A stylish new pretender to the Vitara Brezza’s crown enters the sub-4-metre SUV segment. The result is a bit of a surprise!
Tata’s IMPACT design philosophy seems spot on, just going by the number of people who passed us, turned around and came back to chat about the Nexon. It’s easy to see who the favourite is in this comparison, at least when it comes to appearances. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that the Nexon is an attention grabber. We have more affection for its look and credit has to be given to Tata, who have managed to carry forward a lot from the gorgeous concept that was shown at the 2014 Auto Expo.
Some of the over-the-top features like the outside rearview cameras have been replaced with more conventional and sensible mirrors but the Nexon still manages to look generations ahead of anything from Tata’s stables. It has ditched traditional SUV lines for a more compact modern sporty look and it’s only when you see it side by side that you realise that it really isn’t much smaller than the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza.
The Vitara Brezza is actually just 37mm taller, just as long (3995mm vs 3994mm of the Nexon) and just 21mm narrower than the Nexon. It sports the more traditional boxy lines of an SUV but it’s still a look that has aged well; it just fades into the background when the Nexon enters the picture. It’s a little sad as we have always been fans of the way the Vitara Brezza looked. The wide, muscular shoulder and straight lines of the bonnet and roof make it appealing in a muscular, athletic way.
At closer inspection, the Nexon is not without faults though. The white accent that runs along the shoulder from the bonnet to where it disappears at the C-pillar and then reappears on the tailgate, is actually a plastic insert and the finish and fit has been a little iffy on our test cars.
The layout of the black and grey interiors of the Maruti were really top notch when the Brezza was launched in early 2016. The rounded edges and cube-shaped design elements that were retro chic at first glance, start to look a little dated when the Nexon steps into the equation. Unlike the exterior design, the cabin in the Nexon is very classy, almost European looking. The simple lines and the tasteful piano black inserts really make occupants feel quite special and it actually feels like you are seated in a car from a segment above.
The 6.5-inch display stands out over the top of the dash, with the AC vents situated below. The AC controls are just below the shortcut control buttons for the touchscreen and then the dash flows smoothly into the gear lever area, storage unit and central armrest. This doesn’t eat into passenger space but tends to make the cabin appear visually smaller.
Where the Brezza does trump the Nexon is in the practicality and layout of the storage spaces. The Nexon has just as many storage spaces but their design is not at all ergonomic. Take the ‘tambour’-doored storage space for example. The sliding gate opens back to front, which means you need to twist your arm around to pull it open. Inside the very narrow and deep cubbyhole are two cupholders.
This means that there is no way to get a cup either in our out of the space without spilling its contents. Even the USB port is placed in a very hard to reach recess just ahead of the gear knob and you have to contort your hand into weird shapes to plug in a cable. The fit and finish of some of the panels in the Nexon are also not quite as consistent at closer inspection, and it’s not something that you see in the Vitara Brezza.
At 1410mm the Brezza cabin is just 5mm wider than the Nexon, but it appears to be much more airy because the central console doesn’t take up so much visual space. In terms of measurements, the Nexon just edges out the Brezza in knee room, with 770mm of maximum knee room versus 760mm.
Headroom is also very close with the Nexon trumping the Brezza by just 10mm. In the rear the Brezza offers passengers more room with 25mm more shoulder room, 5mm more headroom and a wider seat that could fit three regular-sized adults.The Nexon has reasonable shoulder room but the seat base is actually 80mm or 8 centimetres narrower than the Brezza and this inhibits its ability to seat three in the back.
When it comes to comfort the Brezza will be better suited for longer drives. The seats in the Nexon are softer and more cushiony than the Brezza but the seat back is a little more upright in the Nexon. The Brezza seats are slightly less contoured and on the firmer side in the rear bench but the seat back angle is more relaxed. The front seats of the Brezza are similarly firm and for the driver there is much more lateral support and bolstering than the Nexon seats, which are soft and slightly lacking in lateral bolstering.
