Its been 9 long year since anyone last heard of Premier Automobiles and their cars. Oh, yes, you get to hear about their cars namely the Premier Padmini taxis but even those are now been phased out. I very much remember the wheezy cab that I had to take when going to Gateway of India. For my 6 foot frame, I am amazed that it could accommodate me so easily. Its not about sitting in the front but in the rear. Anyways, all this gyaan about the company and its history is because of the very fact that Premier Automobiles are been resurrected now. Don’t believe me? They have launched India’s first compact SUV named the Premier Rio in India in the year 2009. Now this vehicle would also have the dubious distinction of been the first Chinese car to be sold in India. Premier’s liasions with Chinese car maker Zoyte has resulted in this launch. An interesting trivia is Zoyte has an alliance with Fiat and currently most of the Fiat vehicles which are out of commission elsewhere in the world are rebadged as Zoytes and sold in China. It would be prudent enough to say that Premier Automobiles have come a full circle. The Premier Rio is also a rebadged Toyota from Japan. Now, don’t ask me as to how I got hold of a Premier Rio for a testdrive. I am sure most of our readers wouldn’t even have heard of this SUV, let alone see it in flesh.
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Small is what the first impression of this SUV would be. It measures only 3.9 meters in length. It is a 5 seater. The face reminded me of the Hyundai Tucson minus some aggression. Even with the bonnet lid closed, the shut line felt as if it is still open. I am sure most of us Indians would have forgotten even the logo of Premier by now. The clear lens head lamps and the closely associated fog lamps make a style statement. The bumper is a black plastic one moulded onto the head lamps. The tyres are 205 / 70 R15 Tubeless Radials. For the top end variant which I had with me, it had alloys. The same bumper claddings cut across on the side profile as well. The wing mirrors are black in color and totally flat. The tyres are also of Chinese make. The rear also has a wide wind screen with vertically stacked tail lamps. Like the other Indians who are fast adopting the theme of single reversing light, the Rio also has one to the left. It is located on the blackened bumper. There is a chrome handle for the sideways opening rear hatch. The spare wheel is attached to the rear hatch. The single tail pipe is chrome tipped.
If you ever know why the Chinese are popular for apart from the tasty Chinese food and increasing population, it is for the cheap goods that they supply. Get into the interiors and you would notice it all around. I am sorry, I couldn’t get into the driver’s seat due to my XXL size frame and had to request my XL size colleague to step in. Even with my colleague seated in the driver’s seat, he barely had room to move his right arm as the door pad was snug against him. The instrument panel is one hell of a dated thing with the temperature gauge showing figures from 50 to 130. The RPM meter is also antique and would even look good in a Rolls Royce sans the cheapness. There are front power windows and also electronically adjustable rear view mirrors. The front passenger seat was also uncomfortable with the design of the dash playing spoil sport. The leather wrapped steering wheel felt good to hold though. The door pockets are so slim that apart from a few pieces of paper, there wasn’t any other thing that it could hold. There is a scoop on the bonnet but then it is slightly tilted which means that if the vehicle goes over a bump, everything inside would spill on the lap of the front passenger. Just below it is a glove box and just tugging at the mechanism made me wonder how it would work if I had to just remove something urgently. I had to tug at it many times to actually make the system work.
Circa the rear seats. They too were seriously lacking in the leg room as well as shoulder room department. The only good thing was that the rear head rests incline to a 120 degree angle and the backrest is also nicely angled. The rear seats also split 50:50 but then only mid sized individuals would be able to fit in. As far as boot space goes, it is a hatchback rivaling 320 liters. The space is very much usable and may be the only good feature in the Premier Rio in India’s interiors.
Having a small track means that the Premier Rio in India is blessed with a tight turning radius. To be exact it is 4.9 meters, just 0.1 meter more than the Maruti Alto. The steering wheel is very light and makes it very easy to chuck this SUV in the city. This light steering turned a curse on the highway with no feedback at all. It was utterly lifeless and was a scary experience as well. NVH is on the higher side with the diesel engine been an old school unit and not much present under the hood by the way of noise damping materials.This SUV is built on a ladder frame chassis with coil springs at the rear and MacPherson struts at the front. The good thing is that due to this chassis, Indians can expect the vehicle to be much sturdy than what its build quality would suggest. The ground clearance is befitting an SUV. Due to its high center of gravity, the SUV doesn’t have good handling characteristics. It rolls and then rolls some more while cornering. Moreover, power is sent to the rear wheels only as there are no differential locks or low gear ratio credentials to go with the SUV image. Ride quality, typical of cars with small wheelbase is bouncy at low speeds and somewhat stable at high speeds.
When Peugeot wrapped their Indian operations, they left behind their 1.5 liter TuD5 diesel engine. This engine was in use in old Maruti Esteems, Peugeot 309 and also the Maruti Zen. At its time, this engine was the best that was available in India until the Hyundai CRDI came into picture. But seriously using this engine now would be a crime and that is the same crime that Premier Automobiles have done. The capacity of this 1.5 liter engine has been reduced somewhat with Premier Automobiles tinkering around with the engine a bit. The peak power that this engine develops now is 65 Ps at 4000 rpm whereas the torque of 152 Nm is generated at 2250 rpm. Premier have attached a fixed geometry turbo charger inside the engine to help it meet BS3 norms. Since it was a test drive, I couldn’t time the 0-100 kmp run but then it would be around the region of 19-20 seconds. The 5 speed gearbox has a nice action going its way but then the throws are long and at times or two, I even experienced gear teeth whining. It seems that Premier Automobiles, wants Indians to take a trip down memory lane as for the SUV, they have provided for glow plug switches. The top speed is expected to be in the region of 120-130 kmph. I would really pity anyone doing that speeds in this vehicle because of the engine noise. It is very intrusive as well as the vibes felt from the pedals would discourage any such action.
Brakes are discs in front and drums at the rear. Braking action left much to be desired but then there is ABS and EBD on the top variant as a consolation. As far as safety goes there are no air bags or modern gadgetry but only seat belts with pre-tensioners and side intrusion beams.
Fuel efficiency is another thing which I couldn’t check but then keeping in mind the performance aspects and the intended clientele, the fuel efficiency would hover around the 14 kmpl mark overall and been a diesel, it shouldn’t be a big thing.
Premier Rio Photo Gallery
Now coming to the price, the Premier Rio price in India starts from Rs 5,61,234 and ends at Rs 6,33,979. The variants of the same are base Premier Rio EX, middle variant Premier Rio DX and the top of the line Premier Rio LX. The main question is who would go and buy the Premier Rio in India. There are no great creature comforts to speak of except for an AC and 1 CD music system. Not even proper space. Where are the service centers or for that matter outlets of Premier? Popping open the hood revealed a part named as Padmini. Are you kidding me? Premier is using the old cast and dies left behind of the Padmini and using it in this so called new vehicle. God save the buyer and Premier Automobiles company.