Premier Rio: First Drive

If there was a space vacant in the Indian automotive sphere, here is a vehicle that will fit it like a glove. Adil Jal Darukhanawala grabs a first drive of the new mini-SUV from Premier Automobiles on its comeback trail




Yes that's right, Rio is the name of the new mini-SUV which many car makers plain dumb ignored and it is here that an old venerable name from the motor manufacturing business hopes to reinvent itself. Let's avoid the riddles and cut straight to the chase which in this case is of Premier Limited announcing its advent back as a speciality car maker in India.


Better known eons ago for its Premier Padminis and Fiat Unos plus the eminently forgettable Peugeot 304 which pulled the company down (or was it the other way around! - the jury is out on this count), Premier under the stewardship of Maitreya Doshi, grandson of Walchand Hirachand, has embarked on a whole new way to get back into a segment of industry which his family helped pioneer in this country.


First the method behind the madness and here it seems that Maitreya Doshi after the highly publicized spat with long time partner Fiat used all his business acumen to monetize his real estate holdings in Mumbai and then re-invest this into his firm's machine tool division at Chinchwad in Pune. This purely engineering-driven arm of the company began to specialize in cutting edge applications for heavy industry and has made not just a name for itself in its sphere of operation but has also managed to make the firm financially very sound. Apart from being shielded from the economical turmoil, the new business orientation also taught Premier to make do with less and this mantra has been put into place for a very lean automobile manufacturing unit at Chinchwad.




And the product with which Maitreya Doshi aims to get his firm rolling on our roads is unique as well. The basis of this vehicle, which will be sold under the Rio model name, is the Daihatsu Terios mini-SUV of late 1990s vintage. Built to the Japanese kei-jidosha class regulations which specify not just a maximum length but also the maximum width of a car to conform to very low tax rates, the new Premier Rio is a snug cozy compact small vehicle which with its very configuration has placed itself as the proverbial cat among the small car pigeons in the market!


Rights to the Daihatsu Terios were sold to Chinese car maker Zotye Auto which marketed it as the Zotye Nomad and now Premier has done a deal whereby the entire car sans the drivetrain would be brought into India as a CKD unit. Premier has resurrected its old Peugeot TUD5 diesel engine, tweaked it and even changed cylinder dimensions to make it into an engine of its own making and this along with a 5-speed manual gearbox is what powers the Rio.




The Rio drives very well, is sprightly without being over the top, and can more than hold its own with all of the A-segment hatches as well as the entry level B-segmenters. While its looks may scream SUV, its makeup and delivery is more like the smaller hatches but with rear wheel drive and an upright dominating perch which is distinctive of large SUVs. In fact, as I have mentioned before as well, this was a niche there for the taking and everyone saw right through it. Of course if Premier doesn't price the vehicle perfectly it might just score a self goal but then this was a car waiting to happen and Premier saw the opportunity.


The Rio is decently sized and can accommodate four adults perfectly with a small child just about managing to squeeze itself on the rear bench. The seats are firm and well crafted while the trim, upholstery and dashboard are par for the course for a car obviously built to a price. The plastics are not bad either but due to the kei-jidosha regs the original Terios was designed to, the cockpit is much too snug for comfort, the driver?s right arm being pinned by the door pad which is literally breathing down on it. Even the pedals are quite close but with some adjustment and familiarity you can have the vehicle working for you quite easily.




The performance is not shatteringly quick but is brisk provided you keep this diesel in its optimum torque band by being in the right gear as you motor through our hellish traffic situations. The ride is surprisingly good but you have to be gentle with your steering inputs for taking corners at speed is a mighty adventurous process given that the vehicle does roll somewhat thanks to its shortish wheelbase coupled to its narrow track. And yes the tyres must be mentioned. The ones on our preview vehicle were Chinese (Kenda Klever was emblazoned on the sidewalls) and Premier can do a world of good for the overall dynamics of the Rio just by the simple expedient of changing them to either MRFs or Apollos or Goodyears.


Overall the Rio is barking mad but in an absolutely positive sense. It might be familiar to enthusiasts but to the masses it is a breath of fresh air. And yes the most important ingredient of all which a generation of Indian motorists hasn't experienced is rear wheel drive in its truest essence. So if the ride is exhilarating and brings a flush on many faces, I wholly recommend you blame it on Premier?s Rio! In showrooms within the next month they say.


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