SUVs in India: Overview

We take a look at the mid-range SUVs in India – the ones we can realistically aspire to, without winning a lottery!

SUVs and India. Not the most obvious connection at first thought. But look twice, and this was an unconventional love affair, just meant to blossom. The big SUVs give us an ego boost, commands respect on Indian roads, where might is right – as they look strong and muscular unlike the cutesy looking hatchbacks or small sedans.

The domestic market for sport utility vehicles is huge in India. There are many manufacturers of SUVs. To name a few : Ford, Force Motors, General Motors, Hyundai, Mahindra & Mahindra, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Tata Motors, Toyota are the most well-known ones.

The spacious interior and sturdy exteriors of a sport utility vehicle have made this category of utility vehicles one of the fastest growing auto segments in India. SUV is a multi use vehicle, used to accommodate many passengers in one vehicle. No wonder,a recent survey says, in India, SUVs, at a comparable price, are preferred over sedans.
As the Indian economy is taking a turn for the better, it is changing the lifestyle of the old and young alike. More and more people are emphasizing on quality with utility. Travelling and outings during weekends is also becoming a growing trend. Sport utility vehicles come to the rescue and support of these changes in people’s lifestyles.
In this article we concentrate on mid-level SUVs available in the country.

Toyota Fortuner

toyota fortuner anniversary edition photo
Photo: Toyota Fortuner Anniversary Edition

It surely took time for the Fortuner to stamp its huge footprints in the Indian SUV market, but when it did, it surely created ripples and the wait was of course worth it. Originally supposed to appear in India in 2005, the Fortuner finally was launched in 2009. The 3-litre turbo charged engine, producing 170 bhp is adequately powerful and the interior is plush and familiar as a lot of the parts have been borrowed from the Innova. The Fortuner obviously sits higher than the Innova and also has foue-wheel drive to take it beyond the tarmac.

The looks absolutely delight. This, in our eyes, is what a true SUV should look and feel like. It commands huge street presence, what with those high-up heaplights right next to the grille, flared wheel arches, and buffed up panels at just the right places. It’s look alone makes it a winner.

Passenger safety features include SRS airbags and ABS. It also comes equipped with a stereo, rear AC vents and parking sensors. And as is expected from Toyota, despite its probems in the U.S., the build quality and fit and finish are top-notch. Though price is a little stiff at the Rs. 20 lakh plus range, in its short stay, it has already built up a large fan following.

The Toyota Fortuner is the most popular mid-range SUV in India. The company had to stop taking bookings in 2010 as they could not meet the backlog. Now you can the book a Fortuner again.

Mitsubishi Outlander

2010 mitsubishi outlander india launch soon
Photo: The New Mitsubishi Outlander

The Mitsubishi Ooutlander is not a big seller, despite being a great SUV. Blame the CR-V first, and then the Fortuner, for that. Launched in India in 2008, the Outlander has good looks and enough muscle – but not the sheer brand power of Honda or Toyota.

With its bulging wheel arches, angular headlights, and tough looking front bumper, the Outlander certainly stands out in a crowd and looks distinctly smart. With car-like handling, a fuss-free four wheel drive system, seven seats and a stylish yet distinctive design, the Outlander is more than a worthy rival to the Honda CR-V. Based on a platform that also underpins the latest generation of the Mitsubishi’s Lancer sedan, the Outlander corners tights but suffers from more body roll. However, the steering is quite accurate for such a big vehicle and ride is of a high quality.

This SUV offers driving pleasure with its convertible smooth 2WD mode to its rugged 4WD mode. The car is propelled by a 2.4L MIVEC I4 engine which delivers 168bhp. The gearbox offered is a 6-speed INVECS-III CVT with a 6-speed manual mode controlled through paddle shifters. The estimated fuel economy is 8/11 km/L (city/highway) – which, well, is rather poor. In India, the vehicle is produced by a joint venture of Hindustan Motors and Mitsubishi.

Prices for the Mitsubishi Outlander start at Rs. 20.2 lakhs.

Misubishi Pajero

The Pajero was the darling of the Indian SUV aficionado in a restrictive economy, but fell out of favour once import restrictions were relaxed. However, the Pajero assembled here in India is still a an extremely competent and tough vehicle, and a mainstay of the SUV image in Indian minds.

The Mitsubishi Pajero is a serious offroader and its highly developed four wheel drive system is capable of taming the wildest of terrains and potholes. It is a highly proven performer and conqueror of the Paris-Dakar rally – which it has won some 11 times. The styling looks dated now and the interior may not be as plush and or as full of goodies as the Outlander or rivals from other brands, but the Pajero remains a champion at a competent and attractive price.

The Pajero comes in a single variant – SFX – with a 2.8L turbocharged 4 vylinder diesel engine that churns out 117 bhp and is coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission. Standard equipment includes airbags, ABS, stereo and rear A/C ducts. You can take home this awesome SUV for a price tag of 20.80 lakhs – almost the same as the Outlander. But why someone would choose an outdated SUV over a brand new one, is a mystery only Mitsubishi can solve. Perhaps, the nostalgia, and its retro looks matter after all.

Ford Endeavour

Photo: Ford Endeavour exterior

This is one tough, heavy looking SUV. No matter how many changes, Ford makes to its design, this still looks like it has been hewn from a solid block of granite. This heavy, truck-like appearance is also its biggest letdown. This is a proper, American-syle SUV. Very popular with our very local-style netas! (Till recently – now the crown has been usurped by the Fortuner).

The Endeavour is a true SUV with a ladder frame chassis. The Endeavour was relaunched in September of last year and one must admit the extended headlights, new grille and front bumper do add that extra zing and style to the Endeavour. The giant still retains its tough, macho personality and now, also sports a more refined, bigger and more powerful engine. Ford offers two engine choices – a 2.4 litre producing 142 bhp and a 2.9 litre producing 155 bhp. Peak torque is available in both models at the 3300 rpm mark.

