Hyundai Terracan - Terra Tales

The setting was not exactly fitting. Vasant Kunj in Delhi, even with Rajasthani dust hanging in the hot and still air, is not exactly Mermisk-la, the newest, highest motorable road up there somewhere in the Himalayas. Yet I had no choice; the Hyundai Terracan was there to be driven and I had to see whether the low-ratios really worked. So I took a cautious detour from tarmac and headed for the closest mole-hill I could find. In all probability, I was driving over some yet-to-be-unearthed ruins which dated back some 3000 years. The Korean invader was least puzzled though – it took to dirt as if this was a plateful of Kimchi, and before I knew, there was nothing much else to climb. The low-ratio setting did work very well.
Let us take stock. Mitsubishi Pajero 2.8, Pajero 3.2, Mercedes-Benz  M-Class, BMW X5, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara XL-7, Honda CRV... it certainly has been raining SUVs for some time now. We also hear Ford is planning to introduce the Everest, an Asia-specific SUV that should carry an attractive price tag. And now add to the list the Hyundai Terracan – the monster from the East that’s loaded with goodies and an irresistible CRTDi power plant. 

Those who have studied the evolution of the chaebol will know that Hyundai has been building last-generation Pajeros for a long time under the Stallion tag for the South Korean market. While they may not boast the Mitsubishi bloodline, it will be childish to ignore that Hyundai knows how to build a proper, body-on-chassis off-roader in the traditional mould. Add to that the refinement lessons they have learnt the hard way and a contemporary skin from their own R&D, and you get the New Terracan. A machine that usually plays second fiddle to the hot selling soft-roader, the Santa Fe, in the Hyundai line up. Earlier in the day I drove the Terracan in the environment most of its prospective buyers will be driving. On busy city streets. Sure, Delhi-ites are used to seeing SUVs of all kinds, what with even the ambassador from Mozambique driving a Land Cruiser. Yet, a young bunch of guys outside Priya Cinema did notice the silver and black off-roader and they crowded me with questions such as ‘coming to India?, diesel ya petrol?’ From outside, the Terracan is as big as any Pajero and its aggressive styling makes for an imposing sight. The slatted-out grille, sculptured headlamps and daringly asymmetrical plastic shrouds all add to the effect. It has a purposeful stance and every inch of sheet metal and plastic screams ‘serious SUV.’ 

The interior of the 70,000 km-old test mule I was driving had seen better days for sure,but this gave a good idea of how things age inside. Indecor is straightforward but instrumentation is comprehensive. The centre console contains the de rigeur music system and climatiser controls. Ergonomics are typical SUV and that means the engineers had a lot of space to play around with. Nice touches are a headlamp levelling switch, a 12 volt power outlet and a dashboard illumination dimmer. Adjustable power steering and seats mean you can get the driving position to suit your body and driving style. Grab rails and cup holders are omnipresent, and there are enough recesses and pockets to rival a photographer’s
jacket. The 60/40 rear split seat can be folded individually and Hyundai has cleverly included a rear deck to keep small things safely.

Hyundai didn’t just come up with the name ‘Terracan.’ Apparently, the ‘can’ part of the name is derived from ‘khan’ which means king, while ‘terra’ obviously refers to land. Wipe away your amused expression; ‘the king of land’ has enough reason to be named thus – it’s longer, taller and wider than such established names such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Mitsubishi Pajero and the Nissan Terrano. But is it as capable?

The Terracan certainly has the hardware that it takes to impress the hardcore mudplugger.To begin with, there’s the time-tested body-on-chassis construction and then the ‘shift on the move’ Electric Shift Transfer (EST) developed by Borg Warner, which allows drivers to change between high ratio four-wheel-drive (50:50 split) and two-wheel-drive, at speeds of up to 100 kph. There is also a low ratio mode in four-wheel-drive, which gives even more traction for those situations that are easy to come by in our country.

On the road, the 2902 CC four cylinder DOHC 16 valve motor impresses. It develops a healthy 148 bhp at about 3800 rpm and 33.3 kgm of torque at barely above idling speed. Mash the throttle and you will be storming to 100 kph in 13.7 seconds – brilliant for a near-two ton automobile. More than the stopwatch stunning performance, it is the sheer joy of piloting a torque-rich motor that is more rewarding. If you have driven a 1970s-style American V8 muscle car like, say, the Camaro, you know how it feels to be hauled by untamed horses that threaten to tear the car into two pieces as you accelerate. The Terracan can also touch 170 kph when given enough room to stretch its muscles. Even while running the four-wheel drive mode, there is not much engine noise and transmission whine inside the cabin – but what you do get to hear is the signature whistle of a turbocharger that is bent on creating its very own twister for the combustion chamber. Anti-lock braking system (ABS) combined with electronic brake distribution (EBD) make sure the Terracan can be brought back to controllable speeds even in a hurry. Limited slip differential at the rear wheels makes sure the that the wheel with best traction gets even more torque – helping you keep the Terracan right side up even in tricky situations. 

Corners? The steering sure feels on the heavy side despite power assistance and you need to muscle your way around the twisties. That is the price you pay for a traditional layout and off-road worthiness against today’s car-like SUVs such as the Honda CR-V (featured elsewhere in this issue). Double wishbones up front and a five-link rear set-up along with coil springs behind handle suspension duty. There is enough space for the wheels to travel and  live up to the suspension set-up and let me assure you that it is tough to beach the Terracan, how much ever you try.We are not sure whether Hyundai would offer the five speed manual in India, but our test car was equipped with one and once you experience it, you will not want to touch any automatic gear selector. The gear ratios are perfectly suited for purring around town and blasting across to the nearby hill station. We have already sent a request to Hyundai India for crossing out the autobox option from the homologation list. 

So there you have it. An extremely capable off-roader that bristles with technology and safety features and that too, in all probability, for just about Rs 17-lakh. That means the Terracan will still be cheaper than the ‘Made in India’ Pajero 2.8 by a whopping 3 to 4 lakh. As you would have noticed, I was thoroughly impressed by the Terracan after my brief test and am currently studying the maps to see which part of Himalayas I can explore in one. Actually, BVR Subbu, President of HMIL is known for the kind of extreme test drives he plans soon after every Hyundai launch – may we suggest Mermisk-la? Apparently, the sunrise there is brilliant.