New Delhi: SUV’s are increasingly turning out to be objects of desire among upwardly mobile buyers. Sales pick up in summers as holidays are planned around a sturdy SUV that can take a famiily up curvaceous mountain roads to cooler climes.
Murad Ali Baig, auto expert and columnist
Here is a quick guide to the choices that are available to India’s urban cowboys who want to rough it the soft way. SUV’s occupy an important niche in consumer minds, especially for those who want to be able to drive anywhere in superlative comfort.
Many opt for four-wheel-drive models despite the fact that the 4WD mode is seldom used or needed. A powerful vehicle with big wide wheels and good ground clearance can usually take one almost anywhere.
The latest entry in this segment is the new Chevrolet Captiva that was one of the launches at the recent Auto Expo. It is competing with other SUV rivals like the Honda CR-V and Ford Endeavour in the approximately Rs20 lakh price band.
These fairly luxurious models cost more than our indigenous Mahindra Scorpio or Tata Safari that are in the Rs7 to 10 lakh band but they cost much less than the ultra posh fully imported SUV’s like the Audi A7, BMW X5, Mercedes M Classe, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Taureg or Volvo XC 90 that cost anywhere between Rs40 to 110 lakh.
This sub segment had long been led by the Honda CR-V and the Ford Endeavour that were well ahead of the 118 bhp diesel powered Mitsubishi Pagero that, a market leader at one time has now turned a trifle dated in terms of style, performance and features although it remains a true blue boulder basher that can faithfully take you through virtually any terrain.
The 112 bhp diesel propelled Hyundai Tucson is comfortable but rather underpowered and the 136 bhp diesel driven Nissan X trail, though a competent vehicle, has not made a great mark in this price segment. There is also the pretty looking new 120 bhp Suzuki Grand Vitara but despite the huge Maruti sales network and a more attractive price position is underpowered. Also, since it is driven by petrol, it suffers on account of high fuel costs.
The diesel Captiva is already selling roughly 300 units a month. With the price of fuels set to go up any day, the economies of a diesel vehicle are likely to be a major deciding factor for new car owners.
Test drive through the rough and tumble of UP
I took the Captiva on a long 800-km drive to the mountains near Nainital on a mini marathon that allowed it to cruise over good and bad highways with some steep climbs and sharp mountain bends. We had some off-road driving through village tracks as a result of a broken culvert and also encountered a freak hail storm which provided us an opportunity to evaluate its performance on slippery wet and icy roads.
Like all cars made by GMDAT or General Motor’s Daewoo plant at Kunsan in Korea the Captiva has a strong build quality with doors that shut tight, keep dust out and have little chance of rattling as it gets older. Style wise it is elegant and intelligently kitted out with convenient and comfortable flexi seating that can accommodate seven adults and is about the same size and weight as the CR -V but shorter and lighter than the Endeavour.
The last two seats can be folded down in an absolutely flat deck that is convenient for transporting large objects or multiple pieces of baggage. In this mode it looks like a slick five seater with ample luggage space. Its physical look borders the conventional rather than the exaggerated curves and chrome of the CR -V or the truck-like look of the bigger Endeavour.
The Captiva’s peppy 148 bhp diesel engine offers a little less power than the top petrol powered CR -V at 161 bhp (that also offers a cheaper and smaller 143 bhp engine) but with the added advantage of diesel economy. It compares well with the Endeavour that has two diesel options of 143 and 154 bhp. Being about 50 kg lighter and 33 cm shorter than the latter, it is much more nimble on the road.
Diesel engines also have the advantage of better low end torque for better initial acceleration and low fuel consumption. The Captiva’s transmission is different with front wheel drive as compared to rear wheel drive of the Endeavour (though it has a 4WD option at a higher price). The CR-V normally drives in front wheel mode but automatically slips into 4WD whenever there is any wheel slippage while accelerating or when there is the slightest skidding.
The handling on the Captiva’s curves was stable with no tendency to roll or dive while braking. When going around bends it was absolutely flat. The electronic sensors of the suspension transferred the forces from one side to the other to achieve this stable and safe handling. You did not need to open the complete tailgate but could separately open just the glass section if you want to put small objects into the boot.
Its other plus points are its electric folding wing mirrors, compass and temperature indicators, remote locking, etc. A small feature of its AC system is the automatic pollution sensor that switches to recirculation mode when the sensors sense polluted air outside. Like all modern cars it is equipped with safety features including ABS brakes and airbags.
The Captiva’s showroom price stands at around Rs19 lakh that compares with Rs17 to 19 for the Endeavour models or Rs19 to 20 lakhs for a CR –V.
Murad Ali Baig is one of India’s foremost auto experts. Feedback to his column can be sent at email@example.com