Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tata Indigo Manza test driven

Its been a while since i test drove a car or was requested by any of my family members or friends to join them to a test drive. life was settling back in its mundane (i use this word too often coz it perfectly describes my life through the week) routines and the only thing that was exciting was the episode of fifth gear on Discovery Turbo that i never use to miss.

All that changed one afternoon when someone i least expected asked me to accompany him for a test drive. it was my Dad!! all these years i've known him and that day i felt i didnt know him at all :-P. i was thinking to myself "he decided to buy a car without telling me about it??!!" anyway... in the fit of rage i forgot to even ask him what car was he gonna test. it wasnt very long when i saw a white colored Indigo Manza parked outside our office (for those of u who dont know... we have a family business and although we both have different locations of work, i was there with him that day.)

while walking towards the car, as a gesture of respect i was walking slightly behind Dad. although it was unlike Dad to go for a Tata vehicle coz he has a 'perfectionist' nature and seldom likes things second best, but i still thought to go with the flow as i was still a little dazed with the after effects of my just-ended fit of rage.

when we reached close enough to the vehicle, we saw the driver pulling the car out of its parked state, to make it ready for us to drive away... i felt something strange... as if something was missing. thats when i realized something i was dreading and asked Dad... "Dad, as much as i know u, i'm presuming u'd be considering a diesel" to which he just looked back and nodded. then i gulped and asked "then why do u think this guy has brought a petrol version?"

Before this question, Dad was too busy absorbing in the looks of the car, deciding what he liked and what he didnt, to notice the engine sound. it was not audible at all... thus we presumed she was a petrol. after this question, he actually stopped looking at the car and tried to listen to her. as soon as the sales executive stepped out of the vehicle and greeted us, shook hands, dad asked him about the fuel she was running on, and he confidently said "Sir, if I remember correctly, u had inquired about the diesel version."

a big smile started stretching on the executive's face... as if he was proud of the Tata product he was about to introduce to us.

i took a walk around the car and it didnt look hideous like the earlier Indigo. No oversized wheel arches with undersized wheels, drooping hood, stupid grinning grill, or any of the other annoying things about the looks of the earlier indigo. this one had better flowing lines, a smoother well put together exterior that looked like it was designed for her rather than looking like an overdose of botox in the ass of an indica.

come around to the side of the car and this, my friends, is no doubt the best side to look at her. its like she's posing and this (side) pose was what made her look the best.

if we compare the looks of the old Vs the new... it becomes clear how much more effort has gone into the design of the Manza as compared to the old version. it only says how much effort the design team at tata motors had put in trying to make tata motors' products as good as the next automobile company.

walking around further i came towards the back of the car. now before i say anything else... i would like to say that looking at the behind of the Manza kinda reminded me of J. Lo. (Aka Jeniffer Lopez) and i'd like to add here and now that unlike J. Lo. or women like her, cars dontlook good/hot with disproportionately large rear ends.

that said, the rear of the Manza did reflect the same design detail and effort that was put on the rest of the sides, but somehow it still appeared oddly large. it looked like as if the designers atTata took pride in the disproportionate assjob they had given the indica to create the indigo and somehow wanted to carry the legacy forward with the new Indica Vista and thus the Manza. if thats the case then they're majorly mistaken.

this also lets us reflect on the fact that Tata Motors does not have a very big legacy or history in India as other car makers like Suzuki or Hyundai have, which is why they have to depend completely upon the practicality of their product to make sure sales are maintained. this is one of the reasons why, even though the Indica V2 was not that good a looker either, it became very popular on the indian roads. coz it was great value for money (atleast for the first 3 years of ownership) Indicas, being Tata products, are known to be tough and sturdy, can be repaired by anyone who has the IQ equal or greater than that of a monkey, and they returned excellent diesel mileages.

come to think of it, the race to give fuel efficient diesel cars in India was started by the skoda octavia in the larger saloon and sedan segments and in the small car and hatchback segments by our very own Indica. which is why it suddenly became so popular with the travel companies.

coming back to the car it was obvious that in order to give the customers a car that was good looking and luxurious, they also wanted to give a larger boot space compared to the closest competing cars, which is where i'd connect with the above paragraphs, that they chose practicality over design thus giving such a large, brooklyn-black-woman-like behind to the manza.

after looking all around her, she did seem to be far better then her earlier version, but still somehow she wasnt exactly the most beautiful one in the industry.

