Section One: Background and Buying Overview
For a few years we have had 2 small cars doing transportation duties very well. An efficient Maruti Alto K10 and a Hyundai i10 are great cars for office commutes, daily errands around the town, passenger pickup/drops and even for occasional (twice a year) highway duties. For out of town trips, these 2 together cars could accommodate our rather large (joint) family of 5 adults and 3 kids and couple of additional family members (in-laws or cousins). The rides in such situations were cramped but fairly enjoyable. However the fun of travelling together in a single vehicle was missing and the smaller cars ran out of breath on non-tarred or patchy roads and in summer with 38+ C temperatures. The other lurking reason was that I was soon reaching my forties and a mid-life crisis driven aspiration of owning a masculine jeep like UV/SUV was taking shape in my heart. The thought was to drive across to numerous forts, hill stations and beaches around Pune and a few long trips across the country. Given the steep price depreciation of new cars, existing home loan, the desire to minimize on additional loans (and or reduced interest payments), our budget for a new tourer was at Rs 10-12 Lakhs (on road). Apart from the budget, our requirements were straight forward
- Able to accommodate 5 tall adults & 3-4 kids with sufficient Cargo space
- Ability to drive in hilly areas
- Could be used in the city for regular errands and office commutes
- Lower total cost of ownership
In Nov 2012, based on discussions with family members and research on auto portals and magazines led to the following candidates
- Toyota Innova
- Mahindra Xylo
- Mahindra Scorpio
- Mahindra Bolero
- Tata Safari & Storme
- Chevrolet Tavera
- Maruti Ertiga
- Nissan Evalia
My other top favorite, ranked higher
than the Innova
was the Mahindra Thar CRDE 4x4
, mostly based on my upcoming 40 year milestone and mid-life aspiration to develop a cool lifestyle of a 25 year old – especially on weekends – which included trekking forts and off-roading.
A little about my in-house test drive team
- I test drove most (if not all) of the cars in the list above. My test drives were designed to validate my requirements – ease of handling, ability to climb on steep hilly inclines and seating comfort with A/C on. So on most of these drives, I would have at least 4 adults and 2 kids. Thanks
to my brothers who are all 6+ ft tall and the wife and kids who were able to spend many a weekend afternoon accompanying me to these test drives. One side effect of these test drives are that my kids can easily identify a MUV from side, rear or front views
Here are my brief thoughts on these test drives. I did not maintain a log for these drives and the following thoughts are my strongest recollections and memories of these test drives. All of the vehicles listed above are great value for money MUVs and I am certain will give many years of great services to their owners. Here goes.
The Toyota Innova
is a great MUV with excellent quality, comfort & ride. This was a top favorite amongst all members of my family. The space in the last seat was good for 2 adults or 3 kids. The price on the mid-top end models was about Rs 2 Lakhs beyond our budget. I was aware of the legendary Toyota Quality and the hassle free ownership experience for over 4-5 lakh kilometers. Personally for me, the MUV is a market leader, has a great social acceptance, a quality benchmark in its segment – and in short too perfect. If I bought the Innova, there would be no excuse to replace this car for at-least 10 years or 6 lakh kms. These were all great reasons to own this perfect MUV. The MUV did not have a strong character and did not appeal to me. If I chose this car, it would be a mind over heart decision.
The Mahindra Xylo
was in a category similar to the Innova. The quality was a degree (or two) lower than the Innova. I did not care too much for the Mahindra niggles. The MUV was an odd-ball in terms of it’s size & proportions. The Xylo that came later in 2012 (?) fixed many of these issues. This was the second best car that the ladies of my home liked. When I drove this car, I liked the responsiveness of the engine and the thoughtful interiors. However, this car did not appeal to me either. The Totoyta Innova was a better car than the Xylo, according to me & the numerous comparison articles, I had read.
The Mahindra Scorpio
had character with its butch looks and masculine exteriors. Inside the vehicle was a very different story. The ergonomics were sub-optimal, the gear was placed weirdly and the seating was surprisingly very very cramped. The last rows (side facing) could seat 2 adults at best. I did not understand why the interiors were not as roomy given the size of the vehicle. The sales experience at Sahayadri Motors at Baner was not helpful either. Both the Xylo & Scorpio were not available for test drives easily and there were no follow-ups from the dealer to help with a test drive quickly.
