The underrated. Sounds like a Hollywood flick from the 90s wherein scrawny teenagers from an unknown town take on the best in the country in some sort of a sport championship. NFL, NBA, ABC, XYZ; it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that these kids fight against all possible odds – including their parents and town people who naturally think they are an embarrassment. And come the climax, this scrawny lot (and their coach – possibly disgraced in the sport in another life) wins the championship. And a lonely tear rolls down the cheek.
That’s Hollywood. Our underrated bunch though is three cars. But, three cars with three different body styles, three different badges and three very different reasons for…lets just say, not selling well. They are priced close to each other, if that’s any solace for those looking for a common thread. The Hyundai Elantra is a D-Segment sedan from Korea. And it doesn’t sell well, because buyers in this class now only want SUVs.
Then we have a French MPV. The Renault Lodgy – here in a more butch Stepway guise – hasn’t set the cash registers ringing either for it is seen as a bit too pricey for a Maruti Suzuki Ertiga challenger. Finally, we have the Tata Safari Storme. A home grown SUV that’s not drawing in a big crowd mainly because its chief competitor, the Mahindra Scorpio is cheaper, better equipped and more efficient. And there’s also more modern competition in the form of the Hyundai Creta to deal with.
Now here’s the pretext for the story. We had to get to the Auto Expo. And since we were 15 of us; and we are motoring journalists; and we had some time to spare; we decided to drive down instead of taking the train… and we did it in these three cars. The question we wanted to answer was that even though these are underrated for a number of reasons, are these still worth considering? And what better way to find out than to drive them 3,500 plus kilometres over 10 days on highways and through manic city centres; all the while gauging them for comfort, driver appeal and practicality.
So, the journey began on a Saturday with the sun still coming up over the horizon. The plan was to get to Udaipur, some 700km away, before dark and then indulge in some Rajasthani cuisine and compare notes. But, when you have 15 people, with the majority looking forward to eating than anything else on a road trip, timelines go a for six. We did make it to Udaipur (eventually) and then finally on to Noida, but since it’s a route done to death, we thought we’ll jump straight to the job at hand instead of narrating the route.
First up in the Storme. This body on ladder frame SUV is huge. It has fantastic seats (barring the last row which should have been a bench with proper seat belts). But, with five people and the jump seats in the boot folded, it’s amazing how much luggage it can hold. And the best part, neither its ride nor handling takes a beating when it’s completely loaded. It’s also reasonably quiet and with great shoulder room, three abreast seating in the second row is superb. The Safari rides well too. Smothering almost every thing in its path with hardly a bounce or wallow to get anyone sick. Plus, somehow you feel a tad invincible riding in the Safari; the high seating and all that bulk, does have some pluses, I guess.
For the driver though, things are a little different. The Storme has heavy controls – steering, clutch and it takes some effort to slow this mammoth down as well. And then when you subject it to cornering, the Tata rolls, it doesn’t like aggressive inputs and it loves to dive under braking, which obviously is unsettling. One must also work its engine hard to keep good pace; or keep up with younger, lighter company, as was the case here. And when you do, the Storme can get quite noisy in the upper reaches of the rpm band.
It’s also heavy. And it has a big engine. No wonder it returned the worst fuel efficiency in this bunch. Around 10kmpl is all we could muster. However, on a road trip like this, at least its large fuel tank size didn’t force us into pumps before the other two cars, which was great because we were way behind our schedule anyways.
Now if the Safari’s fuel efficiency didn’t come as a surprise, the Renault Lodgy’s did. It had the smallest diesel engine on the trip. And the dCi engine is known for its efficiency as much as it is known for its reliability and noisy nature. But on the drive, it only averaged 12kmpl. Blame it on its turbo lag which didn’t allow us to short shift as soon as we would have liked or that large boot stuffed with the heaviest of luggage – it’s the easiest to pack large and heavy suitcases with thanks to its low loading lip height and a clean cut boot.
