Three years ago in 2019 I became an owner of Duster AWD. It was an unconventional choice back then, given the car was already over it's age. But I have not regretted choosing it for once. From Spiti to Ladakh, some of my most memorable trips have been done in that car.
With the Duster in Spiti in Winters
The land of High Passes - Ladakh
So why upgrade to a new car in just 3.5 years?
Well, multiple reasons:
- I became a father and a sudden need for a safer car arose. Duster has two airbags and I know it's not so stable during a crash. I knew it at the time of purchase, and I thought airbags and AWD's ESP should do fine. But now, I could absolutely not compromise on safety.
- Duster's NVH levels were pretty bad and even after the entire car's damping, and upgrading tyres, they still managed to get on my nerves.
- I absolutely hate Duster's engine noise.
- I needed an automatic. I do a lot of driving on hills and frequent gear changes are really tiring.
- Also, I needed a bigger boot, as my daughter's luggage was getting out of control.
- Lastly, for a simple reason, it was the right time to upgrade. I was doing decent in my career and my daughter's responsibilities had not yet kicked in and had a fair bit of savings.
So the hunt for the perfect upgrade began somewhere around October. I set my max budget to 75lakhs initially but then my wife bought some sense in me and we looked at max of 50 lakhs.
My requirements were clear and I posted a TeamBHP thread in the What Car section (Upgrade from Renault Duster AWD: Hyundai Tucson vs Skoda Kodiaq vs Volvo XC40 vs Others)
- Ride Comfort for Long Drives - I am spoiled by Duster's ride quality. The other day I sat in my friend's Hector and found it so bumpy, it was off-putting. Also, I absolutely need an automatic this time.
- Less Body Roll - for a comfortable ride in the mountains
- Superb NVH Levels - This is the biggest pain point with my current car. The poor NVH level spoils otherwise excellent ride quality. I have done the entire car's damping yet the noise is just too much. I am okay with Petrol if it gives better NVH levels.
- Safety - Given now I have a daughter, the safer the car the better.
- Reliability - I often do long drives to off-beat places in the mountains, including Ladakh and Spiti Valley. Even Duster AWD has its own reliability concerns with diesel injector failures, but my ownership has been fuss-free thus far.
- AWD - Not sure about this now. Duster AWD has been helpful with some crazy trips we have done in the last 3 years. But we will be a lot more careful being parents and might not venture to unknown roads too often. Also, I think most trips we have done can be done with an FWD vehicle if driven carefully.
- High Ground Clearance - My duster has 210 mm and it has served well everywhere. Lower ground clearance would be a pain on patchy terrains in remote areas.
- Little Badge Value, if possible - I have had a long-standing dream of owning a luxury SUV, and I think this might be the best time. In future, my responsibilities and commitments will only grow, and I might not get the chance to spend so much on a car.
- Long Ownership - I want to keep this car for the next 7 - 8 years unless I change upon a lottery and have enough money to throw at an even more premium car.
I watched numerous review videos and read entire TeamBHP threads of multiple cars before even starting test drives. Somewhere around November I began taking test drives. My first one was Audi Q5. It was a short drive and couldn't judge much from it. I asked for extended test drive from sales guy. He scheduled it without informing me. So, that didn't happen. Then I lost interest in that segment all together.
Citroen C5 Aircross Likes
- Absolutely phenomenal ride quality
- Excellent NVH levels
- Solid build quality and premium-looking interiors
- Exterior design
- 230mm ground clearance
- Massive boot space
- Their sales team - gave me multiple test drives, one of which was almost 40 km long
- Glaring lack of features - no 360-degree camera, no ventilated seats, no premium sound system, no seat memory (seriously?)
- I personally hated the rotatory wheel-type manual adjustments of the passenger seat and lumbar support on the driver seat
- The 3 split rear seats - This was the real deal breaker. My wife just couldn't find herself comfortable in the rear seat of the car. I was ready to make peace with the above dislikes but seating comfort was something that could not be compromised. If they had bench-like rear seats, I would probably have chosen C5 Aircross
Hyundai Tucson Likes
- Loaded with features
- Diesel engine refinement
- Rear seat comfort - the best of all options I tried
- AWD system
- Hyundai Service network and reliability
- Ride quality - I tried multiple test drives and even took a fellow bhpian's Tuscon for a spin. But for some reason couldn't connect to the car and its ride quality
- Lack of buttons on the centre console - an ergonomic disaster
- Lower ground clearance
Jeep Meridian Likes
- Luxurious interiors
- Solid build quality. Just by sitting in it and closing the doors, my wife said - "gaadi to solid hai!" (The car is a tank)
- Massive boot space after folding 3rd row
- The button + touchscreen-based centre console
- The right combination of features - Meridian has all the necessary features like ventilated seats, and a 360-degree camera, but lacks features like ADAS which I thought I might not use much or use in warning more anyway.
- The ride quality - I absolutely loved the planted feeling of the car at high speeds. Coming from Duster, I could feel a difference of night-and-day in high-speed stability
- Controlled body roll
- Steering feedback - light at low speeds and heavy at high speeds
- Good ground clearance
- An abuse-friendly, capable off-roader (or say soft roader)
Why I finalised Jeep Meridian?
