Comparison test: Nissan Kicks vs Hyundai Creta vs Renault Captur vs Maruti Suzuki S-Cross
The Nissan Kicks sold abroad is very, very popular, and is largely responsible for Nissan's sales shooting up in developing markets, like South America for example. It stands to reason that if anything can do the same for Nissan in India, it's the Kicks. Yes, the one we get only shares its name and broad styling to the international model, but, the India Kicks is larger and more butch - both things that we like. So it should make the Kicks a no-brainer.
Except, it's got its work cut out for it, like the Maruti Suzuki S-Cross and Renault Captur have. And all because of the Hyundai Creta, the country's favourite SUV, apart from those of the compact variety. We see why it does a lot of things very well, but the others here bring their own strengths, and brand of uniqueness to the table. The question then is, what can that defining factor be, that sets these urban SUVs apart, and is that enough to choose one over the other?
Looks being subjective and all that never rang truer than with this bunch! Unfortunately, most of our market's subjectivity ends the moment styling starts leaning towards crossover, rather than a typical SUV. Which really is unfortunate, because I think that the Renault Captur is the most visually-arresting SUV here, followed by the Creta.
Sure it's got typically-French-car rounded-off corners, and none of the typical SUV straight lines, but the high beltline and wheels pushed out to the corners makes for an overall great stance. At night, the lighting details come alive with the low-mounted C-shaped LED DRLs being instantly recognisable, especially since we get a chance to see so few on the road. The Kicks, while fresh with its catchy two-tone colours, doesn't quite have the same striking effect, to my eyes at least.
Would you believe that it's the longest one here? At 4,384mm long, it's about a hand (114mm) longer than the Hyundai Creta, but doesn't look it. I think a part of that is due to the low front and sharp rake of the rear windscreen, which makes it look more hatchback than even crossover. Something that the S-Cross too is guilty of, though the new face with its massive grille and headlights at least make its face look arguably imposing, if not vaguely teutonic, though it's the only one here to ride on 16-inch wheels.
Finally, the Creta gets all its proportions right, and even with its slightly narrow and tall look, still nails the SUV brief. The Kicks and the Captur, despite looking less-SUV like, are higher off the ground, standing tall with clearances of 210mm against the Creta's 190mm.
If you had to guess the price of the car, sat blindfolded inside it and just feeling your way around, you'll probably guess the Creta and Kicks as the highest priced ones here, and you'd be right! The Creta feels decidedly upmarket, with its mix of textures and matte plastics around the cabin. It's a sensible layout and you're never left with a feeling that you're missing out (except for the omission of auto headlights).
Space at the rear is more than adequate, even for three, helped by a seat back reclined at the most relaxed angle of all the SUVs here. It's only perhaps bested by the roominess, width and plushness of the S-Cross' rear bench.
The Kicks still carries over a lot of the scratchy plastics from its predecessors, but scores in offering a large soft leather panel on the dash, a great size and feel to the steering wheel, some nicely finished trim around the doors, and very nicely finished quilted upholstery. It's these small, yet important, attributes that gave us a positive first impression when we first drove the car.
But look past that and you realise the Kicks would be hard to live with, what with the closely spaced pedals, lack of any cup holders, counterintuitive steering column-mounted audio controls, and a rear bench that's cramped for three adults. Complaints that mostly apply to the Captur as well, disappointing at this price range and in this company. The Kicks has the largest touchscreen infotainment at eight-inches across, but some inconsistencies in its Apple/Android integration has us wary, while the Creta and S-Cross worked reliably every time. In a first for the segment, the Kicks also offers a 360-degree parking camera, which is a premium feature yet somehow manages to be grainy and blown out in direct sunlight.
The S-Cross' cabin feels familiar to other Maruti Suzukis in a lot of ways, but just in a larger layout. It's a simple and timeless design, but its main shortcoming is that it's not particularly exciting. While the S-Cross is reasonably well-specced for the price, it's the only one without rear AC vents, something cars from a rung lower get.
The one SUV where you'll miss your phone the most is the Captur, since it doesn't offer smartphone integration, and you have to lean forward and reach into the central storage if you want to check it at a traffic light, for example. Really strangely, while a lot of switchgear is shared with the Kicks, switches for the cabin lighting feel more premium in here. If the Kicks was to be the more premium of the two, wouldn't it have made sense to really push the envelope with it?
The Creta automatically pulls out ahead in this field, by a long margin, being the only one to offer seat belt pretensioners and six airbags on the top variant, with the Kicks offering four on the top variant, while the others are capped at two airbags across the range. None offer a head restraint for the middle passenger, nor a three-point seat belt, which we think should become a standard, quick.
