Tata Sumo Grande vs Mahindra Scorpio mHawk - Class Wars


Ask city dwellers like me, and the name Tata Motors and cars brings only one name to mind. The Indica. But I belong to a small class of people, unlike the rest of the hinterland who associate Tata with the Sumo.

Don’t ask me how many times I was asked the price of the Sumo Grande while Aman and I drove the car on the Mumbai-Murud route. It seemed like people were walking out of nowhere to ask me the price and fuel efficiency. Then they would take a glance at the car, the interiors and mumble something to the effect of it being a rather rugged design, in the choicest of Hindi and purest of Marathi words.Thirty three, at last count, was the number of people who asked me these two questions and number thirty four would have received a pummelling from me. Thankfully there was a dear friend of BSM driving the Scorpio mHawk who would screech his way into the scene. Then the inevitable Indian mind of our examiners would blurt out, ‘Doesn’t the Grande look like the Scorpio?’ Aargh and some more, but then I wouldn’t expect them to be design specialists, so I let them run their own mind.

At this point you might say that the Rs 7.68 lakh Grande has no business jousting with the 10.09 lakh rupee Scorpio mHawk. After all, the price difference is two Tata Nanos wide – so the Grande should take the crown by default, while the Scorpio should chart a course home. Not quite. Because if you look beyond the techno packed VLX and focus only on the basics, the Scorpio mHawk is very capable of delivering a nasty blow to the Grande’s aspirations. What’s to stop Mahindra from launching a stripped down mHawk SLX version to spar with the Grande? You never know. So in the real world, the question is what if? Which meant going down a long winding road on a sleepy Saturday to join the rest of the weekend getaway travellers from Mumbai to the beach town, some 160 km away. And then to shock them with a Sunset Orange Sumo Grande, hurting their retinas in the bright March sun. And our peacock green mHawk.   Design
In 1994, the Sumo appeared like nothing we Indians had ever seen before. After all, it was the time when the Mahindra Commander still dominated the Indian people carrier proceedings, while the Armada had just joined in. It appeared far too modern for a Tata offering, and since it seated 10 pax without much pushing and shoving, it instantly became a hit with families, and soon enough taxi tour operators became true followers of the cause. And come to think of it, it wasn’t until 1996 that the Sumo came with a unit called airconditioning! But as time passed, newer offerings from rivals made its shortcomings more apparent, and despite revisions to engines, new interiors and the like, the basic shell still stayed the same, and that didn’t win it new friends who were moving up to contemporary MUVs like the Toyota Innova. Or even the Chevrolet Tavera.

This time, Tata Motors bunked the idea of just another bumper lip and tail-lamp job, resorting to opening its purses to the tune of Rs 300 crore and more to bring the Grande together. Hiring a UK based firm to completely re-design the car (incidentally the same firm had a hand in designing the Nano), they have managed to change every possible panel, every extrusion and clean up the design. The headlamps have a family resemblance to the Xenon pickup, and the grille has a smiling face with provision for a larger and deeper bumper. The doors have been cleaned up and have no crease lines or rubber linings/plastic cladding, a trend seen on modern European cars, while the wheel arches are the extruded variety. The wheelbase has been expanded by 150 mm (which until now measured the same as the Indica!) so it carries a better stance. From the C-pillar onwards the roof curves into the D-pillar, where the rear now features a horizontal row of lamps, something quite similar to the Audi Q7, both enjoying a common understanding with the chrome band joining them. On the whole, the Sumo appears softer, a bit more rounded and more appealing to the urban lot.

The Scorpio was always aimed at the upscale crowd and it still appears so, but in front of the Grande, it feels a bit jaded. The years of add-ons have made it appear like what Lamborghini did to the Countach, the clean lines hidden among plastic tack-ons. It appears more menacing in the rear-view mirror but doesn’t make connoisseurs raise their wine glasses for a toast.
Sumo Grande : ****
Scorpio mHawk : ***

Living with it
The Sumo Victa’s traditional interiors have been carried over into the Grande in bits and pieces with some amount of plushness. The GX variant that we drove came with electrically adjustable mirrors and a six-speaker Alpine unit. The steering wheel is a four-spoke affair, while the dials have a nice glow to them, especially at night. The controls feel better to use, though finish is still a little iffy in places. The mock wood feels cheap and the overall alignment of plastics still has some scope to improve. What we definitely loved were the front and middle row seats. They are extremely comfortable, especially over long distances. Support and cushioning feels just fine and it’s only in the third row that the seat belt placement and high floor make it a little uncomfortable. Even there, under thigh support is quite good.

