Mahindra Alturas G4: In-Depth Reviewby Opinion Express November 23, 2018 0 comments
Is the Mahindra Alturas G4 the best vehicle to ever wear the Mahindra badge? By a country mile but as Pawan Goenka, the Chairman of Mahindra’s automotive group, quickly told this reviewer, “it is also the most expensive.” To be fair, I was not aware of the price when I first drove the Alturas G4, the alpha-numeric suffix signifying that it is the fourth generation of the Ssangyong Rexton (actually this is just the second-generation of the Rexton but the fourth generation of cars developed by Ssangyong), the vehicle that the Alturas is called elsewhere. In fact, the only change on the Alturas is the front radiator grille and the Mahindra badge, which replaces the Ssangyong badge.
But a quick rewind and reminder, Ssangyong Motor was bought by Mahindra & Mahindra in August 2010. As far as purchases go, it has not been the cash cow that Jaguar Land Rover was for Tata Motors. Ssangyong was a slight basket-case of a company when Mahindra bought it over; they had just come off a period of ownership by Chinese firm SAIC Motor and a major workers’ strike. In addition, the Chinese were alleged to have illegally transferred hybrid technology to their own engineers. Now, the Chinese are past masters at this across the world, and there is no doubt that over the past few years that SAIC has become a global leader in battery-electric and hybrid technology. Anyhow, the South Korean Government, which had bailed the loss-making carmaker out, sold it to Mahindra. And a few years ago, as a result, India got the previous-generation Ssangyong Rexton.
Frankly, the Rexton was an excellent car but it was on the slightly expensive side being an import and went up against the first-generation Fortuner. Those who own the Rexton love the car, but it did not quite sell, partially because there was no separate Ssangyong network to service the car and Mahindra dealers found themselves a bit stretched when it came to the Rexton, as a few owners have narrated.
Now, surprisingly Mahindra did not bring the new Ssangyong Tivoli, the first new Ssangyong product since the takeover to India. The Tivoli is a Creta-sized car and has been doing relatively well on global markets. Maybe the Tivoli’s price would have been far too similar to that of the XUV500. What was not surprising is that Mahindra decided to bring in the new Rexton but badge it with a Mahindra tag, change the name and slot it above the XUV500 in the Mahindra line-up. The Alturas, while assembled by Mahindra, is coming as a kit from Ssangyong’s factories in South Korea though.
And let us be honest, when someone is buying an off-road capable large SUV in this segment, you go up against the Toyota Fortuner, and particularly the white Fortuner that every budding baahubali is North India desperately wants. The Fortuner has managed to show off success without implying massive amounts of wealth. It might not have the best interiors, gimmicks or even off-road capabilities (the Ford Endeavour’s ‘Terrain Response System’ is far superior) but the Fortuner has bullet-proof build quality and a residual value that drives other carmakers green with envy, even though the Fortuner is topped by the Innova when it comes to residual values.
So let us start on the car — The word ‘Alturas’ is Spanish for altitude or height. Unlike the previous generation Rexton, which was born from an earlier partnership with Mercedes-Benz and Ssangyong and thus had Mercedes underpinnings, this car has an all-new chassis and a new Ssangyong 2.2 litre engine which produces 178 horsepower. It still retains the Mercedes-Benz 7G-tronic seven-speed gearbox though. It is a large car and the visual cues from the front and back make it feel even larger. The Mahindra radiator grille and badge, the only change from the Rexton, do impart a bit of a family look to the Alturas. The lines above the wheel arches make it look more muscular. If there is something odd from the exterior, it is the sharply raked rear quarter-glass. Now that sharp rake is there on many SUVs nowadays, but it does have a major price to pay.
The front of the Alturas is really where you want to sit, the quilted leather (in tan) feels superb, the front seats are ventilated, a feature am glad a carmaker beyond Hyundai has taken up in an “affordable” segment. The infotainment screen takes a few seconds to fire up but is pretty good with all the standard fitments such as support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A large digital display between the dials on the instrument cluster has a lot of gimmicks for someone driving to play through. The steering controls are intuitive and the overall fit and finish, including that of the plastics of the car, feels far more premium than on any other vehicle that wears a Mahindra badge. To be honest, I did not try the air-conditioner given the very pleasant weather.
Getting into the second row, however, is not that easy given the ride height of the car and any owner should seriously consider fitting the optional stepping board, even though that might not suit the lines of the car. That said, the second row has a grab handle to enter unlike the driver and front passenger.
The big problem I have with the Alturas is in the third row. Now third rows are not that comfortable and really not a place that I would want to spend any part of my life. But in a pinch it works, even on this car. But that sharply raked windowline I talked about, well that gives a very thick pillar at the back and this makes the Alturas’ third row feel dark. I was out on a sunny morning and that third row, already cramped by virtue of being a third row, felt downright depressing. And I am very sure I am not the only one feeling this way.
How is the Alturas to drive? Well, on power it is between the Fortuner and Endeavour and the 2.2 diesel is torquey enough that even 178 horsepower feels enough. The car does accelerate very well up to speed and importantly feels planted at highway cruising speeds. However, I will not call the steering precise but that is something par for the course for large SUVs. The car will have a four-wheel drive option with the ability to change from two-wheel high ratio to four-wheel high ration drive on the fly. The Alturas is more than capable enough as a two-wheel drive car and while I had the option, I never used four-wheel drive.
What I did like about the Alturas was its ride comfort, and driving on some rough unpaved roads, it did not clatter and clang as one might expect and even managed to keep up a decent rate of knots. The gearbox is extremely smooth and gear changes are made without a judder, even the kickdown when needed feels alright. However, if there is a teeny-weeny issue I had, it was with the manual gear-shifting option, which is just a little clicker on the gear-lever, not an ‘H-gate’ like many cars and there is no paddle-shift option either.
As a vehicle though, the Alturas is a compelling proposition. It is comfortable and luxurious and previous-generation Rexton owners will be pleased. The problem is that there were far too few previous generation Rexton owners and if Mahindra is to make the Alturas a success, it will not just be the price. The four-wheel drive Alturas should have an ex-showroom price under 30 lakhs undercutting the competition while offering a better feature set. No, the big problem will be reliability (the Fortuner, as mentioned above is brilliant) as well as service but most importantly retailing the car. Selling a 30-lakh vehicle to a ‘sophisticated audience’ in the same showroom as a Bolero might be a challenge. Some of these questions will be answered at the formal launch of the Alturas in Jaipur on Saturday. As for the car, well, I really liked it.
Writer: Kushan Mitra
Courtesy: The Pioneer