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Compact SUVs : Does size matter?

| Updated on: Nov 12, 2015
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The Mahindra TUV3OO and the Ford EcoSport are currently the only two competitors in the segment that is due to witness an explosion of new players

There are two reasons why more and more buyers want to consider a sports utility vehicle as the choice for their next car. The first is, of course, the urge to experiment and seek variety in their car ownership experience. “Want to upgrade from a premium hatch and don’t find the premium sedan segment exciting enough…so let me choose a compact SUV instead”.

The next reason why more and more buyers in the sub-Rs.10 lakh price category want to choose SUVs or at least cars styled like SUVs is because of their ground clearance. The promise of SUVs handling bad roads, speed breakers and flooded streets better than hatchbacks and sedans is a big draw, especially during this part of the year.

It is not surprising then that almost every car brand is ramping up its presence in the SUV segment and that too across price segments. The preference for SUVs is clearly trickling down to the affordable categories too and that is the reason why there are already a couple of SUV options in the sub-four-metre category and a flood of new vehicles in this size class are due out next year. In fact, 2016-17 could well be the year of the compact SUV.

Though there are a few sports styled vehicles currently in the market, we feel that these represent a fading phenomenon. More and more vehicles in the coming months will be smaller versions of true SUVs and not cranked up hatchbacks. Currently, the only models that really count in the sub-four-metre SUV category are the Mahindra Quanto and TUV3OO, and the Ford EcoSport.

The Mahindra Quanto is essentially a short-wheelbase version of the Xylo, and was born out of a need to quickly fit into the emerging compact SUV segment. So, while the Quanto’s execution and packaging wasn’t that interesting, the recently launched TUV3OO manages to tick all the right check boxes in terms of its overall focus on the buyers in the segment.

Design

Inevitably, the TUV3OO and the EcoSport are the two primary competitors in the compact SUV segment, that is, until the flood arrives next year.

The TUV3OO is a brand new product for Mahindra – a new platform, a new chassis and a new powertrain. Its design is too close to some of Mahindra’s other vehicles, especially the Bolero. And sadly that is the reason why though the design sketches seemed more promising, given the fact that Italian design house Pininfarina was involved, the final product is much less exciting to look at.

It has decent road presence though, with a high shoulder line and dimensions that almost match large SUVs like the Tata Sumo, except for its length. The TUV3OO manages to maximise the sub-four-metre restriction fully to its advantage. In pictures it doesn’t look that big because of its wheels being pushed out to the extremities, and its almost nonexistent overhangs. This also translates into more space inside the vehicle both for passengers and for luggage.

The Ford EcoSport on the other hand does not leverage its exterior dimensions as well. Its wheelbase is a much lower 2,520mm (compared to TUV3OO’s 2,680mm) and its lower roof and lower width also means that the headroom and shoulder room are lesser than in the Mahindra compact SUV. The legroom in both the vehicles is similar in the first two rows and so the Ford doesn’t feel cramped for a 5-seater. But in the TUV3OO, Mahindra engineers have managed to actually squeeze in two jump seats at the rear, making it a 5+2 seater.

We certainly don’t approve of these jump seats (very similar to the Quanto’s), because they are not offered with seat belts. Remember the time when Maruti had to go scrambling to convert the Wagon-R’s rear bench seat into a 60:40 split, instead of the 50:50 split it had been launched with, so that a lap belt could be fitted to make it a 5-seater. Competitors had pointed out that the Wagon-R was only a 4-seater. Similarly, we can’t quite accept the TUV3OO to be a 7-seater until all the seats get the same level of basic safety.

Cabins

The TUV3OO’s cabin is a refreshing change compared to the quality of some of Mahindra’s older vehicles. When viewed in the context of the new vehicle’s pricing, the equation becomes clearer. Yet, the TUV3OO’s interiors seem rather bland in places. The finish quality is clean, but quality of materials used could have been better. Mahindra’s tendency to choose Spartan designs in an attempt at economising, like is the case in some of its older vehicles, can be seen in the TUV 3OO too. Also, it is time that M&M’s engineers realise that the annoying announcements from the infotainment system have by now lost their novelty. The EcoSport’s cabin, though the vehicle has been around for more than a year, is still the one that is more novel. The perceived quality of the cabin is also higher, though the much lower space inside the cabin is also very evident. The cabin noise levels also seem lower in the EcoSport compared to the TUV 3OO, despite the fact that the new 1.5-litre diesel engine in the Mahindra is more refined than its larger siblings.

Performance

Speaking of the engine, the TUV 3OO features the mHawk80 diesel engine, which is a 1,493cc mill with twin-stage turbocharging. The engine generates 84bhp of peak power and 230Nm of peak torque. The engine is paired with a 5-speed manual transmission, with the option of an automated manual transmission also being offered. The EcoSport’s 1,498cc diesel engine on the other hand offers more power at 100PS, though peak torque is lower at 205Nm. Torque also arrives a bit later in the rpm range.

On the road, the TUV3OO feels a bit quicker off the block despite its 2.2-ton weight. The turbo spools up quick and the oodles of low-end torque propels the vehicle forward. The relative refinement of the engine is however, lost inside the cabin due to the turbo’s wheeze and gearbox whine adding up to raise the in-cabin noise levels. In terms of overall in-cabin refinement levels, the EcoSport pips the TUV3OO, since other factors such as gearshift quality favour Ford’s compact SUV.

The ride quality is fairly similar in both the vehicles, though the TUV3OO uses wider aspect ratio tyres shod on 15-inch alloys (similar to Ford). Over bad roads, the TUV3OO feels more sure footed and driving into corners there seems to be more body roll than in the EcoSport.

Bottomline

Despite its over-familiar design, the TUV3OO, is a strong addition to Mahindra’s portfolio. It takes on the fight with the EcoSport with gusto. But, surely its design and build and cabin quality could have been better. Ford has reacted and refreshed the EcoSport with a mid-model facelift. So, if tough SUV looks, cabin space and ride quality matter you choose the Mahindra TUV3OO. Choose the Ford EcoSport for its crossover looks, better in-cabin refinement and the option also of choosing from two petrol engines. Or you could wait till February next year for more options.

Published on January 22, 2018

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