Engine, performance and efficiency
There really is no replacement for displacement, considering all these SUVs have turbocharged diesel engines. The Creta with its 1.6-litre motor (the largest here) leads in every way, courtesy of its 126PS and 260Nm torque, which peaks from 1,500rpm, a couple hundred revs lower than the others. From the moment you thumb the starter, it's apparent that this engine has seen a fair bit more development than the others.
So while overall NVH dampening inside the cabin isn't as good as, say the Captur and Kicks in some situations, it still sounds and feels the most refined, down to the light clutch and slick gear shift action. Driving it every day, except for the odd moment of diesel clatter, you could almost forget that it's a diesel. The power comes early and is linear, though its gearing did require a bit of footwork with the clutch and brakes in under 15kmph traffic, since it's quite eager in first gear.
It stands in stark contrast to the other three, which all have alarmingly spiky power delivery, and torque steer. For me personally, I like the feeling of the turbos lighting up but I have to admit that it makes driving in the city quite a chore sometimes. The Kicks and Captur share engines, the 1.5-litre with 110PS and 240Nm torque, both mated to six-speed manuals. The Kicks has shorter gearing, which makes light work of bumper-to-bumper traffic, with the second gear often being my go-to since the engine doesn't lug and doesn't need the clutch to be slipped to modulate speed, something that the Captur asks for. This is an issue, since the Captur also has a springier clutch, and at the end of a long city commute, you'll feel the difference. The S-Cross actually needs the least effort in tight traffic with its relaxed gearing, but it only gets going after 2,000rpm so making gaps in traffic needs some foresight. With its 1.3-litre engine making just 90PS and 200Nm torque, it's down on the others on paper itself, and in the real world, you will feel the difference.
The figures are telling, but also belie the essential driving characteristics of each SUV. The Creta's 0-100kmph timing of 10.9 seconds is nearly 3 seconds quicker than the slowest SUV in our testing, the Kicks. This is primarily because the Kicks, with its short ratios, needs a shift to fourth to get there, while the others don't. In our roll-on acceleration tests, namely the 30-50kmph in fourth gear test, which mimic a majority of city driving, the Creta was nearly a whole second quicker than the Captur, with an ever widening gap to the other two. In further testing, all the others bested the Creta in the 60-80kmph in top gear test, though not by much.
Where the Creta falters is in its capability to squeeze out more per litre of fuel, something the S-Cross expectedly did very well, with the Captur being the biggest surprise by trumping everything! In the city, the Captur managed 15.9kmpl! The S-Cross (with its Smart Hybrid start/stop system) was marginally lower at 15.7kmpl, the Creta far lower at 13.2kmpl and the Kicks lower still at 12.9kmpl. Out on the highway at a steady 100kmph, the Captur again posted higher figures than the Maruti, at 21kmpl vs 20.2kmpl.
Ride and handling
Depending on how you're going to be using your new SUV, you might be prioritising different facets of its ride - we discussed this at length in the office, and finally managed to come to a conclusion. If it's primarily going to end up in the city with the occasional highway trip, the Creta has the most sorted ride quality. It feels well-damped over broken roads, and planted on the highway.
However, it does have softer rebound rates, so it springs back over speed breakers, something the slightly more stiffly sprung S-Cross does as well. I prefer the more taut and generally indestructible feeling over really bad roads that the Renault-Nissan chassis provides, but the trade-off is a slightly nervous ride at city speeds.
The way these SUVs let the driver know what they're doing also wildly differs, with the Creta and S-Cross feeling slightly vague at the steering, and the Captur and Kicks going too far in the other direction. A long drive in either will be more tiring, and either need you to literally wrestle with it around corners, thanks to the steering bucking and kicking over small undulations at speed. Surprisingly, the Creta handles the most predictably, and the revisions to its electric power steering have made a difference.
When it comes to stopping power, the Kicks and the Captur offer the sharpest feel at the pedal, and need you to recalibrate your foot to be able to modulate them in the city. It's not surprising then that the Kicks stops the shortest and quickest, though it's surprising that the Captur doesn't. We remember the S-Cross having nice, strong brakes, and pedal feel, but our test car returned high figures in testing.
It's obvious that the Creta is the most rounded package, only really being let down by the same thing that nets it higher scores everywhere else - its engine, and just how thirsty it can get! It is the most expensive here, but mostly for good reason, being the only one to offer the extra peace of mind of six airbags, apart from the sunroof. Considering that the Kicks is more expensive than the Captur, it doesn't do all that much to warrant the cost difference to an SUV which we already think should have been better for the price. The S-Cross is more like a family-sized spacious hatchback, but then again it is the most affordable. The Creta is my pick for an urban SUV, but if the Renault and Nissan were a little closer to the S-Cross in price, instead of the Creta, they may be far more compelling.
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