The Indian soft roader scene has become very tough now. Earlier it was the sole dominion of the Honda CR-V with the occasional fight from the Hyundai Tucson. Later on, the Chevrolet Captiva joined the party and due to its diesel power plant and cheaper price tag, it won over the Indian hearts. Nissan India Limited started their operations in India with their world famous soft roader, the Nissan X-Trail. Due to its highish price, it only found takers in the hotel luxury segment. Now enters the fourth and the most recent player of this segment, the Hyundai Santa Fe. It seems that this SUV was long in the coming and we have been hearing about its impending arrival from the year 2006. However Hyundai Motors India Limited chose to launch this car recently. Now, checking out by the target set by Hyundai Motors India Limited for this car in India, they have already exhausted it. Now, the bookings for this SUV have been temporarily stopped and the company is importing more cars into India. With the launch of this new player, things have evidently heated up and it was obvious that we get them all for a showdown and decide the newest king of the soft roader segment. Since the CR-V is one of the those cars which the Indian public nowadays shuns due to its high price, we didn’t include it in this comparo, however, it is still the benchmark to beat. Also the Mitsubishi Outlander wasn’t available as for a test and hence it had to be ignored as well.
Chevrolet Captiva- This is one of the best looking soft roaders in this country apart from the Honda CR-V. It muscled stance with those soft looks lend it some sort of character. The pictures don’t do justice to this car and it would seem small however in reality this soft roader is big. Infact it is as big as the Hyundai Santa Fe. The head lamps are quadrilaterals and the Chevy bowtie sits atop the partition in the grille. The fog lamps sit just above the meshed air dam. It has a plastic skid plate to protect the bumper from scratches and rocks. The side profile reveals big outside rear view mirrors with blinkers on them. The 17 inch tyres for the Chevrolet Captiva in India also have some sort of substance in them and this lends them a character. The wheel arches also have a plastic cladding over them. The rear shows a coupe like stance with angular tail lamps. The rear bumper also sports the skid plates under which are located the twin tail pipes.
Nissan X-Trail- This is one boxy looking SUV. It has the typical Nissan grille with brick like head lamps. The air dam is almost absent. The fog lamps are placed at both the sides of the wheels as opposed to in the lower bumper. The 17 inch tyres are also elegant. The wing mirrors are also big but are amongst the smallest in this comparo. The roof rails are also subtle and barely protrude from the roofs. The rear end is particularly boxy and has vertically stacked tail lamps. A black plastic covers up the bumper and a single tail pipe protrudes from underneath.
Hyundai Santa Fe- The newest kid on the block is actually not so new world across. It is actually the seventh generation one. It has Hyundai’s fluidic concept design elements with a horizontal AC slat grille with oblong head lamps and an air dam which has a big aggressive opening. The fog lamps are housed in their own slats and look very nice. The turn indicators are also located in the outside rear view mirrors. The rear in comparison to the front looks a bit heavy. It has those elongated tail lamps with clear lens. Covering the lower bumper is the black plastic cladding and this houses one or rather two of the largest tail pipes in this segment.
This is a tough one however, overall the Chevrolet Captiva in India wins this due to its easy on eyes look.
Chevrolet Captiva- The Chevrolet Captiva features a higher stance than the others in this class and hence climbing up should be a bit of a hassle. However once inside the cabin, you would be greeted with a smart dash board. Brushed aluminium strips contribute to the nicely made up central console. The instrument panel looks simple and is supported by a big steering wheel with the Chevy bowtie resting on it. There is a navigation system, of which, the fonts are illegible in the bright sunlight. Unfortunately the quality of materials used seems inferior to the competition. There are some bad plastic bits abounding in the cabin. The gear lever is also half made of leather and the other half of metal. Powered goodies abound however only the driver gets powered seat. The aircon is one of the talking points in the Chevy and it has a microprocessor which filters particulate matter in recirculate mode. The front seats are comfortable however the rear ones seem a bit lacking in under thigh support. The access to the third row seats is quite easy however these are best left for kids. The boot space is also limited with all the seats up however the gas mounted strut tug lever helps in folding the second row of seats flat.
Nissan X-Trail- This is one of the interiors which is subtle at its best. The first thing that you notice is that this car has hard wearing but soft to touch materials. Its 3 spoke steering wheel is devoid of audio controls. The instrument binnacle is one of the best in this segment for the Nissan X-Trail in India. The driver as well as passengers get heated seats. In a country like India, these are redundant however those living in the cooler climes would welcome this feature. The standard audio system has good sound quality and features aux and USB ports. One of the thoughtful touches in this cabin is that it has a chilled bottle holder. Room in the cabin is also abundant in all the rows. Sorely missing though is the lack of third row of seats. The boot space as a result is huge. It even has a washable plastic floor. The second row of seats also get their own AC controls.
Hyundai Santa Fe- The biggest vehicle on the outside also is bigger from the inside. The front seats are way too comfy and would accommodate the biggest of the frames. The steering wheel is a 4 spoke affair and has cruise control, Bluetooth pairing and also the standard audio controls. The quality of materials used is also un Hyundai like and is of very high quality. This however is no patch for the Nissan X-trail’s cabin. What the Hyundai Santa Fe has in oodles is space and equipment. There is also a roof mounted entertainment system, 6 CD and 8 speaker audio system. However the layout of buttons makes the cabin seem a bit cluttered. The second as well as the third row of seats get their own AC controls. Access to the third row is a bit tricky though and the system is complicated than the simplistic one on the Chevy.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is a heavily loaded vehicle with lots of equipment on offer and space in plenty.
