We drive the Force Urbania van!
We drive the Force Urbania van!Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Force Urbania first drive review: This van's a revelation!

An Innova too small for you? The Force Urbania van might just be what you need

Are you familiar with the Force Motors Traveller? Chances are even if you don’t know about the van, you have most certainly been ferried around in one at some point of time in your life as it is India’s best-selling van —making Force Motors India’s largest van maker with a 67 per cent market share. And it is used everywhere — municipal transport buses, tour buses, school buses, office buses, hotel buses, ambulances, everywhere. It has been the default (and only!) choice for over three decades, and now Force Motors is moving upmarket with the all-new Urbania. 

The Force Urbania is built on an all-new monocoque platform and it will sit above the Traveller in terms of positioning – this is not a replacement for the Traveller – tapping into the premium van segment that currently has no direct competitor in the Indian market. Force Motors has benchmarked the Urbania against its global contemporaries, and while vans might not exactly be the first port of call for evo India, we are a curious bunch and that itch to drive everything on four (and even more!) wheels, has to be scratched. 

Old meets new – the Urbania (R) will sell alongside the Traveller (L)
Old meets new – the Urbania (R) will sell alongside the Traveller (L)Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Force Urbania design

Before we talk about the design of the Urbania, we have to talk about the Traveller first and understand its lineage. In 1987, Force Motors started production of the Tempo Traveller van at their Pithampur facility in Madhya Pradesh. This was not inspired by the Mercedes-Benz 209 D ‘Bremer Transporter’, rather it was the very same Mercedes van — all the tooling was taken out of the Bremen factory in Germany and shipped to India to make the Traveller.

The Force Traveller traces its lineage to the Mercedes-Benz 209 D 'Bremer Transporter' van from the eighties
The Force Traveller traces its lineage to the Mercedes-Benz 209 D 'Bremer Transporter' van from the eightiesMercedes-Benz

In fact after discontinuing the van Mercedes had an obligation to supply parts and components for the next 15 years, and all of that was made in India and supplied all over the world. And, in India, the Traveller also had a Mercedes engine that was in production, under licence, since the early eighties (remember the Trax?). That OM 616 unit refuses to die, but we will come to that in a bit. The Traveller was originally made in two wheelbases but continuous product improvement and R&D now sees the monocoque van being offered in four wheelbases and two widths spanning variants that go from 9-seater van all the way to a 29 seater bus used by the BEST municipal transport service in Mumbai.

The design of the Force Urbania reminds you of vans such as the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter sold globally
The design of the Force Urbania reminds you of vans such as the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter sold globallyShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

And now there’s the Force Urbania. Benchmarked against the likes of its global contemporaries such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Fiat Ducato and Ford Transit, the Urbania is part of Force Motors’ push upmarket which means there is no Force ‘F’ roundel on the nose, replaced by a big and prominent Urbania nameplate, similar to what we have seen on the Force Gurkha. Styled by Tecnocad in Italy, the Urbania gets projector headlamps with LED DRLs, smart looking bumpers that are designed with pedestrian impact protection in mind, LED tail lamps, 16-inch (steel) wheels, and the fit-and-finish that is generations ahead of the Traveller. The doors shut with nearly a car-like thud, the door handles have a decent tactile feel, the panel gaps are flush and uniform, and all of this is courtesy the new production line that has been installed at the Pithampur factory with tooling supplied and installed by German experts. The line also has space for a brand new paint booth which will get operational once Urbania volumes pick up.

Sliding door improves access massively
Sliding door improves access massivelyShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Overall the van looks stylish and very well finished with the only point of observation being the exposed door hinges for the tailgate and the prominent and very visible rail for the sliding door. The sliding door itself is another huge area of improvement. In the Traveller, you tip the front passenger seat forward and clamber into it but in the Urbania there is the additional sliding door with a wide and tall aperture along with a low floorboard height so you can walk into the van. 

