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India's most successful Compact MPV has been facing real competition from the Honda Mobilio. This is what happened when we took them to the ring...

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Cricket is so overdone. There is a tournament, seemingly, every month. Even hardcore cricket fans have had enough of the game. Regardless of the new variations, it has become a monotonous affair. Football, on the other hand, is gaining ground, but it will be some time before we can find 11 footballers good enough to represent a country of 1.2 billion at a global level. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought wrestling, or kusti, one of the world’s oldest sports and one that has been popular in India since ancient times, hasn’t been given its due.

Neither cricket nor wrestling has anything to do with the cars featured here. But, the Maruti Ertiga and the Honda Mobilio, the Japanese company’s latest take on the people-mover, are, like kusti – very Indian, very desi. The Ertiga and the Mobilio are both based on their hatchback platforms: the Swift and the Brio, respectively. But, the platforms have been worked on extensively to cater to the needs of an MPV. MPVs that have been tailored for Indian needs.

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The first thing you will notice on the familiar Brio-ish face of the Mobilio, the latest MPV on sale here, is a huge, flashy chrome grille that is in sync with Honda’s obsession with chrome. The Brio platform has been extended to accommodate this 4.38-metre seven-seater. At the side, it has sharp creases, just like the Amaze, and the rear, too, is anything but unexciting. Little touches such as the small grille-like pieces on the rear bumper and the nicely-crafted tail-lamps make it look edgier than the Ertiga.

The Ertiga is slightly shorter than the Honda, but it’s taller and hence, looks, to some extent, larger than the Mobilio. Maruti has gone with the tried-and-tested look, which is somewhat similar to that of the Swift’s, at least with regard to the grille and the headlamps. The sides are a bit dull and the rear, too, has nothing much to offer. But don’t get me wrong, the Ertiga is not bad-looking in any way. It’s just that it doesn’t look zesty enough for me.

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To have a good akhadaa, two things are vital – the kassi (a plough) and the meaj (a log of wood used as a roller). The soil is, sort of, evened out to cushion a fall. In the same manner, space and ride are two things vital to an MPV. Honda has used a few tricks to make the Mobilio’s cabin a bit more spacious than the Ertiga’s. The Mobilio’s sleek seats consume less space, but while the thin seats do liberate space, they have a drawback – they are not as comfortable as the Ertiga’s padded seats on long drives.  

The Mobilio’s second-row seats can be double-folded to provide better access to the third row (the Ertiga’s only tilt and slide). But, the high floor doesn’t let you feel very comfortable once you’re at the back. You’ll always have your knees stuck to your chin while seated. The Ertiga is better on that front. You have more knee room on all rows. Sure, it’s not as spacious as the Honda, but it’s certainly a better place to be in for extended durations.

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Just before launching the Mobilio, Honda realised that the faux wood inserts, and the touch screen, which is almost unreadable during the day, in its top end variant, didn’t really make the cut. So, acting on poor feedback, they simply removed them and decided to make the ‘V’ the current top-of-the-line trim. But, a top-end model will be introduced soon, hopefully with better features. For now, the ‘V’ gets individual aircon vents for the second row, USB and aux inputs for the music system and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. The Ertiga, too, gets all of that.

The cabin of the Ertiga, too, like its exterior styling, is very Maruti. A dual-tone colour scheme has been employed and a few nice touches, like a push-to-pop-out cup holder, make you feel good. The overall use of materials, and fit and finish quality is good and much better than the Honda’s.

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The problem with the Mobilio is that the interior quality and styling is very similar to that of the Brio and the Amaze. And, fit and finish inside the hatch and sedan is not exactly benchmark grade. The plastics look a bit, er, plasticky and have a few rough edges. This kind of interior could have been sort of justified in a cut-price hatchback, but, in a Rs 10 lakh-MPV, it’s simply not acceptable.

The Ertiga is powered by the tried and trusted DDiS unit. It displaces 1,248cc and, with the help of a variable-geometry turbo, produces 89bhp and 200 Newtons of spin. It’s a reliable engine, but it has its drawbacks. The power delivery is one of its most glaring faults. There’s no go till about 2,000 revs, and, then, all of a sudden, there’s this surge in power. The Mobilio, on the other hand, has a linear and a more predictable power curve. Sure, there’s a bit of lag at the bottom end of the rev band, but it puts out 99bhp and 200Nm in a more disciplined manner. But, this engine, too, has its weaknesses. It sounds coarse and doesn’t feel as refined as the Ertiga’s motor. The DDiS is an old, tiring warhorse and Honda’s i-DTEC needs some serious overhauling to fix refinement and noise issues.

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Both the companies are proud of the fuel efficiency figures, which are north of 20kpl. In our run, in mixed driving conditions, the DDiS gave a marginally better figure of 13.5kpl vis-a-vis Honda’s 13.1kpl.

The Honda has nine horses more than the Maruti, but, if you line up both these cars side by side, the Ertiga will hit 100kph faster than the Mobilio. And, the culprit here is the clutch protector system that doesn’t allow the revs to exceed 2,000rpm before launch.

Both the engines are mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The gearboxes have been tuned right and the shift quality is decent. But, we would really like to know why Honda hasn’t employed the City’s six-speeder on the Mobilio.

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If you’re sane, you won’t be pushing either of these cars into a corner, especially with seven people on board. But, in case you insisting on doing that, let me tell you both these cars are not bad at holding their line, and you will get out of corners in one piece and facing the right direction. But, the Ertiga is the one that rises better to the challenge. Yes, it rolls more than the Mobilio does, but it also feels more confident while taking turns. Steering feel in both these cars, by the way, is almost non-existent.

Both these cars are not harsh on your back even on broken tarmac. But the Maruti’s suspension setup is tuned in such a way that it absorbs bumps in a more relaxed manner. It’s also quieter while taking hits on rutted roads. On the flip side, because of the additional height, it rolls a tad more. But, it’s well within the acceptable range and nothing to worry about.

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If you’re in the market for one of these cars, you’ll have a keen eye on the price tag. Honda demands Rs 10.24 lakh for the Mobilio’s ‘V’ variant, while the top-end Ertiga ZDi is easier on the pocket, at Rs 9 lakh, by more than a lakh (both prices are ex-showroom, Mumbai). The Honda doesn’t offers more goodies than the Maruti, but it still asks for more, and that’s probably for the badge.

As an overall package, the Mobilio is more of a compromise than the Ertiga. The plastics used could have been much better, the third row isn’t spacious, and it costs more. The Ertiga might not be as roomy as the Mobilio, but its seats are comfortable and it delivers more comfort at a lesser price. And, that tilts the scales in its favour.

Don’t take just my word for it. At the end of our shoot, I offered my new friends, the wrestlers, rides in both the cars. With seven pehelwans, it was a tight fit. But, at the end of the ride, they, too, agreed that they were more at ease in the Ertiga. Couldn’t have thought of a better way to test an MPV. Case closed.

(Words: Agasti Kaulgi, Photos: Nitin Rose)

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