I love the monsoons. The bright green of new grass, the lovely cool breeze, and since it's not hot or sultry, there is no awful odour come end of day to really turn the missus off.
So, to celebrate this gorgeous season we rounded up a bunch of capable SUVs at a challenging off-road location, which is 19 Degree North at Aamby Valley, with the idea of spending a day having fun and also finding out how these burly machines cope with Mother Nature.
Welcome to the CarWale Off-Road Day 2017.
But we wanted to do more than just have fun with these machines on a wet, slushy, and slippery day. So, we brought in some science disguised as tests.
Test 1. Off-Road Acceleration
When there's deep slush to fight or a slippery incline to climb, one needs as much momentum as one can get. But off road, space is at a premium. So, it's important that an off-roader get up to speed real quick.
In this test, we will find out how much time and distance an SUV takes to get up to 30kmph from a standstill on a wet and slippery track. Needless to say, the lesser the time and distance, the better.
Test 2. Off-Road Braking
As with acceleration, here too, the lesser the time and distance, better the score. But instead of getting to 30kmph, the off-roader must come to a complete stop from that threshold.
We expect this test will reveal how good or bad an SUV's tyre grip is, as well as how smart its ABS is when working off road. After all, all five come with some sort of off-road mode.
Test 3. Off-Road Slalom.
Slalom is all about getting through a series of equidistant cones in the quickest time possible. Our test was no different. The only twist was that we would do this on a wet, slippery and relatively narrow track. And the SUVs would be powered on all fours.
This test is to showcase agility; something one would need when negotiating trails while off-roading. SUVs with good steering response, a grippy front end and a smart four-wheel drive system will have an edge here. Also, being light and small might just be an added plus.
Test 4. Beaker test.
Comfort isn't something that comes up in an off-roading conversation. But, if you have to spend a day taking on bumpy trails – and chances are you won't be doing it all alone – the last thing you want is a sore neck, a splitting headache or vomit in your lap. Ride quality then, cannot be discounted.
So, we decided to run a beaker test. The co-driver will sit holding a beaker full of water in his lap. The SUV then will be driven at a constant 20kmph. And it won't matter if the trail throws up water puddles, a rocky ride, or unplanned, miniature and completely natural axle twisters, there would be no slowing down.
The only thing the co-driver can hope for to avoid wetting his pants is great ride quality from the SUVs, and that the driver doesn't hold a grudge against him. Here, the lesser the water spills, the higher the SUV scores.
Test 5. Off-Road Hill Climb.
Negotiating steep inclines is an integral part of off-roading. And if that climb is slippery, rutted and strewn with rocks, well, the challenge becomes that much more unconquerable.
That’s exactly how our hill climb challenge turned out to be. And to make things even more difficult, we added a slow speed direction change to the mix as well. SUVs with low-range gearboxes, good approach and departure angles, handsome ground clearance, and more off-road bias tyres, will have a strategic advantage here.
And now to the SUVs in question in ascending order of their price tags...
The Isuzu V-Cross isn't just the most affordable off-roader here; it's also the most imposing. And it has decent specs. Huge ground clearance, a large heart of a diesel engine, low ratio gearbox and in this particular example, off-road bias tyres as well.
Next up is the Tata Hexa. It’s not the most convincing looking off-roader, but it has a body-on-ladder frame, a smart 4x4 system, big wheels and decent power and torque ratings. It's reasonably high off the ground too.
Then there's the newly launched Jeep Compass. It has passed the price test with flying colours, and with attributes like relatively lighter weight, a torquey engine and a 4x4 system that can supposedly differentiate between Snow, Sand and Mud, we expect it to fare well.
But, failing to mention the Toyota Fortuner in the same breath as an SUV would be a crime. Especially when this new one has what it takes with good clearance, a usable departure angle and solid off-roading hardware, not to mention an automatic ‘box, which always comes in handy when taking on mother nature.
Finally, there's the Volkswagen Tiguan. With a monocoque chassis and none of the old-school off-roading hardware, it is more Louis Vuitton than Woodland. But, with its smart brain and deceptively usable ground clearance, the Tiguan might just prove to be more of a high-end trekking boot than evening, dance wear.
The Recce Car
…or should we say SUV? Or, maybe we should call it a true, blue off-roader? Whatever the term, one thing is clear – the Mahindra Thar, unlike all the others mentioned in the story so far, is a custom-made, hard-core, do-it-all off-roading machine.
It doesn’t make any bones about being luxurious or a family car or even a daily driver. But, it’s clear, when the going gets slippery, rocky, and slushy or near impossible that the Thar – with its small wheelbase, its brilliant approach and departure angles, and its simple but rugged mechanicals – will go through it all.
Naturally then, it was not only our recovery car (it was rigged up with a winch as well), but also the one that helped us set up the route, the tests and the benchmarks, which our other entire mainstream SUVs would need to contend with.
A big thanks then to Mahindra Adventure for lending us one.
Also, click on the links below to find out how each of these SUVs performed in our tests.
Words by: Vikrant Singh
Pictures by: Kapil Angane
Location courtesy: 19 Degree North
An adventure sports outfit located at Aamby Valley City near Lonavla that offers activities like riding ATVs, paintball shooting, Zorbing, and Jungle Safari among others.
Click here to read about the Spotter's View at the CarWale Off-Road Day 2017