As far as luggage space is concerned the Nexon sports the larger number, with 350 litres of space to the Brezza’s 328 litres, but the Maruti’s storage bay is much better shaped and easier to load luggage into.
Both rear benches drop down but the Brezza can fold down completely flat, affording a more practical storage solution. The Nexon’s rear bench leaves a little step when the rear bench is folded. Both cars feature a 60/40 split for the rear bench. So it’s the Brezza that’s more practical when you plan to pack luggage on board.
While the 6.5-inch high definition screen in the Nexon is not going to set hearts afire with its touch response, the shortcut buttons are a really nice touch. This makes operating the infotainment system a breeze and even on the move the buttons fall easily to hand. While the Brezza’s touchscreen is easily more responsive, the layout of the controls and the menu system are not as easy to operate and the fact that it is completely touch doesn't help matters when you're on the move.
The Connectnext system in the Nexon comes equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto while the Smart Play in the Brezza only has MirrorLink and CarPlay. While the Brezza’s system is compatible with Android Auto, as we have seen in the new Dzire, Maruti hasn’t yet rolled out the software update to the S-Cross and the Vitara Brezza. When it comes to sound quality, the 8-speaker setup from Harman in the Tata was easily our favourite. The Brezza does have a number of audio upgrades that can take the audio experience up a fair few notches with subwoofers and amplifiers with the i Create accessories program, but all these add to the cost.
The other piece of tech that the Nexon sports over the Brezza are the three drive modes. Sport, City and Eco mode are changeable on the fly via a fairly large knob on the central control pillar just next to the gear lever. We’ll talk more how they perform in the next section.
They both have comprehensive feature lists but the Brezza has rain-sensing wipers, auto headlamps and cruise control, which are missing in the Nexon.
The real issue here is the build quality and reliability of the Nexon -- we had repeated issues with the door lock mechanism and the lights too. While these could be pegged as one-offs the issues have been seen on test cars repeatedly.
The 1.5-litre Revotorq diesel in the Nexon makes 110PS and is really easy to drive. The clutch is light and the six-speed gearbox makes city traffic that much easier. But the key reason is that the engine, unlike most diesels, feels peppy even at low rpms. The 260Nm peak torque is available from as low as 1500rpm and the power delivery is fairly linear, with a slight bump up in torque when the turbo kicks in. The 1.3-litre DDiS 200 mill in the Maruti is not as powerful, at 90PS and 200Nm of torque, and the step up when the turbo comes into its own is a lot more prominent. It’s also not as easy to drive in the city, requiring frequent gear changes to keep the engine spinning over 1700rpm.
The Maruti is more at home out on the highway and on the open road where, strangely, its smaller engine can stretch its legs. It’s faster in the 0-100kmph sprint by almost a second and this is down to the way the Nexon’s gearbox is engineered, which requires it to be in a gear higher than the Brezza to hit the 100kmph mark. It’s a different story in the roll-on figures and the Nexon is over a second faster in both the 3rd and 4th gear roll-ons, which also translates into much better driveability in the city.
And that brings us to the Nexon’s drive modes. While all performance tests were carried out in the peppier Sport mode, City mode actually calms down the power delivery and softens the bump in torque even further. This really improves driveability around the city and you can happily leave the Nexon in either 3rd, or even at times 4th gear, and just potter around. Eco mode deadens the power deliver further and while it is a little more efficient, we found this usable only when you’re really trying to stretch out that litre of fuel.
In terms of stretching out a litre of diesel in Eco mode, the Nexon with its 6-speed gearbox manages a respectable 23.97kmpl on the highway but only 16.08kmpl in the city. The Brezza still continues to amaze us with its incredible 25.30kmpl and 21.70kmpl figure in the city.
