Buying an SUV

I have always dreamt of owning an SUV, one of those big bad automobiles that seem so invincible. Because dreams don’t have price or other constraints built in, I had my heart set on Hummer. As reality dawned upon me over the years, I realised that I would have to settle for something more practical (and less expensive).

The desire for Hummer was gradually replaced by that for Honda CR-V, a powerful and sporty SUV. However, it lost its appeal over the past couple of design changes and the more compact it grew, the less I liked it. In the meanwhile, I had begun to take a strong liking for Ford Endeavour. The very name made my heart skip a beat. It was simply huge. It actually defined the term SUV for me. Big and powerful.

So when I finally had the purchasing power to buy a car (an SUV to be specific), Endeavour was my first priority. But, because, a lot many SUVs had arrived on the scene by now, I actually had a long list of candidates. The following is a list of models I started with.

Brand Model Verdict Notes Price – Low (Lakhs) Price – High (Lakhs)
Mahindra Thar Pending Too brash 5 6
Tata Safari Pending Too common 8 13
Mahindra XUV 500 Pending Too common 12 14
Skoda Yeti Pending 14 18
Ford Endeavour Pending Too large 15 20
Suzuki Grand Vitara Pending 17 19
Chevrolet Captiva Pending Small 19 25
Mitsubishi Outlander Pending 21 21
Toyota Fortuner Pending 21 22
Mitsubishi Pajero Pending 21 25
Hyundai Santa Fe Pending 22 25
Ford Escape Pending Awaiting launch
Mahindra Bolero No No visual appeal 6 7
Mahindra Xylo No Not a SUV 7 10
Renault Duster No Small 7 11
Mahindra Scorpio No No visual appeal 8 13
Force One No Not impressive 11 11
Mahindra Rexton No No visual appeal 20 20
BMW X1 No Small 22 30
Nissan X-Trail No Not impressive 23 27
Mitsubishi Montero No Too expensive 41 41
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado No Too expensive 60 60
Toyota Land Cruiser No Too expensive 98 98
Land Rover No All expensive models

However, I eliminated almost half of the models (the ones with Verdict as “No”) on the list based on preliminary research.

You might ask why did I put those models on the list in the first place. To answer simply, I didn’t want to look back and think that I left out a model that could have been a good candidate for purchase. Also, I wanted to know for sure that the model I would choose would be better than the others (at least, in my view). 🙂

So what are the key factors that I would be basing my decision on? I would list them as under (not necessarily in the order of importance)

  • Powerful
  • Tall body / high seating
  • Muscular looks
  • Ample leg room

Once I had the complete list and a set of parameters to rank them on, I decided to take the plunge and started requesting test-drives.

Here’s how it went… but before that a disclaimer:

Please note that the findings below are not based on scientific / statistical information. They are purely my personal experiences and do not attempt to define the vehicle in any way.

Toyota Fortuner

Toyota Fortuner

Image source: http://www.toyotafortuner.in

Date of test-drive: 30 Sep 2012

Dealer: Galaxy Toyota

Model driven: 4 x 4 MT

Model preferred (from purchasing perspective): 4 x 2 MT

On road price: Rs 25 lakhs (approx.)

Engine: 3 litre (approx.)

Chassis: Monocoque

Test-drive Results

Fortuner Performance

Details:

Smooth drive despite a potholed road. Perhaps this comes from a good suspension and monocoque body.

Easy manoeuvrability. I was able to turn with a small radius and the power steering greatly helped.

The beast was found wanting in leg room though. When I sat comfortably in front, the passenger behind me was not left with too much space.

Interiors:

The dealer did not have a 4×2 MT to show so I could only superimpose the salesman’s words onto the interiors of 4×2 MT.

The sales person wasn’t very knowledgeable on what features are available in what model of the car. He actually told me that the base 4×2 MT version had SatNav while it doesn’t! Thankfully another sales guy joined us who knew a lot more and could project an honest picture of the car.

Verdict:

Despite the price being on the higher side and the car doing just OK on leg room, a major factor for me, I would still consider it a strong contender.

