Force Motors Force One : First Drive

After teasing us with some really enticing pictures of the Force One and then having spotted the Force One under testing in the Himalayas, it is finally here. ZigWheels took the first passenger car product from the Force Motors portfolio for a spin even before its launch though and first impressions seem commendable!

This isn’t the first time that we’re seeing an Indian manufacturer more known for its commercial vehicles stepping into the passenger car segment – Mahindra did it with the Scorpio all those years back and Tata Motors with the Indica. But Force Motors faces a much bigger challenge with the Force One considering that the Indian car market and buyer have evolved many folds since then. Despite the uphill task in brand building that the Force Motors marketing wing have ahead of them in the coming months, the manufacturer that has been winning Indian hearts since 1958 when it was known as Bajaj Tempo has picked out the best possible weapon for their passenger car armoury. Having started off with the Matador half a century back and then moving on to give us such hits as the Minidor, Trax and the hugely inspiring (for those who actually sampled one) Gurkha, it came as no surprise that Force Motors’ first offering for the urban buyer would be an SUV. When the rebranded division within Force Motors teased the Force One just under two months back it did create quite a stir and everyone wanted to know more. Well, we’ve driven it and here’s what we’ve figured out!

The first reaction everyone has when they spot the Force One is, “that looks just like a Ford Endeavour”! And for all that matters, it does. But dare we say it, it goes one up in the sense that one the outside it may have the proportions of an Endeavour, but on the inside it feels a lot more spacious. It’s quite a simple design actually – no major design flair anywhere that really stands out, but God is in the details as they say. The front is dominated by the massive grille garnished with loads of chrome – just the way we Indians apparently like it. The new Force Motors logo adorns the centre with the rectangular headlamps curving over the bonnet flanking the grille on both sides. The setup does hark back to the old Endeavour but also has a bit of Nissan X-Trail in the mix if you really were to draw on any kind of inspiration the designers might have had. The grille itself seeps down into the front bumper with round fog lamps on either side. But then you see that slick row of LED daytime running lights at the bottom of the headlamps and it makes you think why no other Indian SUV has had that on there before. Moving to the side you see some really flared up wheel arches leading into a simple and uneventful profile. The Force One does get turn indicators on the wing mirrors though – another upmarket detail. The rest of the car seems boxy with rounded off edges, but in no way is that a bad thing and the Force One does its job of looking tough but not overly intimidating on the road. It’s the rear end that could have really used some inspiration.

With its flat and jagged tail lamp unit it isn’t really the best backside we’ve seen. Maybe placing the spare wheel on the tailgate would have done the visual appeal some good but considering that it swings up instead of sideways for better practicality, I’d say it’s a compromise that can be lived with. Then there are those suave twin tail pipe ends, rear fog lamps and tiny spoiler which pretty up the picture instantly. The Force One also comes with a pair of factory-fitted roof rails – an SUV 101! But what really enhances the proportions of the Force One are its legs – beautiful five-spoke and well crafted alloy wheels with chunky 235/70 R16 Apollo Hawkz rubber on them make for great poise and despite its length, the car looks nicely squatted and ready for action.

On the inside things have been kept simple with a lot of beige everywhere interspersed with another Indian favourite – wood-finish garnish. The ‘wood’ though doesn’t seem like too much of an eyesore and integrates well with the light interiors. I for one am not a big fan of light interiors, especially in such dusty conditions as India and when things can get really dirty in the monsoons but considering that most people like it this way, Force One has done a good job with not just the way the cabin looks, but also with its comfort. The dash itself is a simple and clutter-free layout with the speedometer and odometer on the far ends flanking a row of tell tale lights and a trip computer that gives you all sorts of information on a digital display. The steering wheel is nice and chunky – just the way it should be and is nicely weighed to give decent levels of feedback from the front tyres while still keeping things stress-free in tight traffic. The horn pad – which wasn’t exactly the final production piece when we drove the Force One also houses controls for not only the JVC music system, but also for a Bluetooth phone and cruise control! The only niggle we had with the Force One’s controls were the very tacky stalks for the headlights and wipers – which again, weren’t exactly the final production pieces. The centre console follows the ‘simple’ theme and is dominated by the large music system which has both AUX and USB capability. The air conditioning vents get sandwiched between the audio controls and the twin cigarette lighter and electric socket at the bottom. The rear passengers get their individual air con vents – even for the third row.

