More is just right

Stacking up surprises, the new range of compact SUVs entering the auto market is bringing in impressive features at the price of hatchbacks

More is just right

Renault Triber Price: Rs4.95 lakh – Rs6.63 lakh Engine: 1.0L 72 PS Fuel economy: 20.0 km/L

Sudeep Koshy

Extended. That is one word that pretty much marks most things Indian. From extended deadlines, extended budgets and extended patience (which helps put up with those other ‘extended’ things!) to the typically Indian phenomenon of ‘extended family’. The last one could be one of the factors that warrant the presence of extended vehicles in our lives. I am talking about the growing number of 7-seat vehicles that are less than four metres in length. These are already making up a distinct segment of their own — rapidly growing in innovative thinking, impressive features and also, legroom!

I call them extended because in many of them, the two extra seats are there as an afterthought or an appendage, unlike the 7-seat MPVs and SUVs that are longer by at least half a metre — exemplified by the Toyota Innova, Renault Lodgy or the Suzuki Ertiga on one side and the Fortuner or Pajero on the other. What is common between these larger MPVs and SUVs is utility, while sportiness and styling seem to be the differentiator. Interestingly, the sub-4m segment seems to be somewhat confused, in variously describing themselves as SUVs, MPVs or CUVs (crossover utility vehicles).

Datsun Go Plus Price: Rs 4.15lakh – Rs 6.83 lakh
Engine: 1.2L 67 PS Fuel economy: 19.83 km/l

Honestly, the title really doesn’t matter because, in this segment, any presumed capability for adventure and those two extra seats largely face the same fate — these are seldom used. These are like strips of paracetamol or the tube of burns-cream found in every household. Just in case.

Understandably, making space for ‘just in case’ and trying to keep the price low inevitably compromises on storage, legroom and engine size!

here come the detachable seats

A recently launched vehicle seems to offer a simple yet clever solution for the space conundrum. The vehicle: Renault Triber; the solution: detachable third row seats. This under-4 m SUV (or MPV, if you please) seems to complete many quests that the Datsun Go Plus initiated five years ago, at a time when two extra seats were all that was needed to stand out while flaunting a sub-Rs5 lakh price tag.

Safety First

  • ABS and EBD being standard across the range, the number of airbags is what sets the French model superior in a segment that habitually has two. The Renault Triber brings side airbags for the first time to the segment, besides the driver and passenger airbags. The first-in-class for Datsun GoPlus is Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) which adds to driver confidence, along with the Brake Assist (BA) feature.

It is interesting to see how Renault’s new model overcomes many limitations in a sub-4 metre vehicle and how its rivals add value to this class — all while keeping the starting price around Rs 7 lakh or less.

Besides Datsun Go Plus, Bolero Power Plus and Nuvosport from Mahindra & Mahindra were early claimants to this space, and revving up to join the bunch is a 7-seat version of the Suzuki Brezza, rumoured to be revealed at the Auto Expo next month.

I should add that while Maruti Suzuki Ertiga has a generously specked new generation and is reasonably close in price, it outsizes our criterion by 40 cm.

Space and size, two different things

In a compact utility vehicle, third row seating can usually punish the knees and thigh muscles on long drives. The Triber has introduced a slide function to the second row seats. These seats can move forward and backward on a rail, thus letting a taller person in the third row to pinch a bit of legroom from the second row.

Maruti Suzuki Ertiga, too, shares this thoughtful feature but in the Renault,

the independent seat in the second row has a fold and tumble function too, making it easier to climb into the last row.

Seat or storage, what’s your choice?

Style and sportiness

  • Among the three representative vehicles, the Mahindra-made model and the Renault share their stance and style with an SUV with a higher ground clearance of 180 and 182 mm respectively. Datsun Go Plus on the other hand underline comfort rather than adventure with a 170 mm ground clearance and proportions akin to an MPV.

Often, the third row just sits there eating up space. So, the detachable third row seats in Triber are a useful innovation that gives one the option of choosing among 5, 6 or 7 seats at any point. In terms of storage, this means a choice of 625 and 84 L of boot space. One of the rear seats or both may be stowed away till the weekend or till folks are visiting — very convenient!

Mahindra & Mahindra chooses to tackle this question of space wastage through foldable third row seats that are fixed on the sidewalls. While this does free up storage space between the folded seats, sitting sideways could sometimes bring up the issue of ‘knock-knees’ between the rear seat occupants.

Drivetrain and performance

This is where the Mahindra vehicles lead the pack. Renault Triber has chosen a 1.0L 3-cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual gearbox to deliver its modest 72 PS power. While the fact remains that it pulls a fully loaded Triber uphill without a grunt, Mahindra casts a winning impression with 1.5 L and 2.5 L mHawk diesel engines in the Bolero Power Plus. Even though their maximum output is the same as the Triber, they can produce a torque output of up to 195 Nm. As for the GoPlus, even with a marginally bigger engine (1.2L) than the Triber’s, the output trails at 67 hp.

As for the transmissions, Datsun uses a CVT other than the manual gearbox, and is emphatic about being ‘fully automatic’ while both the Triber and the Bolero Power Plus come equipped with a 5-speed manual only. Interestingly, Datsun and Renault have favoured the petrol engine while Mahindra swears by diesel.

One of the most apparent advantages in the sub 4.0 m compact SUV segment is better fuel economy, thanks to smaller engines. Renault Triber, with its 20.0 km/l claim, shares the podium with Datsun GoPlus offering 19.83. The Mahindra Bolero PowerPlus 1.5 L delivers 16.5.

What you pay Vs What you get

With features like walkaway locking through a smart access key, four airbags, AC vents in each of the three rows, an 8” central monitor and dual cool boxes in the cabin, the features found in the Renault Triber are functional as well as fashionable. They dramatically loom over the Triber’s price, which is strategically placed between Rs5 lakh and Rs7 lakh. With a long list of firsts in its class, what Renault Triber does best is to ‘extend’ the expectations of the consumer, while inspiring the competition and new entrants to enrich this class in the coming days.

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