- Rattling noises - the test drive vehicles had a lot of them
- Engine NVH levels - The diesel engine was not as refined as C5 or Tucson. But its sound was not so irritating as Duster. It was a grunt I could live with
- Jeep horror stories and reliability
After first test drive, I was not much impressed with Jeep Meridian, because of rattling noises and engine noise. However, when I posted my experience on team-bhp (Jeep Meridian Review)
, I got feedback that it might be a problem with that particular vehicle as the demo vehicles go under a lot of abuse and off-road events. A fellow bhpian zepp1108
even invited me to join him during his PDI.
I promptly obliged. That day I drove another test vehicle which had 11k on ODO, much less than the previous one. Somehow, I could instantly connect with the car. The vibrations were there but not too much, and the NVH levels were not as good as C5 Aircross, but not bad either. And what an absolute delight was it to drive at high speeds.
At the back of my head, I was convinced that this was the car, but my wife was not there with me that day. So, the next week I scheduled another test drive and promised I would book if my wife liked the ride.
Sure enough, she was convinced on the second test drive. And we booked our Jeep Meridian Limited (O) 4x4. We also got a massive 3.2 lakh year-end discount, making it a sweet deal. It was a big day for us - buying a 40 lakh car was a big deal for us and I was rightfully afraid if I was making the right decision. That night I was having second thoughts, even thinking of cancelling and trying Tucson.
The car was in transit for 7 days and finally arrived of 29th December. I did PDI on the 30th, paid the amount, did the loan work and took delivery on 1st of January 2023. What a start to the new year Early Hiccup
When I came for PDI, I came to know the car was in July 2022 manufactured. I instantly became sceptical and bought the issue to sales person's notice. He assured me that they had received the car in December only and even showed me an invoice from FCA India to Landmark Jeep. I did a quick search on TeamBHP and got to know that issue mostly was with cars parked in dealer yards. Factory cars are much better kept and also 6 months is old but not too old.
I clarified everything from invoice to warranty will start from the date of purchase. Finally, I decided to go with it. There wasn't much time anyway as the year was ending and prices increased from January. Also, PDI had gone smoothly. Niggles Begin
On the day of delivery, as soon as I sat in the driver's seat, the electronic seat adjustment stopped working. They were working perfectly during the PDI 2 days ago. Finding this out I was smiling at my wife as if saying, "Kya musibat mol le li hai"
(What have we got ourselves into!!)
Anyway, the team got into action straightway and after half an hour of trying different things, they zeroed in on a loose coupler. They got it fixed.
Now before I go into my experience with the car, let me answer a few questions that I had in my mind. They might help others make a decision. Q. Why 4x4?
A. Yes, I would not use 4x4 99% of the time. But for those 1% times, I would use, would surely be memorable. I have very occasionally used my Duster's AWD. But when I have used it, I have been to the most memorable places of my life. So, yeah 4x4 is definitely worth it as the experiences it gives are priceless. Q. Why not - Jeep Compass -
Small car, small boot. very low ground clearance. Trailhawk was only option I wanted to go with, but it was already around 36 lakhs including discounts. I found Meridian with its extra space, reportedly better NVH and comfort, to be better suited for my needs. Fortuner
- Too bulky, high seating body roll, bumpy ride, pale interiors. Moreover, I was appaled by attitude of Toyota dealership. I went of a test drive at IJM Toyota and got an answer "Sir fortuner to naam se bikti hai, iski test drive nhi hoti
." (Fortuner sales for it's name, we don't give its test drive). Kodiaq
- Non-availability, not even for a test drive, 7 lakh premium over Meridian, doesn't come as a rugged vehicle. Didn't have confidence on durability of dynamic suspension on tough mountain terrains Tiguan
- Missing features, petrol mileage, also I called VW dealer in Gurgaon to take a test drive, but it went to IVR and got disconnected. There is no direct way to call even the dealer MG Gloster
- Too bulky, 4.9-meter long vehicle, BoF body roll, the looks not to my taste, also 47 lahks on an MG vehicle felt just too much, although it was loaded with tech XUV700
- 2 years waiting? Seriously? Also lower ground clearance Scorpio N
- Abysmal Boot space, even after folding the last row, 1-year waiting. I just didn't have energy to join the mad race around Mahindra vehicles. Q. What about reliability?
Ans. Initially, I was concerned with Jeep's reliability. But then I thought there are only a handful of brands with rock-solid reliability, and those brand's car was not fitting my criteria. Also, I know people in my circle happy with their Skoda's (1,25,000+ km without issues), and Jeep compass owners that were happy with their cars. So, I took a risk of going with my heart than my brain. I did the same with my Duster AWD even though there were multiple reports of its diesel injector failures, but my 50,000 km+ ownership has been absolutely niggle free.
Also, I am not selling my Duster as of now. So, I have a backup vehicle in case Meridian spends significant time in workshops. Worst case, if the car turns out to be a lemon, I would sell it with an (expensive) lesson learnt. Q. Why 7 seater for a small family?
Ans. Simply because of lack of choice. There aren't many 5-seater vehicles in this segment. And those that are weren't matching my requirements. Meridian's 7th row is a joke anyway, and we are going to use it mostly for luggage space.