Whisper the word Sumo into the ears of a proud Japanese and immediately his eyes will light up, his brain will force feed in a flurry of images of big Rikishis ramming into each other with much flubber thundering around and words like honour and respect coming in fast and thick. Naturally, all in the anime style. Say the same word to an American and more often than not, he’ll ask you if it’s a fruit grown in Miami. Say Sumo to an Indian though, and only one thing comes to his mind. Not a fruit, not a fat wrestling machine but a MUV. That’s brand awareness shining but sales don’t quite tell the same story. The only way left was to send in a better fighter for the market. You’ve seen this MUV before and now, face-lifted and updated, rumbles in the Sumo Grande MKII. Will this update turn the Grande’s fortunes around?
Let’s take a look at what has changed. The releases from the manufacturer’s side emphasize the fact that the updates had been brought out with customer feedback in the driver’s seat. We’ve all heard that one before, haven’t we? And yet, the intent to improve is honest and you will be less skeptical once you see the changes in real life. From a design point of view, we always did like the Grande’s non-offensive looks and rounded off lines with a pleasing front end. In keeping with the latest ‘market trends’, indicators now sit on the wing mirrors, a new grille sprinkled with chrome bits makes the driver love your Sumo even more while the new steel rims do look good. It’s safe to say that Tata’s Japanese wrestler maintains its good looks through to the MKII, albeit with a few fresh touches.
And that’s just the start. A fair amount of attention has been given to the mechanical gremlins that plagued the earlier Grande and so, improvements were made to the suspension, steering and brakes. All of them drew flak on one front or the other – lack of feel from the steering, body roll being more than the usual and the braking not being to everyone’s taste. How well do these updates work? Pretty well, we say, as driving the Sumo Grande MKII around town assured us that it was indeed better than the previous one. The steering has been optimized, now has better feel and the chunkier steering wheel is a step in the right direction as well. Along comes an anti-roll package too, making it slightly less wobbly around the bends, and now the handling is on par with the segment norm. Just keep in mind you’re in an MUV and things seem just fine. For your N’Ring fantasies, look elsewhere. The earlier Grande’s forte was ride quality and it remains so on the MKII. The ride quality is impressive in and around town, where you can feel the solid underpinnings taking every bump and pothole without as much as a twitch. While driving this rhino of a MUV around, you do tend to get a little spoilt. You can afford to get a little careless, applying equal amount of throttle on good roads and bad, in total comfort, with little to worry about. Thanks to the soft body mounts, the noise from the road surface remains well suppressed. It is safe to say that your dentures will remain in place. Well, at least on the first two seating rows, because if you sit in the third row with no seatbelts on, you will know exactly what happens when heavy metal and head banging meet. And sure enough, it won’t be what your teenage son thinks it is. Moreover, if you think strapping down will save you, you are spot-on…except for the fact that the seatbelt will do a torso compression surgery on you every time an undulation comes up. Third row is an avoid I say, as on most vehicles of this class.
Braking systems, updated on the MKII with thicker front discs and liners, are enhanced, more progressive and a welcome improvement. Highway stability continues to be a strong point, as demonstrated on the earlier Grande. Coming to the matters of the power plant, if you were expecting a MKII-spec engine to come along with the package, don’t get your hopes up. It’s the same 2200cc common rail DiCOR diesel that propelled the earlier Grande, although the engineers tinkered around with the final drive ratio to get better acceleration. We felt that it’s a bit more energetic around town but it’s not a huge improvement, despite the gearing. Yes, it has decent amount of drivability and most of the noise doesn’t intrude into the cabin but the response to accelerator inputs is still a bit of a disappointment. It’s sort of like trying to poke a Rhino to get him moving, multiple stabs and much patience is needed. If you hop into it after a round in the Mahindra competition, you’ll miss the free revving feel of the M&Ms. Out on the highway, it cruises without fuss although better NVH levels would certainly be welcome. Shifting action is positive and usable enough, though words like slick and smooth refuse to be associated with it in any way. Climb inside and you notice that the insides get a dash of Fresh n Juicy designer treatment, aiming yet again for an up-market feel and finish. The dual tone interiors, mixing up beige with black bits, do make it a better place to spend your time in. The cabin is very roomy and your claustrophobic acquaintances will certainly appreciate it. Seats get a hideous fake-stuffed-animal design pattern but are soft to touch and extremely comfortable. Being a sleeping enthusiast, I would happily snore away for hours on end on these seats. Small details like the cool clock, better gear knob, well placed grab handle for third row passengers, easier seat tumble and optimized ergonomics are much appreciated. On the whole, things do look tidy but I wish I could say the same thing while taking a closer look at the various bits and pieces. Plastics though not ghastly, are hard and still give off a slightly cheap vibe. To be fair, it’s not exactly a bad job but then, when was the last time you wanted something mediocre for your hard earned rupee bundle? Interiors have improved but they still fall short of what the customer has come to expect these days.
All things considered, an update to the Sumo Grande was due and Tata paid heed to the market demands (and diminishing sales), which is good sign. Being receptive to customer feedback has trickled down to improvements in this MUV, a fact that the customer will appreciate. The updates address many issues, definitely turning it into a better buy. What will make you even happier is that Tata has knocked a significant bit off the price tag. It’s yours for Rs. 6.56 Lakh for the base LX model, going up to Rs.7.66 Lakh (both,ex-showroom Mumbai) for the top-end GX. Consequently, as Mr. Common Sense would point out, anything better for cheaper is a good deal right? Be it for your large family or your booming hire car business or your need for an affordable practical MUV with SUV looks, do consider the Grande. Despite some niggles, the Grande MKII is a fairly good buy that is practical, good looking, well-equipped, priced right and backed up by an extensive service network. Weighing in your options will only mean the Japanese wrestler wins (being the Sumo), so we recommend that you either meticulously test drive your way to a conclusion or sit back, relax and read a BSM comparo coming your way soon enough.