The Scorpio VLX comes with a lot of luxury accoutrements that frankly only add to the price. Stripped of features like a reverse parking guide, cruise control, automatic headlamps, wipers, steering mounted controls and tyre pressure sensors, the Scorpio is as well loaded as the Sumo. The front seats have a fair amount of support, though after some long distance driving, your lower back tends to feel some uneasiness. The middle and third rows lack the
Grande’s kind of legroom and don’t feel as  comfortable either. Where the Scorpio makes up is with better build quality and finish of plastics, but then again it’s not by much. 
Sumo Grande : ****
Scorpio mHawk : ****   Powertrain and Performance
Under normal circumstances, one would suspect AVL, the engine tuning house that worked on both the 2200cc engines from Tata and Mahindra, to have accorded the same treatment. After all, both have aluminium heads, a variable geometry turbocharger, double overhead camshafts and the works. Both also make near similar horsepower figures, but in all honesty, they are substantially different in the way they are treated.

The Grande is some 20 bhp and six-odd kgm down on the Tata Safari 2.2. One would have expected that to be done by adopting a fixed vane turbocharger, but Tata haven’t removed a single component, instead just altering the power and torque figures on the ECU. The peak torque also now has a wider band, coming in at 1500 rpm and staying all the way up to 3000 rpm. The Scorpio has a narrower peak torque band just like the Safari, but is up 3.5 kgm over the Grande.
On the track, the Scorpio pulls a lead right from the moment the accelerator pedals of the two MUVs are pressed to the floor. The difference, that measures at a couple of tenths, turns to two seconds by the ton and the gap just keeps getting wider. The extra torque of the Scorpio plays its role, so does the more free revving nature of the Scorpio’s engine. The idea is to convert all that torque and horsepower to the wheels with minimal loss, and here the Scorpio outscores the Grande. The Grande fights back with better driveability, whether at crawling speeds or general highway cruising, places where the Scorpio seems to be out of breath.

Despite all the potent torque, neither crosses 150 kph, but that’s also down to the huge frontal mass and near two-tonne weights. The Scorpio also registers quicker passing speeds, something to do with the way the two cars are geared. The Grande also requires a Sumo wrestler’s hand to shove the gear lever into position, though it slots right where you want it to. The Scorpio’s gear lever feels more apt for quick shifting, though second to third can be a nightmare at times. NVH levels are also lower on the Scorpio, with less of the vibrations and noise filtering through, and this boils down to the higher refinement levels of the Mahindra. Fuel consumption figures revealed better numbers for the mHawk, but then again, the Grande we received had not yet completed its run-in period. Expect the two to have near identical numbers in the long run.
Sumo Grande : ****
Scorpio mHawk : ****

Ride and Handling
Tata Motors opted for an enhanced wheelbase for two reasons – to increase interior space and to improve vehicle stability and handling. Despite using the older Sumo’s chassis construction, modifications have been made to the suspension and brakes to improve the Sumo’s overall ride and handling package. Once the car is launched, one can easily feel the improved stability. It also tends to grip the road better and is less prone to bobbing around. It’s around corners that it tends to wallow, but much less than the old Sumo. What I particularly didn’t enjoy was the lack of steering feel from the Sumo and it became more telling while attacking corners. It meant depending on the tyres to know the limits, a fraught experience indeed. 

Ride is one of the Grande’s better traits, the low speed ride being extremely pliant and comfortable, nearly as good as the Innova. Using an independent suspension setup at the front and leaf springs at the rear, the traditionally used setup for MUVs is employed even here. The last two rows though will not find the ride over bad roads much to their taste. As Aman drove through the town of Murud, I jumped into the last row and instantly was yanked hard by the seatbelt and was thrown around a fair bit. 

It doesn’t mean that the Scorpio is perfect either. Despite the lower front end weight and improved rear setup, it still tends to pogo around. This has something to do with the wheelbase to track ratio, the narrower front track increasing the top heaviness. This traditional problem has been somewhat rectified with the mHawk, but hasn’t completely disappeared. It smothers bumps well, but the passengers tend to find some elevation every now and then.   Where the Scorpio has improved, and rather noticeably, is in the handling and stability department. Around corners it turns in with more confidence and one can push the car faster because the steering brings in some feedback. The earlier tendency to get crossed up around corners has now nearly disappeared, so enthusiastic driving tends to be rewarded. Both cars brake well in a straight line and while numbers show that the Scorpio leads here, one must remember the Grande doesn’t come with ABS, and yet performs very well. Pedal feel and travel are good on both, with the Scorpio coming across as being a bit grabby.
Sumo Grande : ***
Scorpio mHawk : ***

After a weekend of driving and some more, the conclusion is simple. Mahindra needs to make a cheaper mHawk, one that can really effectively take the fight to the Sumo Grande. And though it wins this contest on the basis of the merits of its package – even without the accoutrements, of course – it doesn’t beat the Grande by much. And that is where the appeal of the Grande lies. It has moved the game quite forward. Its interior space is second only to the Innova, it is comfortable, fairly frugal, has the looks of a concept Sumo and a price tag that reads as justifiable. Tata’s latest iteration of the Sumo is an effort in the right direction, one beyond just cosmetic enhancements and a bump in power. There is some sound engineering behind the package, and this as an interim adjustment should hold out before the new people mover from Tata Motors’ all-new platform makes its way in a few years. It’s also convincing people like me that Tata Motors can also stand for the Sumo (Grande) as much as the Indica.