It’s raining SUVs, and has been for quite some time. This means that choosing the right one for you can be tough. So, to make things easier, we’ve pitted a pair of the latest entrants – the MG Hector and Tata Harrier – against the best-seller, the Hyundai Creta.
For the first quarter of this financial year, Indian automobile sales figures have hit an 18-year low, but even in these challenging times, manufacturers continue to bet on the SUV segment, which has grown to become the second-largest sector in the market – after hatchbacks, of course.
Since the beginning of this year, we’ve witnessed a slew of SUV launches, but still the Hyundai Creta continues to be the king of the hill – a position that it’s enjoyed ever since its launch in 2015. In an attempt to dethrone it, many have either disappeared without a trace or have simply become insignificant. After four years of laughing all the way to the bank, it now has two serious contenders – the Tata Harrier and the recently launched MG Hector – not to mention another one on the way in the form of its cousin, once removed, the Kia Seltos. Kia, after all, is part of the Hyundai Motor Group, and will launch its first model – which just happens to be in this segment – in the third week of August. But more on that in a future review.
The models that we’ve tested for this comparison are the Hector 1.5-litre petrol automatic, the Creta 1.6-litre petrol automatic and the top-of-the-line diesel variant of the Harrier, since the Harrier comes neither with a petrol motor nor an automatic transmission. So, will the competition manage to finally wipe the smile off Hyundai’s face? That’s exactly the question we have in mind for this comparison.
Smartest beast on the block
It’s time for a pop quiz – name the object that’s at the centre of our lives? Well, no surprise, the answer is the mobile phone! In other words, connectivity. And that’s what the Hector offers. This SUV comes with an embedded Airtel eSIM, which keeps you connected with the world. Just like your smartphone, it can also receive wireless software updates. Through the i-Smart Technology app, you can switch the AC on and off without being in the vehicle, or even near it for that matter. But, of course, this feature is only available in the variant we have here – the automatic.
Before we get into all the hi-tech features this SUV has to offer, let’s do a quick walk around. The wide grille with chrome inserts, sleek DRLs, headlamps and fog lamps housed together and silver front lip give the Hector a majestic look. Did we mention that all the lights are LEDs? Yes, for the first time in this segment.
But the Hector retains that old-school SUV design, with a big imposing MG badge on the nose, a broad squarish bonnet and prominent creases in the bumper. All this makes the SUV look rugged, but not without a certain elegance. So, the Hector has an unapologetically butch presence, something that would be appreciated by SUV fans.
A quick look inside the cabin will leave you scratching your head and wondering if the Hector is in the same segment as the Creta and the Harrier. The cabin materials, plastic quality, leather and the beautifully contoured seats are all top-notch and make the Hector feel quite special. There’s a massive 10.4-inch infotainment system, which comes preloaded with apps like Gaana, AccuWeather and, of course, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Hector has an intelligent voice assistant system, which can be used to open the sunroof, switch on the air conditioner and control both the music system and the navigation. What’s interesting and unique is that your interactions with the system are like conversations and not merely the monotonous broadcasting of orders. Moreover, the Hector also comes with goodies like a 360-degree camera assist, both front and rear parking sensors, all-disc brakes and a powered tailgate.
With a wheelbase of 2,750mm – the longest of the three – the Hector ensures that rear seat passengers can lounge in the back in luxury or even stretch their feet or sit cross-legged. The rear bench offers good back support and has a reclining feature. The seat squab, however, is on the flatter side and lacks under-thigh support. Therefore, a long drive can be slightly uncomfortable.
The moment you fire up the 141bhp 1.5-litre motor, you get an instant sense of its refinement. The 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission results in a smooth power delivery. Driving it in the city is a breeze, as the gearbox upshifts fairly quickly. The problem, however, starts when you want it to shift down – it takes its own time and leaves you a bit frustrated. But this happens only when you put the pedal to the metal. Also, low-end power is a problem. You have to wait for the RPM needle to cross the 2,000rpm mark for the turbo to kick in. Honestly, though, you won’t have any complaints while driving in the city traffic, but when pushed hard or during a quick overtake, the engine certainly feels lethargic.
