How Toyota-Suzuki alliance could spell success for their new midsize SUVs in India

by Mayank Dhingra 19 Sep 2022


The Indian passenger vehicle market is increasingly banking on SUVs for growth, what with the utility vehicle (UV) segment’s share having already grown to 50 percent and with one out of every two new cars sold today being of this increasingly preferred body style. The UV segment, which saw sales of 1,489,178 units in FY2022, is set for a new record with 737,159 units getting sold in the first five months of FY2023 itself.

While the sub-four-metre compact SUV market remains a top draw, it’s also the midsize SUVs – those in and around the 4.2-metre-length mark – that are drawing car buyers. What they offer is their compelling proposition of being do-it-all products and the right attributes of high ground clearance, ample occupant and storage space, and inherently lesser vulnerability on Indian roads, all aspects crucial to achieve success in the extremely demanding Indian driving environment.

While the midsize SUV segment with its key products such as the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, and the now discontinued Renault Duster and Mahindra XUV500, has been making strides for more than half-a-decade now, the recent entry of newer players such as the European siblings – Skoda Kushaq and Volkswagen Taigun – has expanded the market and also pushed OEMs absent from this space to tap into its immense potential.

Maruti and Toyota: partners in progress
India’s passenger vehicle market leader Maruti Suzuki India (MSIL) which leads the sub-four-metre SUV segment with its Brezza compact SUV, has been left behind by competition in the midsize SUV space. While on one hand, the company dominates the utility vehicle segment with an overall market share of 62 percent with a clutch of best-selling models like the Ertiga MPV as well as the aforementioned Brezza compact SUV. The company has a nominal 4-6 percent share of the midsize SUV segment with its sole offering, the S-Cross.

The Maruti Suzuki S-Cross was launched in 2015 and was an early attempt by MSIL to engage with the evolving SUV buyer in India. However, the ‘crossover’ couldn’t defend itself from the mighty blows from formidable SUV brands like the Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos, the Korean duo that have today emerged as the champions of this class of vehicles.

In profile, Grand Vitara (top) gets different alloys and D pillar treatment than the Hyryder.

Things are about to change soon as the Japanese carmaker, along with its alliance partner Toyota, has revealed its upcoming midsize SUV – the new Grand Vitara – that is set to replace the S-Cross this festive season, and will be retailed through its premium Nexa retail outlets across the country. Toyota, on the other hand, also absent from the midsize SUV segment until now, will introduce the badge-engineered version – the Urban Cruiser Hyryder – of this Suzuki-developed product, and the Japanese duo will leverage synergies in engineering, technology development, procurement and manufacturing, as the SUV will only be built at Toyota Kirloskar Motor’s plant at Bidadi in Karnataka, to be sold under both brands.

Driving the Grand Vitara: first impression
Step on the gas in the Grand Vitara strong-hybrid variant and one can almost instantly appreciate the effortless power delivery and linear acceleration. The Toyota-sourced strong-hybrid powertrain overcomes the dismal lack of a strong midrange in the other mild-hybrid-equipped trims that get Suzuki’s own 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, K-Series engine. While this engine is also extremely refined due to its DualJet technology, it only feels adequate for day-to-day driving scenarios without inducing any element of excitement in the new Brezza, XL6 or the Ertiga that it powers.

Grand Vitara extremely engaging to drive in strong-hybrid form with brisk acceleration, robust dynamics and comfortable ride quality.

It is here where the synergies of the two Japanese automakers have come into play and augur well for the success of the Grand Vitara as well as the Urban Cruiser Hyryder. Maruti Suzuki’s 1.5-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol engine, mated to a five-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmission options, gets a standard mild-hybrid system. This had little chance to survive the competition’s assault with their powerful turbo-petrol and diesel engines, which in itself was a profitable territory but was vacated by India’s top carmaker more than two years ago in lieu of stringent BS VI emission norms.

Additionally-insulated high-voltage cables of the hybrid system coloured in orange. The lithium-ion battery pack is rated at 0.76kWh, 177.6V.