Driver's perch is very car-like with good ergonomics
Driver's perch is very car-like with good ergonomicsShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Force Urbania interior

And once inside you don’t have to crouch. Even the Editor, 5’9” tall could stand in the van without his head hitting the roof. And the roof has a moulded roof liner which again feels very car-like. The mechanism for what is obviously a big and heavy door is well designed but electrical operation would be nice (and we’re told that is a work in progress). The version we are testing in the 3615mm medium wheelbase which has an additional 265mm of wheelbase and 195mm width than the equivalent Traveller. Incidentally this is the cheapest of the three Urbania variants at Rs 28.99 lakh ex-showroom. The shorter 3350mm (9-seater) wheelbase costs Rs 50,000 more because of the higher duties on it while the 4400mm long wheelbase is at Rs 31.25 lakh. All variants get the integrated luggage rack, air-con vents for all passengers, lap seat belts, USB charging points and cup holders.

Seats firms yet comfortable
Seats firms yet comfortableShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

The seats we found to be a bit on the firmer side but that could probably be more comfortable over longer journeys than soft squishy seats. The glass area is huge and makes the Urbania feel extremely spacious though you might need curtains to shield yourself from the mid-summer Indian sun on your way to the Lake Palace in Udaipur (that, incidentally, has already taken delivery of two of these vans to ferry their clientele). The 14-seater MWB variant has good knee room in all the seats and we noticed that the seats are bolted on rails so once you take delivery you can either take out some seats to liberate even more leg room or move it on the rails to increase and decrease the seat pitch basis your requirement. 

How it drives is not really a big requirement for a van, but this is evo India, and drive we must. And we were pleasantly surprised. It starts with getting behind the driver’s seat. The steps are ergonomically positioned and there’s a grab handle on the A-pillar, so you don’t really struggle to get behind the wheel. The doors have big door pockets so water bottles, sunglasses and what not can be stored in there.

The Urbania van gets Apple CarPlay!
The Urbania van gets Apple CarPlay!Shot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

There’s even remote central locking and one-touch-down power front windows while the steering wheel adjusts for reach as well as rake. The driving position is excellent, the dash-mounted gear lever falls to hand perfectly, and the massive glass area makes for great visibility. The dashboard itself is well designed and, while basic and plasticky by car standards, it is rather well sorted for what is a commercial vehicle. You even get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment, there’s a neat little tray under the dash to stow away your phone when it is plugged in, and there’s an option to add a parking camera to the standard parking sensors.

Export markets are a big priority for the Urbania and the dash has been designed to be mirrored for both RHD and LHD — explaining why the single cup holder on this example is so far away (that’s where the gear lever will sprout from on LHD vans). No digital cluster, that’s asking for too much, and no climate control either though there’s a separate blower control for the passenger air-con.

Surprisingly easy to drive
Surprisingly easy to driveShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Force Urbania ride and handling

Traditionally, the drivers of commercial vehicles were always given the short end of the stick — the priority was always the passengers, or load carrying capacity, or extremely low cost of operation — but the mindset has thankfully changed; after all if the driver is comfortable that will keep fatigue at bay and directly ensure safety of passengers and of course other road users. And honestly, the Urbania is actually very easy to drive. You have to pay attention to the width, at 2095mm this is 260mm wider than an Innova, but apart from that this is surprisingly easy to drive. You get power steering — hydraulic power steering at that — which actually gives you some feel.

The pedals are well positioned and the pedal weights are slightly on the higher side, though over the half day that we drove it we didn’t experience any fatigue. The engine picks up pace surprisingly easily — no wonder all those Force Travellers hustle along so quickly on the highway. The turning circle at 6.5 metres is also excellent making tight turns very easy and since you sit so high up and have such a great view of the road ahead you can place it with accuracy on the road. I wouldn’t say it is like a car to drive but it is not that far off either and that came as a pleasant surprise to all of us.

Of course this hasn’t been done at the expense of passenger comfort. The ride comfort is very good, low speed and even high speed bumps are taken care of nicely and at cruising speeds it stays planted and stable. The ride is a big step up from the Traveller and that’s courtesy the stiffer and lighter monocoque, parabolic leaf sprung rear suspension and the independent front suspension with a transverse spring. And that brings me to an interesting aspect we discovered. The SWB and MWB versions of the Urbania get independent front suspension and those variants are supplied with twin front airbags as standard.

