2019 OD SUV Slugfest: Street Presence
What is presence? As per most dictionaries it means being present at a place. It also implies the style of being there and the poise and bearing. And the manner in which one moves and behaves. Basically, it's the way you carry yourself. And it's this external appearance and behaviour that generally defines the personality.
According to many expert studies, one of the reasons people find SUVs so alluring is their presence on the streets. Yes, they stand out and are more easily noticed because of their powerful personality, bigger size and the two-box body styling attracts attention too. And the way they look while standing and moving, combine to give them their enhanced level of presence.
But why do SUVs have more presence than sedans, hatchbacks or even MPVs, which are usually also large in size? SUVs due to their very nature have a bolder stance. They are taller, have higher ground clearance, bigger tyres and wheels and larger front grilles and taller tailgates. They also feature most of the inherent rugged styling traits of SUVs - like prominent wheel arches, roof rails, exposed running boards or side steps, noticeable body cladding, real or faux skid plates, etc. All of these make SUVs, and even crossovers, look more striking.
Many Indians like the SUV-type striking styling, but why? Well, we face extremely high levels of congestion on our roads and are constantly fighting for every inch of space. And most of us do not like getting bullied or pushed around by other road users, be it two-wheelers, autos, cars, trucks or buses. A vehicle with an imposing presence assists in this fight for road space. It also helps while overtaking or carving your way through traffic, as others tend to give way to an SUV that looks commanding. The more daunting and brawny the SUV, the quicker people move aside for it. It's like a sumo wrestler making his way through the gullies of Mumbai!
Many Indians also believe 'bada zyaada accha hai' or bigger is better, because we have a propensity to associate size with prestige. So the bigger the SUV, and the more beefy its styling, the more it's liked. Both these elements help the SUV get noticed and this enhances the status of the owner.
So amongst all the SUVs gathered for this SUV Special, which has the most striking street presence? For me it has to be the new Jeep Wrangler that was launched recently in India. It's only the 5-door version that has been introduced here, but it also features the core styling elements of the original War Model (WWII) Willys MB, also known as Jeep. This makes the Jeep Wrangler the direct descendent of the first real SUV ever! And the Wrangler proudly carries forward its over 75 years of legendary heritage, and although it has gone through many generational changes, it stays true to its roots and retains the original DNA that distinguishes it, and makes it so very special. Yes, for purists like me, it's really pleasing that though the new Jeep Wrangler has a modern design, it still stays true to the original. It is instantly recognisable by its iconic grille and the seven vertical slats with round headlights flanking them. This front image of the Jeep is embedded in millions of minds and has even been used in cartoons, comics, books, modern-art, etc, to convey the message that this is a Jeep, capable of going anywhere.
I don't think I need to describe the Jeep Wrangler's styling and what is it that makes it so unique. But one thing I would surely like to emphasise and draw attention to, is the fact that the Jeep Wrangler comes with Freedom Panels, which means the doors and hardtop roof can be removed, and the windscreen can also be folded-down, for off-road purists like me! Interestingly, the doors now have the Torx bit tool size stamped directly onto the hinge to eliminate guessing which tool size is needed to remove the doors! It's also worth noting that the Jeep Wrangler is one of the last few SUVs left in the world, which allows panels to be removed and provides this level of freedom in motoring. I also really like the fact that for better outward visibility, especially out on the trails, the new Jeep Wrangler has a lowered beltline with larger windows. And how can I not mention the massive front fenders that permit such incredible wheel travel and articulation? The fenders are so large and so flat on top, that if you were to park two Jeep Wranglers alongside each other with the fenders aligned, you could possibly use the fenders as a serving table for an outdoor party! Even if it's just a lone Wrangler, the fender can still be used as a coffee table. I know, because I have done this with several older Jeeps.
Honestly for me, the Jeep Wrangler, due to its DNA, is both the mother and father of modern day SUVs, continues to be the benchmark in presence and styling. Everything else comes next. And in my opinion, it's the Ford Endeavour that comes a distant second. Earlier this year, a refreshed version was introduced, but the changes in exterior styling are really minor, simply because the original design works so well. The Ford Endeavour is large, boxy and has particularly strong and muscular styling that give it terrific street presence. Its front end is also amongst the most vertical and upright ones around, and that massive grille looks like it could swallow up some smaller cars. In fact you also get several heavily accessorised after market grilles, and the ones with Ford embossed prominently or even lit with LED lighting, are very popular. Such is the Ford Endeavour's presence, that when it drives towards you, or even if you look at it coming up behind you in the rearview mirror, your instinctive reaction is to move out of its way.
