So, here below is my experience with each of the five cars that we had for the 2019 CarWale off-road event –
The 4x4 Renault Duster, being the lightest of the five cars, had the weight advantage. Moreover, manual transmission allowed the driver to modulate the power output as required. Although the car has what it takes for mild off-roading, its modest ground clearance (as compared to the other four) of 210mm required me to exercise extra caution while navigating it through trails and hill climbs.
Sure, there is nothing too exceptional about the road spec 215/65 R16 wheels, but they do the job just fine. Factoring its limitations, I had to ensure that the Duster did not attempt something extraordinary to avoid damage to the low hanging front bumper. And with a little effort, the Duster did manage to overcome almost all obstacles that were thrown at it.
The Honda CR-V is definitely a brilliant handler on regular roads, but then, its low riding stance and the lowest ground clearance of 208mm does not work in its favour off the road and only limits its potential. Moreover, the road spec 235/65 R18 tyres and body weight of 1,742kgs does not make things any easier. This is where the experience of the driver and the spotter were put to test.
Now, the air-curtain under the front bumper risked getting damaged particularly while hauling the car up with momentum. And to avoid such untoward damages, I had to ensure that the CR-V avoided the ditches on its path the other cars managed to gobble up comfortably. That said, I personally believe that a good set of off-road tyres will improve its drivability to a great extent. Sure, the vehicle did struggle a bit on the slope, but the AWD powered all wheels with sufficient traction to clear the hill climb. Also, with its well-judged suspension setup, the CR-V shone in the trail test.
At first glance, it is not hard to say that the Isuzu MU-X is on the heavier side. To counter that, it comes with a massive ground clearance and abundant torque that make it a good off roader. Yes, the weight did pose a problem and while plotting maneuverers for this vehicle, I had to ensure that it did not lose its momentum, particularly during the hill climb. Moreover, considering its steering has four turns lock-to-lock, I had to choose a path that helped the driver clear the obstacle with lesser inputs. Additionally, the MU-X has a hill-hold feature, which was particularly helpful when the vehicle slid around because of its weight and had to be redirected to its actual path.
Jeep Compass Trailhawk
This truly is the off-road oriented version of the Compass which offers a higher ground clearance as compared to the standard model. Loaded with intelligent driving aids, the Compass Trailhawk drove through most of the obstacles effortlessly. And with those off-road spec 225/60 R17 tyres, loads of torque and bounty traction, the vehicle sprinted up the mountain without breaking a sweat. Now, the firm suspension setup might not be the most comforting for the driver, but then, it is tuned to go places where there are no roads. Be it rocks, ditches or trenches, the Trailhawk tackled everything brilliantly to an extent where it’s safe to say that I had time to catch a glimpse of a langur sitting on a tree!
As mentioned earlier, a spotter needs to be aware of the vehicle’s limitations. The Audi Q7 is undoubtedly powerful, feature-loaded and would have cleared the trail test as well as the hill climb effortlessly. But then, the real question was, is it really worth risking damage to its expensive components? Now, as a spotter, my primary job is to help the driver clear an obstacle, but sometimes it is wise to make a decision and exempt selective cars from taking certain tests to prevent physical damage. Hence, I decided to exclude the Audi Q7 from the hill climb task. That said, it is not about doubting the vehicle or the driver’s potential, but it is about ensuring the safety of not just the driver but also the vehicle at all times.
Photo Credits: Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi.
Click on the links below to find out how these SUVs fared in our tests.
CarWale Off-Road Day 2019 – An Introduction
CarWale Off-Road Day 2019 - Renault Duster AWD
CarWale Off-Road Day 2019 - Jeep Compass Trailhawk
CarWale Off-Road Day 2019 - Honda CR-V
CarWale Off-Road Day 2019 - Isuzu MU-X
CarWale Off-Road Day 2019 - Audi Q7