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BSM Slush fest 2011 - We go plush

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There was no reason for us to carry Odomos. Heck, we didn’t even need any of the rain gear or shovels or anything of that sort. In fact, to be brutally honest, we were the most unprepared this year of any other year, since we started our Slush Fest all those eons ago.

But that didn’t stop us from doing yet another edition of what has become a ritual we can’t wait to be a part of every year. This year our track changed, our location too, and if it wasn’t the rain, then it was fog that played spoilsport, not just for our snappers but even when we wanted to set a competitive time. Eventually, we ditched all that to just go enjoy the vehicles in their truest sense. We put them through a fairly challenging course and mind you, some even got stuck. Our three large SUVs, the Porsche Cayenne S, Land Rover Discovery 4 and Mercedes-Benz GL500 were joined by a relatively small companion – the Skoda Yeti. Each one of these proved to be stars in their own small universe and we came back highly impressed by their individual capabilities.



But yes, we got our shoes dirty, we had some fun and the SUVs didn’t go back till they had muck up to their sills. Turn over to get a taste of life in a muck, muck, muck world.

 

 

PORSCHE CAYENNE S

ON TARMAC
he Cayenne is really quite remarkable – it’s a big, heavy SUV, but (and especially in its current generation) it feels like a tight, sorted sedan on the road; Porsche has managed to pass on at least some of the sportiness of its smaller cars to the Cayenne. Much like a Boxster or Cayman, the Cayenne shrinks around you as you settle into the luxurious, leather seats, and the purr of the direct-injected V8 is a harbinger of things to come. There’s 400 bhp and 51 kgm available; bury the throttle and the big Porker dashes to 100 kph in 5.6 seconds, going all the way to 250+ kph.

The steering feel is on the right side of sensitive, and around a set of corners, both sweeping and tight, the Cayenne displays a surefootedness that is both reassuring and exciting. The Porsche Traction Management system distributes torque between the front and rear axles, via a multi-plate clutch, and helps keeps things right side up; even when you overcook a corner a bit, the Cayenne doesn’t fuss and goes through with ease. Of all the cars here, this is the one that displays the best road manners.

IN THE MUD
The equation changes a little when the blacktop ends and you’re faced with broken roads, rocks and lots of gooey mud. The Cayenne, which until then would have felt right at home, suddenly has its mind clouded with some doubt. You can select off-road modes on the centre console, and raise the ride height (with the optional air suspension), but somehow the Cayenne feels like it’s stepping a bit gingerly, like it’s not entirely happy in these conditions; it’s missing the immediately robust feel of a Land Rover (about which more later).

This is not to say that it isn’t capable, however – of the very few Cayenne owners who will venture into real off-road territory, almost all will find that the Porker navigates the rough stuff quite competently. Indeed, if you order your Cayenne with the full complement of air suspension, PASM, PTV, PDCC, BMW and AMG (no prizes for guessing which ones I’m kidding about), it will do almost everything that a comparable SUV in its class can. I drove it through some mousse-like mud, and it slithered its way through well enough (I also, I have to admit, bogged it down in the same mud); on the trail leading to our playground, as it were, the Cayenne negotiated craters and rocks without too much alarm. It’s just that as soon as it’s back on tarmac, it heaves a mild sigh of relief and wants to stay there.

SO WHAT DOES IT HAVE?
As I mentioned, PTM comes as standard on the Cayenne S, and there are off-road modes that you can choose from, which adapt the maps for all supporting systems, such as ABS, for maximum traction. With air suspension in place, you can raise the ride height to Special Off-road level, so that approach and departure angles and wading depth are increased. Tick everything on the options list and then you’ll really be talking, though. With PTV, drive torque is optimally distributed, especially on uneven, broken terrain, and the rear differential can be fully locked. With PDCC, you get even better traction, because greater wheel articulation is enabled in the various off-road modes. If you’ve got deep enough pockets, and don’t mind flinging your Cayenne around in the mud, it’ll keep you fairly well entertained!



LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 4

ON TARMAC
he Disco 4 and the Cayenne are both big, luxurious SUVs, but that’s about all that they have in common; in build, character, temperament and capability, they’re chalk and cheese. On blacktop, the Disco is far more composed than you might expect it to be, and the uprated suspension and new dampers play a large part in this. The steering is well-weighted and quite direct, and although it doesn’t feel as sharp a tool as the Cayenne, it will suffice for most. The 3-litre, 244 bhp, 61 kgm V6 diesel is absolutely superb, with lots of creamy torque available throughout; the 0-100 kph run is accomplished in 9.8 seconds, with a top speed of around 180 kph.

The Disco’s cabin has exceptionally well-controlled NVH levels, with barely a murmur coming through from the engine and the outside world, and its ride quality is also rather plush. The cabin doesn’t feel as upmarket as the Cayenne’s, but the Disco’s very nature tends towards the practical aspect of things. Nevertheless, high quality materials abound, and there’s much more room in the Disco than in the Porsche – it’s a comfortable, practical cabin, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

IN THE MUD
You have to get off the highway to understand how the Disco differs from the Cayenne – and what a capable machine it is. You can almost feel it straining at the leash as soon as it sees the rough stuff, unlike the Cayenne – it really wants to go and play. It feels at home in the slush right away, and you just know that it has your back, no matter what the conditions. The all-important Terrain Response Control is located close at hand, and it has modes for pretty much any off-road terrain you can think of – select the correct mode and you’re good to go.