The Volvo XC90 Hybrid is also a full-sized SUV that exudes relaxed power and commands attention. But in a different way than the Ford Endeavour. If the Endeavour is domineering, the Volvo is dapper. Where the Endeavour looms over you, the XC90 dazzles you with its design. The Volvo has an appreciably cool appearance and a refined sense of strength and style. With its upright grille and strong shoulders, it's got grand presence and is difficult to ignore. But despite this sense of presence, the design is also exquisitely subtle. Actually, the Volvo XC90 is like a marine commando wearing a body-hugging suit, while the Endeavour is a muscle flexing arm wrestler, in a cut-sleeves shirt. Take your pick.
The Trailhawk version of the Jeep Compass in particular looks like it's built to fit its purpose. It has the traditional Jeep SUV shape, a higher stance and raised ground clearance, short overhangs and the appearance of an SUV with some serious off-roading capability. And I simply love things like the large dull black anti-glare decal on the bonnet, which cuts reflections and helps improve visibility for the driver. It of course also adds to the aggression quotient of the Trailhawk.
A completely unlikely SUV rubbing shoulders and matching scores with the Jeep Trailhawk, is the just launched Kia Seltos. This is the most modern looking SUV of the pack, but that is not what makes it special. What makes it stand out and gives the Seltos its immense street presence, is its striking front face and the attention to detail in its styling. The silhouette and proportions are spot-on too and being a wildlife lover, I really like the fact that the shape of the wide and eye-catching grille is inspired by the tiger's nose! Roar!
Next up are the Tata Harrier, Renault Duster, MG Hector, Hyundai Venue and BMW X5. The Tata Harrier is immediately noticeable and has the poise and presence and a build that tries to suggest it is a natural athlete. The Renault Duster has been around for a long time and recently got a minor facelift, which honestly is not so special. In fact I think the earlier Duster (without the new grille) still looks better. Primarily because the Duster's shape is typical SUV and its wide stance with the wheels pushed to the edges of all four corners, gives it the robust posture that implies it can take on both track and trail.
The MG Hector is another new arrival and has sauntered in with the kind of assertive swagger, which only the young can carry off. The most attention-grabbing elements of its design are the wide and big grille, flanked by the slim eyebrow like headlamps with DRLs. The Hector also has size on its side, which the Hyundai Venue does not. But what the Venue does have is a fair amount of SUV styling characteristics. The prominent wheel arches that extend well into the fenders would not be out of place on a serious 4X4 SUV, which the Hyundai Venue is certainly not. The rear is fairly straight cut and the rectangular shaped tail lights and reverse lights mounted low in the bumper, add an element of strength to the design. Some may wonder why the BMW X5, which is amongst the biggest and most premium SUVs, is rated alongside these SUVs. Well it's simply because the BMW X5 gives the impression of trying too hard to be noticed. To its credit, the X5 is sure to get noticed. But I would prefer if it was due to its overall styling which is a bit of a confusing mix between sleek lines and muscular contours, and not because of its trademark kidney grille and BMW badge.
Following these are the Honda CR-V, Mahindra Alturas and Mahindra XUV300. The Honda CR-V's most distinctive design feature is the front wheel arch that flows into the front bumper with the resultant downward sloping curve giving the front end an unmistakable look. The aesthetically inclined may not appreciate the somewhat exaggerated design, but even they cannot deny that the Honda CR-V is difficult to disregard. The Mahindra Alturas G4 has all the ingredients to make it an SUV with good street presence. But personally there is one thing I don't care for at all in its styling - the fenders. Lower down near the wheel arch they are rounded, and higher up they suddenly become completely flat. And the transition between the curved and flat areas is so sudden, that if you don't look very closely, it appears like the fenders have been bashed in and flattened!
The Mahindra XUV300 in my view is the smartest looking Mahindra vehicle till date. The shape and styling are bang on. Its only drawback is the rear, which ends quite abruptly. Mahindra has had to do this to meet the under 4-metre rule for tax benefit. But what they have gained in cost, they have lost out in balance of proportions. And what do I say about the Nissan Kicks, other than the fact that it looks the most hatchback like in this gathering of SUVs. This does not mean the styling is bad or anything, it's just that the Kicks does not have the imposing enough looks of an SUV.
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