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2012 BSM Slushfest - Splash hit

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If there’s a regret we have with this year’s Slush Fest, it’s that we didn’t have an offbeat machine to go with the rest of these 4x4s. Okay, you could say that the Audi Q5 with its quattro AWD could be it, but that’s not the point. We actually wanted two twisted off-roaders here and both disappointed us by not turning up – a Polaris RZRS and an ex-military Nissan One-tonner. If we had these two over here, it would have been completely OTT. Still, we had oodles of fun at this year’s  event. Heck, we had a purpose-built off-road track exclusively to ourselves for the whole day!

It was a reasonably challenging course, more of a technical track rather than our usual venue where we used to conduct speed runs on gravel sections, and timed drivers on each outing. It was a 1.5-km course with several water wading opportunities, a highly slippery incline located on a tight turn, two wooden plank sections, sharp ascents and descents, gravel strewn sections and dicey blind corners. So while that negated the idea of timing individual drivers, it tested the vehicles more severely than ever in the past.

And it was a motley bunch of vehicles. At the most extreme in terms of capability and off-road prowess was the Mahindra Thar CRDe and at the other end was the Audi Q5 3.0 TDI with all-wheel drive and vulnerable running boards. Closer to the Thar in terms of reputation was the Land Rover Freelander SE, while the Renault Koleos was the unknown card in the pack. Yet there were plenty of surprises in store for us. Off we go...

 

 

 

Here and thar

WHAT THE...

If you want creature comforts apart from  doors, a roof and some bare basic airconditioning, you’re better off looking elsewhere. But if your intenion is that of a mountain goat that can tackle terrain capable of making much more expensive SUVs break down in tears, this is the one for you.

WHAT IT HAS

A manual transfer case with selectable four-low, four-high ratios. Enough said.

WHAT IT DID

In this case, the more apt question would be ‘What did it not do’. And the answer to that is ‘Nothing’. The Thar made it through the course with an ease that had to be experienced to be believed. The most treacherous incline of the day was happily tackled in third gear while the transfer case lever was plugged into the four high ratio. Some sections were conquered in two-wheel drive, which is saying something. After a while, it became so easy driving the Thar through the course, that drivers were seen yawning whilst behind the wheel. That winch just sat there, disappointed that its services weren’t needed at all.

HOW DID IT FARE?

Brilliantly, for the Thar was on home ground, doing what it was born for. The Maxxis tyres bit into the mud hard, leaving behind ruts that made the others falter. While the other SUVs were driven over the relatively cleaner tracks to save from grazing their bottoms, we took the Thar over boulders and the like and nothing touched the Mahindra’s undercarriage.

The power steering was a boon over tight sections, where multi-point turns were required – a great improvement over the manual steering that the older MM 540s came with. We just went on and on with the Thar until fading light and a wet air-filter finally threw water on our plans. But boy, did we have fun!

WHAT WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE IMPROVED

The fit and finish needs to improve drastically, especially when it comes to some of the plastic components. The air filter could do with a redesigned inlet, for the current one points forward and could be the weak link especially during deep water wading.

Way back when...

The Thar’s predecessors have made their presence felt at the BSM Slush Fest more than once. Back in 2010, an MM 550 was at hand to winch out some of the other beached SUVs. And then it beached itself and extracted itself too (courtesy the winch and a wide, tough tree!)

– Kyle

KOL VAULT

WHAT THE...

Looks like a soccer mom’s delight, has way too much Bose (the audio guys) badging for our liking and comes from a house that isn’t exactly revered for its off-roading legacy. We brought it along so we could have at least one ‘challenging’ vehicle on the course. But boy, did the Koleos surprise or what?!

WHAT IT HAS

Shift-on-the-fly 4WD, diff locks, ESP, a pretty competent powerplant and Bose in-car entertainment (!)...

WHAT it did

While the Koleos performed splendidly on the fast drive to our top secret venue, I was convinced that our company-issue tow rope was going to be put to the test by it. On our recce run on foot, I had no hope that the Koleos (or any other car at the event, except the Thar) would clear the incline incident free and that too-light steering wheel looked like it was inviting trouble only too willingly. Road tyres never performed spectacularly at any previous Slush Fest and the Koleos, I thought, was only going to re-write history. Plus, I had a personal issue with the absolute lack of masculine looks.

HOW DID IT FARE?

The Koleos lacks the trick bits of the Landie, the power output of the Audi and the sheer ruggedness of the Thar, but it performed like an absolute natural on the course. The Koleos was quick to pick up speed on flat stretches, went through the water wading sections with ease, and took to the beam-crossings only too comfortably. The ascent, a tricky, slippery, slushy incline with little room for error, was dealt with almost effortlessly in the Koleos (my relative lack of experience with off-roading on four wheels meant I had to try half a dozen times, in the Landie, before I made any progress there). In the flowing, curvy bits, the Koleos’ steering felt a bit too light – I think true-blue off-roaders would prefer more feel and feedback – but never entirely uncommunicative. Made it through without a scratch, but the sump guard gave way sometime during the day. Sorry Renault!

WHAT we WOULD LIKE TO SEE IMPROVED

The steering, if it were a little stiff, would inject even more confidence into the Koleos’ off-roading package. It’s too chic currently for people to believe in its off-road credentials. Give it some hard British Lee Coopers, Ray Ban Aviators and a Camel Classics shirt, please?

Way back when...

It was 2005 and the car in question was the Nissan X-Trail. It beat the Ford Endeavour and the Hyundai Tucson to win the Slush Fest and yumped so high, it landed straight on the cover of the magazine. Why am I telling you about the X-Trail, though? Because that's what hides beneath the Koleos' clothing!