-> 1st impression:

- looked a lot better than the previous Indigo, leaps and bounds ahead of Tata's earlier indigo in terms of looks, design, exterior fit and finish. However still might not appeal equally attractive to all.

- the engine was the most silent diesel engine my ears have ever heard! which is why i mistook it for a petrol!!

sitting inside was yet another pleasant experience at first. the interior was yet again leaps and bounds better than the previous Indigo. The Dashboard did not look like it was put together as an after-market, modular, make-do-with-whats-available, fitment.

it looked like it was actually designed before they decided to start making it. everything has a place and it was sitting flush in it. the sound system was integrated in the dash, something most hatches and sedans are now looking towards. the switch gears, the bells and whistles, the fit and finish, everything was a giant leap forward as compared to the earlier Indigo. One thing u'd notice as soon as u sit inside the car is the space. the interior space is much much more than the earlier indigo, even more than the indigo XL. because she's such a large car, there's excellent rear seat leg room and head room, the cabin feels really airy and large. being a patriotic guy myself, i was feeling proud that this was a product that was "made in India" and now it was just about good enough to compete in the world market. Kudos to Mr. Ratan Tata and Tata Motors.

while sitting inside the sales exec gave us a quick 101 on how to drive a diesel and about a turbo charger (which although i knew, but dad didnt, that it was installed in the car he was about to drive) and various features that would be needed in driving the car safely.

while he was telling dad, i was trying to absorb and retain as much detail about the interior as possible. on 1st glance she appears to be a very well put together car. both the exterior and interior were well designed and felt of a decent build quality. however, take a closer look, fiddle with a few switches and dials here n there and u'd notice that everything is only made to look more up market. but still the materials and build quality of the interior fits and finishes were still the same old cheap like the earlier indigo/indica. only everything 'looked' better. here i would like to strongly point out that the price at which this car sells in India more than justifies the quality. size wise the car is almost as big as the Fiat Linea and yet is more than a Lac cheaper than it. price wise this car is competing with the Suzuki Swift Dzire and its much much bigger than it. so i'm pretty sure she'll find a place for herself in this crowding market.

-> Interiors:

- designed with care and attention to detail. lots of cubby holes to put things here n there. leaps and bounds better than its predecessor.

- quality is still an issue... its not as good as international brands like honda, chevrolet or Fiat, but still equivalent to products from suzuki and hyundai and also selling at a better price than japanese or korean products.

enough about the car while its still standing still. lets get this mama rolling!! after the 5 min crash course on driving a diesel, dad engaged the 1st gear and we were off. he drove around a bit on different stretches like open straights, traffic-stricken areas and also bad patches of road, he pulled over to give the car to me.

its showtime! as soon as i set the car in motion on 1st gear... one thing was more evident than any other thing and that was the turbo lag. she had tonnes of it. if i were to buy this car i'd be literally pulling my hair out in traffic! in conditions where i'd constantly have to stop and go, and also not get the opportunity to rev my way out, i'd be frustratingly and constantly switching between 1st and 2nd gear. not cool!

later i found out that the huge turbo lag was thanks to the oversized turbo they had slapped on to the 1248 cc fiat engine. now if we sit and ponder, why wud they ruin such a good engine's performance like that? well the answer is... us indians hardly consider the test drive before deciding upon finalizing the car. we usually decide by the specification and performance figures on paper and also the mileage figures (may or may not be approved by ARAI). and that exactly why that over sized turbo was married to that fiat engine. to get better BHP and torque figures on paper. so they gave us a product in the way we decide to buy. here i would like to point out that 90% of passenger vehicle buyers and drivers are commuters. all they care about is the cost of maintenance and fuel consumption. which is why they buy their cars based on paper facts. wake up Indians, become drivers not commuters. buy a car that u enjoy driving and thus enjoy the car u drive.