The Mahindra Bolero
is a great Utility Vehicle. I had borrowed my cousin’s SLE model for a trip to Nashik and it’s surrounding vineyards. I drove it across 2 days from Pune to Nashik and I liked it. The Bolero is the top selling UV in India for many months, quarters and is a benchmark in the UV category. Farmers, city & town dwellers swear by the quality. I liked to the low-end torque. The interiors were nicely done and I liked the beige color combination. The OTR price of 8.5L on the top end model was within my budget. The main areas of concern were that the engine would grunt if driven over 90-100 Kms/hr. Also the side facing seats in last row could accommodate 2 kids at best. The A/C’s cooling was sub-optimal and there were no rear A/C vents.
The Chevrolet Tavera
was another great candidate. I did not test drive this vehicle because at that time the Pashankar Chevrolet outlet at Baner/Sus did not have any for a test drive. I sat in one of these and liked it. A closer look at the specifications showed that the BS3 model had the old Isuzu engine with a low torque and lower sized (80 ps) engine. The Bs4 model had the Rhino engine – but this model was not widely used. In any case, after the GM recalls in June/July 2013, I struck this vehicle of my list, since it was not even available to be sold in Pune (and rest of India). After the GM recall, I did not even consider the Chevy Enjoy, mostly because I felt I could not trust GM any longer.
The Maruti Ertiga
is a popular small MUV, considered as a leader in it’s segment, with great all round reviews and long list of owners, who swear by it’s quality and ride. When I test drove this in on the inclines, example going up from NH4 to Pashan-Sus road with all seats occupied with 6 ft adults and kids thrown in and A/C running in second level, it was easy to see that neither the petrol or diesel engines could hold the stress. In fact, I test drove both the variants to test this capability. In the steep ghats of the Sahaydris for example in Tamhini, Varandha or on the ghat on NH4 going to Satara – a strong torque at very low rpm is a must have ability. The middle and last seats were cramped. The last seat was severely cramped and the proportions ruled out any trip with occupants in it for more than couple of hours. The engine’s response and torque did not meet my requirements; although I thought the car was perfect for the segment it was designed for – a city dweller with a family of 4 with an occasional highway trip with 2 additional passengers. But this was not a vehicle that could be taken in the hills along windy gnat turns and on rougher pot-holed roads (any one drive Tamhini ghat in the last 2 months?).
I test drove the Nissan Evalia
also. And I liked it a lot. The engine is wonderful, the ride quality is great. The van can drive well on steep inclines with all seats occupied. The AC is powerful and the build quality is superior and in the league of the Innova. This is a pucca van and you will like it if you liked the erstwhile Maruti Omni or if you like the Maruti Eeco. I liked it’s utilitarian value, it has a lot of interior space. And all of your luggage can easily fit in for long drives. There were 2 aspects which got this off my list. The middle row windows are of the “butterfly” type – so these cannot be rolled up or down normally. The vent on the third seat is not optimal. The tyres are puny and would need a major upsize. Everything else in this car is wonderful and with the Evalia refresh coming later this year – I think this car will be wildly popular – at-least with families who need a tourer and also with fleet owners.
The Tata Safari & Storme
both have a great reputation as tough & powerful SUVs with imposing road presence & great engines. I did not test drive these SUVs - and I will explain
why in the next post. My issue was with the last row – which I saw could accommodate only 2 kids. In fact the last row was less
useful than the Bolero or Xylo or the Innova. I felt that both these SUVs would be ideal for a family of 4 with an additional passenger or two. The Storme would on top of my list over Safari, because of quality improvements as compared to Safari.
The Mahindra Thar CRDE
was my deepest secret wish. I was in awe of it’s Willy’s heritage and it’s legendary sturdiness. The CRDE engine seemed nice with lot’s of torque and power. I was not able to test drive this, since I was usually asked (by Sahayadri Motors, Baner) to go to a stockyard 30 kms outside of Pune. I did sit in the front seat of a Thar that an office colleague has. I also sat & ogled (but did not test drive) in a model parked in a M&M showroom on NH4 highway at Satara. The OTR price was within budget though the interiors seem dated and of low quality. The alloy wheels, standard A/C fitment and the soft top made the proposition of buying this jeep more attractive. The gear stick was ergonomically screwed and I had duly noted the niggles & quality issues reported on various forums. The opportunity on the Thar for DIY enhancements and the additional opportunity to learn off-roading were extremely mouth-watering. My in-house test drive team, quickly struck
this jeep off the list – because anybody other the driver & co-driver would have a hard time surviving a 100+km trip. The side facing seats were functional at best but not comfortable. Off-roading was no place to take kids (& senior citizens) along. And in summary it became very clear this was a vehicle for a SINK (single income no kids) or DINK (double income no kids) family!!
All of which, brings us to the test drive of Tata Sumo Gold