Honda Elevate promises plenty in competitive midsize SUV market

Riding on the strengths of Japanese engineering, the Honda Elevate has the potential to make a mark in India’s fast-growing midsize SUV market even as the Japanese carmaker chalks out plans to introduce more hybrids and EVs soon.

By Mayank Dhingra calendar 01 Aug 2023 Views icon6394 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Honda Cars India Ltd (HCIL) is all set to drive into the Indian passenger vehicle (PV) segment’s midsize SUV category with its latest and long-awaited product – the Honda Elevate – which will be launched in the first week of September. Built on the fifth-generation Honda City platform, the Elevate stands tall with 220mm of ground clearance, giving it the much-needed credentials to classify as an SUV on Indian roads.

The company, which is banking on good demand coming its way for the Elevate, has commenced production at its Tapukara plant in Rajasthan and has increased the overall daily production from 540 units to 660 units at this 180,000-unit annual capacity facility. HCIL, whose target buyer for the Elevate is the young customer in the 26- to 45-year age bracket, is bullish on the new SUV becoming its third pillar of strength, after the two sedans – City and Amaze – in its portfolio. These two sedans currently sell around 5,000 units a month.

Honda's Tapukara plant in Rajasthan has begun rolling out the Elevate. 

“The Elevate aims to cater to the fast-growing needs of SUVs the world over, and India is the first market to get the latest from Honda,” Yuichi Murata, Director, Marketing and Sales, HCIL, said at the Elevate’s media drive event in Udaipur last week.

“We have received an overwhelming response of over two million visits on the product website since the unveiling of the Elevate earlier in June. We are now working to build an impressive line-up of future products, especially premium SUVs,” he added.

HCIL plans to introduce one new product including facelifts every year, starting with the Elevate in 2023, for the next five years. Acknowledging the growing demand for SUVs in India, Honda will introduce five new SUVs by 2030. The company is admittedly pushing its boundaries to fast-track the launch of an EV on the Elevate platform within the next three years. In line with its global net-zero vision, HCIL will also bring Honda’s global offerings – hybrid as well as EVs – to India.

It is understood that the need to stay on course with its CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) targets, Honda aims to first roll out an EV based on the Elevate, but will also introduce products with its e:HEV hybrid powertrain technology in future. It is likely that HCIL could bring its CR-V hybrid in India as a CBU, taking benefit of the government’s policies to import up to 2,500 units without the need for homologation.

Taking on the plentiful midsize SUV competition

The Elevate will equip Honda with the necessary ammo to take its fight to arch rival Hyundai Motor India, which dominates the midsize SUV (4.2- to 4.3-metre long) segment with its Creta which currently averages monthly sales of around 14,000 units, despite new and growing competition from the Kia Seltos, Maruti Grand Vitara, Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder, Skoda Kushaq and Volkswagen Taigun.

The midsize SUV segment, which holds a volume potential of around 800,000 units annually, has witnessed strong growth in the past eight years to comprise 22 percent of the Indian PV segment, which hit a record 3.89 million units (38,90,114) in FY2023. Of this, the utility vehicle segment accounted for 51.50 percent or 20,03,718 units, reflecting the advance of this vehicle category which now accounts for every second PV sold in the country.

While the Korean twins – Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos – have lured buyers with their exhaustive list of features, aesthetics, and a range of powertrain options, the Honda Elevate could just hit the right chord with buyers valuing strong engineering, and spot-on fundamentals in terms of driving dynamics and comfort.

According to HCIL, the Elevate comes with enhanced structural rigidity by virtue of the implementation of high-tensile and advanced high-strength steel at critical places in the body-in-white, thereby playing a key role in the vehicle safety, driving dynamics and handling characteristics. The 4.3-metre-long SUV looks the part from the outside, however, the designers have adopted a safe approach towards styling to please most, and offend none.