after initially setting the car in motion i engaged the second gear with the intention of revving it to see what the turbo could do... as soon as i revved past 2000 RPM, Woooshh!! she was unleashed! she ran like a dog was running behind her trying to grab a chunk of her fat ass!! the pickup and acceleration is good enough to give the passengers whiplash! it was phenomenal!! yet again, as soon as i run out of revs i put her in 3rd gear and was back to reality with the turbo lag. which soon turned into another whiplash as the engine passed the 2000 RPM mark again.

the pickup was great, but the constant switching between turbo and turbo lag through all the gears kinda made it a very uncomfortable ride for the passenger. just think about it, u're sitting in the back seat completely at the mercy of the driver and he's sadistically putting u through a cycle of being pushed forwards and pinned backwards all through the gearbox till the driver reaches the top gear (that too if he ever reaches the 5th gear in delhi traffic). and because as soon as the turbo kicks in, she lunges forward, the driver would eventually have to break hard in order to avoid kissing the ass of the car in front of him, making ur pendulum-like motion all the more worse.

it was insane! one moment she's stubborn as a donkey, the next moment she gallops like a horse!! i dont know how the test drive executive survives through the day without neck and back aches by the end of it!!

she was a beast to zip on the open straights as long as u keep her in the turbo rev range. but as soon as u drop out of that power band , she immediately transforms back into a stubborn donkey, that i sometimes even felt like getting off and giving her a push!!

a good car is about balance. its about poise and finesse. she should be well planted on the tarmac, should zip at the slightest push to the throttle and still make the ride comfortable for all the occupants in the car. not to mention stop when she's asked to and turn when and where she's asked to. the perfect harmony of power, performance, handling, comfort and, coz i'm a tree-hugger, fuel consumption.

-> Engine and performance

-> 90ps of power @ 4000 rpm and 200 Nms of torque all through 1750 till 3000 rpm.

- atleast tata wont be known for making underpowered cars anymore. the engine is powerful but the delivery of that power still needs fine tuning. none the less its a commendable effort to have come so far.

coming to the suspension and handling, she was fairly decent in that department. at slow speeds up to around 40 kmph she handled well. but as soon as u reach cruising speeds of around 60 and above, she was a boat!! with 2 passangers in the rear and that famous J.Lo behind, all that weight was making her a little tail happy, but i guess that was the price to be paid to make the suspension a little soft to make the ride more comfortable for the rear seat passangers. however here too there was scope for improvement. they could have made the torsion beams a little stiffer, the stabilizing bars a little stiffer to control all the body roll she had, which was making her tail happy. its not difficult to pitch her in a corner and find urself facing where u came from coz the body roll had flung the rear around. that makes her an unsafe car at high speeds.

come to think of it, isnt this a signature trait of all tata cars!!?? i mean have they ever got the ride and handling of any of their cars right?! i guess thats the weakness of the tata engineers but i'm sure, at the pace at which tata is improving itself and its cars, i'm very sure they'll get even better than other competing products very soon!!

-> suspension and handling

- designed with comfort of passengers in mind. excellent if ur car will be chauffeur driven.

- designed for indian road conditions in mind and absorbs bumps and pot holes with ease

- being on the softer side, the handling is sacrificed a bit.

now comes the part which most commuter Indians and tree-huggers like me would pay close attention to, the fuel consumption. since our drive was a short one and most of it was with the intention of testing everything in the car, we still managed to get around 14 kmpl which was not at all bad. my guess is she should return around 16 kmpl of diesel in normal city drive with the air con switched on.

overall the Indigo Manza is a majorly commendable improvement over the earlier Tata products and although no indian car can be labelled as the perfect car, she still has a purpose. it all depends upon what do u have in mind when u go out to buy a car. its a much better product than the earlier indigo. has a great space and room and yet returns of a good mileage. its cheaper than other competing cars in the market and yet provides better comfort than them. that said, tata still has a lot of improvement to make in its products which i'm sure would not be far looking at the pace at which they are improving their products.

