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Tata Sumo in a 'Grande' avatar
Rohin Nagrani in Mumbai
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March 15, 2008
We Indians love to go on outstation journeys in MUVs, and not buses. Certainly, the railway network stands as a formidable challenger, but it doesn't enjoy the kind of flexibility that the MUV offers. And the one vehicle that changed the face of MUVs for good was the Sumo.

Back in 1994, the Sumo created ripples in the auto market. This was at a time when the other option was the Mahindra Commander and the Armada was new to the market.

The Sumo offered a more comfortable ride for ten, with decent ride, more modern looks and an engine that made the vehicle move. It immediately caught everyone's fancy, including my neighbour's, who bought not one but two. And such moves helped the company register the fastest sales to 100,000 vehicles, beating the great Maruti [Get Quote] 800 by a month!

Things have changed a lot since 1994. The Mahindra Bolero. Followed by the Toyota Qualis. Then the Mahindra Scorpio. The Chevrolet Tavera. And the one to turn the screws further was the Toyota Innova. Not that Tata Motors [Get Quote] ignored the Sumo, but subsequent generations of facelifts and engine upgrades couldn't hide the fact that the basic structure of the Sumo dated back to 1994. 

Now, after more than Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) down the alley, Tata Motors have brought out what is effectively their true second generation Sumo � the Grande. It's immediately eye-catching and what it has managed to do is separate itself from the Sumo Victa and Spacio's people mover image to become a more personal car. And for once, the changes are more than just skin deep.

Beginning with the new large headlamps that look very much off the Xenon pickup. The new grille is less boxy, more pentagonal and therefore has a smiling face. The side panels have been cleaned up so all creases, rubber strips, stickering and plastic cladding have been replaced with clean sheet metal. The wheel arches bulge out, but it's metal and not plastic here.

The bonnet also appears visibly higher, a kind of indestructible feeling that most owners will appreciate. The biggest change though is the longer wheelbase, by nearly 150 mm, which means that the stance is better and there is more interior room. The edges have been softened and nowhere is it more visible than the rear where the roof curves into the D-pillar.

The horizontal stack of lights replaces the vertical set and has a large chrome strip running across the bare sheet of metal on the door. Like the Victa, the Grande too hides the wheel under the rear door, so you get to enjoy a car that looks more like a concept than an actual production vehicle.

On the inside, the Grande utilises some bits from the Victa, such as some of the dashboard parts, but most of it is all-new. Fit and finish are better than the Victa but nowhere close to the Innova. The seats have been thoughtfully designed with good support for your back and thighs while maintaining good legroom space.

Even the last row has space for short adults for short journeys. Most will enjoy the fact that there are AC louvres for all three rows and that the six-speaker Alpine system is more than up to the job.

Under the floor lies a strengthened chassis and underpinnings. Most of it is still the original Sumo, yet the changes have altered some, if not the entire character of the vehicle. The suspension has been prepared for a more pliant ride while the brakes have been pinched off the Tata Safari 2.2.

The engine itself is a lift-off from the Safari 2.2 VTT Dicor. Unlike the Safari, this engine makes 118 bhp@4,000 rpm instead of 138 bhp and about 25.5 kgm of peak torque instead of 32 kgm. The torque is also available over a wide rpm band making it quite driveable at slow city speeds and highway cruising speeds.

The engine still retains all the bits from the Safari 2.2, so you still get the variable geometry turbocharger, the aluminium alloy head, double overhead camshafts and of course, the Dicor common rail injection unit.

Start the engine and there is still an audible diesel clatter to the car. The NVH levels aren't of a very high order, with most of the noise filtering through the firewall. The steering doesn't give much feedback, though it is well weighted and feels nice to grip.

The engine also feels quite tractable and driveability is very good across the rev range without much turbo lag. Acceleration numbers reveal a near 19 second time to 100 kph. Top speed just about ticks above 140 kph, but the story is nearly finished by about 130 clicks. What the car does have is decent mid-range and overtaking capability, a big jump over the Victa.

On the road the car feels more stable, thanks largely to the extended wheelbase. It feels less top heavy and the pitching and diving have considerably reduced too. Around corners, the Grande has more grip due to the larger 16-inch wheels from the Safari 2.2  as well as newer suspension componentry.

The steering, though, lacks feedback and the grip has a threshold beyond which the car tends to wash aside. This could be due to the fact that the basic chassis structure still finds its roots in the original Sumo, so some compromise has been made. Low speed ride is quite comfortable too but bumps tend to unsettle passengers in the rear quite easily, thanks to the leaf spring setup.

However, what will unsettle the competition most is the price tag. The Sumo Grande is available for as low as Rs 6.7 lakh, going up to Rs 7.6 lakh for the car on test here, the GX variant. It offers a lot of space with good looks, a powerful yet frugal engine and a decently engineered piece of kit for not much money.

One might liken it to a poor man's Innova and it fits that bill very well. Just another reason for people to buy MUVs and not take the bus for their next long trip.

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