A dazzling choice of off-roaders

Go for a test-drive to decide which one will suit you best

Although most buyers of SUVs get them for their aggressive ‘macho’ looks and seldom take them ‘off-road’ into the jungles or over mule tracks, there are a few hardy users who really need a sturdy vehicle to take them to places with rough roads, or no roads at all. The original US army Jeep was one of the first although the bigger British Land Rover was a hit.

After the war many cheap army surplus vehicles began to be used by big farmers in America, Australia and South Africa where many became vehicles for adventurous tourists.

Today many versions of the Toyota Land Cruiser are a very popular choice. They are not only found slogging through the sand dunes of Dubai but continue to operate in the hands of belligerent militia in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia and other war torn places. The very basic Willys Jeep had slow progress after the War(s) and evolved into rather sophisticated vehicles like the Cherokee and Wrangler. Their new smaller Compass has been a hit. The makers of Land Rover changed several hands until it finally came under the management of Jaguar Land Rover -Tata companies. Their brands like Discovery and Range Rover are doing well all over the world.

Many buyers found the basic off-roader a bit too basic for their liking and the automakers began making very sporty and luxurious (and expensive) versions of their luxury saloons into a new class of SUVs like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes M Class and Volvo XC 90. As these proved to be very popular so even the makers of pure sports cars like Porsche launched their Cayenne that appealed to many who wanted to rough it the soft way. Even Bentley, the maker of sinfully expensive luxury cars, launched an utterly exotic Bentayga that is the fastest and most luxurious and expensive SUV ever made.

These cars were however for the super rich and there was a huge demand for more affordable options. The little Maruti-Suzuki Gypsy was a small off-roader popular with the army and police and useful for civilians as well. It was capable of very bad roads and was light enough for people to manhandle out of a mess if it ever got stuck. India’s Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), who began life making Willy Jeeps continued to make basic off-roaders like the Thar but added a wide range of more sophisticated but quite affordable models. Their Scorpio and XUV 500 were SUVs but the cheaper Bolero was very capable. These morphed into utility vehicles like the Xylo and Quanto that further evolved into cute and compact vehicles like the TUV 300 and KUV 100. M&M also offer their big imported 2700-cc 164HP Ssangyong Rexton. The 2180-cc 156HP Tata Hexa also competes in this range.

The most popular choice in the Rexton price range is the 2650-cc 166HP (petrol) and 2750-cc 177HP (diesel) Toyota Fortuner that competes with the 2200 and 3200-cc (160 and 200HP) Ford Endeavour, Hyundai’s 2000-cc (155 and 185HP) Tucson, Volkswagen’s 197-cc 143HP Tiguan and Honda’s 2000 and 2400-cc 156 and 190HP Honda CRV. There is also a range of smaller SUVs like the 1250-cc 90HP Maruti-Suzuki Brezza and the 1500-cc 123 and 100HP Ford EcoSport.

This long list shows that buyers have huge choices today and that test-driving remains the best way to decide what one will suit you best.

The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist