| ||The Grand Vitara || || |
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| ||It's fun to look down from a height every now and then be it from the mountains or a cliff or for that matter even while driving a car. It's even more so if you can combine both of these as one complete experience. My recent drive to the Uttarakhand hills in a Suzuki Grand Vitara was one such experience. |
I have been driving a few SUVs now and then in the mid-segment of the luxury SUV pile but it was the Grand Vitara which had still managed to evade my leaden foot.
I chose the third-generation 5-seater SUV from Suzuki for another important reason - it's the most inexpensive of the entire lot at around Rs 13.8 lakh ex-showroom (manual transmission), New Delhi, while still remaining a compact SUV. And given the choppy fuel prices and the overall spectre of a high interest regime, a comparative lower priced option in the segment I thought, made eminent sense. This is despite the fact that, according to some, price and mileage does not matter to buyers in that snooty segment.
The Grand Vitara drives on the highways like a breeze but high-speed passing can demand patience, perhaps the only visible downside. It has a spacious cabin - a smart blend of stiff plastic surfaces and padded panels. Front occupants enjoy adequate headroom and leg space. Dashboards hold large, clear gauges. Audio and climate controls are mounted high, within easy reach; both benefit from large knobs and clearly marked buttons.
Though compact, the Vitara manages to look chunky and chic at the same time. Smooth curves merge seamlessly with sharply drawn lines. The distinctive steel front grille, the sturdy bonnet with a clamp shell design, the distinctive multi-reflector halogen projector headlamps coupled with the large vertically stacked tail lamps enhance the butch look and feel of the vehicle. Even while driving, it feels quite brutal like the Gypsy. Instead of crashing softly into potholes, the Vitara feels tough and bouncy. The 1995cc 16-valve DOHC Suzuki motor produces 119.5 bhp at 5500 rpm and 17.4 kgm at 3500 revs. The drive is accentuated with advanced features such as variable induction system that helps to stretch the litre of gas.
All Grand Vitaras have a passive 4x4 and three lockable differentials, to be used depending on the terrain. For instance, you have the luxury of changing into a setting, which is better for wet roads or one when you get stuck in mud.
Needless to say you feel so much in control of your destiny when you are inside the vehicle because of this, especially when you are using it in the mountains during the monsoons. Never really got to experience these options though.
Apart from some bad roads from time to time there was a particularly jarring stretch of about 25 km near Rudrapur and the MacPherson strut suspension in front and multi-link springs in the rear helped it to ride over all that without losing composure. But still I felt that the damping could have been better. But that apart, a higher ground clearance of 200mm also helped to take the rough but not necessarily with the smoothest moves.
Though the Vitara's width at 1810 mm is perhaps one of the best in this category, it never for once proved to be a spoilsport on some of the narrow arterial routes that we took from time to time during the course of the trip. And especially, while cornering the 16-inch tyres provided fantastic grip.
The average fuel efficiency for the entire trip was not too bad either at 8.5 km per litre, considering there was a hill drive component thrown in. On a long drive like this perhaps one could also do with some of the other frills such as armrests with storage compartments, a good audio system with steering mounted controls and remote.
Our final destination was Mukhteshwar, a sleepy quaint town about two hours drive from Nainital. From Delhi, it's about 300 km depending on the route, which took us about nine hours. Unlike its more famous cousin Nainital, you don¿t have the crowds, the lake or fun and games.
But then you do not choose to go to Mukteshwar for all that. Surrounded by pine, apple, apricots and plum trees, it's nature at its best. And if you are lucky (weather permitting), the magnificent Himalayas might oblige you.
We weren't so lucky as the clouds that seemed to waft out of nowhere almost always shrouded the horizon.
The sun appeared at times only to warm our shoulders for sometime before suddenly leaving without saying goodbye. There are quite a few resorts in Mukhteshwar, most of which offer a comfortable and charming view but the one with the best view perhaps is the PWD guesthouse. But make sure you book that well in advance with the district administration.
The July mornings are snug and just right to lounge in the sun if it's not drizzling. Or you can head out for fishing in a mountain stream, rock climbing, trekking or just a walk to one of the innumerable villages dotting the landscape.
Both my sons loved the days spent in the wilderness along with a picnic bag, specially the one which includes going into the village to pluck ripe apples from trees or potatoes from the ground. Overall, a 'grand' feel for the city bred-both within the Vitara and outside.