Some say it looks like the Mahindra TUV 300, some are calling it a Bajaj Qute lookalike. But disparaging comments aside, the thing that matters most? Will the new Maruti Suzuki S-Presso be able to help the car market leader go back into volumes stratosphere and boost a segment that has seen sales shrink by over 50 per cent? Read on to find out of the new Maruti Suzuki S-Presso has the goods or not. Kingshuk and I are driving the new S-Presso from Jodhpur to Khimsar, and back. We have the chance to test the S-Presso in its manual and AGS or AMT (automated manual transmission) variants. We began with the manual VXI+ (the top variant), dressed in a new colour - Pearl Starry Blue.
What is it?
The S-Presso is what team Maruti calls a mini SUV, so we will humour them and do the same. It is essentially an entry hatch that will compete with the Renault Kwid - the car that brought space, sexiness and SUV flair to the entry car segment in the first place. And the Kwid is the reason Maruti has gone in this direction too.
So it's not a huge surprise that it looks the way it does. The S-Presso hopes to supplement Maruti's portfolio at the entry, volumes side of things. The new car essentially occupies the kind of positioning the previous Wagon-R used to. Tall, narrow, and priced attractively. That old Wagon-R buyer was not necessarily happy with the bigger new gen Wagon R and so may love the S-Presso. And so it also sits between the Alto K10 and Celerio in that sense. At between ₹ 3.69 and 4.91 lakhs - the car is also great value. Or is it? That is what I aim to find out.
Design and styling
Let me be blunt. The Maruti Suzuki S-Presso is an unattractive car. It has some bits that you may like, but it does look dated, rural, crude and boring. In fact to be honest the design looks like it remains incomplete; as if the designers went to lunch and never got back to complete the car! Or well, I should say went to get a coffee, given the name! Speaking of which - right from the launch, to the product drive - Maruti Suzuki never made one reference to coffee.
They could have served us some espresso made from different varieties of coffee beans, or even just handed out coffee flavoured chocolates, or beans dipped in some. Simpler still, offer the car in a shade of rich Robusta brown. After all many SUVs are offered in brown - that got quite popular, and would have been a good connect for the car to be seen as one. But nope - not even once did they mention coffee. Rather strange, that. Oh well, back to the review.
So 'Car Design Of The Year' it is not. The Maruti Suzuki S-Presso is built to a cost, and unfortunately that shows. right away. Just in terms of the crudeness of the design. It looks unfinished. It doesn't look like something from 2019. And to me, that is its biggest weakness. The car has been given huge squarish wheel arches with exaggerated height, causing a massive gap between the wheel and the rest of the body. It's trying to look like an SUV, and yet the square shape makes the wheel look smaller than it actually is.
And it is a small wheel to begin with: 13 inch wheels on the regular car, 14 inch on the VXI+. You can get alloy wheels by paying extra - no variant comes them standard. The wheel well itself is also lacking any cladding, and so looks crude and unfinished. The car's sides also have lots of metal expanse in an attempt to look big, and that looks plain. I have to say the car actually looks nicer in red, because some of the lines in that metal show up a little nicer. In some of the other colours like the orange, it all looks very flat. It does imply a lot of sense of space though. The big greenhouse also provides lots of light, and makes the cabin appear very airy and roomy. But it's just a really plain and boring design otherwise. There's a bit of drama in the face with the grille and the headlamp cluster, but really not much. The bumpers are very tall, and that metal also looks odd.
You can choose to get the optional daytime running lights - not standard on any variant - to break the monotony of the large bumpers, but they cost ₹ 10,000. But the only good thing is that even the guy buying the base variant can get that. The bumper is two-tone, and you can also get an optional skid plate in an aluminium colour to make it look more butch. The car looks especially narrow and plain from the rear, and a chunkier, wider bumper would have helped save that Bajaj Qute-like rear end. Still it gives you a surprising amount of boot space at 240 litres (with the parcel tray up) and 270 litres (without the parcel tray). There is no variant badging for trim or even AMT, and ground clearance is 180 mm.
Customisation and accessories
The Maruti Suzuki S-Presso is available with two body kits - Energetic and Expedition
Customisation will be key for the S-Presso, as we have seen on the Renault Kwid - the car it is really going after anyway. Most Kwid buyers do get some accessories, and with the S-Presso too there are many available - including two body kits (Energetic and Expedition). This adds some flair and colour to the dull design - even giving you side moulding to break that metal monotony. So it's not a pretty car, but those looks begin to grow on you. And it won't matter what I think about the looks, because - for a lot of buyers moving from an Alto 800 or even an Alto K10, this is a huge step up - figuratively and literally.
