You don't see too many these days but back in the day the Trax was as popular as its contemporaries - the Sumo, Armada et al. It was built like a tank, had space and under the hood was the best engine in its segment; an engine that in a previous avatar was to be found under bonnets sporting the three-pointed star.
Today Bajaj Tempo is no more, having been re-christened Force Motors five years ago. While the group has grown into one of India's biggest component suppliers, assembling engines and axles for Mercedes-Benz and has a JV with MAN for trucks, to you and me Force Motors is a virtual non-entity. That's what Force One is set to change.
Too martial a name but it suits what is essentially a big brute of an SUV. All the traditional SUV cues are there - flared wheel arches, lots of suspension travel, high ground clearance, tons of metal. However the Force One looks dated. Force Motors have given it new projector-type headlights with integrated daytime running LEDs and a new chrome grille but the basic styling remains true and unchanged from the Guandong Foday Explorer III.
Before you start screaming, let's clarify that this is not a Chinese SUV. To save on huge costs, Force Motors buys the panels pre-stamped from China; it's like buying steel they say. It saves lots of effort and money but also leaves them with a package that isn't the most modern nor has been subjected to any crash testing. What's weird is Guandong's logo, an F (for Foday) in a blue oval, is strikingly similar to Force Motor's F (in a red oval)!
Interiors of the Force One are old-school in design but swathed in beige hues and with leather seats, they seem up for the task. Noteworthy are the air-con vents that are neatly integrated into the roof-lining instead of the usual ugly blower unit screwed on to the roof. Equipment includes a 2DIN JVC stereo with Bluetooth and steering wheel mounted audio controls and cruise control. No airbags or ABS for now.
You climb up into the SUV (shorties will welcome the running boards) and the driving position is high set and commanding. The steering only adjusts for rake but it is easy to find a good driving position. The third row has surprisingly adequate knee room which means children won't howl on long journeys. Even adults would have been happy except the trailing edge of the roof lining eats into headroom and anybody over five and a half feet will knock the back of their heads against it. The rear door doesn't open wide enough and access to the third row is the most difficult I have encountered.
Attention has been focussed on the powertrain where Force Motors have built on their long association with Mercedes-Benz. Designated OM611 this 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-charged common-rail diesel has been licensed from Mercedes-Benz and traces its lineage to the unit powering the old C-Class. This is a versatile engine that can be made in power outputs ranging from 129PS to 141PS with the latter going into the Force One. The technology for the locally-built G32 five-speed manual gearbox is also from Mercedes-Benz. As you'd expect the engine is the highlight of the vehicle. With 141PS and 321Nm on tap acceleration is vigorous with the engine coming nicely on song post 2400rpm. There is no variable geometry turbo and consequently turbo lag is evident but it's not much of an issue and with the strong torque spread highway cruising should be a breeze. The unit also gets a dual mass flywheel and is one of the first engines in this segment to get this resulting in an impressive reduction in vibrations.A sore point though is the gearbox that isn't slick and needs a fair bit of effort to move through the ratios. Company officials claim this will be sorted out in the final production examples.
Measuring 4860mm in length and 1780mm in width the Force One is almost as large as the Endeavour meaning great road presence. There is a crucial difference though, while the Endeavour makes do with leaf springs at the rear the Force One gets coil springs and that results in a compliant, composed and comfortable ride quality. Handling gurus Lotus Engineering with whom Force Motors have a long term technical service agreement have worked on fine tuning the ride. And it shows. Force Motors had a target to better the Innova's ride quality by 10 per cent and though we had only a short drive, it doesn't look like they've strayed too wide off the target.
The steering though is dead and lifeless with a delay between asking it to do something and its response. Brake feel and response is good and while lock-up is easy to induce (due to the lack of ABS) it always stops in a straight line. For now the Force One gets only rear-wheel-drive but a four-wheel drive variant with a Borg-Warner transfer case is under development and will be available next year.
Eventually though the success of the Force One will depend on its pricing which we are told will be between Rs 10-11 lakh, though we hope it is under Rs10 lakh to give it a fair chance of making a dent in this segment before the likes of the new Safari, upgraded Scorpio and Renault Duster come along and raise the bar.