Ride and Handling
The Vitara Brezza is a car that we really like driving -- the rather stiff suspension setup really makes for excellent high speed manners, and out on the highway the Brezza stays nicely planted. Around corners too, the nicely weighted steering weights up nicely and feels direct, allowing you to push the car to its limits around corners. Bottom line: it is fun to drive fast.
The Nexon has similar high speed manners, with a nice planted feel out on the highway. Around corners it’s also just a capable as the Brezza but the steering is not as communicative and it’s not as engaging. What’s nice, though, is that it is a really forgiving setup that lets you drive fast knowing fully well that you aren’t near the car’s limit. A big part of the credit for that goes to the excellent Goodyear tyres that Tata has chosen for the Nexon.
In the city, the Nexon edges ahead with a more comfort-oriented setup. Bumps are absorbed well and the cabin stays composed even over really bad roads. The Vitara Brezza, on the other hand, tends to thud and thunk over bumps a little more and it’s not as comfortable a ride for occupants in the Maruti.
The Tata Nexon comes with ABS, EBD and dual airbags as standard across all variants, while these features are optional in the two lower variants of the Vitara Brezza and standard in the rest. The Nexon gets parking sensors in three out of the four variants and a parking camera in just the top-end variant. The Brezza offers parking sensors in all but the lowest variant and the top-end gets a camera as well. The Brezza’s parking camera is in a higher definition and much nicer to use, while the Nexon’s parking camera does feature dynamic cornering lines and is fine to use in daylight. But it is practically useless in the dark as it overcompensates for the lack of light, resulting in an incredibly pixelated image that makes it hard to see obstacles.
The Nexon is available with both petrol and diesel engines and both engine options have four trim levels. The XE is the base variant followed by XM and the XT, while the XZ+ is the top-end variant. Read our expert review of the Nexon to know more about how the petrol engine performs. Also, check out our ‘Variants Explained’ video to know more about the different trim levels in the Nexon.
The Vitara Brezza, on the other hand, has only the option of a diesel engine but as many as six trim levels to choose from. The LDI and VDI are the base variants while the LDI(O), the VDI(O) ZDI and ZDI+ are the more kitted-out options and include ABS, EBD and dual airbags as standard.
If we ended the review here and gave the verdict, then we’d have to say that the Vitara Brezza has met its match. The Nexon looks smashing, is the much better car to drive in the city and closely matches the Brezza in nearly every other parameter. It’s also nearly as much fun to drive around corners. In terms of pricing, it’s Rs 47,000 cheaper than the Brezza when comparing the top-end variants that we had on test.
But our week spent with both the petrol and diesel Nexons were not without a couple of incidents. On one occasion the right front DRL and right rear LED tail light on both Nexons went off when driving in the night. On another occasion, the starter of the diesel Nexon got stuck and we had to switch the car on and off a couple of times to get it to shut off. In another incident, the driver’s side door of the diesel Nexon refused to unlock. We did send both cars to the workshop to have the issues looked at, and post this inspection we drove both cars for over 150 kilometres each and neither of these issues resurfaced.
Taking everything into consideration we are now in a bit of a dilemma. On paper and even on most of our test, the Nexon was a close match for the Vitara Brezza. It bettered it in the city and matched it out on the highway. It’s a great value proposition and feels like a step up for the segment cosmetically. But long-term reliability is one of the most important factors to consider for buyers and in this department we feel the Nexon still has room for improvement.
So, in the Indian context, where a car is considered as a long-term investment, the Nexon despite its advantages and stronger overall appeal has brought with it a fair amount of uncertainty that is hard for us to shake off. The niggles experienced were the kind we expected from Tata 10 years ago, not from the maker of the Tiago or the Tigor, which have shown huge strides forward in build and reliability! So this is a forced victory for the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza. If it were our hard earned money, this is one time we’d let the heart take a backseat, let our brain do the talking, and put it on the safe and sensible pick.
Words: Alan Richard D’Cruz Photos: Vikrant Date
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