The police have it. The patrol parties have it. Even the Army has it. And, of course, the whole of the taxi world has it. Now, we have it too. 'It' is the Tata Sumo; one of the oldest, hardiest and popular models from Tata Motors' utility vehicle portfolio. So why has it joined our long term felt now?
Well, Tata Motors has begun positioning the Tata Sumo Gold as an urban vehicle; a vehicle that urban families and adventurous individuals might want. And in its marketing communication, Tatas is talking about the Sumo's off-roading ability, its fun to drive factor, and how it will appeal to the driving enthusiast. These are tall claims. And to see how close the Sumo comes to these, we are going to run this Sumo Gold GX hard for the next three months. But for now, let's just talk look and feel.
The Tata Sumo is a 20 year old design. And, it hasn't changed much. Yes, the GX now sports a new colour, it has more body graphics and it has more chrome and clear lens lights, front and back. But, the silhouette of the car remains the same. It still has that uncomfortable nose-down-tail-up stance, and it still looks as boxy as ever.
Given that Tata Motors is positioning the Sumo Gold as an urban dweller's vehicle, we would have expected some lifestyle design elements and accessories to come standard with the UV. Something in line with the Sumo Extreme concept or even the armoured Sumo, the Army uses. Bigger wheels and tyres, bulgier plastic wheel arches, a more in your face bumper design, stylish roof rails and a brighter, racier, two-tone colour scheme would have done wonders to the Sumo's exterior visual appeal.
Inside, things are still old school. The dash is one of the narrowest I have seen. It is quite blocky in design and one still has to push buttons on the centre console to work the fog lamps and the rear wiper and wash. There are no real, usable cup or bottle holders and no door pockets at all. The quality and fit and finish of the plastic aren’t great either. But, this is where the bad news ends, because the Sumo's cabin is a surprisingly, comfortable one!
Firstly, it is extremely airy. The Sumo has a large glass area, a high roof and even with the full quota of nine people on board (yes, this one can seat nine! Now, how many personal vehicles can boast of that?), the Sumo never feels claustrophobic. The seats, though thin and firm, are still supportive and reasonably comfortable. There's a separate air-con unit for the rear passengers and there's one touch power window operation for the front windows as well. Finally, it has Bluetooth telephony.
As for the driver, the Sumo Gold works well in the city. The steering is surprisingly light, and it isn't irritatingly vague either. Shifting gears isn't a Herculean task and though the clutch isn't as progressive as we would have liked, it's not tedious to operate either. And then, the Sumo has fantastic visibility. The driver sits high, the visibility through the A-pillars is clear, and it's extremely easy to gauge the Sumo's edges. The turning circle at 10 metres for a vehicle this size is impressively small too. The ride at low speeds is comfortable; the Sumo doesn't bounce around and there isn't much side-to-side movement either.
It’s a different story at higher speeds, and there has be more to a utility vehicle than easy city manners. We will explore that and more in the coming months. Find out about the Sumo Gold’s engine performance, its straight line and cornering behaviour, its fuel economy and the overall ownership experience in our future reports. Stay tuned.
Good: Space, ease of driving, visibility
Bad: No lifestyle element to design, limited cabin stowage
Kilometres done: 1056km
Fuel consumed: 101.5 litres (diesel)
Fuel Economy: 10.4kmpl
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