And when it comes to the steering, it’s light and vague. While this makes the Hector easy to drive in slow-moving traffic in the city, it’s a problem at high speeds. We would have preferred the Hector’s steering wheel to have a bit more weight, like the Creta, at higher speeds for a better sense of control.
The suspension is set up on the softer side, which makes the ride quality comfortable for passengers, but it hampers its handling capabilities, as body roll is quite evident around corners. In reality, though, it’s hardly a deal-breaker for a typical SUV buyer, as they want a spacious, comfortable SUV that can dwarf most other cars on the road. And the Hector manages to do exactly that.
More than a pretty face
The chiselled looks of the Tata Harrier will certainly draw a lot of attention, given its Land Rover Discovery-like design. It beautifully manages to balance a busy front design with a clean muscular stance. It also has split headlights, but only the tail lights and the DRLs have LED lamps.
If you cover the Tata badge, the Harrier could actually pass off as a Land Rover SUV, which is really saying something. Now, speaking of the iconic British brand, what makes the Harrier stands out is the Discovery Sport chassis on which it’s based. What this means in real-world driving conditions is that the Harrier, even though it’s a heavy SUV, is quite agile around corners. As a matter of fact, out of the three SUVs that we’ve here, the Tata is the only one that remains truly planted in the corners – where it displays virtually no body roll.
For rear passengers, the ride quality is slightly firm, as the Harrier misses out on an independent rear suspension to cut costs. It’s also the only SUV in the segment that offers three different terrain modes – Rough, Wet and Normal – which allows you to go on a mild off-roading adventure if you so choose.
The Harrier’s 2-litre motor is sourced from FCA and is the same as the one in the Jeep Compass – or the diesel variant of the Hector for that matter. But Tata gets a detuned version, which makes 138bhp instead of the 170bhp of the Compass. The engine response is fairly laid back, and the excess weight doesn’t help either.
The turbo lag is quite evident too, but post 1,500rpm, it does start to pick up the pace. The Harrier comes in three driving modes – Eco, City and Sport. During our test, we left it in Sport, as it’s a lot more responsive. The Harrier is also the only SUV here that comes with a hydraulic steering rack, which offers the best feel – but it can get heavy, especially in slow-moving traffic.
It’s the cabin of the Harrier that really surprised us. It has the best interior ever in a Tata vehicle, and one that can really challenge the competition. We love the mock wood on the dashboard and the smart-looking 8.8-inch infotainment display. The thick black bezels, however, make it look smaller than it really is.
Tata has replaced the traditional hand brake with an aircraft-like lever, which looks pretty snazzy but feels flimsy. Cabin space is something the Harrier excels in though. There’s plenty of space for passengers, but the transmission tunnel eats into the rear leg room, which can be a problem – especially if you have three adults in the back. The Harrier’s seats are among the best in the segment though, with the rear bench offering plenty of under-thigh support, unlike the Creta and the Hector.
The Creta has been the undisputed king of the segment because it offers people exactly what they want. Now it’s the most compact SUV in this comparison, but in no way does it lack space for passengers in the rear. The high window line and the predominant all-black interior make the cabin feel cramped and smaller, but that’s not actually the case. And while the Creta’s tried-and-tested 7-inch infotainment screen is intuitive, it has started showing its age – as it doesn’t have a high-resolution display like its rivals.
Hyundai always keeps its finger on the market’s pulse however, and that’s why they didn’t waste any time in introducing the facelift version of the Creta last year. It now comes with an array of upgrades, which include a bigger and a much more imposing grille, the DRLs that have now been pushed down to where the foglamps are housed and it also got a new alloy-wheel design. The cabin too gets new toys like a powered driver’s seat, a sunroof, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, cruise control, an instrument cluster that now displays fuel economy, wireless mobile phone charging and ventilated seats – the last one is only available in the top-of-line the manual version though.
From behind the wheel, the 121bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine feels very refined and well mated to a 6-speed torque converter. The automatic gearbox upshifts quickly and, as long as you don’t hurry it, offers a smooth and comfortable driving experience in the city. If you’re in a hurry, however, you can opt for the manual mode, which makes the motor eager and responsive.