– RUMAN

LAND OF THE FREE

WHAT THE...

The last time we brought a Freelander 2

to a Slush Fest, it quietly went about its business and won the shootout. It looked a bit bland but it was immensely capable and went through everything the terrain threw at it with a minimum of fuss. Expectations were high this time around, naturally.

WHAT IT HAS

Modes for virtually every sort of terrain – Mud and Ruts, Snow and Wet Mud, Sand – along with hill descent control, to give you the sort of off-road ability usually associated with mountain goats.

WHAT IT DID

With its illustrious pedigree and extensive range of features, the Landie looked it was the best-suited of the ‘premium’ contenders to tackle the course. Mind you, it’s not just an off-road fiend – the Freelander is a very comfortable, capable vehicle on tarmac as well, and apart from the fact that it’s growing a little long in the tooth, it makes for an excellent all-round SUV, provided you’re willing to pay a premium.

HOW DID IT FARE?

To be honest, I drove the Landie after I had a go at all the other contenders, and the feedback I received from some of the crew was that it was ‘disappointing’, and that it had gotten bogged down at a particular incline. Well, once I got into it and went around the course, I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about – the Freelander handled everything with above-average competence. Switched to Mud and Ruts mode, with hill descent control on, there was no stretch where it felt out of its

depth. Water crossings were dismissed, the beam-crossings barely registered and the steep, slippery incline required only the choice of the correct line and an appropriate amount of gas. There’s no doubt about it – this car is still a great piece of off-roading kit.

WHAT we WOULD LIKE TO SEE IMPROVED

The Freelander could do with a cosmetic upgrade (and it seems the upgrade is on its way here soon). In terms of features, I can’t think of anything that it lacks, except maybe the ability to swim underwater or fly.

Way back when...

In 2010, this car’s predecessor came to the Slush Fest and was pitted against the Toyota Landcruiser, the BMW X5, the Nissan X-Trail and the Mitsubishi Pajero – and it beat all of them.

– PABLO

OF Q5s AND As

WHAT THE...

It's not your average off-roader in this pack and even on paper it’s the least capable. But we brought it along because, heck, we’ve been trying to get it for the last three editions but in vain.

WHAT IT HAs

Quattro all-wheel drive and hill descent control. That’s it!

WHAT IT DID

It wasn’t prepped for the day, what with those floorboards sticking out. And the Q5 doesn’t even offer suspension lift, so we couldn’t go about the entire length of the course. It did go through the water wading test, apart from the rest of the course. What it didn’t tackle was the 45 degree left hander that essentially tested a vehicle’s traction and the beam crossing that put a vehicle’s throttle and gearing capability to the test, apart from its ground clearance.

HOW DID IT FARE?

Through the course where the path was solid, the Q5 flew. After all, 51 kgm of peak torque and 240 horses are enough to plough your own field. Quattro is pretty competent on loose surfaces and it’s easy to power steer your way through. Importantly, there is lots of grip, so while it can’t do wheel articulation of any consequence, it can be great fun on a rally course. Even through the water wading tests, it passed through with flying colours. No trouble with the floorboards there. But elsewhere we didn’t try its luck due to its long wheelbase and not-so-great breakover angle. So it made do with a slightly shorter run of the course without a scratch and very little muck on the insides of the wheel arches.

WHAT we WOULD LIKE TO SEE IMPROVED

A suspension lift mechanism like the Q7. Yes it does add weight but it also gives the vehicle a greater depth of talents. Lockable diffs aren’t essential since Quattro is good enough for the job.

Way back when...

In 2008, the Q7 was joined by the VW Touareg and BMW X5 for our that year's 'Plush Test' and it seemed to impress us in ways more than one. Yes, we did appreciate its suspension lift mechanism more than once!

– ROHIN

TAILPIECE

The Q5 was inherently handicapped in the ground clearance sections because of its low-set running boards but we took it through almost everything else and it went about without a fuss. The car’s approach and departure angles are surprisingly good and Quattro offered sufficient levels of grip in the slippery gravel sections. Despite tracing its ancestry to the legendary Iltis, the Q5 is not a hardcore offroader, though when you throw a challenge or two – like gravelly ascents or inclines – it will easily make it.

The joker in the pack turned out to be an ace. All the while we thought that the Koleos was essentially Renault’s version of the Honda CR-V, but it turned out to be a Nissan X-Trail! Its lightness and its approach/departure angles meant the Koleos was ready for anything. Okay, unlike the Thar and the Freelander, it does not offer you any controls or settings, but even without that, the Renault was fundamentally sorted. It cracked every challenge without a fuss except for the plastic sump guard’s plastic bolts shearing away. The engine does not lose out on torque while the manual override of the gearbox gives you a degree of control.

The Freelander we had was not the powerful and torquey HSE version and the tyres it ran were more suited for on-road duties. Despite that, the moment you sit in the car you are instantly sure of its capabilities; that’s the way Land Rover designs and builds them. With the Terrain Response system idiot-proofing your life for you, this track was easy-peasy for the Land Rover. Give it a set of off-road biased tyres and it would be a hardy companion for the Thar.

Well, at the end of the day, the course was like a kiddies’ playground for the Thar. It just gambolled all over and went about the track as if it were its natural habitat. And with those off-road tyres, we dare say it is – because, to see whether it was really capable, Kyle took the Thar in two-wheel drive and it went about demolishing the course without a fuss. An eye-opener and a jaw-dropper rolled into one! So there is no doubt about it – the Thar is the car to have if you regularly encounter slush, mud and streams on your way to work!