Suzuki’s family-sized Swift, alias the Ertiga

Based on the Swift platform, it’s better to describe the Ertiga MPV as an evolution of the sub-compact hatchback. It’s like they tried to make the sporty Swift a more sensible people and cargo mover, a family Swift, and ended up with an entirely new and versatile vehicle.

Genius steps

Creating the Ertiga seems to have been a genius move put together with a series of sensible increments, nothing earthshaking about the steps themselves until they finished, stepped back, and yelped, whoa! What’d we just do?!

They seemed to ask, “what if we make her boxy in back with a fourth pair of pillars?” Adding the Ertiga’s D pillars to the Swift’s A, B, and C pairs creates generous vertical cargo space in back.

Afterwards, they must’ve wondered, “what if we lengthen her, and her wheelbase?” Stretching the Swift’s length by 41.5cm, and its wheelbase by 31cm, turns the rear into a seriously tall and deep cargo bay while keeping things stable atop a proportionately long wheelbase and those minimal overhangs.

Then came that defining next step: “what if we raise the roof and put in a third row?” Adding 14cm to the Swift’s headroom lets passengers sit more upright. This shallows up the footprint of the middle seats, allowing the addition of a third foldable seating row in that cavernous rear.

More a maxi-wagon than a van

On the Ertiga, the result of all these studied steps is an MPV with the proportions of a high-roofed and boxy hatchback (like say the Honda Jazz). The Ertiga looks so much like a two-row crossover something that folks are often surprised by the number of passengers that go into and alight from a seven-seat Ertiga. The Ertiga is an MPV more by way of a maximized station wagon (like the Volvo XC70 with its third row of rear-facing jump seats) rather than a mini-minivan.

The Ertiga’s third seating row, what defines it as an MPV, splits 50/50 with either or both sides folding down flush into a flat deck. With that third row fully stowed, the Ertiga is configured as a tall station-wagon with generous leg-room in the second row.

When it’s passengers that take priority over cargo, creating a third seating row requires more than just unfolding the rearmost seats. The plush-cushioned seats all-around require some judicious slide adjustments to hit the right balance of having barely adequate legroom for both middle and back rows. Seating becomes cramped, but for a good cause, to convert cargo space into room for two (or even three) more passengers, and there’s good news in there being some useful leftover cargo space in back.

Swift handling

Upsizing from the Swift hatchback to the Ertiga MPV entailed an increase in curb weight of 195kg and in gross vehicle weight of 335kg. Do the math and you’d see that Suzuki’s engineers stayed on top of their game all throughout the redesign, increasing payload by exactly 140kg—that’s the weight of two average sized adults, them you’d put in that extra third row on the Ertiga.

Heavier, longer and taller than the Swift hatchback, the Ertiga MPV compensates with its larger wheelbase geometry—longer by 31cm, as mentioned, and wider by 0.5cm on its front and rear treads. And, going under that increased weight on the coil-sprung strut-suspension is ground clearance they’ve thoughtfully upped by 1.5cm.

The detailed tweaks to the Ertiga’s dimensions were kept so painstakingly proportionate throughout her development that the bigger MPV retains the original hatchback’s famous handling, the Swift’s Zen, so to speak. She’s solid and stable at high speed, and well planted when taking corners at mindful speeds. The increased weight and its raised height and center-of-gravity appear well compensated by the stabilizing effect of that exceptionally long wheelbase—the longest in the sub-compact MPV class at 2740mm versus the Toyota Avanza’s 2655mm and the Honda Mobilio’s 2650mm.

The taller cabin also compensates with a more rakish windshield that results in the Ertiga’s more aerodynamic shape. The reduced drag coefficient translates to less wind noise when she’s cutting through the air at high speed.

Swift power

The Ertiga’s engine, up-rated in good proportion to its increased weight, is still a Swift’s, albeit for a more powerful 1.4L variant that’s been discontinued in this market. In place of the Swift hatchback’s current 1.2L K12M that delivers peak power and torque of 87hp and 114Nm, there’s the Swift’s former 1.4L K14B with its 95hp and 130Nm to power the heavier Ertiga.

On the top-spec Ertiga with its 4-speed automatic transmission there seems to be moderate slippage in the torque converter, this to multiply torque when you need it. Rolling out with 2000rpm and then accelerating with higher revs at around 2500rpm triggers upshifts conventionally at 20km/h increments—going through 20, 40 and then 60km/h to finally reach an overdrive fourth gear. The lock-up clutch kicks in after another 20km/h increment at 80. After accelerating up to cruise, throttling it down to 2000rpm will keep you moving at 80km/h while a higher 2500rpm will put you at the 100km/h legal limit.

Best mileage we recorded on the Ertiga with 4-speed AT was 17.5km/l on the highway and 9km/l in the city, all these with five passengers and some day-trip luggage on board. You could get better average mileage overall if you keep those revs at or under 2000rpm, as little as 1750rpm being enough for a 60km/h city cruise already at 4th gear (but before clutch lock-up) and showing 18km/l realtime fuel economy on the trip computer.

All-in-all, the Ertiga with her K14B engine and 4-speed automatic gearbox handled and performed similarly to the Swift 1.2L AT. Not surprising, given her numbers. Although the Ertiga is burdened with 195kg more of curb weight and 335kg more in maximum gross weight, if you put a Swift’s load on her, just the five passengers and some luggage, the power to weight ratio comes up the same … even better, in fact.

If you run her with a gross weight of 1630kg (its max gross weight of 1770 less the 140kg of increased payload for two extra passengers), the Ertiga’s K14B engine would be pushing just 12.53kg per Nm of torque. That’s slightly better than on a fully loaded Swift 1.2L, its K12B engine pushing 12.6kg/Nm.

Cool people mover

Up-rating the Ertiga to the proven K14B engine more than compensates for the MPV’s additional mass, the VVT valvetrain keeping things efficient on highway transits and also cool on grueling city commutes. The K14B’s latent idling torque is so strong as to make the dual-type air-con positively frigid even in summer conditions … good news for when you have all seats occupied, each passenger requiring 600 BTUs of energy to keep cool.

In fact, the air-conditioning is so strong that you’ll appreciate their keeping the heater feature meant for wintered markets. Even in the summer heat, the air-con makes the interior so cold that condensation can build up and leave moisture deposits in the vents—causing mildew build-up after a while. To flush out the unpleasant smell, switch off the AC, flip her into heater mode and run the blowers full blast for a few minutes. End of the exercise, the interior will smell bone-dry clean again.

A Swift for others

The Ertiga is rather cramped for a three-row MPV but dismissing it this way and evaluating it against the template of minivan-like MPVs would be to miss the point of the Ertiga entirely. In a sense, the Ertiga is more a multi-role vehicle than other MPVs. That defining multi-purpose cargo space with its option for plush extra seating stays out of the way until you need it. It adds capability to the Swift platform, it doesn’t overstep and define the Ertiga as being just an MPV.

Drive her with a hatchback’s load and the Ertiga feels like a trunkless Swift while looking like a boxy-tall station wagon. When you eventually need to use that multi-purpose space, she can expand to carry an MPV’s seven passengers or oversized cargo loadout. And the space and power tradeoffs of transitioning from wagon to van mode, from partial to full load, are hardly worth considering when you’re given the capability to leave no one and nothing behind.