CarToq expert Devdath Narayan reviews the SUV everyone is curious about – The Force One – and tells us what is great and not so great about this behemoth.
What is Force Motors known to produce? Tempo Travellers. Why do Tempo Travellers sell like hot cakes? They are unique, in terms of their seating options, exterior looks, upkeep costs and most of all, are very reliable.
Also see: Force One car research hub
Why are 90% of Tempo Travellers, immediately after being sold, driven to a local body maker/customizer? Because it only after customizing their insides with better seats, TVs, DOLBY speakers, better air-conditioning vents et al, do they become usable as a luxury minibuses.
Why doesn’t Force Motors do this customization on its own? My guess was, and it stands confirmed after I tested the Force One, Force Motors cannot yet make good interiors, not by a fair margin.
You see, in a nutshell, the Force One has a very good engine, suspension and reliability, good brakes and handling, acceptable looks but BAD interiors. Let us come to the details now.
At almost 5 meters, the Force One is the longest SUV in its segment, and it shows. Add to it the angled windows, the quirky headlights, half tail lights on the rear hatch and that aftermarket like footboard and it does look dated. The rear wheel arch is lower than the front and this coupled with the slightly tilted front gives the Force One the look that would been in vogue a decade ago. However, Force Motors admits that body panels are indeed imported from China and hence the resemblance to the first generation Endeavor is not only evident but is correct.
The build is tough, on the outside. Lift the bonnet, open the hatch, look at the bumper and you know that this is a tough vehicle. However what disappoints is the way things have been put together. On our test drive, in spite of repeatedly closing the driver door, the door open alarm refused to go away. When I asked the Force Motors representative, he slammed it with all the force he could muster and he alarm went off.
While the tagline “Be the Force” is appealing for sure, using force to close doors this way, speaks of much needed improvement at the assembly lines.
The doors themselves open wide and getting into the vehicle is easier than, say a Mahindra Scorpio for instance due to the slightly lower positioning of the floorboard. Force Motors claims that the One sits 200mm above the ground which was sufficient for all the mountainous speed breakers in Bangalore, wheel ruts and decent sized potholes that we encountered at our test drive.
Paint finish is decent appears to be scratch resistant and was uniform with no run off marks or uneven finishing.
Open the driver’s door and sit inside the Force One and you instantly get a feeling of space. Neither too little, nor too much. Though the driver footwell is small and the pedals are placed pretty close to each other, it doesn’t take much time to get comfortable. There is also that odd dead pedal which will surely ease long journeys. The steering is adjustable for tilt; however, the range is extremely limited and even at its lowest adjustment, and its rim stays above the crest of the dashboard, which means very short drivers will have issues with it. The driver’s seat is height adjustable which is a boon. The door pads have red warning lamps which come on if the doors are open, which are also expected to function as puddle lamps, however, on our vehicle, which had done some 7000kms; the lamp had become loose and was sure to fall off within the next 1000kms.
The centre console is functional with the usual controls for the air conditioning, a separate fan control for the rear ac vents and a JVC double DIN audio unit. While the audio unit is BT compatible and plays decent music from a 6 speaker system, the AC performance has scope for improvement, especially in the middle and last rows however, the plastic used was of extremely poor quality and they were already rattling and could not be focused to the desired direction.
The car comes with all 4 power windows and a one touch down operation for the driver but the window motors were very noisy and the stopper for the glass was ill fitted. As a result, if you kept the window switch pulled even after the window reached it top most position, it would still pull against the door sill and would look very odd, much like a road side fitted accessory.
The gear column feels a tad too long for a personal vehicle and the storage box in the centre between the front seats is too small on the inside. The dashboard is a glitzy and functional affair with the standard meters and a MFD thrown in for good measure with, hold your breath, 25 warning lights that light up when you turn the key on. It also has audio warnings for doors left open and seatbelts not put on. One glaring omission is the lack of bottle holders on the door pads, on the front and the rear doors.
The middle row of seats has ample legroom for 3, even with the front seats pushed all the way back. I could sit comfortably without my knees touching the front seat. The middle row reclines and slides but does not fold fully forward like the Innova or the Scorpio to become flat. However, one grouse that I have against most of these new age middle rows is the inadequate bench width. Just like the XUV 500, the Endeavor and the Yeti, the Force One’ s middle row’s under thigh support is insufficient due to a short bench. This however, will be noticed only on long journeys and by very tall people. There is flip down centre armrest for the middle row with incorporated bottle holders but we would have preferred them on the door pads for ease of use and convenience.
