate your driving experience a bit further than what the Elevate offers. I’ve always believed there are many vehicles that can make your weekdays enjoyable, but only a few that truly enhance your weekend. If you share this belief, the Seltos deserves the top spot on your consideration list.



TopGear Magazine June 2024