Honda Elevate powered by 1.5-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol engine which develops 120hp; a first-drive impression reveals that the midsize SUV strikes the right balance between ride quality and handling

Strong driving dynamics, only 1.5L petrol engine on offer 

A first drive of the latest Honda in town reveals that the Elevate demolishes bad patches on the road with aplomb, striking just the right balance between ride quality and handling to offer confidence to the driver even at high speeds. Despite riding high on the road, the Elevate turns sharply into corners, and the suspension calibration is tuned to near-perfection to achieve a balanced level of comfort, and communicative handling.

The Elevate’s brakes also instil confidence, and the overall levels of driver engagement are extremely high, with the added suite of active safety and ADAS functions helping enhance driver confidence. The Elevate comes with Honda Sensing suite of ADAS features which are based on the front-windshield-mounted camera which has a 160-degree field of view. The suite includes collision mitigation braking system (CMBS), road-departure mitigation, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control (ACC) - which particularly helps maintain a cruising speed by following a lead car automatically.

The Elevate gets Honda's Sensing suite of ADAS features which are based on the front-windshield-mounted camera which has a 160deg field of vision.

The company has also introduced auto high beam to ensure good visibility for the driver as well as oncoming vehicles. The Elevate also gets additional active safety features such as Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot camera, rear seatbelt reminder, and emergency stop signal. In terms of crash, the company is confident about the Elevate's integrity, and says it meets Honda's global standards in terms of vehicle safety.

“The Elevate is designed to conquer tougher tests than currently required in the present scenario,” claimed Kunal Behl, Vice President, Marketing and Sales, HCIL.

Unlike the competition, which offers a range of powertrain options including petrol, hybrid, turbo-petrol, and diesel, the Honda Elevate only gets a sole 1.5-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol engine on offer and producing 120hp. The engine comes mated to a six-speed manual or an 8-step CVT drivetrain, and while the figures look weak in terms of competition, Honda’s renowned iVTEC engine technology works its charm and make the Elevate both relaxed and fun at the same time.

In its CVT guise, though, the drivetrain struggles to accelerate aggressively and witnesses a significant amount of rubber-band effect in the lower rpms. However, the engine has strong mid- and top-range performance, which makes it an able highway cruiser. In the manual-transmission option, one can push the engine to extract performance across the range, and the strong construction, and free-revving nature of the powertrain makes it a competent mill – sufficient to offer good driveability in day-to-day conditions. Honda claims fuel efficiency figures of 16.92kpl for the CVT, and 15.31kpl for the manual-transmission variants.

 

Qualitative interiors but more features would have helped

In terms of creature comforts, the Honda Elevate gets a 7-inch digital instrument cluster as well as a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with its large display area being customisable for commonly-accessible features. The infotainment system comes paired with 8 speakers that deliver an enjoyable sound experience inside the cabin.

While a wireless smartphone charger is provided, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also some of the connectivity convenience features on offer. However, compared to the midsize SUV competition, the Elevate misses out on a panoramic sunroof, and comes with a single-pane sunroof. The new Honda SUV also misses out on features like a 360-degree camera, ventilated seats, and electronic adjustment for the front seats.

Combined with the good amount of cabin space, interior ambience, features and comfort on offer, the Elevate has a strong chance to draw buyers keen on a reliable, yet engaging family-oriented SUV, which can serve the dual purpose of being an urban operator as well as a capable mover on the highway.

Honda eyes slice of booming midsize SUV market

Honda has outlined a strategic growth plan for its new SUV and is ready with a revamped look at its 325 touchpoints across 236 cities, with 182 of these outlets being present in Tier-3 towns, which contribute about 30 percent of its sales. The company says it has already received enough orders that now constitute a backlog of around 3-4 months. Those who have pre-booked the SUV will be the first to experience it when the Elevate reaches showrooms by mid-August.

Honda, which has been missing out on the exciting action in the midsize SUV market, finally has made its move with the Elevate. HCIL’s PV sales in April-June 2023, at 15,053 units were down 37 percent on the year-ago 23,896 units.

The Elevate has the potential to elevate Honda’s fortunes in India, and the Japanese carmaker might leverage this opportunity to get back in the race in India by pricing the SUV right.

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