When it comes to providing safety features in cars, and we are primarily talking of small cars here, it is a pure case of passing the buck. The manufacturers say the consumers dont want it. The consumers crib that the manufacturers dont provide it or even when they do, the cost is exorbitant. And the government isn’t able to make up its mind on what to do. Read more

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Its a three way fight between Honda Amaze, Ford EcoSport and Hyundai Grand i10 for the best car of 2013. There are juries dime a dozen to decide that. I wont join that league. What I would rather look at is the worst of the lot. Like I have done in the last 2 years.

Nobody talks about it, writes about it, thinks about it. But surely, in the dead heap of two dozen cars–big and small–launched in 2013, there are a few that are not worth the effort. And why do we need to look at them? Besides filling up space and giving you something to read about, to those unfortunate ones who do land up here, it will perhaps show some humble car manufacturer what kind of cars ought be made or launched in India.

What is heartening this year that except maybe a couple there werent any new cars that were specifically bad. Which goes to show that there is something that the manufacturers are doing right.

There are two ways to decide the nominees. One, based on where the product is at fault either in yours truly’s humble standards or when compared to those in its segment. The other is when despite being a good car, factors like price or cost of service and spares have relegated it to the margins.

Like in the past, those that figure in this list are not bad cars per se. They are only not as good as the others. With the disclaimer taken care of, lets get down to the business.

Cross Polo

Its a little hard to imagine that a Volkswagen would ever make it to such a list. But that is exactly what I meant when i said there werent many outrightly ludicrous cars launched this year. The Cross finds itself here because it does not, bar some tacky cladding, offer anything beyond the existing Polo.

In Europe, this version comes with a higher ground clearance that gives it better versatality. We would have loved to have it here. Instead we are charged more for changes that are neither classy nor necessary. This is a result of a company trying to conceal an obvious dry product pipeline. We would have been better off without the Cross.

Cross polo bigger but not necessarily better

Chevrolet Enjoy

General Motors would want to forget 2013 in a hurry and that is not because its car features in this list. (I dont even think they care). They had two launches this year–Enjoy and Sail sedan– both have Chinese origins and both have their own set of problems.

But while the space and practicality saves the sedan, it could not rescue the Enjoy. Suspect build quality, tacky interiors, underpowered engines and lack of refinement are its myraid problems. And GM’s mess with the Tavera was so big that Enjoy could not even get a decent marketing push. This one, is a disaster and one of the prime contenders for the crown.

A gross misnomer

Maruti StingRay

Like VW, another surprise here. A Maruti actually makes it to the list. And the fact that this was the sole launch from the company in 2013, proves what an underwhelming product it is. Basically a souped up version of the boxy Wagon R, the Stirngray does not bring anything new to the table.

And it is a mighty disappointment because there was so much that could have been done with the car. The projector headlamps and chrome garnish on the grille only makes it look even more ungainly. And uncool. And the tagline — my thing, everything–does not help either. The sting is clearly missing here.

Value for money changes but

Mahindra Verito Vibe

Such a list is not complete without the customary entry from either a Tata or a Mahindra. This year the toss up was between the Indica Vista D90 and the Vibe. The latter makes it for the loss of opportunity.

Given that Mahindra’s hands were tied due to its estranged partnership with Renault, the Vibe isn’t a bad product. Whats got my goat was the ridiculous boot lid.

Neither a proper small car nor a sedan, a notchback design would have done a world of good to the car. Instead it falls in the no man’s land.

I am still confused what to call it…a compact sedan or a hatchback, because it is none. Perhaps the market is as confused for only that can explain the lack of takers.

Mahindra Verito vibe a practical compromise

Rave and rant, post comments, fight, jostle….you are most welcome. Or abuse me at sumant.banerji@gmail.com. Want something else, vote on and let us boot one of these out. Let the mud slinging begin.