Space is the key selling point on the Force One and it has loads of it. Even with the front seats pushed all the way back to the stops the middle row occupants have more than enough but what really surprises is the room on offer for the third row. You see, the backrests on the middle row can be inclined to suit your mood and despite that the third row can easily seat two adults – though the really tall ones would rather be in the front or second rows! The seats themselves are plush and supportive though we will still have to await the full road test to see if they can hold their own on a long journey and considering that Force Motors plans to reel in more than one Toyota Innova mindset buyer as well, we’d say they should be up to the task. Storage space, quite obviously isn’t any trouble at all with a ginormous glovebox and loads of cubby holes all round.

So they’ve done a good job on the ergonomics but Force Motors haven’t really left the performance bit unattended. It is old news that the Force One is powered by a 2.2 litre Mercedes powerplant built by them under license from Daimler. But the engine is also mated to a 5-speed Mercedes gearbox which is a great move to have made – after all, why change it if it works, and it works so well! We were driving a pre-production unit which still had a few rough edges which the boffins at Force Motors assured us will be sorted out by the time the vehicles hit the showrooms – which is now, so the gear lever didn’t really slot into its shift gates as easily as we would have liked it to, but that said the engine and gearbox combination is a delight. Armed with loads of torque that kicks in at just the right rpm and stays there through the rev range, the Force One is a good SUV to be driving. Mind you, it isn’t really blisteringly quick or anything, but just so easy and stress-free to drive. That means minimal gear changes even when stuck in peak traffic and also comfortable cruising speeds without the need to downshift every single time you plan on overtaking someone. And that in turn translates into good fuel efficiency coupled with the fact that this car is run by a diesel motor – smiles all around and savings in your pocket! There’s not much noise seeping into the cabin either and considering that vibrations from the engine have been well taken care of you aren’t going to be rocking inside every time the engine is running. Now that makes for a strong and comfortable package indeed, but there’s one more aspect that needs mentioning here.

When a manufacturer takes the effort to fly out a pre-production sample to Lotus Engineering in the UK just to sort out its suspension setup you know they mean business! These are the guys that set up the springs on the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 and the Toyota MR2 – legendary cars known for their handling, but they also did their bit for the Mahindra Scorpio when it was first launched. While the Scorpio was an inherently taller design and body roll couldn’t really be avoided, the Force One sits lower and is longer which instantly means good overall stability. With the Lotus-tuned suspension working its magic on all four wheels, this makes for not only a plush ride quality but also some pretty decent handling even when thrown around a bit. On our brief first drive around the Force Motors plant in Pitampur near Indore, we took it out to a slightly off-road location and it handled every bump, grind and pot hole quite effectively. But to get there we also had to go through a dug up construction site and that’s where the suspension setup really shone through. It kept the Force One as flat as possible and never once did it ground out – which also speaks a lot about the car’s more than adequate ground clearance.

That’s quite a bit that we returned with considering the brief time that we spent with the Force One and for a detailed view on the car’s performance and fuel consumption we’ll have to wait till we can get our instrumented tests done back home in Pune. That will also be when we take the Force One for a bit more off-roading, which by the way is now available only in 4x2 form. The 4x4 version is currently under development and should make its way to showrooms in few months. So with the Force One, there emerges an Indian SUV that does most things right and doesn’t compromise on space or comfort while at it – which isn’t bad for a first effort from a company that has been known more for its utility vehicles and light trucks. The Force One emerges as a worthy competitor to the likes of the other entry-level SUV crowd but also surpasses them in terms of the gadgetry on board – what with the steering controls, cruise control, electrically adjustable mirrors, parking sensors and LED daytime lights coming in as standard equipment. It could even shake away a few MPV buyers provided the price is right. Considering all of that the Force One will most definitely be slightly pricier than the Mahindra Scorpio and Tata Safari, but for the exact numbers, do look up our launch story and for a detailed analysis watch this space for the complete road test!

Recommended Variant : Force One SX ABS 6 STR

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