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|June 07, 2003|
Macho ado about something
With the success of the Scorpio, Mahindra is clearly entrenched in the urban-consumer car game. But they certainly haven't been sitting back twiddling thumbs. Proof of that is the new Bolero Invader a two-door soft-top MUV that is being made available in rear-wheel-drive as well as 4WD versions. Car manufacturers deem there is a burgeoning segment of consumers who want a 'leisure vehicle'. Such a vehicle would ideally be the second, or even third car in the family, and as the ads usually show, it would be taken out when the family wants to go out surfing, snowboarding or picnicking in the wilds. The truth might be closer to a bunch of dull old couch-potatoes wanting to project an active 'outdoorsy' image by driving a butch-looking 4WD truck, but then again, as long as the damn things sell, who cares!
So coming back to the active-lifestyle vehicle scene, there's the Maruti Gypsy, which of course has been around since time immemorial. The car is very competent off-road, but its peppy little 1300 CC engine has an abundant appetite for petrol (partly due to the overall low gearing of that car), and the ride is a bit too stiff and bouncy on tarmac. Mahindra had the superb little CJ 340 (later re-badged as the 'Classic') which was a worthy competitor to the Gypsy. This 4WD short-wheelbase 'Jeep' was a great off-roader and scads of fun to drive, but flagging sales meant it was axed from the M&M line-up some five years ago. And since then, there has been little else in this segment. Until now, that is. Enter the Invader.
In the last few months, we've seen a raft of hi-priced foreign SUVs come into the Indian market. This brigade of Pajeros, Vitaras, Foresters and MLs are not only very refined, they also certainly have what it takes to chomp mud for lunch. Only, they are expensive! The Invader is different it's the everyday, cheap-n-cheerful 4x4 which the average salaried-class Indian can buy and take for a romp on the beach or the mountains or whatever catches his fancy. And the ingredients are made to match.
Styling is boxy, vaguely Jeep Wrangler-ish and definitely Bolero-derived. Though the wheelbase is a full eight inches shorter than the Bolero's, we think it could've been shorter still. Rear overhang seems more than what would be appropriate on a 4x4 with sporting ("lifestyle" in marketing speak) aspirations, and from some angles, the Invader manages to look like one of Mahindra's own single-cab/crew cab pick-ups. Part of the reason could be that the vehicle seems too tall shorter dimensions would have certainly looked better. And finally, though tyres are suitably meaty 215/75 Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts, the Invader's 15-inch alloy wheels look a mite smallish for the car's overall stance. The styling may not break new ground, but for effect, you can always take the nylon top off.
It comes with a choice of familiar engines. The Invader GLX gets the Peugeot-derived Mahindra workhorse the XD3PH IDI diesel. This slow-revving, low-stressed 2498 CC mill produces a leisurely 72.5 horsepower at 4000 revs. This, given the Invader's 2,300 kilo heft, is only sufficient to let the car lope along at a relaxed pace during our testing, the car did an indicated 119 kph while complaining audibly about it. There's also the Invader DI, which is fitted with Mahindra's own MDI 3200 direct-injection diesel engine, but since that 2523 CC engine only manages to churn out 58 horsepower at 3200 rpm, let's not even think about how that would perform!
be fair, speed per se is not the Invader's forte. The torquey engine is
well suited to chugging along in traffic, or indeed, chugging up rocky,
muddy inclines over broken terrain. I happened to take the 2WD Invader
GLX to a remote resort situated near the Jungarli dam in Lonavala, near
Mumbai. For this, I had to go over some pretty badly-broken, boulder-strewn,
narrow mountain ridges over the Pangoli Hills, and the car never complained
the XD3PH IDI powered the car over these mountain trails without
trouble. The car's suspension leaf springs at the back and independent
coil springs at front handled a profusion of deeply corrugated
ridges quite well, and the ride was comfortable, not as stiff and bouncy
as the Gypsy, for instance. Though we are still waiting to get our hands
on the 4x4 variant (which retains the leaf springs at the front instead
of the 2WD version's coil springs), off-road is where the Invader is in
I have a few more requests to ask of M&M. With discs at front and drums at rear, the Invader does stop decently, but a little progressive modulation on the pedal would be more than welcome. Officially, this is a 2 (front) + 6 (rear) seater, but 2 + 4 is more like it if you ask me. The front bucket seats are not comfortable enough, which do not invite long-distance driving. The traditional bench seats at the rear are just as comfortable (or not) as they've been on various Jeep-clones for the last two decades. The long-throw gearshift feels rubbery and imprecise, though the ratios seem to work equally well for trundling along in city traffic as well as crawling up steep mountain trails. And finally, the facia looks cheap and dated. Surely, the Mahindras must have learnt a lot during the R&D process during the development of the Scorpio couldn't any of those learnings be applied on the Invader?
Is there a flip side to the coin? Let's see now. In Mumbai, you can take the Invader home for around Rs 4,25,000. For the money, you get a car that will tackle all the bad roads you can throw at it, return about 8 kpl, accommodate six people (eight, if you insist) and their luggage, lets you take its top off when you are in the mood for some cabrio-style motoring, can be worked on in any remote corner of the country and is as rugged as they come. Bung in all-wheel drive, and the world is your backyard. These things do make it something of a unique prospect, but for now, it could do with some fine-tuning. Come on Mahindras, put those Scorpio thinking hats on again, and have another go at refining the Invader the car deserves it.