However the LWB version, due to the increased weight, gets a non-independent front suspension, and that variant doesn’t get the twin airbags. All variants of the Urbania get ESP also standard along with hill hold control and disc brakes on all four wheels. The 200mm of ground clearance takes care of every possible speed breaker you can find. And this van has undergone frontal and front-offset crash tests — regulations for this class do not exist in India but this will be exported (43 countries have been shortlisted across the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and South East Asia) and this has been engineered to meet the crash tests meet regulations in those countries.

A front anti-roll bar is standard and that ensures the body roll is kept in check. We did hustle it around the skid pad at the Force Motors track in Pune and the handling wasn’t scary. There is a fair amount of body roll, which is to be expected if we’re being honest, but it isn’t unmanageable, and the speeds which we could carry on that skidpad were far more than we expected. I’ve never driven a van in my life, and even for somebody used to driving small cars, the Urbania wasn’t a handful. Force Motors also had a Traveller on hand at the track for me to get some perspective and I can tell you the new van is miles better than the old.

OM616 engine soldiers on, making 113.4bhp
OM616 engine soldiers on, making 113.4bhpShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Force Urbania engine

The Urbania is completely all-new with no carry over parts from the Traveller except for one crucial element. The FM2.6CR 2.6-litre common-rail diesel engine that traces its lineage back to the legendary OM 616 that Force Motors started making back in the 80s. Of course, this engine has been continuously worked upon and now meets the upcoming second stage of the BS6 emission norms which kick off in April 2023. It makes 113.4bhp and 350Nm of torque and can do 0-60kmph in 17.5 seconds. On the go it doesn’t feel sluggish and the immensely torquey nature of the engine, with max torque peaking at 1400rpm and staying flat till 2200rpm, means it moves this 3.2 tonne (kerb weight) van rather smartly. And it stops rather smartly too with all-wheel disc brakes backed up by ESP.

Gearshift for the 5-speed manual gearbox mounted on the dashboard
Gearshift for the 5-speed manual gearbox mounted on the dashboardShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

The only criticism we had about the driving experience was that the G32 5-speed manual gearbox needed a fair bit of effort to row through the gears and didn’t feel as slick as that of the Traveller we drove earlier for reference. Maybe the powertrain needs a few thousand kilometres on the clock for things to bed in and open up. In fact the Urbania’s engine revved only to 3100rpm while the Traveller revved higher and more easily — though that could also be because the Traveller’s engine was a BS 4 unit. On the flip side though the NVH on the Urbania is significantly better than the Traveller and you can easily have conversation with passengers in at least the first two rows.

As for the top speed, this is academic because all M2-class vehicles are limited by regulation to a top speed of 80kmph (except for ambulances) and that’s what the Urbania’s ECU is locked at. That said the Urbania can cruise all day at 80kmph and is comfortable, planted and stable at these speeds. And you want to hear the good news? This is the same engine as in the Gurkha, and it’s only a matter of time before the 4x4 gets the 113bhp spec — expect to see it on the 5-door variant that will arrive later this year.

Smart LED tail lamps at the rear
Smart LED tail lamps at the rearShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

Force Urbania pricing

On the pricing front the range starts with this MWB variant at Rs 28.99 lakh, the SWB going up to Rs 29.50 lakh (due to the higher taxes) and the LWB topping off the range at Rs 31.25 lakh. This is Rs 8-10 lakh rupees more expensive than the equivalent Traveller versions explaining why the Urbania is not going to replace the Traveller anytime soon. But this is the future for Force Motors, the van to cement its leadership in India, and take it to global markets. Most importantly the platform is ready for electrification with the Urbania EV expected to be unveiled later this year — and that will address our need for an automatic, give us more power, and deliver significantly better NVH — all which just might make it an attractive proposition for those who find the Innova a tad too small.

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