SUVs for roughing it the smooth way

The SUV segment exploded with a number of ‘cross overs’ that offered the look and feel of a SUV at more affordable prices

Sports Utility Vehicles, or SUVs are a bit like that old joke about a smart girl’s favourite animals... a mink in the cupboard, a jaguar in the garage, a tiger in the bedroom and a jackass for a husband. SUVs similarly offer the sexy styling of a sports car, the comfort and luxury of a limousine, the space of a van and the rough road capabilities of a jeep. They not only appeal to the aggressive male urban cowboys because this mad cowboy disease also infects many women who perhaps get a high out of having a big 2-tonne macho machine dancing to the tune of their pretty fingers.

Till recently we did not have a SUV really suitable for personal transport. The Gypsies and Jeeps were fine for soldiers and forest officers but not quite the thing for the family. The early SUVs like the Safari, Sumo or Mahendra Bolero  were also rather basic and boring but soon got better with the Scorpio. With 2WD they were not true SUVs and imported Pageros and Prados were sinfully expensive. In most countries about 20 per cent of personal transport vehicles are SUVs and this is beginning to happen here as well.

Today a SUV offers the comfort of a spacious sedan but with bigger wheels to give it good ground clearance to navigate bad roads. They all have powerful engines necessary for steep slopes and rough patches. They usually have space to carry five people in comfort. There are also many modern gadgets, tilt steering for comfort and safety, central locking, power windows, motorised wing mirrors, front and rear windscreen wash and wipers, et cetra, and power steering makes driving easy for the frailest female. The gears, clutch, controls, instruments, et cetra are very easy to operate.

The Tata Safari had been one of the pioneers and Mahindra & Mahindra soon offered their Scorpio followed by the XUV500. Toyota had an expensive Pagero and Prado and dominated the MUV segment with their Innova then launched the Fortuner that was a great performer even if a bit expensive.

Then the SUV segment exploded with a number of `cross overs’ that offered the look and feel of a SUV at more affordable prices. The Ford EcoSport, Renault Duster and Nissan Terrano were joined by the Hyundai Creta as well as the Maruti S Cross and Brezza that many young buyers preferred to conventional sedans. Then Renault introduced an even more affordable mini SUV with their Kwid that proved to be a good alternative to many hatchbacks. Now Maruti is challenging this with their new Ignis.

Though some elegant ladies may be shy about displaying a fleeting glimpse of their pretty ankles when stepping in or out of a vehicle that is rather high off the ground they will not regret the impact they will make when they alight from such an aggressive looking vehicle.

A few other CBUs are now ready to hit the Indian market. Daimler-Chrysler has two Mercedes M-Class models for those who can afford the famous Silver Star. The 163 bhp 2,688 cc turbodiesel 270 CDI and the hugely powerful 218 bhp 320 models are now available at prices of about INR 3.8 million and 4 million respectively.

Where Mercedes treads, BMW cannot be too far behind and the equally famous X5 considered by many as the ultimate SUV with sports car handling over rougher roads will soon be available. Also going to the tedious process of homologation are the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Honda CRV, the Hyundai Terracan and Suzuki Grand Vitara. The first three will probably cost between IRS 2 million and 3 million while the latter two will cost between IRS 1.5 million and 2 million . With these many interesting offerings, the age of SUVs may finally arrive in India.

The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist