Mittal. Doesn’t this name ring a bell? Well, it definitely would. Afterall one of the wealthiest families in the Indian business scene, any kid would want to grow up and become a Mittal for sure. We are certain that many of us would have wanted a dad like Mittal after all. If there are still some people who don’t know who Mr. Mittal is, then this is a family which heads the Sonalika Group of which ICML or International Cars and Motors Limited is a part which tends to the domestic car market. If its not ringing a bell, then how about the Sonalika group being one of the leading ones as far as manufacture and export of tractors is considered. Their only passenger car is ICML Rhino. Yes, the very Qualis look-alike which debuted shortly after the Qualis departed from the car scene and the Innova took its place. Since we have never driven the Rhino, we thought, why not go ahead and get it with us for a test. A few calls here and there ensured that the Rhino landed up right at our office. Actually, it was more of a mean task since not many Rhinos can be found in Mumbai, especially since the company is yet to start on a full fledged operation in Mumbai.
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The bejeweled headlamps is what catches ones fancy while they look at this car heads-on. The Qualis was definitely a bare basic design as far as the looks were concerned. The front grille is all plasticky and a bit too away from our tastes. However, the taxi brigade would definitely not have a problem with this. The logo of ICML is also a bit of both worlds Toyota and Mercedes combined. Common to all the variants is the inclusion of fog lamps and this fog lamps are a far cry from what the head lamps promise. The radiator grille isn’t visible from the outside though. The car definitely doesn’t seem like a Rhino (the animal). Infact, it does appear as meek as a goat. The 15 inch tyres definitely are a good piece of thing. Alloys are available as option, however not part of the standard fare. Unlike the Qualis, this one doesn’t seem to be undertyred. Chrome door handles are available as an option on the top end variants. For its 2010 refresh, the car also got outside rear view mirrors with turn indicators on them. The mirrors do look flimsy enough, but then there is nothing much to fault as this is a built to price car. The Christmas tree like tail lamps will definitely be a hit as the taxi brigade loves this. The side steps are also tastefully done up and only the other MUV, Tavera would have something similar to this. The overall dual tone color just like the Pajero definitely works on this car and does take away the overall boring design theme and creates a fancy one.
We expected the interiors to be on the lines of the Qualis, functional and nothing fancy. However, we were in for a pleasant shock. The interiors are almost un MUV like. Well, atleast they seem so. Until you start prodding up the various parts. Though not of very high quality, the parts definitely seem to be well put together. This coming from a company which has done all the R&D for this car inhouse and has got its own die cast, sheet metal press and stuff. Only the engine tweaking has been done by Rover from whom the company borrowed the engine. Well, more on that later. The meter dials are also beautifully set up and they light up very well in the night. Out of curiosity, we poked the glass and it immediately showed its quality limitations. The seats, however are of the comfortable kinds and the top end model that we had with us had leather upholstery. Just like the car’s promotion leaflets suggested, they did seem of a higher quality. Atleast higher than the rest of the materials used. The inside door handles seemed flimsy enough to be in the first generation Tata Indica. Power goodies are available for both the front and middle row. The middle row also has got plenty of space and unlike the Tavera where you sit with your knees facing the sky, the ICML Rhino in India has got the knees angled with the front seat. No brushing of the knees even with the front driver seat pulled all the way to accommodate a 6 footer. The third row of seats has got side facing seats in the 2+2 configuration thing. Nifty enough. In the top end variant, there are even rear AC vents for the passengers in the rear seats. Luggage space is something which is heavily compromised keeping in mind the comfort that the MUV accords for its passengers. The middle row of seats doesn’t split, however the rear seats do fold and liberate space for the necessary luggage part. Moreover, a central DVD screen is part of the package on the top end variant. Neat enough.