The Endeavour’s suspension has also been reworked and both, ride and handling are the better for it. However, most buyers do not opt for the 4×4 variant, which is unfortunate as it is one of the few four-wheel drives that can take you deep into the bush and back. Rolling into a corporate meeting in one of these is not a bad entry too. Proper offroad enthusiast will prefer the larger 3 litre engine. The latest version of the Ford Endeavour is the AT variant. There is a 4×4 AT variant too.

Prices for the Endeavour start at Rs. 17.15 lakh.

Chevrolet Captiva

Photo: Chevrolet Captiva automatic

The Captiva is another good product from General Motor’s South Korean base., though with its American badging, the Captiva is quite a capable soft-roader that is a direct rival of Honda’s CR-V.

The SUV is blessed with aggressive looks, classy exterior and interiors and uncompromised performance. The engine follows the Common Rail Direct Injection fuel injection system coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission and powered by 2.0L Inline 4 cylinder engine delivering 150bhp. Though wanting n tractability, it is impressive in terms of performance and running costs.

Though dimensionally similar to the CR-V, the Captiva’s packaging is better, with seating for seven and an interior that is well-appointed.

Only the transmission is its weak point. It feels clunky and obstinate. Better to go for the newly available automatic and all-wheel version. The Captiva offers the fuel economy of 9/12 km (city/highway). Prices start at Rs 18.83 lakhs.

Honda CR-V

Photo: New Honda CR-V now in India

This is a mid-level luxury SUV (sorry, purists) one will simply love to own.The Honda CR-V really is not an SUV, we know. This is an out-and-out crossover that has SUV-like dimensions. But the fact is, this is India, and here it is considered an alternative – often, a better alternative – to all other ‘real’ SUVs mentioned here. Just say that that CR-V has muscled its way into this list!

This extremely popular, new-age urban vehicle has sold over 2.5 million units across 160 countries, and its popularity doesn’t show the slightest sign of waning. While Honda depicts the CR-V as a SUV, it has far more in common with a sedan. It’s as if the term ‘softroader’ was coined just for it.

There is a seemingly unlimited set of interior amenities and comforts inside. A dynamic dashboard, dual climate control, plush leather upholstery, multi-info display, adjustable tilt-telescopic steering and Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) reduction feature are some of the options of this vehicle.

Honda has also extensively reworked the suspension and stiffened the structure. These changes make the CR-V one of the best handling softroaders available on Indian shores. The Honda CR-V comes in 3 variants with two 2.0L i-VTECs and a 2.4L i-VTEC engine that gives out 141 bhp and 151 bhp, respectively. Peak torque is available at the 5900 rpm mark.

The top-end model comes with EBD, ABS, airbags, alarm and engine immobilizer as standard, Prices for this capable softroader start at Rs. 22.77 lakhs.

Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai launched its much awaited Santa Fe SUV in India this month. Hyundai is looking for the success that evaded it with the Terracan and Tucson SUVs with the Santa Fe. Hyundai has worked hard to refurbish the Santa Fe since its launch in 2000 in the U.S. market and it has reaped a good success in the North American and Korean markets in the recent past. So logic goes, it should do well here in India too.

Santa Fe is powered by a 2199 cc four cylinder 16 valve, DOHC, CRDi engine that churns out a rather healthy 197 bhp at 4000 rpm of maximum power and 420 Nm at 1800-2500 rpm of maximum torque. It is available in two-wheel and four-wheel drive variants,

The Santa Fe has subtle styling with European design cues that cleverly hide its huge bulk. The side profile has boat shaped curves running from the A pillar all through the D pillar.

Santa Fe has feature enriched cabin with prominent wood inserts for the dashboard. A blue LED-illuminated central console is driver oriented, revealing all the details at a quick glance. The 6 CD changer MP3 player with USB, AUX in and iPod connectivity along with a 6 speaker system with amplifiers, woofer and tweeters do a good job of keeping you entertained throughout the journey.
Passive Safety features include dual front air bags with passenger detection system. Active safety features include ABS with EBD, ESP (for 4×4 variant only) and active head rest (again 4×4 variant only). Engine immobilizer, keyless entry with security alarm, central door locking and driver seat belt reminder round out the impressive safety-features list
Prices for this CBU start at Rs. Rs. 20.95 lakh for the 2WD and Rs. 22.95 lakh for the 4WD.

Nissan X-Trail

Nissan made a soft entry into the Indian marketplace with its best-selling soft roader, the X-Trail in 2004. More car than mudplugger, the X-Trail has all the amenities to make that daily commute to work an enjoyable one.

The 4-cylinder, 147 bhp common rail diesel engine delivers its peak torque at 400 rpm and the power flows through rather smoothly. Mated to a well weighted clutch and a precise, six-speed manual gearbox, the X-Trail is a pleasurable drive. With sharp, positive power steering and good body control with minimal roll, the Nissan is able, balanced and car-like in its responses. Related: Nissan X-Trail road test

The look of the X-Trail is a curious mixture of an estate, a macho SUV and a sleek sports car. After all Nissan has been making 4x4s for over 50 years, so they should know what the customer is looking for in these types of vehicles, both in form and function.

Standard equipment include ABS, airbags, rear A/C and electric seats and a premium quality stereo. The buyer must however remember that much like the CR-V, the X-Trail’s off-road capabilities are limited, even though it has impressive ground clearance and gusto. It’s comfortable most, in the city and highway. The overall fuel efficiency works out to be just over 15kmpl.

Prices range from 21.75 lakhs to 26.14 lakhs.