But, what is likeable about the Lodgy is its car like behaviour on the road. From the driver’s perspective, it doesn’t feel like a utilitarian vehicle at all. The steering is reasonably quick; fast direction changes are handled with poise; it loses speed without drama or effort; and it has fantastic visibility. The Lodgy doesn’t roll around like a van either and feels a lot tauter and smaller than it looks. It is an effortless drive over long distances and a highly recommended purchase if long road trips are a regular occurrence in your life.
What makes this Renault even better, is the space it offers. Everyone needs space, especially on a long drive; otherwise irritation levels can soar through the roof. The Lodgy Stepway takes this a little too seriously. So, apart from offering loads of head and shoulder room, it also only comes with two seats in the second row. There’s no question of rubbing shoulders here. What’s more, the seats themselves are quite comfortable and come with an armrest. And the space in between works as additional storage. What we’d have liked better are a set of cup holders or a tray to hold the smaller bits in between these captain seats. Would have just made the Lodgy more convenient on a drive like this.
The biggest plus for the Elantra on this drive was that it was a car. Now, there are dynamically better cars in its class, no question, and everyone in the car could feel this Hyundai’s biggest shortcoming the first time it went through an undulation. The Elantra’s rear first squats heavily into the trough of the undulation and then jumps with equal vigour as it crests over the undulation’s edge. But that’s not the worst part. The car’s rear then refuses to settle down and keeps jumping uncomfortably. The more pronounced the undulation, the more the jumping oscillations. It seems like it has all springs and no dampers. Thankfully, the CarWale team members have strong stomachs and no one fell sick.
This pogoing apart, there is lots to like about the Elantra. The seats are brilliant: Large, cushy and supportive. It has lots of convenience features – cooled seats, cooled glovebox, rear AC vents, cup holders all round and enough support around the C-pillars for the rear passengers to nicely dose off through a journey.
And when in the driver’s seat, there’s no denying the fact that a car is just the most comfortable of body types to drive on longer journeys, especially on a route like Mumbai to Delhi which is all flat and wide and nicely surfaced. The Elantra’s drivetrain – its 1.6-litre diesel engine and the six-speed auto – work well on the highway too. The ‘box isn’t great and not the best when it comes to spirited driving. But when you have five people on board, gluttons all, the last thing you want to do is drive enthusiastically. And when it was time to drive around in Delhi at peak hours, that gearbox was a boon.
When travelling with a large bunch of people, pack your car with food. Not the oily, drippy, smelly kind of stuff, but richer, snackier and sweet sorts. That way you will stop less and make your planned ETA. Also, the three cars here have their flaws, no doubt – the Storme is too heavy and a little long in the tooth; the Elantra is too wallowy and long in the tooth; and the Lodgy, though not long in the tooth, is plainly odd looking. It also lacks that rich, desirable aura to make it seem less utilitarian. But, as vehicles to own, drive and live with, all three are worth considering.
And here’s why –
The Tata Safari Storme is great on space, comfort and utility. It’s also one of those vehicles you can simply load and leave without consulting Google maps or travel sites wondering what the road ahead might have in store.
The Renault Lodgy Stepway works wonderfully well for an extended family. Get over its looks and there’s comfortable seating, practicality, ease of driving and a nice ride and handling balance to enjoy.
The Hyundai Elantra is good looking. It feels rich. It has nice interiors and lots of equipment. And because this one is an automatic it works equally well in bumper to bumper traffic and on a relaxed inter-state cruise.
So, if you don’t want to land yourself one of the more popular and now commonplace cars, these three underrated ones will work perfectly well. These won’t win you championships or turn you into stars, but an embarrassment, these certainly aren’t.
The trip log
Overall distance covered: 11,022km
Overall fuel consumed: 993 litres
Number of food stops: Don’t get me started!
Number of states crossed: Six.
Number of selfies taken: Irritatingly high.
Onlookers’ interest: None.
Pictures by Kapil Angane