How does it drive?
The big question is about how this little car is to drive. Well I have to tell you we had very low expectations, given how it looks, and also how this end of the market operates. But two things gave me hope; one - the new regulations for crash and safety, and two - the obvious need to go after the Renault Kwid's success and benchmarks. Having spent time driving the manual, the car really redeems itself. The very first thing you notice right away is the ride quality, which is actually pretty supple, despite the fact that it sits on slim tyres. It also gets up to triple digit speeds relatively easily, and maintains its composure and overall integrity.
In a high speed situation though is when the car's body roll also gets more pronounced. The high seating position however is actually pretty good, and drives home that SUV characteristic quite ably. The steering is the other thing that will surprise you. Going by how other Marutis have been - sort of wobbly, soft, the S-Presso has a nice steering. I won't say it's very stiff, but yes it's very satisfying in terms of its response and performance.
But it doesn't always come back to centre easily - which can be disconcerting in terms of knowing which way the wheels are pointing. The steering is small, and the angle at which it is fixed (it is not height or reach adjustable) bothers me. While it is fine for city driving, or shorter distances, over long journeys, that angle will make you upper arms tire out, as you have to hold your arms up to use the steering in the correct way.
The K10B engine is familiar and does the job well then on this car. The engine puts out 67 bhp and 90 Nm of peak torque. It's a bit noisy though and sound damping could've been a lot better - especially from the engine bay. In terms of wind noise or even road noise, the car does pretty well, but it is that engine noise that will start to really grate on your nerves. And so that's another big negative unfortunately. The gearbox is pretty forgiving though, and you won't require too much frequent gear changing in city traffic. The AMT is also reasonably smooth, and will do what an AMT is meant to. Maruti's AGS has come a long way, and so this is probably the best it will get. Claimed mileage on the S-Presso is 21.7 kmpl.
Consider the car weighs only 726 kgs and you can understand why the S-Presso does live up to being a Maruti - light, quick, zippy and pretty responsive. The stability and composure of operation comes from a new 'heartect kei' platform from Japan that is definitely superior to the previous Wagon R or Alto family. So it stays pretty stable, has decent amount of chassis integrity, though as I said before, body roll is immense. Braking is on point and there is no shudder or loss of control even when braking hard. Yet the overall drive experience is - wait for it - more refined than you'd expect when you see the car for the first time. I would recommend this as a pure city car still, and not a highway cruiser.
The S-Presso meets basic front crash norms certified at 56 kmph, and has ABS and a driver airbag as standard. Each variant has an 'O' or option, which gets you dual airbags and seat belts with pretensioners. The latter should be standard in my view. Everything is standard on the VXI+ of course.
After seeing the outside, you may not have huge expectations of the cabin itself. But I have to say - at least in terms of design imagination, you see something that you have never seen from Maruti before. Very different layout for the dash, with some new elements and shapes - especially the central console and the AC vents mounted above it. The round element in the central console is an obvious lift from MINI design. Overall the dash is not as plasticky as I had feared it might be, though some surfaces, like the little shelf in front of the passenger could have been done in soft-touch material, to avoid having things you keep there from bouncing around noisily.
Placing the instrument cluster atop the central console, and the front power window switches also half way down it is an obvious cost saving measure. Having the Kwid-inspired digital cluster in the middle is not very distracting since this is a tiny car, but yes I would have preferred in behind the steering wheel for sure. Having it here, will allow for left-hand drive models to be made at lower cost, for exports. Maruti has plans to export the car to Latin America, Africa and other parts of Asia. No rear power windows even as an option on the top-end version, which is a bit surprising. But this is a car that's designed to a certain cost as I have been saying.
You've got a USB point for the smartplay studio input and the phone charging. And a 12V power outlet too. Steering mounted controls are always nice, especially in this segment, but most of this is only in the top end VXI+. The standard and LXI variants stay without the touchscreen and get no infotainment. No touchscreen on the VXI either, but you can use the SmartPlay Dock with the music system, for connectivity.
But even if you are buying the base variant of the S-Presso, you can always ask Maruti to fit in an infotainment system and Maruti also offers a wide range of those. So you can fit a rear seat entertainment system for ₹ 11,000, or go all the way up to ₹ 26,250 for a top of the line for the Pioneer infotainment system.