Maruti Suzuki isn’t shy to dig into its past to launch new vehicles with older names. The Maruti Suzuki Baleno is one example, an old name for a new hatchback, which has given it a reasonable success in the Indian market. Maruti is at it again, this time, bringing back the Vitara name tag for its upcoming mid-size SUV.
Maruti Suzuki dropped the Vitara name from its sub-4 metre SUV, the Brezza, during its recent facelift, right in time to launch the Grand Vitara, a mid-size SUV that will compete with the popular Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, and others in this segment.
The Vitara name has a history in India — it was the most-expensive Maruti Suzuki sold in the country just before it was withdrawn from the Indian market. The last recorded price of the Maruti Suzuki Vitara was Rs 23.71 lakh ex-showroom, costing not just more than its competitors, but vehicles much above its segment.
The Maruti Suzuki Vitara was first launched in India in 2007 with a 2.0-litre petrol engine capable of 120 bhp and 170 Nm of torque mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. For its time, the Vitara was not just expensive, but also a capable vehicle with a 4WD system. However, the engine was sluggish, the interior did not live up to its price tag, and it was a thirsty vehicle.
In 2009, Maruti Suzuki gave the Vitara a much-needed update in the form of a bigger engine – a 2.4-litre motor making 163 bhp and 225 Nm of torque – a new automatic option, while retaining the 4WD system. The Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara was priced at Rs 16.67 lakh for the manual version and the automatic cost Rs 17.97 lakh, ex-showroom. The engine update sorted the sluggish SUV which now had better mid-range and top-end power, while also managing to return ~10.4 kmpl. During its update, Suzuki had already managed to sell over 25 lakh Vitaras globally.
However, later in 2015, Maruti Suzuki decided to pull the plug on the Vitara in India owing to low sales and its price, which was at Rs 23.71 lakh, ex-showroom. The Vitara was sold in India as a CBU, hence the hefty price tag. Also, the updated engine that was once the strong point of the Vitara became a letdown, as the sole petrol engine could not entice customers in a diesel-engine-driven market.
During this time, it also had to fend off competition from other carmakers who were in the SUV segment with diesel engines such as the Mahindra Scorpio and even the Toyota Fortuner, which was priced at Rs 18 lakh, ex-showroom. A combination of all of this led to the demise of the Vitara in India when Maruti decided to pull the plug.
In its lifecycle, the Maruti Suzuki Vitara saw numerous success stories having been used for personal and motorsport purposes. Customers who owned the Vitara say it was a no-nonsense SUV that took in anything thrown at it, be it daily commute, off-roading, and even highway runs. The vehicle was reliable and for most, it was the only vehicle they needed as it did everything, including carrying 5 occupants and having ~400 litres for luggage.
In the motorsport world, Team Maruti Suzuki ran Vitaras and even managed to win multiple rallies in India. One of the most noted was Team Maruti Suzuki’s win at the 2017 Dakshin Dare Rally at the hands of Suresh Rana and co-driver Ashwin Naik.
The Vitara won the Xtreme Class in a total of 11 hours and 50 minutes, despite having its newer siblings, the S-Cross and the Brezza competing. The Grand Vitara made use of the same 2.4-litre petrol engine and Maruti’s All-Grip AWD tech with Reigers suspension that allowed the SUV to perform at its best even over the roughest patches.
Fast forward to the present, Maruti Suzuki leads many segments with at least one vehicle in each. However, one segment that Maruti Suzuki lacks a vehicle is the mid-size SUV category, dominated by the Hyundai Creta. Apart from Hyundai, Mahindra has the Scorpio that saw a recent refresh, Tata has the Harrier, Kia with the Seltos, and many others, which has left a gaping hole in Maruti’s market share.
With the carmaker’s collaboration with Toyota, Maruti has utilised the global C Platform to build a mid-size SUV that will be unveiled on July 20. To be called the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, it will, in essence, be the newly unveiled Toyota Hyryder, but will have unique Maruti Suzuki touches to try and take the lead in the segment.
For starters, the Grand Vitara could be priced from Rs 9.5 lakh onwards and use the tried and tested 1.5-litre engine option that has seen success in the Ciaz, Brezza, and the Ertiga. The Vitara’s name is making a comeback after 8 years and Maruti Suzuki is doing everything it can to get it right, because the carmaker is entering a highly populated and competitive segment, even competing against the same product from Toyota.
The mid-size SUV market is seeing growth in India with car buyers willing to shell out a bit more for a vehicle that can be used daily and offers a lot of comfort and space. Taking advantage of this, Hyundai has been able to sell over 9,000 units of the Creta every month, even selling over 13,000 units last month in India.
Currently, the Hyundai Creta is priced at Rs 10.44 lakh onwards ex-showroom, while the top-spec SX(O) AT trim costs Rs 18.18 lakh. Maruti Suzuki’s speculated pricing for the Vitara already undercuts the Creta’s base variant pricing by almost Rs 1 lakh, giving Maruti Suzuki an edge. Also, given that Maruti Suzuki will offer an AWD variant, it will become the only SUV amongst its 5-seater competition to offer this, catering to a wider audience.