Handling and ride quality
Chevrolet Captiva- Been on a car platform, this means that all these soft roaders are easy going in the city. Starting with the steering wheel, it is light for city use however like all the Chevys in India, the Chevrolet Captiva’s unit doesn’t weight up nicely once the speeds rise. This makes it a bit vague. Been on a raised platform means that the car rolls a fair bit. On the sharp bumps, this translates to an unsettled ride quality. Once the speeds build up, the self leveling suspension works its magic. Overall, this can be called as an average performer in this lot and is nowhere near the segment bench mark, the Honda CR-V. Cornering at sedate speeds is acceptable on this car.
Nissan X-Trail- This is the most car like to drive in this lot. Its well weighted steering wheel is a delight to use and to even hold in the hand. It makes driving an occasion. The levels of the grip in this car is also quite high than its competition. It has less dive on the roll however the softer suspension does make its presence felt time and again by bobbing up and down. The ride is sort of perfect with its good ride quality at low speeds and sort of nervous ride at high speeds. Cornering is better achieved in the Nissan X-Trail in India since it controls its body roll quite well.
Hyundai Santa Fe- The tallest of all these cars does have a stiffness in its suspension. It is also of the self leveling types. However it is rock solid on the highway and doesn’t get buffeted around due to its sheer weight. Absorbing all of the road imperfections are the tall springs. It also corners well however not in the same ball park as the Nissan X-Trail.
It does show a top heavy feeling however that is to be dismissed considering that people aren’t going to take this to a race track. The steering wheel is typically Hyundai with some of the sensitivity lost at high speeds. This saying, it is better than the Chevrolet’s unit.
This round goes to the Nissan X-trail with the Hyundai Santa Fe following closely.
Engine,Performance and fuel efficiency
Chevrolet Captiva- The 4 cylinder 1995 cc turbo charged common rail direction injection diesel motor makes 148 Bhp and 316 Nm of torque. The manual transmission car is offered only with 2 wheel drive mode and hence this means that this car is quick off the block. It has one of the smallest motor and output in this segment. It races from 0-100 kmph in 11.72 seconds. It has a top speed of 176 kmph. The gear box is sort of notchy like the other Chevrolet units but nevertheless slots into gate well. The turbo in this unit is peaky and this means that there is sort of turbo lag at low speeds however get past 2000 rpm and the motor performs with gusto. The motor is also very smooth in its operation.
Hauling this car to a stop are disc brakes both at the front and rear coupled with ABS and ESP. Safety is also taken care by the Chevrolet Captiva featuring collapsible steering wheel, twin air bags and 3 point seat belts. Fuel efficiency due to the shorter gearing is good in the city at 9.5 kmpl and 11.5 kmpl on the highway.
Nissan X-Trail- This car features a 4 cylinder 1995 cc turbo charged, common rail direction injection diesel motor putting out 150 Bhp of power and 327 Nm of torque. It features on demand 4 wheel drive and a 6 speed auto gear box. Both the engine as well as the gear box are a perfect complement to each other. The engine revs sweetly all the way to its 5,200 rpm. This despite it been a diesel. There is little turbo lag however that is dispatched quickly. The clutch action is also quite light and ideal for city driving. The car sprints from 0-100 kmph in only 10.88 seconds and goes on to register a top speed of 201 kmph. This car gets a choice of manual tranny as well. Braking is handled by all wheel disc brakes aided by ESP, traction control and ABS. Safety is taken care by collapsible steering wheel, 6 air bags and also 3 point seat belts.
Hyundai Santa Fe- The Hyundai Santa Fe in India is blessed with a 4 cylinder in line 2199 cc turbo charged engine, common rail direction injection diesel which makes 195 Bhp of peak power and 429 Nm of torque. This is by far the biggest capacity motor in this comparo. It has company in a 6 speed transmission which is slick however not as good as the Nissan X-trail’s unit. This is a dynamo of a motor which powers the 1868 Kg vehicle from 0-100 kmph in 9.61 seconds and reaches a top speed of 190 kmph. The motor is highly refined and doesn’t make one realize the stratospheric speeds that the vehicle is capable of. The only dampener in the package is the heavy clutch which requires a firm shove. Braking is also good however the pedal action needs to be re-calibrated since it requires a push. There is no automatic option as of now however Hyundai Motors Limited India says that they would introduce it very soon. Assisting the powerful disc brakes are ABS, ESP and EBD. The Hyundai Santa Fe in India is also one of the safest SUVs around. It features a roll over sensor, 6 air bags, seat belts with pre-tensioners and a collapsible steering column.
This round squarely goes to the Hyundai Santa Fe.
The Indian buyers are spoilt for choices with the number of new or refreshed soft roaders coming their way. Out of the three evaluated here, they have a wide price range difference with the cheapest of the lot been the Chevrolet Captiva followed by the Hyundai Santa Fe and then the Nissan X-Trail. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the latter is the best in this lot. Infact, it sits squarely in the middle. Starting with the Chevrolet Captiva, it is a well rounded package and has the looks to go with all the show. If you are in the market to buy a Captiva now, you would get a discount since the 2011 model is just some days away. Its price for the Indian market for the two wheel drive version is Rs.17.96 lakhs for the two wheel drive manual version whereas for the 4 wheel drive version, it is Rs.21,46 lakhs. The Nissan X-Trail may not seem a logical choice considering the company’s miniscule operations in India however it cannot be ignored since it has many of the good things that one would want in their soft roader. It is very quiet in its operation, has good fuel efficiency and the best of ride, handling package. However its high price of Rs.26 lakhs for the top end 6 speed auto is a dampener. The Hyundai Santa Fe on the other hand is a butch soft roader which can easily pass off for a hardcore SUV. It has got immense road presence, good space, high equipment list and a bomb of an engine. Adding to its immense list of potentials is the fact that it is also one of the safest SUVs around. Its sticker price of around Rs.23 lakhs also make it a sensible buy and hence our choice of soft roader in this segment.