The last row, while being more spacious than the ruling king, Innova, has an issue. You see, if I inclined the back rest to an angle I was comfortable at, my head would hit the ceiling, so I had to put it at a more vertical angle to be able sit safely making it uncomfortable. However, for anyone who is around 5’5″ and shorter, this shouldn’t be an issue. There decent luggage space even with all rows folded up which is a huge advantage for people with large families.
Performance, Ride & Handling and Comfort
Daimler makes nice diesels and the 2.2 FM Tech engine belting out 141PS and 321NM of torque is no exception. The engine is smooth, remarkably vibration free and revs freely up to 4200rpm without working up a sweat. At idle, it is slightly noisy but far lesser than the Endeavor or the Innova. The 2.2 MHawk of the Scorpio is the most silent of the lot but the second spot is definitely for the F-1. At city speeds, it is barely audible at a 1400rpm in 3rd puttering through traffic.
While the gearing is pretty spot on, the gear lever in itself is a let down. The throws are long and shifts do not feel as slick as say the Scorpio while they are at par with the Safari’s gear shifts. The clutch is slightly hard but the vehicle we drove was a media vehicle which could have been abused by various people.
On the performance front, this vehicle, in spite of its 2 ton weight is no slouch. In fact, it feels much sportier than the Safari and, the forward sloping bonnet, much like the Sumo, gives a commanding view of the front so punting the truck around and between tight spots is actually easier than it seems. On the highway, the Force One was comfortable in doing speeds of 135kmph with ease. In the city, the linear gearing and the seamless flow of torque makes the Force One a hoot to drive. For steady cruising all you need is the 3rd gear which goes right up to 80kmph from 20 kmph.
On our test which lasted for about 100kms, the MID showed us mileage (fuel efficiency) figures between 10.2 kmpl to 12.5 kmpl so it would be fair to assume a figure of around 11kmpl in the city and 13 on the highway with sane speeds.
A powerful engine is of no use if the vehicle it is put in doesn’t handle well and Force Motors have understood this aspect very well. The UK based specialist firm Lotus tuned suspension does a brilliant job of keeping this truck on the road at all possible speeds and situations, even when being devoid of any fancy electronic gizmos. The length of the vehicle aids the handling and stability to a great extent and Force One handles admirably for an SUV of this segment and be it lane changing, fast take offs from signals, high speed breaking or cornering at a ghat road, the suspension takes it all in its stride. The Force One is the best handling SUV in its segment and a couple above. Period.
In fact, after driving the Force One, the very same so called, Lotus tuned Scorpio suspension seemed tuned by some Lotus of China, certainly not Lotus of UK which has worked on the F-1’s suspension.
Ride quality too comes as a surprise. Based on archaic ladder on frame construction, we expected the F-1 to either be bouncy like the Scorpio or too hard like its cousin, the Endeavor. Gladly, it is neither. The suspension is just right for comfort, even with 2 passengers on board. On Bangalore’s mountainous speed breakers, where a Scorpio would have bounced around its rear, at least thrice after crossing it, the Force One took one correcting rebound action and it was back. There was no pothole which felt jarring, no speed breaker which was able to pass its shock to the occupant’s spine, in the first and the middle rows.
Braking too, in spite of the lack/absence of ABS,EBD, etc is confidence inspiring and our high speed braking tests proved that the Force One braked true and straight, with minimal fuss, however, ABS would have certainly helped to reduce anxiety and braking distances in a vehicle which will be used across terrain and for long distance use.
The Force One is a potent platform. Force Motors have gotten it right the first time with two main aspects, engine and comfort. If you can manage its girth in the city you live in, it is spacious, reliable, comfortable and a good mile muncher. On the numbers front, the Force One costs 11 lakh on the road Bangalore which puts in the Scorpio VLX/Safari GX territory who are established leaders and have many more features in addition to better interiors and most importantly, are much bigger brands in their own right. Force Motors needs to get its act right in terms of pricing.
There is news of a 4wd variant on the cards with ABS, Airbags and other goodies but what we really hope is that Force Motors improves the interior quality especially when it comes to knobs, handles, plastic parts and the like, improves the air conditioning and most of all, puts across consistent quality at its assembly lines, else like the Travellers, there could be customizers for the Force One, very soon.