Premier Rio vs Maruti Gypsy: The better compact SUV

There are no compact SUV models in India other than the made-to-order Maruti Gypsy and the not-seen-in-metros Premier Rio. If you really need a small SUV, which one is a better choice?

If you are in the market for a compact SUV at a price below Rs. 6 lakhs the choices are limited. The Mahindra Bolero is a great choice, but it’s got too much of a rural MPV image, especially the lower-end versions. But if it’s a lifestyle SUV that you are looking for the Maruti Gypsy and the recently launched Premier Rio are vehicles to consider. Maruti talked about an upcoming small SUV for India in 2011 (might be the Suzuki Jimny), but things have been silent for a while now. So we are left with just the Gypsy and the Rio. Also read our detailed story on other SUVs in the country.

Premier Rio vs Maruti Gypsy: The better compact SUV
Photo: Premier Rio

Now some would say this is like comparing chalk and cheese. And Premier is a company on a comeback trail, while Maruti is an established brand. But feature for feature is the Premier a better buy? Let’s take a look at these two lifestyle vehicles.

The exteriors…

The Premier Rio is actually a Chinese-made SUV, called the Zotye. It has Dahaitsu, Toyota lineage as well, as Zotye bought the dies from Dahaitsu in 2006. The Rio was first showcased at the Auto Expo 2010 in New Delhi, and has since been launched in non-metros (as it is only BS III compliant at the moment). The base version of the Rio is priced at Rs. 5.25 lakh ex-showroom Pune, and goes up to 5.95 lakh for the top-end LX version. For this comparison, let’s look at the mid-model DX against the hard-top Maruti Gypsy King 1.3.

Viewed in profile the Rio looks like a hatchback on steroids, as it is narrow and tall, but under 4 metres in length. It rides on large 15-inch wheels and has excellent ground clearance. However, the overall design has distinct SUV styling cues. The front of the Rio features dual-headlamps and a smiling grille, with the new Premier logo. The bumper is rather large and oversized. At the rear, the Rio gets typical SUV treatment, with tall tail-lamps beside the rear windscreen and a tail-gate mounted spare tyre.

Premier Rio vs Maruti Gypsy: The better compact SUV
Maruti Gypsy: The true mini-SUV

The Maruti Gypsy has a timeless old Suzuki Samurai / Jimny design that first came into the Indian market in 1986. Little has changed since then. The front of the Gypsy is smart and looks really rugged and tough. It has single headlamps inset into the long trademark plastic grille. The bonnet has a slight hump to accommodate the taller 1.3 litre engine (the first Gypsy had a 1-litre engine). The windscreen is straight and in profile too the vehicle looks slab-sided.  The huge gound clearance and 15-inch wheels give the Gypsy that go-anywhere stance. At the rear, the Gypsy too has a tail-gate mounted spare tyre, while the tail-lamps are inset into the bumper. The hard top is a bolt-on fitment on the Gypsy, and comes with sliding rear windows.

The interiors…

On the inside, the Rio looks quite modern. The instrument panel is easy to read and has a tachometer, fuel gauge, temperature gauge and speedometer with digital odometer. The central console houses the AC controls and FM radio. The Rio’s front and rear seats can recline, making it quite versatile. The rear seats also split 50:50 and fold flat to increase luggage room.

However, legroom is a little cramped in the front in the Rio, and shoulder-room is also at a premium if there are three people sitting at the rear. Tall front passengers will tend to knock their knees on the glove box, and bigger drivers will find the steering too low.

The engine…

Where the Premier Rio pulls a trump card is in its frugal diesel motor taken from Peugeot. The Rio is powered by a 1.5 litre, diesel engine that puts out 65 bhp at 4,000 rpm and 152 Nm of torque at 2,250 to 3,000 rpm. This engine has been around in India for a while. It first powered the Peugeot 309, which was discontinued. It then did duty in the Maruti Esteem diesel and Zen diesel. It also powered the first version of the Hyundai Accent diesel. This, in a sense, was the most-shared engine before the present 1.3 multijet from Fiat came in and is shared across several models from three different carmakers.

The 1.5 litre engine that powers the Rio is mated to a 5-speed transmission. However, it isn’t great in terms of emissions, as it is not BSIV compliant. Premier claims the engine can give the Rio a mileage of 16 kmpl. The Rio is only available as a rear-wheel drive variant.

The Gypsy King, on the other hand, is powered by at 1.3 litre petrol engine that puts out 80 bhp of power at 6,000 rpm and 103 Nm of torque at 4,500 rpm. This MPFI engine is also mated to a 5-speed transmission. It is extremely rev-happy and is a preferred choice for rallyists in India. The Gypsy is also a proper off-roader, as it has a part-time four-wheel drive system, with a low-range gearbox that makes it extremely capable off-road. Its light weight means it can float easily across desert sands, and climb mountain trails easily. Mileage, however, is not great, with the Gypsy giving only about 10 kmpl overall.

The drive…

The Rio is tall in its stance and is known to roll around corners. It is best driven sedately and not spiritedly. In terms of comfort, the Rio does surprise. Yes, it does have an issue with legroom and shoulder room, but at the rear, once can recline the seats and find a pretty decent sitting posture. The seat squab is short and the floor is high, so taller passengers may find their knees raised.

The Gypsy on the other hand is a fun vehicle to drive, but not to be a passenger in, especially in the rear seats. The stiff leaf springs will throw passengers and luggage about at the slightest of undulations. And given its lightweight nature, it tends to get quite bouncy. But for just two people seated up front, the Gypsy has a very sporty feel.

The verdict…

The Premier Rio seems like the poor man’s SUV. It has all the SUV like looks and traits in a compact size. However, it is not supported by a vast service network and suffers from image issues. The Gypsy on the other hand is a sporty vehicle, but not very practical for everyday use for more than 2 people. Being a petrol vehicle it is also more expensive to run, but has the backing of a large service network.

Premier Rio DX vs Maruti Gypsy King HT

Technical Specifications

Specifications Premier Rio DX Maruti Gypsy King (hardtop)
Price (BS III, Pune): Rs. 5,50,000 Rs. 5,67,606
Fuel type Diesel Petrol
Mileage 16 kmpl 13 kmpl
Engine 1489 cc, turbodiesel 1298 cc, 16-valve MPFI
Power 64 bhp @ 4,000 rpm 80 bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 152 Nm @ 2,250-3,000 rpm 103 Nm @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual 5-speed manual
Transfer case Rear-wheel drive only Four-wheel drive (2-ratio)
Ground clearance 200 mm 210 mm
Kerb weight 1,145 Kg 1,050 Kg
Length 3,900 mm 4,010 mm
Width 1,555 mm 1,540 mm
Height 1,670 mm 1,845 mm
Wheelbase 2,420 mm 2,375 mm
Tyres 205/70 R15 205/70 R15
Wheels Steel Steel
Brakes (front) Disc Disc
Brakes (rear) Drum (ABS on LX only) Drum
Suspension (front) McPherson struts Leaf springs
Suspension (rear) 5-link, coil springs Leaf springs
Steering type Hydraulic powersteering No powersteering
Turning radius 4.7 metres 6.0 metres
Seating capacity 5-seater 7-seater
Fuel capacity 46 litres 40 litres
Tachometer Yes No
Airconditioning Yes (manual) No (aftermarket option)
Audio system FM radio No
Central locking Yes No
Power windows Front No
Mirrors Electric Manual (single mirror)
Foglamps (front) No No
Foglamps (rear) One No