Tradition. A neat word indeed, since it has a great sense of permanence embedded in it. But please do not get visions of old ladies wearing lace gowns and picnics by the side of the church. When we talk of tradition at BSM, the talk centres around our annual Slush Fest – an event that we missed out on last year, but one that we were longing to do this monsoon. An event where the newest, baddest SUVs sold in our country would get together to get spanked by the BSM team. An event where the monsoon is a playback singer and Mother Earth the villain. An event where going sideways is the rule rather than the exception.
So as soon as the first drops of rain fell on our windscreens, we started calling the PR offices of various car makers. We shortlisted three diesels that never took part in this definitive four-wheel drive showdown – while the Endeavour is put together in India, the Tucson and the X-Trail are direct imports. It may not be of consequence to you, but we would love to tell you that it isn’t easy to get test cars, especially when they are imported pieces. But then ‘tradition’ helps and car makers obliged after a few phone calls. As the cars started turning up, we had our other concern – aren’t we doing this a tad too early? Sure, had been raining for close to a month in and around Mumbai, but just two days before July 15, the scheduled Slush Fest day, the sun decided to shine bright. That meant an event with less slush and lower degree of difficulty than we would have liked. But we still had a good time! Read on.
Just two months back, the Hyundai Tucson thrashed the Ford Endeavour in a BSM comparison test. Oh boy, how the tables turned when a bit of slush was thrown into the equation. Adding insult to injury was the Nissan X-Trail which is closer to the Tucson as far as its monocoque construction roots go. The Tucson is far too civilised a machine to be doing mudslinging with the rest of the two SUVs featured here. It has a four-wheel drive system which can be locked to get good all-weather traction – that means you will be safer in the Tucson than in the Elantra that it is based on, when it is pouring or worse still, during a snow storm. But it is too much of a car to handle hub-cap deep slush and it showed in our PET lap times. It was a good five seconds slower than the X-Trail and three seconds off the best time set by the Endeavour. In the first part of the PET made up of loose gravel, the four-wheel drive system behaved impeccably and worked in tandem with the TCS to make sure that the Tucson’s 111 bhp, 24.98 kgm CRDi motor lived up to its potential. Approaching the second marker for the fast and sloped-out corner, the ABS was put to good use as the testers had to virtually stand on the brakes. The lower part of the front bumper graced the floor on exit from the second dip, making the drivers a bit nervous about the second half of the run. The biggest culprit was the feel-less gear shift that never guaranteed that you were in the right gear for the right occasion. At this section of the track, it was important to switch the TCS off so that the Tucson did not lose speed in the slush. The result was a tail-happy Hyundai in the slippery grass patch approaching the toughest part of the circuit. It was easy to get the nose to point the way one had to go, as long as the gearbox was slotted in second and carrying a decent amount of speed. Most testers inadvertently searched for more power and ended up in first gear which only bogged the car down. Mind you, the Tucson was losing precious time in this section. The climb to the finish line was to be attempted with a bit of caution (with that exit scrub weighing in our mind). The steering, though, felt brilliant as the Tucson galloped through the rock-strewn climb to the flying finish. It is an extremely user friendly vehicle too – that five out of seven drivers posted quicker times around the PET lap with the Tucson than the Endeavour attests to that fact!
Slush Fest verdict
Stick to tarmac and the Tucson is the right SUV with the right engine that drinks the right fuel. It has got enough armoury to handle bad weather and bad roads. But horrible weather and no-roads is not a combination that this machine likes too much.
The Endeavour came in for the kill and had the Hyundai Tucson for breakfast. But before it could sit back and enjoy that feast came the Nissan X-Trail, which bullied it into another match. Seriously, if off-road ability alone is the reason why you are buying a new car, the Ford Endeavour is closer to the good old Mitsubishi Pajero 2.8 than both the other cars in the fray at the Slush Fest 2005. To begin with, it feels extremely robust and unbreakable. Armed with such confidence, you can floor that pedal in gravel, slush, rocky terrain and even small rivers. Nothing scrapes or touches the belly of the Endeavour, really. The long-wheelbase configuration has its advantages and disadvantages though – the extra metal means additional weight and the 2.5 litre engine is only adequately powered to haul it (read good enough for tarmac but can do with more oomph for off-road action). Under heavy acceleration in the first part of the course, the Endeavour pulverised gravel to return decent sector timings. Decent yes, but not quick enough to turn the scales on the X-Trail. And yes, it dislodged most of the water from the pit that we had woven into the scheme of things to help our photographer. Braking for the deadly first turn, the excess weight of the Endeavour worked against it – sure, ABS with brake distribution is good on paper but Newton’s first law of inertia was winning the day. Exit and entry angles are certainly academic for this pick-up bred SUV, and that too, despite its length. As the day progressed, the slushy bit of the track was getting worse but the Endeavour seemed to have no worries charting a neat line through it and the gearing was just suited for such feats. Hammering along the rocky climb and dismissing boulders with ease is how most drivers finished their runs with the Endeavour. Yes, its body-on-chassis construction and rudimentary suspension means excessive body roll which manifested through, say, 70 per cent of the track. On the positive side, the Endeavour is the only machine of the pack that offers a proper, old-school low-ratio option. Had any of the other two slick machines got stuck in the mud, it would have been the Endeavour that pulled them out for sure.