Now the strong-hybrid powertrain, however, utilises a partially-localised Toyota 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine that runs an efficient Atkinson cycle and comes coupled to an electric motor driving the front wheels through an e-CVT drivetrain. The EV system in this hybrid setup is powered by a 0.76kWh lithium-ion battery pack placed in the boot. The combined system output stands at 116hp, with a fuel-efficiency rating of a notable 27.97kpl. While there is no specifically-mentioned pure-EV range on offer, engineers from the two carmakers claim that the strong-hybrid system can remain active for up to 60 percent of the driving time in full-EV mode, depending upon driving conditions.

The Grand Vitara strong-hybrid feels energetic right from the word go, when it takes off in pure-EV mode. The engine seamlessly kicks in on demand for more acceleration from the driver and benefits from the strong momentum already created by the e-motor. The engine pulls effortlessly well into triple-digit speeds, and although it becomes quite vocal, it offers smooth power that is delivered to the wheels through the e-CVT drivetrain. Once a comfortable cruising speed (up to 120kph) is attained, the engine again shuts off and the car continues to cruise in pure-EV mode, therefore significantly aiding fuel efficiency. Although a ‘Sport’, ‘Eco’ and ‘Normal’ driving modes are on offer, the performance is equally enjoyable across the three with throttle responses in the Eco mode being more gradual and well suited for driving through congested patches.

Go anywhere with AWD
The collaboration between the two carmakers also brings value to the table from Suzuki’s side with its revered ‘AllGrip’ all-wheel drive or AWD system making its way into the Grand Vitara as well as the Urban Cruiser Hyryder.

The AWD is available only with the 103hp Suzuki 1.5-litre, K-Series engine along with a five-speed manual transmission. Barring the Mahindra Thar that is a lifestyle vehicle, these two new SUVs from Maruti Suzuki and Toyota will be the ones to offer this go-anywhere capability in the midsize SUV segment in India. While the penetration of 4x4 or AWD is extremely low in the country, and accounts for just 1 percent of the total passenger vehicle market, MSIL says it has already received up to 6 percent of the total 53,000 bookings garnered between July 11 and September 13 for the AWD trims.

The two SUVs get Suzuki’s AllGrip Select system that by default comes with automatic selection of power transmission to front or all-four wheels, depending upon the traction available from the road surface. The system also has a Sport mode, and a ‘Lock’ button to engage the rear-differential lock to transmit equal power to both front and rear axles. This mode also brings up the hill-descent control and hill-start assist functions and all these electronic aids help the SUV overcome challenging situations like snow and slush, as well as tackling tricky situations like aggressive upslopes and pits.

In terms of driving dynamics, the SUVs, which are based on Suzuki’s Global-C platform, score high in terms of ride, handling and steering feedback with ample confidence to tackle city, highway or off-road environments. The 210mm ground clearance allows the driver to confidently encounter most challenging situations on Indian roads and then some in reasonable levels of comfort.

While the past attempts of the Toyota-Suzuki alliance were mostly concentrated with the latter majorly taking charge and lending its Baleno hatchback and Brezza SUV to Toyota for filling up the voids in its Indian portfolio, the duo have come together in a more strategic manner in case of the new SUVs, to better leverage synergies by dividing responsibilities according to each other’s strengths. The synergies this time around are deeper as the two have jointly coordinated right from the models’ conceptualisation stages, with an aim to achieve highest efficiencies in terms of cost, capacity utilisation as well as lead time.

Although the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder are essentially the same vehicle with slightly different styling elements to maintain their respective brand ethos, the joint effort put into these SUVs could finally spell success in what has the potential to be another top-draw sub-segment in the Indian passenger vehicle market. The Japanese OEMs might be late to the midsize SUV party but seem to have developed the formula to offer a tough fight to their rivals from Korea.

The two SUVs go on sale in the coming weeks and Maruti Suzuki is confident that the new Grand Vitara will not just expand the midsize SUV segment but also cannibalise sales of some of the popular midsize models that currently have high waiting periods.


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