A station wagon on stilts or an SUV on a diet? Gaurav Nagpal lives a memorable adventure with these luxurious motoring choices
For a driving enthusiast, India is a land of adventure. Tough roads, rough roads, smooth roads, and fabulous roads – there are all types. The fabulous ones, in particular, include: the smooth, straight-asan- arrow Mumbai-Pune Expressway; the exclusive Buddh International Circuit, the only F1 track in India; and the Yamuna Expressway. You can, thus, have a ball putting pedal to metal when you get the chance, or also venture off the beaten path, should the opportunity present itself.
What helps, then, is a car that can take the rough with the smooth, yet have you cocooned in the lap of luxury – leather, plushness, electronics all a tap of a button away, while your car makes mincemeat of the conditions outside. A chance to experience two very different takes on this presented itself to me recently, and by the end of it, I was pleased as punch, and jostling with which I would pick. The first one I spent time with was the Volvo V90 Cross Country (V90 CC). This luxury station wagon is slightly longer than its sedan cousin (the S90) and has significantly higher ground clearance – sufficient to challenge soft-roaders i.e. non-hardcore SUVs.
Volvo is clearly getting out of its “restrained styling” mindset in India, and the stunning results are there to see: sharp, distinctive full-LED “Thor’s Hammer” headlamps with daytime-running lights (DRLs), encasing the now-familiar bold chrome grille with the vertical floating-effect slats. The tail lamps too are eyeball magnets: subtle they are not, and the slightly loud, in-your-face rear may not be to everyone’s liking. “Hands-free” comes to the boot too – move your foot under the rear bumper and the boot lid swings open and up; the move is a mite tricky to get right, though.
Of its seats, Volvo says: “Travel first class in every seat, every day.” Extend that thought to the whole interior – truly first-class. The seats indeed are very comfortable – sculpted to hold you in place, with a wealth of electronic adjustments available. The nine-inch centre touchscreen display shows you the navigation, music and more; map directions are also visible on the intelligent head-up display, where instead of always hanging there. Smart, is it not? And, if parking is the stuff of nightmares for you, shudder not – Park Assist Pilot comes to your aid.
The drive experience is a bit of a letdown. No shortage of power here – the V90 CC picks up speed fast, but the noise reminds you a diesel four-pot is at work under the hood. Upshifts and downshifts are somewhat jerky, not really getting better in Sports mode. These are relatively minor gripes – the car covers ground fast, steamrolling every rougher-than-rough patch. And, true to its all-wheel-drive and all-road nature, it can fearlessly venture off the road – not to hardcore SUV-worthy stretches, but those that any sedan would baulk at. Next comes a bearer of the venerable three-pointed star from Stuttgart – the Mercedes-Benz GLA SUV.
Its compact footprint does not imply a shortage of space – interior room is more than sufficient for all passengers, with the electronic sun roof adding to the roomy feeling. As with any Mercedes-Benz car, high-quality materials abound, and 12-colour ambient lighting ups the “cool” quotient here. The eightinch centre display shows navigation, infotainment and more; it, unfortunately, is not touchscreen, though the rotary controller is fairly easy to use. Viewed from the outside, the stance is somewhat squat, but then it never pretends to be a hardcore SUV. Compact it may be, but bold it definitely is – that grille sure pulls no punches! Sharp, sporty creases on the bonnet, along the side, and across the back add up to one good-looker that is sure to catch your eye and not let go.
Go pedal to metal, and the fun begins! Diesel clatter is noticeably quiet, and shifts between gears are very smooth, making for quick progress especially when you want to step on it; excellent handling makes the package sweeter. Head away from smooth tarmac, and the GLA is unfazed – 4MATIC all-wheel-drive endows every wheel with sufficient traction, and the suspension is good enough to take care of all but the sharpest of intrusions.
So there you have it – two very different all-road luxury vehicles, suited to the realities of driving in the land of the Tricolour but in different ways. The V90 CC is big on room, power and features, though its size might be a touch too much on roads and in spaces that are a tight squeeze. The GLA does not skimp on anything and is a more manageable size, with enough power and space; “enough”, however, is not enough for all. Norse love or German grandeur – take your pick!