thats it for this edition of Autonauts. watch this space for more such reviews and if u have anything to share or discuss, you may feel free to write in the comments.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Honda Jazz sneak peak

i was sitting at my desk on a mundane thrusday morning when i recieved a phone call on my phone. the voice on the other end was a sophisticated male voice with an average decent english. the person introduced himself to me and said that was calling from Honda. initially i thought this must be some cold sales call about a honda car so i paid little respect or attention to it. i must say i usually dont keep a presumptive approach during a conversation but this one seemed like a no brainer till a couple of words caught me off gaurd. as soon as i heard the following words i was all ears: Honda Jazz, sneak preview, invite etc. i appologized to the dude and requested him to repeat whatever he said more clearly.

he said that honda is launching their new premium hatchback called the Jazz on the 10th of june and was inviting me for a sneak peak at the car pre-launch. 

this was not just music to my ears, it was like great music to the ears of Mozart. at once i picked up the car keys, made a dash for the parking, and before u can say honda Jazz, i was on my way to the spot i had been guided to.  it was a 15 minute drive but one of the longest 15 minutes of my life. and have u noticed how our cars seem unusually low on performance when we have an urgency to get somewhere...? well my swift was practically feeling like a nano (no offence). 

reached the spot, nothing major, no signs, no boards, not even a kiosk, just 2 cars and a bunch of 10-15 people gathered around them.

now lets get down to business. 

Honda Jazz, the car that has been abuzz for a while now. many launch dates have been spread around mostly as a topping on freshly cooked hot rumors. but this time it was confirmed. it was heard straight from the horse's mouth, "we're launching on the 10th of June as per current plans".

Honda Jazz at 1st glance, looks like a typical product of the Honda stable, unusually looking car but not ugly, futuristic, rather a little too futuristic for a mass production vehicle but what the heck, r we complaining? smooth flowing lines, curves in the right places and some unusual places also. the quarter glass at the A-pillar is now become a more common feature as car makers r now realizing the practicality of it. however, this is tricky business as a badly shaped or placed front quarter glass window can do little to enhance visibility of prominent blind spots. this i can only judge after a test drive so more on this later on.

the front of the car looks like u can obviously say "yeah, u belong to the Honda family" but still this car looks different enough from its larger, or shud i say elder, siblings, to have a distinct identity of its own in the market. 

this is another interestingly car-respecting thing about honda. they dont go surgically attaching an obese, middle-aged, black-woman ass on to a teenager like hatchback to present the indian consumers with a 'sedan'. this is what Tata and Maruti Suzuki did with their indica and swift respectively to give the indigo and swift dzire respectively to the indian car market. sure, such products give larger profits and introduce further economies of scale and fewer teething problems at production level, but they do little to provide the buyers of these cars a sense of individuality in their cars.

honda on the other hand, makes every car with a sense of its own indiviuality that we give to our kids when they grow up with their brothers, sisters and friends. kinda like treating and nurturing a child like there was no one else like it. thats the kinda love, affection, and more importantly sense of individuality that a car should say that it got since the time of its conception.

total respect man!!

the best part about honda cars is they are like an arranged marriage. initially things seem strange a bit but eventually they turn out to be better than just fine. the Honda City ZX and its immediate previous twin, both attracted a lot of critisism for their looks but with time that look started appearing more and more georgeous to us and for the actual users, with time they understood that looks might attract you as a buyer to buy a car, but its the car's practicality that'll keep u satisfied with it on daily basis for as long as u keep the car. 

and after the City ZX, Honda eliminated even the slightest of doubt in each n every indian's mind about honda's designs by launching the sophisticated sexy civic and later the latest version of the city.

