Midsize hatchbacks and compact sedans have had a good run on top of the sales charts though it’s an open secret that more and more Indians are now buying SUVs and crossovers. With their elevated driving position, better versatility for seating and luggage, chunky tires and all-wheel drive capability, SUVs and crossovers are gaining prominence among new car buyers. Speaking of prominence, mid-size MPVs also seem to have made a comeback when we look at cars like the Carens and the updated XL6 doing well for their respective brands. We have driven and tested them both along with a bunch of SUV/crossovers from this year so far and here’s our list of top six that we prefer for various reasons.
Kia Carens – Vikrant Singh
There are a few things a people carrier must get right – space, comfort, accessibility, and ease of driving. The Carens checks all these boxes. And that’s the reason I feel it’s one of the better cars have driven and experienced this year. I love the light controls. The steering is light to twirl without being vague. It’s neither the sharpest tool in the box nor is it brimming with feedback. But, it is effortless. The clutch and gear shifts on the manual versions again work with just the right bit of resistance. The Carens also offers fantastic visibility all around. It has a huge windscreen up front and A-pillars that don’t block anything significant.
But mostly, it is how all this comes together with the car’s accessible performance which makes it both a good commuter and a good long-distance car. I took the diesel automatic version on a Mumbai-Bangalore-Mumbai road trip, and I was pleasantly surprised by its effortless cursing ability, its ride quality, and its outstanding fuel economy. I averaged 85kmph over the 1000km plus journey with a fuel economy of over 20kmpl; which is outstanding!
Mahindra Scorpio – Abhishek Nigam
The Mahindra Scorpio is pretty much a household name now and the new Scorpio-N garnered a huge amount of excitement since it was announced. And after driving it, I can say that Mahindra has done a fantastic job with it which is why it is in my favourite list of cars. Now the new Scorpio-N just cannot be compared to the last gen Scorpio because it’s a completely new car with nothing shared. What I loved about the new Scorpio-N is the powertrain. The engine and gearbox are just fantastic and give the Scorpio-N all the performance one needs. For the size of the vehicle, the Scorpio-N belies its weight. No matter what speeds, there is always enough power to overtake. It also gets to three digit speeds so quickly that one can unknowingly go over the speed limits.
What also blew me away was the handling for a ladder on frame vehicle. Putting it hard into the corners, there is some initial body roll post which the Scorpio-N corners flat thanks to the best-in-class roll arm height. Of course, it isn’t as agile as the XUV 700, but compared to the previous-gen Scorpio this is just leagues ahead. And Mahindra being Mahindra has given the new Scorpio-N excellent off-road capability too. To tackle terrain where rear wheel drive just won’t be enough, the Scorpio N gets terrain management system, so one can choose between normal, grass/gravel/snow, mud/rut and sand. Along with this, one can shift on the fly into 4×4 mode which also gets a 4high and 4low mode to use depending on the situation. Overall the Scorpio-N is everything I expect a good family SUV to be.
2022 Hyundai Venue – Ninad Ambre
One compact SUV whose facelift I was awaiting is the Hyundai Venue. Frankly, I’d never liked the old mesh pattern of the grille of the SUV and the rear section also looked quite average. But now this stands corrected in the 2022 version with the front boasting a new diffused chrome grille. Then, there are new LED tail lamps with a wide extending bar. Also, adding more appeal is a revised pattern for the alloy wheels. All of these changes make it look in line with the carmaker’s modern language with its newer cars. Yes, the Venue was always well-equipped but now gets more, including safety features. That said, it lacks ventilated seats despite Hyundai being a first-mover and now the rivals getting it.
The 1.0-litre turbo powered Venue petrol might not be a hoot to drive, but is quite a peppy engine to move the compact SUV with zest. The seven-speed DCT gearbox is quick and smooth and prospective buyers can now have it on the range-topping SX (O) variant. What’s more, they will also have the convenience to ask Alexa or Google’s voice assistant to start their car remotely and have the cabin pre-cooled. As effortless as it is to drive, still. One of the top contenders to not just feature in my top five favourite list of cars driven this year, but also to rival the long list of compact SUVs in our country. It’s a capable product with competitive pricing.
Jeep Compass Trailhawk – Bilal Firfiray
The ‘Trail Rated’ badge on any Jeep is worth its weight in gold. It earned after extensive and rigorous off-roading tests and so when the new Compass facelift was introduced, the Trailhawk version was highly anticipated. But there are very limited changes on the Trail Rated Compass compared to the top-spec standard version.
And yet it commands a steep price premium. It’s not that the standard Compass is any less capable when the roads cease to exist. But the Trailhawk is for those who want no compromise. It punches above its weight but offers an uncompromised package too. In the Compass Trailhawk, you don’t miss out on any creature comfort either when driving down as crows fly.
Jeep Meridian – Ninad Ambre
Jeep’s three-row SUV based on its successful Compass was long due and has finally arrived in India. The Meridian does look identical to the five-seater sibling, but it’s not just a Compass with an extended wheelbase. This three-row SUV is based on the brand’s unibody architecture and has design traits from the larger Grand Cherokee. Its sleeker LED headlamps, intricately-detailed alloys, and wrap-around tail lamps add to those distinguishing elements. Otherwise, its fascia with the traditional Jeep grille and stance reminisces the smaller sibling. That said, the interior is no different from the updated Compass and which is a good thing. A leather-wrapped steering wheel, soft-touch materials around, a big floating touchscreen infotainment system, and a digital instrument cluster provides enough customisation to keep one engaged. Ones who love driving have a good view of the surroundings despite being in a big SUV.
Then, a potent turbo-diesel engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission helps the SUV sail smoothly. It even has good road manners. And then, it’s a Jeep after all, so it comes with the brand’s off-roading legacy. Which by the way, was impressive in the short stint that we had to give us a taste of its 4×4 capability. It got all covered showing the Meridian’s good maneuvrability, ground clearance, traction, articulation, and even water fording abilities.
Maruti Suzuki XL6 – Bilal Firfiray
With the update to the XL6, Maruti Suzuki missed out on getting a comprehensive facelift and feature additions to take on the fight against a newfound rival in the form of Kia Carens. It’s merely an update that brings in a new engine and a gearbox. The 1.5-litre K15C engine is new with its dual-VVT and dual jet technology and it’s paired with an all-new six-speed torque converter automatic. This gearbox is a huge step up over the four-speed unit used all this while. And it also gets paddle shifters. As for the engine, it claims to be more fuel efficient while being equally refined and usable. As a package, the XL6 continues to be a comfortable people mover with a hint of premium feel to it.
Pictures by Kapil Angane and Kaustubh Gandhi