Sadly, the Creta doesn’t come with sport mode or paddle shifters, which would certainly have made driving it a more engaging experience. The power is evenly spread and linear, and feels quite adequate, and while the steering is well weighted it lacks feedback. The ride quality at low speeds is very good indeed, but if you encounter a wavy section of highway at high speed, the body can move around quite a lot.
Which one then?
After driving these three SUVs, the only thing that’s common to all three is the fact that they belong to the same segment due to similar pricing. In reality, they all are very different cars. The Tata Harrier has a youthful and sporty road presence, with an impressive build quality and simply the best seats here. And even though on paper 138bhp may not sound a lot, it’s sufficient for city driving. Also, it doesn’t shy away from a bit of off-roading, thanks to the three different terrain modes. Priced at `16.55 lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi), it’s a value-for-money SUV, keeping in mind its size and capabilities.
But in terms of size, there is none bigger than the Hector. Sure, the driving isn’t very engaging, but it’s effortless – a characteristic that’ll appeal to many. The 1.5-litre motor is very refined, and the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission offers a stress-free driving experience in the city. The Hector looks and feels affluent compared to the other two. With numerous segment-first features, smart functions and an attractive price tag that starts at `16.78 lakhs (ex-showroom) it is indeed a very tempting option. The only thing that we can’t comment on is its longevity or the service quality of MG for obvious reasons – as they’re still setting up their network in the country. But that aside, the Hector has the potential to disrupt the segment, as it’s already shown by having a very long waiting list if you currently want one.
In many ways though, the Creta still is the SUV to beat because most people living in cities want a Sports Urban Vehicle that has a macho image but is compact and drives effortlessly – almost like a sedan. And you really can’t go wrong with the Creta. It has a strong engine, a quality cabin and, now, offers plenty of new features. What it doesn’t offer, however, is bling.
Let’s not forget that in terms of reliability and its service network, Hyundai continues to lead the pack – and by a very long way. Priced at `13.75 lakhs, ex-showroom, this automatic SUV is the most affordable one of the lot. Strangely, though, it lacks a couple of features of that are only available in the top variant, which only comes with a manual transmission.
So, what’s the verdict? Well, frankly, the Hector and Harrier remain untested in terms of durability. In terms of tech and bling, you simply can’t beat the Hector. The Harrier is surprisingly fun to throw around corners and has the most off-road credentials here, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges. The Creta, then, remains the safest bet. But the joker in the pack could very well be the Kia Seltos. It’s based on the second generation Creta, and it’ll offer the kind of connectivity features that, currently, only the Hector can boast of. And being a Hyundai Group company, they have a good understanding of the market.
The verdict, then, is this – the Harrier is the best Tata product on offer, so if you want to buy Indian now is the time to take the plunge. The Hector is untested, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t get your hands on one if you haven’t already booked one. The Creta is tried, tested and will continue to be very successful for the brand. But the stiffest competition it’ll face appears to be from within!
- Tata Harrier
- MG Hector
- Hyundai Creta
Engine: 1,956cc / 4-Cylinders / 16 Valves / Turbocharged
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 138bhp @ 3,750rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
Price: ₹16.55 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-factor: The handling is simply class-leading.
• Comfortable seats
• Spacious cabin
• Engine noise
• No petrol or automatic on offer
Engine: 1,451cc / Turbocharged / 4 Cylinders / 16 Valves / DOHC
Transmission: 6-DCT Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 141bhp @ 5,000rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1,600-3,000rpm
Price: ₹16.78 lakh (Ex-Showroom, Delhi)
X-factor: The Hector sets a new benchmark in terms of in-cabin tech and comfort.
• Imposing stance
• Connectivity tech
• Spacious cabin
• Petrol motor lacks grunt
• Limited service network
Engine: 1591cc / 4 Cylinders / 16 Valves / DOHC
Power: 121bhp @ 6,400rpm
Torque: 151Nm @ 4,850rpm
Transmission: 6-Speed AT / Front-Wheel Drive
Price: ₹13.75 lakh (Ex-Showroom, Delhi)
X-factor: Absolutely effortless from behind the wheel.
• Refined engine
• Lazy downshifts
• Showing its age