Ford Endeavour

Ford Endeavour

Image source: http://www.india.ford.com/suvs/endeavour

Date of test-drive: 30 Sep 2012

Dealer: Harpreet Ford

Model driven: 4 x 2 MT

Model preferred (from purchasing perspective): 4 x 2 MT

On road price: Rs 21 lakhs (approx.)

Engine: 3 litre (approx.)

Chassis: Ladder-frame

Test-drive Results

Endeavour Performance

Details:

The ride wasn’t very smooth. I could feel the jerkiness of the vehicle. This could have been because of the ladder-frame chassis. The gear shift was hard and the brake pedal made a noise when pushed. There was no rear camera or even a parking mirror for backing up / parking.

Interiors:

There were no controls on the steering wheel. The control panel extending from the dashboard to the gear level was sadly basic.

However, all’s not doom and gloom with the Endeavour. One aspect where it beats all the other SUVs is leg room. The leg room was more than enough for a giant.

Verdict:

Despite the performance being so-so, I would still consider it in the list of contenders but it is way down in the list.

UPDATE:

Because I had loved the Endeavour since long, I wasn’t going to write it off so easily. So I took another test-drive of it. The car shook when I drove it over the potholes and I could hear lot of thumping and banging from the rear end of the SUV. (No, it’s not what you might be thinking). Owing to the long tail of the car and ladder-frame chassis, the rear end bounced like crazy. Had there been any passengers sitting there, they would have experienced a roller coaster of sorts.

So here’s my final verdict on the Ford Endeavour: No 😦

UPDATE:

Mahindra XUV 500

Mahindra XUV 500

Image source: http://www.mahindraxuv500.com

Date of test-drive: 1 Oct 2012

Dealer: Sri Durga Automobiles

Model driven: 4 x 2 MT

Model preferred (from purchasing perspective): 4 x 2 MT

On road price: Rs 14.2 lakhs (approx.)

Engine: 2.2 litre (approx.)

Chassis: Monocoque

Test-drive Results

XUV500 Performance
Details:

The ride was surprisingly smooth owing to the monocoque chassis perhaps. Gear shift was easy and the car responded well to accelerator. Easily manoeuvrable. The 4×2 MT model doesn’t come with alloy wheels. And there is one point about the XUV500 that I must mention.

Its overly done.

It is a good car at a good price but, from its looks, it appears as if all the designers woke up one day and decided to add all their design ideas to the same car. The car could have done with less fanciness.

Interiors:

The plastic used in the interiors is not of great quality. There is no rear camera or a parking mirror. Basic interior in general.

Verdict:

A strong contender especially given the performance and the price. Don’t be surprised if it emerges as the final choice.

Tata Safari

Tata Safari

Image source: http://www.tatasafari.com

Date of test-drive: 1 Oct 2012

Dealer: Malwa Automobiles

Model driven: VX Dicor 4 x 2 (Manual)

Model preferred (from purchasing perspective): Not sure owing to multiple models going out of production and an expected launch of Tata Safari Storm

On road price: Rs 10 – 11.5 lakhs (approx.)

Engine: 2.2 litre (approx.)

Chassis: Ladder-frame

Test-drive Results

Safari Performance

Details:

The ride was ok. Response to acceleration was ok too. Manoeuvrability is wanting. Turning radius is large. Either my foot or the clutch pedal stuck more than once. Lacks important features like airbags.

It was the first SUV in India but it doesn’t seem to have improved much since its first launch. It is the general public opinion that Tata vehicles are similar to commercial trucks that ferry goods. After driving the Safari, I knew why they think so.

The above notion about Tata’s vehicles perhaps carries through to their dealerships as well. The salesperson was rustic in his approach, wasn’t very knowledgeable and the dealership was out of brochures for the Safari.

Interiors:

No steering controls. Control panel is very basic. The plastic used in the interiors is not of great quality. There is no rear camera or a parking mirror.

Verdict:

Given the ride performance, the verdict is definitely a No. I would test-drive the Safari Storm too but unless it makes up on where Dicor falters, the verdict stays.

UPDATE:

Hyundai Santa Fe

Santa Fe

Image source: http://www.hyundai.com

Date of test-drive: 5 Oct 2012

Dealer: Hans Hyundai

Model driven: 4 x 2 MT

Model preferred (from purchasing perspective): 4 x 2 MT

On road price: Rs 26.8 lakhs (approx.)

