India offers a variety of geographical conditions. On one moment you could go straight on the roads that connect the rest of the world to Jaisalmer, while the other you could be tackling corners at a handsome pace on your way to Nandi Hills. The challenge becomes real when you leave the well-paved tarmac and head for hills. Yes, Himalayas are a boon to the motoring community, too, and for most enthusiasts, it’s a sin to not pay the hill range a visit every once in a while. We take a look at five SUVs under Rs 30 lakhs that can scale the terrain to Himalayas and back without any issues.
First things first, we are only including those vehicles which offer 4WD (selectable 4WD or permanent AWD). Having said that, it’s not impossible to do so without the said system, but given that road conditions deteriorate and grip levels decrease, a vehicle that has power being sent to all four wheels is better to start with.
These two, the Force Gurkha and the Mahindra Thar, might be competitors but they are almost inseparable: try talking about either to your pub buddies and there’s a good chance that the other’s name will pop up. And also, you are unlikely to find a showroom-spec, road-legal off-roader as good as these two, especially if you have the budget constraint in place.
Let’s start with the Gurkha. On paper the Gurkha appears to be better-specced of the two, mainly thanks to differential locks available on both front and rear axles. It uses a 2.6-litre (Mercedes Benz derived) diesel engine which comes mated to a 5-speed gearbox. While on-road dynamics aren’t impressive, take the Gurkha off the road, and it becomes a totally different animal. From crawling over surfaces where grip levels are almost zilch to gobbling horrendous terrain, the Gurkha does it all.
Prices for Force Gurkha 4WD start at Rs 8.56 lakh, ex-showroom.
Continuing with the same design as Kaisers, the Thar closely resembles the MM540 and the military-spec MM550. The ‘Gelandewagen’ looks could have worked for the Gurkha but the current design lacks the robust appearance of the Thar.
Talking of which, the recent update has brought new interior and a differential lock at the rear. The vehicle is hugely capable off-road, but like the Gurkha, isn’t dynamically sound on it.
Price for the 4×4 CRDe variant: Rs 8.25 lakh
Renault Duster AWD
Anyone who has driven the Duster AWD is likely to keep blabbering about the vehicle for its ability to tackle bad roads, great stability at decent speeds, and the lack of puke-inducing body roll that most SUVs and off-roaders suffer from.
Powered by a 1.5-litre diesel engine (110PS), the Duster might not be the most powerful out there, but it certainly knows how to translate those figures into meaningful miles on the odo.
Prices for the Duster AWD start at Rs 12.40 lakh.
Accused of being a bit overpriced for what it offers, the Skoda Yeti is a gem if you want a do-it-all vehicle. Backed by Skoda’s high levels of fit and finish, and sitting (slightly uncomfortably) with the Rs 21+ lakh price tag, the Yeti 4×4 brings some exclusivity and ‘premium’ bit to the crossover segment.
It can shame a few sedans on the road, while when the going gets rough, it responds by its ability to soak bumps and not transmit everything to the cabin. It is powered by a 2-litre diesel engine (140PS and 320Nm), which comes mated to a 6-speed dual clutch ‘DSG’ transmission.
Skoda Yeti 4×4 is priced at Rs 21.81 lakh.
Mahindra XUV 500
It might be the only Mahindra SUV that uses a monocoque structure, but the XUV 500 is talented and how! Powering the vehicle is a 2.2-litre ‘mHawk’ engine that makes 140hp and 330Nm. AWD version is only available on the top W8 and W10 trims, while there’s no automatic variant on sale yet.
Unlike the other four mentioned on the list, it can seat seven. On-road driving might not be comparable with the crossovers here, but is decent for its size and bulk. The feature-rich interior might fall short of Yeti’s fit and finish, but is an improvement over the previous generation XUV, and is certainly better than others in the segment.
And while Gaurav Gill drives a hugely modified XUV 500 for his rally stages, the standard car won’t throw a fit while going off-road. And you always have Mahindra’s very own customer initiative ‘Mahindra Adventure’ if you think driving up the hills alone isn’t the best way to do it.
Prices for the AWD versions of the XUV 500 start at Rs 15.12 lakh.
There’s no doubting the Scorpio, especially in its new avatar that offers better vehicle dynamics, better interior, etc. And Himalayas are well within the vehicle’s reach.
But leaving the S4 4WD version out (which offers 4WD at a very affordable Rs 10.59 lakh, ex-showroom), the feature-loaded S10 4WD is priced close to Rs 14 lakhs. The XUV 500, at a considerable but justifiable Rs 1.5 lakhs more, makes a lot of sense. It’s a well-rounded product, the XUV, and hence it trumps its sibling, the Scorpio, in our list.
Tata Safari Storme
Both the Safari and the Scorpio represent the made in India SUV range, from a time when the phrase ‘Make in India’ wasn’t a government initiative. Compared to the slightly higher priced rivals like the XUV 500, both of these fall short.
The body on frame structure might mean better serviceability and even the option to modify the vehicle to a larger extent, but on the whole, the XUV 500 feels like a better product.
Both Scorpio and Safari are closely matched, and while the latter offers better interior and comfort (it still feels as good as it did back in the day!), the Scorpio has a more eager engine.
Toyota Fortuner, Ford Endeavour, and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
All three, the Fortuner, the Endeavour, and the Pajero Sport, are robust SUVs with off-roading clearly their forte. But with new versions of the three vehicles being announced (internationally) already, and it appears that they’ll be worth the wait.
But if can’t wait to lay your hands on one, then the trio is as strong as ever. Their highway stability is well known, but these heavy weights aren’t what you would call nimble.
A Himalaya trip won’t be an uphill task (sorry for the pun!) for either of the three, but their successors might just do it much better.