Buying an SUV below the 22L mark: Test drive reports & observations

Besides my own search, the idea of the thread also is to help fellow Bhpians looking for similar vehicles to select based on observations shared here.

BHPian poitive recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Hi Folks,

Replacing the Optra Magnum after a decade of fruitful ownership. ‘Finally’ some might say. After having ‘Driven’ a few, seeking views from fellow mates for ‘Choosing’ a vehicle.

Briefly: Being a well built guy with some recent back-issues, need a high vehicle with easy ingress+egress, a lot of headroom, legroom and foot-room. Am much inclined towards a torquey diesel. Fun to drive, though much desired comfort for the back is more important. Ideally of course have both. Budget reluctantly stretched it to about 20L OTR. 22L is a stretch to not rule out the Jeep Compass

Test Drive Reports + Thoughts below:

  • Kia Seltos
  • Tata Harrier / Safari
  • MG Hector / Hector Plus
  • Jeep Compass
  • Mahindra XUV700 (NOT a TD – thoughts and questions) – EDIT: Test Drive report now added
  • Nissan Kicks 1.3 Turbo

If I test drive more, shall report below.

Besides my own search, the idea of the thread also is to help fellow T-Bhpians looking for similar vehicles to select based on observations and drives shared here.

Some background/intro:

The last time I sought help from mates for selecting a car, was overwhelmed by the affection, camaraderie and interest. While the decision got made in about 12 pages, the thread became a more general thread and had 700 posts in 4 months, and became the first thread in What Car-Sedans section to cross over one lakh views. That was a decade ago.


Main What-Car thread

Sister Thread

Ownership thread

Details of Needs and Wants:

  • Intend to keep the vehicle for long. Say 9-10 years if it holds up well.
  • Need a spacious vehicle. Am bigly built.
  • A comfortable seat
  • Lots of headroom
  • Ample legroom
  • Decent space in the foot-well, ideally with a dead-pedal.
  • Convenient ingress+egress is important. To be easily slide onto the seat is highly desired, hence focused on an SUV.
  • A mix of self and chauffeur driven. It will typically have 1-2 people in the car.
  • Monthly usage is highly uncertain. Could well be a few hundred a month, or even 2000kms odd kms a month.
  • Mainly city usage. Could well have ample city-suburb use which includes expressways. Within the city too, less of bumper to bumper and more of free roads travel. Unlikely to have much highway use, but want to be prepared in case it is to be used such
  • An Airy cabin is much preferred.
  • Features and Gizmos are not a focus, though don’t hurt. I’d any day prefer a better suspension (ride+handling) to the bling-gizmos.
  • Quite dislike the idea of an automatic, so am only considering Manual Transmission. It just feels natural, enjoyable and intuitive to me.
  • Due to what I’ve been used (about 230Nm/tonne) to and enjoyed, and also potential use, have only focused on diesel till now.
  • Budget: started with about 14-15 in mind while exploring, but have reached about 20L OTR. Very unhappy to extend beyond that. While I have already paid a booking amount and am frustrated with the wait, I am willing/considering a change. To avoid bias and keep views flowing freely, let us ignore that a booking has been made – at least for now.

Please share your thoughts

I like my car to be low slung, with a good independent suspension as the Optra Magnum had. Really enjoyed that finely tuned independent multi-link suspension and how it gave a wonderful ride, yet was an extremely well controlled car. Not as quick to react to steering inputs as it’s lighter and firm-suspension rivals might be, but a little anticipation took care of that. I have gotten spoilt with that. Got that for a bit over 9 lakhs about a decade ago – a lot of car for the money, and almost no bling.

It also had amongst the highest torque to weight ratios up to cars four times the price! (IIRC only the BMW 3 series, and perhaps one more had a higher ratio) So, been used to that sort of pulling power from a low RPM. It spoils you.

We usually try to spend as per our need, than splurge much on cars. Many other hobbies and expenses to take care of  If something of immense value comes up, one is willing to look at it.

With the above, you might ask: Why an SUV?

  • As much as I like cars with a low centre of gravity, it causes the following issues in my case:
  • Ingress+egress: It becomes an issue. That is my only major gripe with the Optra Magnum. A crossover or an SUV takes care of that aspect. I couldn’t think of a crossover appealing enough. Some back issues, which just might be transient in nature, made me think that I don’t want to commit to a vehicle I intend to keep for several years, and might trouble my back.
  • Headroom: With a change in car design styles, roof lines usually taper down significantly, and there is insufficient headroom, especially at the rear seat. With my height and body proportions, my head almost touches the ceiling of a Passat, can’t sit in a Cruze or Vento – so you get the idea. In some cars, I even have a bit of an issue on the front seat, but that is rare.

The Hunt Begins:

Being extremely cautious about the pandemic (especially considering older members of the family), tried to minimize the test drives. Saw tonnes of youtube videos, pictures, stats, and of course T-bhp to narrow down things.

Trying to keep finances in check, especially after the big pandemic hit, casually started with what was priced around the Optra Magnum then – a Honda City. So a budget of about 12-14 odd lakhs OTR, I thought.

Honda City: Since it is a bit taller than the typical sedan (certainly as compared to the Optra), and have not really struggled with ingress-egress, considered it. Didn’t specifically try it, but have spent ample time in it’s various avatars to have a general idea. Somehow, despite good finish and features, and a much talked about engine, it really felt a big step down from the Optra Magnum in terms of driving pleasure and confidence. The steadiness, composure and torque of the Optra was not to be expected.

Vehicles considered:

  • Mahindra XUV300: 2600 wheelbase on a budget

Status: Did not test. Others felt more appropriate.

  • Hyundai Creta and Kia Seltos: Much talked about and good reviews. Appropriate budget.

Status: Seltos Test Driven. Impressions below.

  • Tata Harrier/ Tata Safari: Spacious with trims in an acceptable budget.

Status: Test Driven. Impressions below

  • MG Hector/ MG Hector Plus: Despite talk of unimpressive handling, was an obvious consideration for a spacious SUV. 2750mm wheelbase.

Status: Test Driven. Impressions below

  • Mahindra XUV700: Besides the badge, checked many of the boxes. Especially a multi-link suspension and the frequency sensing dampers.

Status: Not yet test driven. Studied a fair bit on the net including Youtube videos for space etc. Shared impressions based on that below.

  • Volkswagen Taigun and Skoda Kushaq: Look impressive. Wheelbase of 2651 yet compact enough for city use.

Status: Not test driven. Mainly because there is no diesel engine.

  • Jeep Compass (Base Model – Sport): Ticked many boxes, especially driving pleasure.

Status: Test Driven. Impressions below. Stretches budget beyond comfort.

Quickly dismissed:

  • Toyota Innova Crysta: Personal discomfort to Van/MPV look, Extra life over 10 years less meaningful. Too large for city use?
  • Hyundai Elantra: Diesel is only 1.5 litre, petrol at 2.0 likely to have low FE. Form factor (not high enough for easy ingress-egress?)
  • Mahindra Thar/Force Gurkha: Very appealing to the heart, but only 2 door. Seemed impractical for daily use, especially when being chauffeured.
  • Mahindra Scorpio: Felt dated, without requisite positive to compensate. Hadn’t liked it when I had driven the old versions (drive wasn’t confidence inspiring enough)
  • Tata Nexon, Maruti Brezza etc : Wheelbase less than 2600mm. Imagine them to be cramped, especially in the rear. Other better options in the list.

Continue reading BHPian poitive’s detailed analysis on the best SUV to buy below the 22L mark for more insights and information.

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