Slush Fest verdict
For most purposes, it was the Endeavour that was the pace car for Slush Fest 2005. It ferried the photographers, was used for practice runs, and once it even covered the entire track with a full load of passengers... and it still felt capable and indestructible. We love this machine for its off-road ability. A pity that it lost out to a worthy rival that had a newer engine and a superior all-wheel drive system going for it.
There is no match for displacement, the Americans say. In today’s world of common-rail diesels, it can be said that there is no match for horsepower. The Nissan came loaded with a dCi engine good enough for 134 bhp and 31.7 kgm of torque, and going by our road test performance, it was supposed to give the competition a good run. But what we didn’t expect was the electronic four-wheel drive driveline of the X-Trail to be oh-so-capable. You see, if you look under the X-Trail, you get to see spindly rods and connections that suit fine-tuned cars more than SUVs, and we were a bit worried (the thing costs close to Rs 23 lakh on-road) about how the X-Trail would take the punishment meted out by our track.
We were proven wrong in a spectacular display of off-road prowess by the X-Trail. As you know, the Nissan has an electronically controlled automatic four-wheel drive system which lets you choose between 2WD or Auto 4WD mode. In the Auto mode, the sensors automatically detect the need for traction and distribute torque to the correct wheels at the right time. But we chose to run the X-Trail in the Lock mode which provides a pre-set torque distribution ratio of 57:43 and there was nothing in our track that could challenge this wisdom. Sure enough, it does feel more delicate than the Endeavour, but in the same breath it feels much more capable than the Tucson. That meant we exercised a bit of caution when it came to the roughest parts of the track – still the X-Trail emerged quickest for six out of seven drivers, and while at it, posted the best time of Slush Fest 2005. Read on to find out how the 1:14:81 timing was set by our winner.
Despite front wheels digging in with more traction, the X-Trail started off the spirited runs by wagging its tail in gravel. Yet it felt more fun than dangerous and all that was required was a dab of opposite lock to get things back in order. The four discs of the X-Trail with ABS and EBD proved to be the best amongst the three, and that meant shedding speed for the fastest corner of the track could be done much later. Before we forget, the X-Trail was the only one to touch 110 kph in third gear in the gravel straight. The X-Trail had just about enough ground clearance for our circuit and that meant no scrapes through the dreaded dips. The Nissan entered the slush in third gear carrying a good amount of speed and all that was required was a shift to second for it to plough through the most challenging part of the circuit. We were concerned about boulders towards the end of the circuit, but the X-Trail transformed itself to a mountain goat and powered through to the finish.
Slush Fest verdict
The Nissan X-Trail is the most expensive machine here, but the Slush Fest proved why it commands
a premium over the rest of the city-slick SUV pack. It is extremely well-built and has brilliant off-road manners which compliment its on-road dynamics. It never failed to amaze us and is a worthy winner indeed.
The slush fest pet
What you see in the pictures is our top-secret Slush Fest arena. Now that a few journos have moved from BSM over the years, it is no longer that top-secret. Still. We do have visions of our pet Slush Fest becoming an annual ritual for four-wheel drive enthusiasts in the country, but that is another story. The Performance Evaluation Test track for the 2005 edition was similar to the one we laid out in 2003 when we pitted the Chevrolet Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara and the Mitsubishi Pajero 2.8 together, but a bit longer. The cars started with a half km run through gravel with a water hole making things interesting, followed by a sloped-out left hander. One had to be cautious here, since all the braking and speed corrections needed to be done before entering the corner to avoid getting into a nasty roll. A dip that tested the entry and exit angles of the SUVs was followed by another with a ‘zero’ spot to keep speed through this section under control. Then it was flat out to the slushiest part of the track (it was worse two years back) where the four-wheel drive powertrains were subjected to the ultimate litmus test. The climb back to the finish line was acute and the boulder strewn track meant more steering corrections than what normal commuters would attempt in a full year. The cars did catch the air to the relief of our photographer and then they gunned to a flying finish.