Ashok Leyland has finally decided to jump into the world of white number plates. And it's weapon of choice - a badge-engineered version of a brilliant people carrier worked over with the veteran LCV maker's magic touch
The Nissan NV200 is a brilliant platform. Ever since it was introduced back in 2009, it's been winning many awards and accolades around the world and recently has even been selected as the replacement for the venerable New York taxi. Last year, India received its very own NV200 in the form of the Evalia - a worthy, if yet understated passenger van to take on the likes of the Toyota Innova. Now however, it's Ashok Leyland's turn at taking a crack at the passenger MPV market with its very own Evalia based contender - the Stile.
Ashok Lelyand is probably one of the most famous names in India when it comes to the transport industry. It is nigh on impossible to travel even a few kilometers down any of our highways and not see one of the company's commercial vehicles keeping the nations economy running, plying goods from one city to the other. But this is really the first time Ashok Leyland is trying its hands at the rather more whimsical passenger car market. That being said, having a joint venture with Nissan (which we've already seen before in the for of the Dost) is the perfect stepping stone in the company's attempt at this segment, though it really isn't going to be an easy task in any way.
As soon as you look at the Stile, you realize that this is an Evalia - there's really no mistaking that. But on closer inspection, it becomes evident that Ashok Leyland has put in quite a bit of effort to differentiate the Stile from its Nissan badged twin. From the get go, it is clear that the Stile is not as premium as the Evalia, but that's ok... It's not meant to be. Now this can be a good thing and a bad. While the Stile is meant to provide all that the Evalia does at a much more affordable price point, it really does beg the question of whether it can take on the undisputed segment leader, the Toyota Innova, and make as much as a dent in its market share. But that is another question for another day.
Coming back to the Stile itself. Externally, especially in profile, you'll be forgiven for mistaking this for an Evalia, but come round the front, and the differences are amply clear. Ashok Leyland's treatment of the headlights is as delightful as it is refreshing. The sleek looking units have been replaced by big chunky ones and the grille as well as the front bumper has seen major rework. Suddenly the quirkyness of the Evalia has been replaced by a much needed and much more attractive butch quality. Round the back, barring the absence of the large reflectors on the tailgate, nothing has really been changed.
Even though this is a van in every sense of the design, and most people would be quick to dismiss vans as anything other than attractive, the Stile is definitely a major head turner. Driving down city streets, everyone from cabbies to youths chilling at the local Cafe Coffee Day were really going out of their way to check out the Stile when we rolled by in it. At one point, when we were chilling over a cup of coffee at said CCD, a cabbie driving an Evalia pulled alongside our parked Stile, got out and gave it a once over like nothing else, comparing every little detail of our car to his.
But let's be honest, when it comes to passenger vans, it is usually not what's on the outside that at matters, but whats on the inside. And on this front, the Stile seeks to fix all the little complaints that everyone including us had about the Evalia. While the overall cabin at the front is the same, there are some small inclusions as well as exclusions. For one, the missing glovebox lid which was a major bone of contention with the Evalia has been added and it's lockable too. With that gaping hole patched up, some bits if equipment have been dropped in favour of saving costs, most notable of which is the absence of a radio/music player. Now we didn't really expect to get some of the fancier bits such as the reversing camera, but ORVMs which you can't adjust internally just feel incomplete. Also, even though the Stile gets power windows at the front, the diver side switch area only contains a single switch for the drivers window. The passenger side window can only be raised or lowered by someone sitting in the passenger seat.
Still, no matter. The real meat of the changes can be seen at the back. Firstly, the second row bench seat has been replaced by a pair of captains chairs, a feature sorely missed on the Evalia and found on all its competitors. These seats can slide backwards and forwards on rails, but not my too much. But unless you've got giants sitting in the front, you should always be able to have enough room in the second row for almost any body type. At the moment, the top end LX variant of the Stile which we drove features these captains chairs in the middle row making it a 7 seater only, but the good folks at Ashok Leyland assure us that the 8 seat option with a bench for the second row (which is available only in the base LS version) would be available soon across all variants. Another feature which improves on the Evalia formula is the fact that the two sliding rear doors finally get openable windows.
These are not really full size windows and feel more like the slot windows found on Le Mans racers of the 70s, they're still big enough for you to fit your head through (if you tried) and would be an extremely welcome feature in the rural market where driving with the air conditioning in is considered taboo. But for those who do want the pleasures of air conditioning, the Stile also features air conditioning vents for the second row, but loses out that small AC blower that could be found next to the third bench on the Evalia.
Also, unlike the Evalia, the third row doesn't split and fold upwards. It only folds down and that somewhat restricts the amount of boot space you can free up when not using the third row. Of course, getting rid of these third row doesn't seem to be to big a hassle as removing a few bolts will allow you to get rid of the third bench completely. Even with the last bench in place, the Stile sports phenomenal boot space. The seats themselves are fairly comfortable no matter where you choose to sit and surprisingly eve the very back bench has headroom-a-plenty; the best in class we're told. Overall, the cabin exudes a sense of airiness that almost no other MPV in the market can match (barring its Nissan branded twin that is).
Under the hood, you get the same excellent K9K diesel engine that you find doing duty in a lot of Nissan vehicles. With a cubic capacity of 1.5-liters, the four cylinder turbocharged direct injection mill produces 75PS of power and 185 Nm of torque, which is 15 Nm less than the same engine in the Evalia. Ashok Leyland claims this is in the pursuit of extracting more mileage from the mill, which is quite believable. The ARAI mileage figure for the Stile is 19.5kmpl, which is a hair more than the Nissan, and significantly more than anything else in this segment. Of course, you'll have to wait for a proper road test of the Stile to figure out just how close the real world figures get to these test figures. Even though this engine now makes less torque, drivability is barely affected. It pulls rather easily from any rpm and the cable actuated shift action feels rather good. Handling is something you can't really expect from a vehicle in this category, aso this isn't something that we're giving much consideration. But compared to vans such as the Eeco and the Xylo, the Stile really keeps body roll under control and doesn't feel lairy at speed. It still doesn't have what it takes to beat the Innova in this segment, but hey, second place ain't too bad.
When it comes to actually driving this beast, youll be surprised just how easy it is. It might feel gigantic from the outside, but get into the drivers seat and you should be able to manage from the get-go. Up front, the view from the windshield is akin to those from one of the Volvo buses - very wide and commanding. The steering, though positioned in a slightly more horizontal manner (read: truck), is light to operate and feels precise through even heavy traffic and parking in tight spots as well. The pedals too have a nice and light action and the dead pedal next to the clutch is really a godsend be it on long drives or short.
Overall, the Stile is a pretty good product. It retains all the things that make the Evalia such a brilliant MPV and makes amends in the places where it was lacking, even though it does cut back on some of the fancier features. As of now, only the price of base LS trim has been announced, which stands at Rs 7.49 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), which is about 1.2 lakh of rupees less than the entry-level Evalia. This makes the Stile great value, if nothing else - unmatched practicality at an affordable price! Now the guys at Ashok Leyland say that while they would happily welcome the passenger car buyer, they're primarily targeting the fleet and the rura market, the latter of which should find it an extremely attractive offering. It seems rather unlikely that the urban car buyer will hold much interest in the Stile beyond initial fascination. But with cars such as the Innova getting more and more expensive by the day, fleet owners could start considering vehicles such as the Stile the next best option. Whether that actually happens is something that really remains to be seen though.