Handling and ride quality
This is a front wheel drive car and the entire car has been setup to be on the softer side of things. Ride quality, as a result is of the absorbing kinds. The vehicle doesn’t let you know of the conditions of the road that the tyres have to undergo. With a whole complement of the Indiandrives staff on board, the MUV did indeed bottom out. Without any load and with a driver and two staffers, the MUV did display some of the hair raising antics that MUVs are usually known for. For example, while cruising on the highway, we were supposed to overtake a slow moving truck and that is when a M800 with its lights flashing furiously decided to toe the thin line of coming to our lane. The Rhino did roll a lot and also the wheels locked up. However, the superb steering wheel did ensure that we could avoid the M800. ABS as an option would be a good part from the manufacturer. Determined to check its handling when fully laden, we made all the staffers sit inside the MUV and simulated the same action. This time around, though the wheels did lock, the rolling action was less. The noise inside the cabin wasn’t too much to bother and was at par with what the competition has to offer, a nice touch, we would say. We were expecting the motor to be pretty unrefined and sorts. At idle, yes, you immediately come to know that this is a diesel motor under the hood, however, once the engine has reached its ambient temperature, there is no telling this car is a typical diesel, atleast from the inside of the cabin. Build quality though, initially doubtful, can be said to be better than most of the earlier Tata offerings. There is also a mobile charger as also AUX and USB input provided with the top end variant.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
As discussed earlier, the engine was the only thing which was borrowed from a foreign body, Rover in this case. Sonalika group had some working relations with Rover and hence the relatively easy access to the engine. This engine in its earlier form used to produce only 75 Bhp. In a bid to upgrade it to BS4, Sonalika tinkered around with the settings and in the process bumped up the power to 120 Bhp with 285 Nm of torque to follow. The torque figures have nearly doubled from the BS2 variant. In some of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, the Rhino with its 75 Bhp form is sold. A 5 speed manual transmission does the duties of cog shifting. Though not as smooth when the car is initially warming up, once it has warmed up, the shifting process is relatively easy and the clutch is also light. The BS2 motor makes its power higher up in the rev range, which is quite usable on the English land highways but not for India, where traffic conditions demand that there should be more torque lower down in the rev range. This is duly addressed in the BS4 edition. The car feels sprightly to drive and inspite of a full load and with the AC on, there was no perceptible loss in power. This signals the fact that the driveability has been vastly improved over its previous non BS4 turbo intercooler version.
Speed runs from 0-100 kmph were dispatched in only 16 seconds as against the 22 seconds that the older BS2 version used to take. Top speed that when we checked out turned to be 154 kmph. Cruising around in 110 kmph seemed quite like a breeze to this MUV and its only after 120 kmph that it struggles to build up some speed. This same motor is going to be launched in the BS4 Tavera that is set to be launched soon.
Brakes work fantastically as they should in a MUV. No ABS means that panicky braking situations be better avoided. As far as safety is concerned, there are no airbags on offer. Well, most of the MUVs don’t offer this and this is a sad thing. Manufacturers should be more concerned about the safety of things rather than going in to kit their cars with all the equipment in the world.
Fuel efficiency that we got during the entire road test was a clean 14.8 kmpl. This included mixes of both the highway, city and also some off-road. Moreover, not only is the Rover derived diesel engine powerful but it is also quite fuel efficient. Being run on the sticky fuel means that running costs are also typically low.
The ICML Rhino in India is a vehicle with good build quality and also has got sufficient reliability. None of the bits and pieces of the vehicle came apart during the testing phase. Nonetheless, there were some panel gaps which seemed uneven and also some of the plastics used were of poor quality. ICML has been constantly developing their products and within due course of time, definitely, they would be up with the best in the industry. Recent news came in that they were developing a small car for the Indian car market and they might take help from Rover for this. If and when the new car comes in, it would boast of having better built interiors with more features and also build quality. The only problem is availability of service centers as also the fact that the Sonalika group isn’t thinking of getting promoting this car as they should be able to do so. Mr Mittal says that the company has got elaborate expansion plans and this is the reason why they are a bit late in starting off for this thing. He says that 2011 is an instrumental year for the company. We couldn’t agree more. The ICML Rhino price in India for the BS2 variant starts from Rs 5.6 lakhs while the top end BS4 variant is priced at Rs 7.7 lakhs. All these prices are ex-show room, Delhi. The 4 variants are Winner, Xciter, Royale and also Delite.