Engine: 2.2 litre (approx.)

Chassis: Ladder-frame

Test-drive Results

Santa Fe Performance

Details:

It was an exhilarating ride. The engine was really responsive to the acceleration and the pick-up was good. No jerkiness in the the ride despite an uneven road. Great manoeuvrability too. The SUV comes with 18″ wheels, the largest among the SUVs test driven till now. The SUV doesn’t look as meek as I had thought. Gear Shift was a little hard or maybe it was the hard clutch pedal.

The dealership didn’t even have a brochure explaining the features of the vehicle. On top of that, the salesperson was not really interested in showing me the vehicle and did so as if he was doing me a favour. Gradually, he warmed upto me but understanding the features that actually come with the vehicle was a little tricky as a lot of custom modifications were done to the SUV.

Interiors:

2-3 controls on the steering. Leg room was less. When I sat comfortably, there was less space behind. From the inside, it doesn’t look too big. They say its a 7 seater but I doubt it unless the ones sitting behind are midgets.

Verdict:

Its a great SUV but given the price, the size of the SUV and that of the engine, I would consider it an over priced SUV. My final verdict on it: No.

UPDATE:

Skoda Yeti

Yeti

Image source: http://www.skoda-auto.co.in

Date of test-drive: 7 Oct 2012

Dealer: Arshia Motors

Model driven: Ambition 4 x 2 MT

Model preferred (from purchasing perspective): Ambition 4 x 2 MT

On road price: Rs 17.6 lakhs (approx.)

Engine: 2.0 litre (approx.)

Chassis: Monocoque

Test-drive Results

Yeti Performance

Details:

I perhaps had a bigger image of Yeti than it turned out to be. They call it a compact SUV but I believe it is no larger (or powerful) than some of the hatchbacks commonly available today. It is too low to be even considered an SUV. Had Skoda projected it as a hatchback, it might have done better. Acceleration was somewhere between OK and good. Ride comfort was good.

Interiors:

The interiors were OK with leather seats even in the basic model. But leg room left a lot to be desired.

Verdict:

Its a great SUV but given the price, the size of the SUV and that of the engine, I would consider it an over priced SUV. My final verdict on it: No.

UPDATE:

Mitsubishi Outlander

Outlander

Image source: http://www.outlander.in

Date of test-drive: 10 Oct 2012

Dealer: Asian Motors

Model driven: P-Line Automatic (Petrol)

Model preferred (from purchasing perspective): I wasn’t expecting Mitsubishi to not have a manual or a diesel based SUV so no model preferred

On road price: Rs 23.5 lakhs (approx.)

Engine: 2.4 litre (approx.)

Chassis: Monocoque

Test-drive Results

Outlander Performance

Details:

There were two shocks that I received in quick succession when the salesperson introduced me to the Outlander. First, it is petrol-only SUV. Second, there is manual variant of it and comes only in automatic. My decision on Outlander was almost made at that moment. However, I still wanted to give it a benefit of doubt. So, I went ahead and test-drove it.

The acceleration was sluggish. This could be because of the automatic transmission as the salesperson told me (I haven’t driven any AT car before so I couldn’t verify his statement). Or this could be specific to the Outlander. Either ways, because it comes only in AT, this is a very real drawback for me.

In manual mode, I could change gears using pedal shift but there was no fun in it as the acceleration still left a lot to be desired.

Interiors:

Seating wasn’t as high as expected but OK. Leg room was good but the steering position was such that I had to push my seat way back lest it would almost rest on my thighs.

The interiors, otherwise, were good and the steering controls were good to have too.

Verdict:

It is a good looking SUV at an OK price but is missing key aspects like diesel and manual variants. My verdict on Outlander: No

Mitsubishi Pajero

As the dealer tells me that the earlier version of Pajero SFX has been discontinued and only Pajero Sport is available which is priced way above my budget. So, this SUV also gets crossed-out 😦

Verdict: No

I would continue to update this blog post as I go about test-driving other models. So stay tuned, my friend…

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