like all honda cars in india now, this one too has a futuristic interior, with interesting features like the cup holders on each extreme end of the dash, build into the dash itself! the dash looks a lot ahead of its time. the 'signature' steering wheel with steering mounted audio controls, the dials and needles, the curves, edges, nooks and crannies of this dash are all dripping with a sort of futuristic class. indeed this is one interior that you would seriously have to be chronically depressed to get bored of. one thing worth mentioning is that i have never seen an in-dash CD player that has the dash so well designed around it. usually most of such in-dash music systems are just modular with the front facia of the system matching the dash. but this one looks to me like it was decided even before they decided the shape of the dash!

although there is nothing fancy like beige and brown combinations to exude luxury, but black and steel/silver in a good finish quality spell more than just 'sophistication'. 

another interesting feature that they (honda) have added in this car is that the rear seat folds in many ways. conventionally there were back seats who's back used to fall down on to the seat to give more storage space. then came the split seatback and then came the rear seat that folds and the topples over to rest folded vertically against the back of the front seats (like in the wagon R and santro).

Now, the seats in the Jazz fold interestingly. the rear seat doesnt sit in a raised sheet metal floor like in conventional hatchbacks but sits on a pipe frame on a flat sheet metal body floor. this way, the rear seat can be folded up to stand vertically along with the rear seat backrest or if we dont wanna do that, we could simply fold the rear seat back like we usually do to get a complete flat-bed storage area. 

this car is BIG on space. with the back seat folded forward u can practically shove in as much stuff as u can in a stationwagon. but even with the back seat firmly in its open position, the boot space is astronomical. 

in the above pic u can get an idea of the boot floor space of the car with the backseat in its unfolded, upright position. 

as far as engine and performance is concerned, Honda is not a part of the competition, and when i say 'not a part of the competition' i mean they are so ahead of the rest of them that there is no comparison.

just for the sake of comparison and to give u an idea of the level of performance, the Suzuki Swift petrol comes with a 1.3 ltr engine that generates about 86 horses and returning a mileage of around 11-13 kmpl. the honda jazz is a 1.2 ltr engine which generates 89 BHP of power and still returns a mileage of 14-16 kmpl. honda engine's are now coming with E10 compatibility i.e. they are compatible to run on 10% ethanol mixed in petrol. however i would seriously advice not to do this yourself. Ethanol additive petrol is sold in many countries to cover the shortage in supply Vs the demand of petrol. Countries like Mexico run on E40 gasoline i.e. gasoline with 40% Ethanol mixed in it.

looking at the state of fossil fuels worldwide, it is only a matter of time before the Indian Govt would also be forced into producing and selling ethanol mixed petrol in india. Honda is already prepared for this so U can move to a greener fuel as soon as its available. 

the Jazz is already Euro IV emissions compliant, which is another point in their checklist of making cars more environment friendly. this shows how seriously they take their environmental responsibility. if only we all could do our bit that religiously, mother Earth could soon be cured of her asthma. 

apart from this, Honda along with other Japanese auto giants like Suzuki are working on a new concept called Micro-Hybrid technology that is based on the rush hour, stop n go traffic lifestyles of most of us now. this technology can further reduce fuel consumptions and thus emmissions by as much as 25%!! details on that later.

i could not manage a test drive so my appologies on that... wud be writting about that very soon. but as far as the car is concerned, its definitely worth every paisa invested in it. 

Honda is one car maker in india that we can trust with our eyes closed. atleast i know i can. whatever product they launch in india, its after an exhaustively extensive research and development, which transparently shows in their cars. 

I personally dont include Honda in the competition of the indian Automobile industry, i dont think it would be fare. 

well thats about is for this edition, will come back with the test drive very soon...

Over n Out Houston!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

welcome to autonauts

Gentlemen and Ladies (i chose this order of addressing coz the theme of my blog wud probably attract them both in the same order) welcome to my world....

the world of wheels, rubber, engines, pistons, BHPs, drifts, drags, pimps (well dont let ur imagination run amoc, we're strictly going to stick to pimping cars on this blog), crabs (yet again... we're not talking about food here, its all about cars, cars, and cars only!), mods, tracks, dirt, tarmac, gears, torque, ECUs, chips, wishbones, springs, anti-roll cages, and whatever u can possibly even remotely attach to an automobile... the world of cars!!!