Compact SUV or premium hatchback: How to choose?

Compact SUVs are the flavour of the season, attracting buyers of compact sedans and premium hatchbacks to them for some inherent advantages that compact SUVs offer. However, here’s a note of caution. Making a switch from a premium hatchback or compact sedan to a compact SUV has its own share of issues. Do you really need a compact SUV? We help you sort out that dilemma.

The demand for the Ford EcoSport and the Renault Duster is reason enough to show that compact SUVs are a success in India. And that has prompted many other carmakers to speed up their plans to launch compact SUVs too – after all who wouldn’t want a bite out of this juicy pie? But, should you buy a compact SUV too just because your neighbor has one? Also read: Should you buy an SUV or a sedan?  

Advantage of a compact SUV over a premium hatchback

Ground clearance

The biggest advantage a compact SUV has over a premium hatchback is perhaps ground clearance. The currently available compact SUVs – the Ford Figo and Renault Duster – have over 200 mm of ground clearance, which will help them tide over rough roads and errant speedbreakers with ease. That’s clearly a reason to buy one. A compact MUV like the Mahindra Quanto has about 180 mm. Also read: Ford EcoSport vs MUVs, SUVs, sedans and hatches

Driving position

Compact SUVs are taller than regular premium hatchbacks and sedans, which does give you a bit of a height advantage when it comes to road visibility. This helps in crowded cities, when negotiating traffic as you can see further ahead than what a driver in a low slung hatch or sedan can.

Flexibility of space

Although compact SUVs, especially the Ford EcoSport, don’t have much of an advantage in terms of interior space over a premium hatchback or compact sedan, they are certainly more flexible. This means, should you require the additional space to move a piece of furniture or take your pets to the vet, the seats can be folded to free up more space – and with these vehicles being taller, you get additional headroom as well. Also read: Nissan’s compact SUV based on Duster to be called Terrano 

Advantage of a premium hatchback over a compact SUV

Pricing

Premium hatchbacks, by and large, are cheaper to buy than compact SUVs. Although the Ford EcoSport is priced bang in the middle of premium hatchback territory, with the base petrol variant starting at Rs. 5.6 lakh (slightly below the price of a top-end petrol Maruti Swift ZXI), the variants that are fully loaded with features and worth considering are priced between Rs. 8 lakh to Rs. 9 lakh. The Renault Duster, in that sense, is way too expensive, with the variants worth considering priced over Rs. 10 lakh. A petrol or diesel Maruti Swift or Hyundai i20, with a fair amount of features would be about Rs. 1-2 lakh cheaper. So if you can’t afford to stretch your budget, you would be better off picking a feature-rich premium hatchback instead. Also read: Maruti unveils XA Alpha compact SUV 

Fuel efficiency

Ok, fuel efficiency is not really a significant advantage, given that the Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster diesel variants have pretty good fuel efficiency as well. The Ford EcoSport diesel claims 22.7 kmpl, while the Renault Duster 110PS diesel claims 19 kmpl. Premium hatchbacks such as the Maruti Swift diesel claim slightly higher figures, but not by much. The Hyundai i20 diesel for instance is at 21.9 kmpl, while the Nissan Micra claims 23.5 kmpl. However, in daily running, things like weight of the vehicle come into play and compact SUVs lose out slightly.

Ride and handling

When you sit closer to the road, it’s a given that handling would be better owing to the lower centre of gravity. That’s true to some extent. Although the Renault Duster is pretty phenomenal when it comes to handling and ride quality, some Premium Hatchbacks such as the Fiat Punto and to some extent the Ford Figo would feel better to drive. The Ford EcoSport too has good ride quality, but there is some degree of body roll felt – something that premium hatchbacks can cope with better. You could carry more speed into a corner in a sporty premium hatchback without fear of losing control than you can in a compact SUV. Also read: All you wanted to know about the Renault Duster 

What we think

Overall, because of the pricing of the Ford EcoSport, this debate has cropped up. The price difference of just Rs. 1 lakh, would just add about Rs. 3000 to your EMI payout every month and is a tempting proposition. Clearly there are many advantages of a compact SUV (or in the case of the Ford Ecosport – a muscular hatch) compared to a premium hatchback. Maintenance costs too are not significantly different compared to premium hatchbacks. In the end it all boils down to what you can afford and what you can’t. Also read: Why compact SUVs will sell in India