Ertiga CNG highway drive review: Same comfort at fraction of running cost
Cars fitted with CNG kits have come a long, long way since I first bought a compact vehicle from a Korean brand that had company-fitted CNG technology. At the time - back around 2010, many warned against spending the extra on a new car for it to have a cylinder mounted in the boot - partly because the cargo space was lost entirely but mostly over safety and performance-related concerns. But over these past 12 years, I have remained a devout believer in the cost-benefit and - touching all the wood I can find as I type this - have never had any issues related to my vehicle. Obviously then, I was extremely curious to get behind the wheel of the latest Ertiga CNG from Maruti Suzuki.
Not contend to just drive the 2022 Ertiga CNG around the city with an aimless disposition - something I often do with in my own car, the plan was made for a quick day out from Delhi to Jaipur and back. The idea was to test the MPV on its core parameters of being a comfortable people mover while trying to understand just why Maruti Suzuki has been backing CNG technology with a determined intent. After all, dealer sources reveal the latest Ertiga CNG has already raked up a waiting period spanning several months and so, there is clearly something working in the model's favour.
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Here's a highway drive review of Maruti Suzuki Ertiga CNG, based on four fundamental pillars that prospective buyers - you and I - may consider:
Ertiga CNG cabin comfort and space:
The biggest question that comes to the fore when one is talking about any CNG vehicle is just how much space it still has on offer because of that often bulky cylinder.
Now in the particular case of Ertiga, the space for passengers in all three rows remains as is and this has always been the core strength of this particular MPV. Even the third-row seats has decent room for adults when compared to many three-row SUVs that have hit the market in recent times.
The Ertiga has never short-changed customers on space but the CNG cylinder obviously takes up the already small cargo space behind the third-row seats. But Maruti has been quite smart in placing a plank so that at least the top half of the boot can hold small bags and shopping boxes. The lifting angle though is high so I'd rather you don't pack heavy. For any bigger or additional luggage, one would have to go for either a roof carrier or fold down the last-row seats, or both.
In terms of the upholstery and general sense of being inside the latest Ertiga, the newest model continues to offer a pleasant ambience with new upholstery in light beige hue and the addition of a faux wood trim on the dashboard. The layout of the dashboard and the cabin, however, remains the same.
The 2022 Ertiga obviously doesn't feel as premium as the XL6 from within but it still continues to have a welcoming aura that would be much liked by potential buyers.
Ertiga CNG exterior highlight:
The Ertiga is a very common sight on Indian highways regardless of which part of the country you may be in. To set it apart from the sea of white Ertiga units on cab duties, the latest Ertiga CNG has been given some visual updates like new alloy design on the 15-inch wheels, new grille design on the front and chrome addition on the rear.
The 2022 Ertiga, despite these minor updates, surely won't turn any heads even though it continues to have a mature visual cue.
Ertiga CNG drive character:
It was an early morning start from Delhi as I wanted to beat the office rush hour traffic making its way towards Gurugram. A top up of the cylinder at a CNG station near Dwarka was a quick affair and out I drove. Do note that the Ertiga starts on petrol before automatically switching to CNG if the CNG mode is selected. I kept it off initially.
The 1.5-litre Dualjet petrol motor under the hood is new and it was quite a revelation to experience its fun drive traits on an MPV for the first 25 kilometers of the journey. There's 99 bhp and 136 Nm of torque but the Ertiga is light enough on its wheels to spring forward at each throttle input. Speed builds up to the three-figure mark in a linear manner and the manual stick is typically simple to work around.
What I also particularly liked is the large driver display which clearly shows the ratio of petrol vs CNG usage and the status of both fuel left in the tank and in the cylinder. This alone proves how far CNG technology has come, a revelation especially to me for reasons mentioned at the start.
The CNG mode can be selected at the press of a button and the transition is smooth. And it is instantly evident that there's no drop in performance of the vehicle regardless of what the numbers may suggest. In CNG mode, the car develops 87 bhp and offers around 121 Nm of torque. But when you are already pushing the car on petrol on the open highway stretch past Manesar, the switch to CNG would go unnoticed.
In fact, while critics of CNG may continue to harp on a drop in performance, I'll admit I won't be able to know which fuel is being used unless the driver display spelt it out. Push the throttle and the Ertiga on CNG goes past 100 kmph with purpose and I could manage to max it to around 115 kmph before realizing that I ought not to go beyond. For almost every highway stretch in the country, this figure would be the max limit before speed guns shoot you down.