With the best wheel articulation of the lot of cars here, the Disco clambered over everything we could throw at it – rocks, bigger rocks, gravel, streams, thick mud and even thicker mud. I must again admit that I got it stuck once, but that was because of a lack of off-road technique on my part – the Disco felt invincible otherwise. This, folks, is one heck of an off-roader, make no mistake.

SO WHAT DOES IT HAVE?
The Disco sits on an integrated body frame, which gives you the best of both worlds – the off-road capabilities of a ladder-frame chassis and the car-like characteristics of a monocoque. Its USP is Terrain Response Control, which offers various off-road modes and controls hill descent control, the diff-locks and the height of the air suspension. The off-road modes are Grass/Gravel/Snow, Sand, Mud and ruts and Rock crawl, along with a General driving mode. With the abundant amount of low-end torque, the Disco can crawl over pretty much anything in a most civilized manner. As a pure off-roader, it really can’t be touched by any other vehicle here.



MERCEDES-BENZ GL500

ON TARMAC
he biggest, brawniest and yet not the heaviest of the lot (second actually), the GL turned out to be the one that tried to hide behind the curtains but suffered from large feet. So it tried to blend in with the rest, trying to be a little discreet, but its large white mass and those shiny chrome and LED bits really couldn’t help but put bling firmly in our faces.

What it also was, apart from being the second quickest, was the one with the largest swept volume. The 5,461cc V8 petrol motor would do no better than 5-5.5 kpl, partly also thanks to its 388 horses that seemed to be urging you to depress the T pedal. It gets to the tonne in a jiffy, but what is important is that despite its 5.1 metre length, it finds itself reasonably comfortable corner carving once you leave the straight stretches of the expressway and get on to country roads. It’s here that the GL surprises you with its relative agility and good manners. We wish that the steering had a touch more feel, but that’s as much as you can complain. Lower the suspension, select sport mode and the GL is happy to just do your bidding. The ride isn’t too bad either but for most occupants, it isn’t the most comfortable large SUV out there.

IN THE MUD
The GL is just as well equipped as its counterparts, if not more. But there’s more to it than just that. The GL’s power and torque (a full 54 kgm of it) is the meat in this pack. Then there are the running bits that make up the rest of the package that is quite a bit of electronic trickery and complex engineering to get this 2.5-tonne leviathan to perform like a ballerina.
The best bit about the GL is its gearbox. Under off-road conditions, gear ratios matter a lot, and here, like the Disco 4, the GL is well-equipped for the course. The quick shifting first two ratios make the job easy, especially when the path has become slushy, under the weight of the rest of the field that has just gone past. So the job for the GL to overcome all of that became even harder. But, its sheer grunt and electronics kept the nose of the GL clean. It went through the deepest ruts (made by the cars before) and came out rather unruffled, to be pretty quick around the course. Fact of the matter is, when some of the other vehicles got themselves stuck, the GL was the vehicle we turned to, to play saviour of the day. Our biggest gripe with the GL were its dimensions and the brakes, even though the literature claimed it had offroad brakes.

SO WHAT DOES IT HAVE?
Under the skin, apart from the humongous V8, is a lot of electronic stuff, like the air suspension with lift facility, the hill ascent and descent control, selectable electronic diffs and an off-road pack that includes gear reduction ratios and off-road ABS. The airmatic suspension can lift the GL to give it a clearance of nearly 307 mm, which literally helped it lord over the rest.



SKODA YETI TDI

ON TARMAC
The Yeti’s low kerb weight, good power-to-weight ratio and compact dimensions are just useful on-road as they are off-road. The 2.0-litre TDI with 140 bhp is a proven motor and mated to a six-speed manual you can enjoy cruising all day at high speeds or generally deriving good fuel economy.

On road, the Yeti is primarily front-wheel drive. It’s only during hard acceleration that the rear axle gets a major chunk of the power. But as speeds rise, power slowly gets transferred to the front. If you can keep this on the back of your mind, then the Yeti is a decent handler even at high speeds, but if you are someone who likes the front wheels to be free to steer, then you may find the understeer a bit disturbing. Yet, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that at most times the Yeti is a fun-to-drive automobile with good dynamics. It’s a nice car to scoot and shoot in, its 4.2 metre length making it quite useful to tackle city traffic. Wish it had a softer, plusher ride though.

IN THE MUD
If you thought that the Yeti is some sort of a rude joke in this bunch, think again. It may not have the sheer brute force of the other three, but it performed so admirably that it left us astonished. It has a pretty complicated off-road package that generally works behind the scenes, with very little scope of manual intervention. It sports an electronic four-wheel drive system with a limited slip differential at the rear. What the literature says is that under normal circumstances, up to 96 per cent of the power goes to the front wheels, but when slip is detected, about 90 per cent goes to the rear.

Even off-road, most of the power is directed to the rear wheels once strong throttle inputs are detected. On our test track, the Yeti was one of the first to be sent out to gauge the conditions and also, erm, to keep it out of harm’s way (read softening surface due to rain). Not that it made too much of a difference, since the Yeti set a scorching pace around the track. It just didn’t get bogged down, even though the start-finish point was probably the softest part of the track. On the softer parts, a lot more steering effort was required to get the car out of harm’s way, but on the not-so-soft ones, the Yeti just breezed past.

SO WHAT DOES IT HAVE?
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s kit like the Haldex four-wheel drive linked to the sensors for ABS, ESP and even the steering rack. It comes with downhill assist as well, though the uphill assist isn’t available for our country. The rest of it is purely left to some clever engineering, like keeping the wheelbase  short to improve breakover angles and ensuring
that approach and departure angles aren’t inconvenient to the occasional off-road enthusiast.