It’s much nicer to marvel at thunder, lightning, dark clouds—the entire coterie that trails the post-monsoon—when you’re zipping along in an S-Cross, a nippy draught whistling through half-open windows, Vivaldi on the stereo, and foot down on the gas. That’s completely different, say, from being seated in an airplane from Delhi to Mumbai with the craft shuddering and roller-coasting in turbulent winds and air pockets. “What are they doing?” exclaims the man seated next to the emergency exit, casting an accusatory glance towards the cockpit (as if the pilots have deliberately engineered the weather to have some fun). No sir, the post-monsoon might not be the best time to take to the air. It’s a completely different worldview from terra firma, though. The dark clouds still loom on the horizon but don’t seem intent on making a strong statement; the howling wind has dropped its intensity to a convivial breeze. Grins quickly replace grimaces, and soon your motley group of auto hacks is speeding along to verdant Nashik where, on Maruti Suzuki India’s invitation, your aimless agenda is to wander about in the Sahyadris behind the wheel of an S-Cross—the manufacturer’s brand new ‘premium crossover’.
The S-Cross has many virtues, as you discover later, but at first glance, it’s the car’s honest proposition that sets it apart. No disingenuous ‘muscular’ styling hacks; no half-baked SUV design cues; that’s pretty neat—in a sea of unsettled pretenders, the S-Cross comes across as the genuine article. And that honesty extends to the solid build quality. This is the manufacturer’s first locally produced foray into the premium segment, and it’s obvious—the doors shut with a heavy, reassuring thud—that this manifestation of luxury is sheet metal deep. And heavy—at 1,250kg, it’s weightier than all compact SUVs in the market.
Further examination of the S-Cross is deferred to a concoction of wine, cheese and jazz at the Sula Vineyards, where we troop in for a soirée. Future visitors to Nashik ought to note that this is where you must sup, and ideally, lay your hat for a couple of nights—the vineyard’s Beyond resort is a hop-skip-and-jump from the winery and ideal lodging for a ripe weekend: lazy lunches, bicycling and copious consumption of wine.
That pastoral sense of time is gone the next morning as you embark, two to a car, on the road to Trimbakeshwar. For those who have never driven around Nashik, the region has some of the best blacktops in the country. Sparse traffic, sweeping curves, and a horizon dominated by low hills make it excellent driving country. You follow the lead car, as suggested, to make a circuitous way out of town. City driving in Nashik is more manic than what you expect from such a pretty city. You roll along sedately, and the S-Cross negotiates traffic with ease. Once you hit the highway though, it’s go time. The DDiS 320’s 1600cc diesel is a spanking new Italian import, which releases 118 horses—quick enough to catapult you to 100kmph from standstill in just over 11 seconds. For a car with serious gravitas, the S-Cross blitzes the miles with surprising urgency. It’s not frisky though: planted even in gale-like crosswinds, it keeps its composure and sticks to the rails even when thrown about in high-speed corners. Spirited driving like this cannot be expected to throw up frugal figures of consumption but having said that, the S-Cross is no guzzler. With an ARAI-certified 21.74kpl, the car is likely to be quite stingy when driven sanely.
The sheer size of the S-Cross is carried through to the interiors—this is a genuine five-seater with a big enough boot to take luggage for everyone on a week-long trip. Yet it’s not so large that you can’t thread it in tight urban conditions. The all-black interiors are absolutely top-notch: the leather seats look and feel upmarket; a theme that’s really driven home with the electronic suite goodies—a seven-inch touchscreen audio system (with USB, AUX, bluetooth connectivity, voice commands and navigation). The Bi-Xenon projector headlamps are a first in this segment as are the rain-sensing wipers and lights.
On another note, we didn’t drive the DDiS 200—the other variant of the S-Cross but apart from the smaller 1300cc diesel engine, it’s available in all four trims—Sigma, Delta, Zeta and Alpha. Maruti is selling both variants exclusively through its ‘Nexa’ dealerships—glitzy, premium affairs that will only sell the company’s luxury products. We’re told that each buyer is even going to have his own relationship manager.
Back on the road, we get back from the 200km dash on the highway in just over two hours; no small indication of just how well this car takes to the highway. And given that, it does remarkably well in the 20-foot-wide narrow lanes you and your colleague decide to enter in the older quarter of the city. You regret it immediately: not because the car’s complaining, but because the prospect of getting a scratch on that lovely red Prussian blue seems more than likely. Thankfully no such mishap occurs—most people on the streets are just too taken aback by your bravado (an inch away from utter folly), and phone cameras are out in full force. You get so engrossed in conversation with one of these excited denizens that you barely make it back in time to leave for the airport. At the end of the day, or rather day-and-a-half, you could easily spend another day at the Sula Vineyards, definitely a couple more exploring the roads around Nashik, and the S-Cross. In fact, a week-long circuit all over the Western Ghats, culminating with a zip to Delhi would be ideal. Come to think of it, next time around, consider just taking the S-Cross from Delhi and shelving air-travel altogether.