Triple-digit speeds may come up in a confidently gradual manner but it is the steady trait of the Ertiga that really underlines its sure-footed drive. Sure the familiar body roll continues to exist but that's part of the MPV package. But what's a bit of a concern though is that when being pushed on CNG, there's a higher degree of noise that filters into the cabin in comparison to petrol-only mode.
Overall though, the Ertiga continues to handle like a smaller Maruti Suzuki model and while this helps its drive nature enormously in tightly-packed city conditions, there's no trade-off on open roads.
Ertiga CNG range:
There are CNG pumps littered on either side of the highway in and just after passing Gurugram, all the way to Manesar. While a top-up of CNG is recommended, I only switched to CNG mode once past the first toll booth on the Gurugram-Jaipur highway. From here, it was around 210 kms to my intended destination - Amer Fort. I decided to pull the Ertiga on CNG as far as I could while being aggressive on the throttle to get the maximum speed the road rules would allow. So there was no coasting, no cruising - just a dogged dash to the finish line. Also note that the air-conditioning was on the entire way and the car had one other occupant and no cargo.
The range left on CNG - displayed on the driver screen - was quite accurate and showed 205 kms at the first switch.
With not much traffic on the highway, the Ertiga continued to push itself forward on CNG power. It was only around 20 kms short of Amer Fort that the low-CNG warning light came on. And while it is not recommended to do this, I chose to keep going on CNG mode till empty. The car did another 8 kms before it became amply clear that it was now on proverbial fumes. And while there is always the option of switching back to petrol - the beauty of dual-fuel modes that are an EV's envy - I found a CNG station on the highway itself, around five kms short of the right turn that takes one all the way to Amer.
The Math then is quite simple. On CNG mode alone and on highways, the Ertiga can easily go close to its claimed range of around 220 kms. For me, it was around 195 kms. Although this may come down if it is a tightly-packed cabin, do also remember that one need not adopt as aggressive a driving style as I deliberately had. Turn off the AC when the weather permits and this figure would also likely go up.
Ertiga CNG running cost vs purchase price benefit:
On the day of the drive, a kilo of CNG in Delhi was at ₹75.61. In Manesar, it was at ₹83.94. And just outside of Jaipur, it was ₹87 for each kilo.
The tank inside the Ertiga model can accommodate around nine kilos of fuel and this depends on pump pressure. As can be seen in the image above, the pump station outside of Jaipur put in 6.95 kilos of the fuel which cost a total of ₹604.65. This was the expenditure on CNG between Manesar and Jaipur.
Compare this to running a petrol-only car with a mileage of around 20 kms. A distance of 200 kms would require 10 liters of fuel. At approximately ₹95 a liter, that's ₹950 spent on petrol one way. So on CNG, there is a clear saving of ₹350 or ₹700 for a return trip.
On the flipside though, CNG pumps aren't exactly a common sight on highways in many parts of the country. While one can always switch to petrol-only mode, the cost-savings would take a hit. The CNG pumps that are located on highways often do have long lines which means one would have to take this time into account into the overall journey time.
Most important though is the upfront cost of purchasing a car with a company-fitted CNG kit. Maruti Suzuki is offering its S-CNG in the VXi and ZXi variants with manual transmission. The CNG variants are around ₹1 lakh more expensive than the comparable petrol-only model. Around a decade ago, the purchase price difference used to be around ₹50,000.
In the real world, the cost benefit of purchasing a single-fuel version vs the dual-fuel version of the same model would come down to you and how much is your daily, monthly and yearly driving distance. Typically, one may recover the additional price paid for a CNG vehicle in around five years but this varies from customer to customer.
Ertiga CNG verdict:
The multiple benefits of CNG technology have been well established over the past several years. Lower emissions, lower running cost and almost the same level of drive performance as petrol-only twins. And with more and more CNG-filling stations coming up, access isn't a major issue in many parts either.
On the flipside though, waiting queues for a refill can stretch depending on your location. And in the particular case of the Ertiga CNG, the price difference is quite substantial when propped against the petrol-only VXi or ZXi version.
- Excellent mileage
- Updated driver screen with newer graphics
- Spacious cabin
- Mature drive character
- Substantial price difference vs petrol-only model
- Compromised boot space
- No significant visual update on the outside
With both in balance though, there is no denying that the Ertiga CNG is a capable, mass-commute option that remains a very comfortable car and with the best that CNG technology currently has to offer. It could have done with some more premium visual updates on the outside but if the basic criteria of long journeys is a vital consideration, this car should be an obvious choice.