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This year has been rather unforgettable for most in the domestic automobile industry. Sales have been sluggish, sentiment has been low, excitement lower and footfalls at showrooms the lowest. Read more

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1100 kilometres of asphalt – some welcoming, others not so forgiving – across three states, four cars, two scheduled night halts reduced to one and nearly 30 hours of relentless driving. In short, a perfect test for a car that is emerging as the winner of 2013.

The best way to really get under the skin of a car, unearth its hidden vices and put to test its obvious virtues is a road trip. One that is exhaustive on the human body as also the machine and which offers a variety of terrain – from carpeted tarmac to craters on the moon.

Along with six other motor heads, we decided to submit the Honda Amaze through the gas chamber. Why the Amaze? Because it is a Honda, a company that never tires itself of proclaiming its credentials as a quality car manufacturer. Also, because Amaze has its first diesel engine, something that is not quite its forte.

Driving on the usual western ghat sections between Delhi and Goa, or the boring stretches up north around Delhi or even the narrow roads in the South was a passé. Everybody has done that numerous times over. We decided to head to the East and experience some sections where we thought we will find roads untouched by modernity.

Day 1

After a night’s stay at Vizag, the second largest city in Andhra Pradesh and one that has India’s oldest ship yard, we headed out northwards early morning towards Puri, the best known beach destination on the Eastern Coast. A journey of nearly 500 kilometres running parallel to the coast, it ordinarily takes 7 hours to get there. There were an awful lot of surprises though.

For one, getting out of Vizag was a painful exercise that cost us a good hour and a half. On leaving the city, the highway opens up and you get some of the cleanest stretches of road you can get in India. Which exposed almost entirely, the one big problem that the Amaze has… noise.

With endless stretches of glitch free road ahead of us, we throttled the vehicle mercilessly. At various points of time, all four cars were going bumper to bumper at speeds touching 140kmph, the maximum that Honda allows the Amaze to run. One wonders why a car that has a 1.5 litre engine underneath its hood and 100 horses pushing it ahead should have a top speed that is so low. The answer lies ahead.

Every time, the accelerator was floored, the engine noise seeped into the cabin. No amount of careful or careless wheeling around changed that opinion.

Judgment One: This car is indeed noisy.

But at the same time, the stability at high speeds and the confidence that it inspires there is unmatched. Which is why we could go bumper to bumper without a care in the world.

We also realised how deserted the NH5 or as the navigation device would constantly say, the Asian Highway 45, really is. For miles on end at least inside Andhra Pradesh there are no good eateries to be found. An indication of how rarely people travel on these roads.

And there are speed breakers too the kinds one would find only in this part of the country. Willy nilly in the middle of nowhere and in traffic so sparse, you would encounter a jam. A jam that would clear out just as inconspicuously. After encountering such mysteries that may cost you between 15 to an hour of your life’s precious time, a couple of times we finally realised the cause. Whenever political parties need to honour or felicitate somebody in small villages or hamlets in Andhra Pradesh, they encroach the highway, set up chairs, pull up banners and carry on with their festivities. After a good show, the gathering disperses matter of factly in double quick time. As if the traffic chaos around, does not matter at all.

The surroundings change somewhat the moment you enter Odisha. There is more traffic on the road and there are quite a few eateries for the starving. The best part of that is all of them serve and cook very good fish and mutton. The chicken is untrustworthy though as one of the members in our gang realised.

The road stays more or less as faultless. Even though we had heard there were a few stretches in Odisha where work on the Golden Quadrilateral was incomplete, we never encountered any such patch. The most exciting section is when you hit Chilka Lake before turning right for Puri. As the world’s largest fresh water lake, it is a sight not to be missed. Too bad we reached while the sun was setting which restricted the time we could spend there.

Heading out of Chilka, we committed hara kiri. Instead of following NH5 and taking a longer detour via Pipli, we followed the navigation map that gave us the shortest route. Only, that it wasn’t quite the shortest in the real world. Turning right from Bagheiput towards Nua Jagannath Sadak we immediately felt like we had reached moon. The road deteriorated with every passing kilometer to the point that maintaining a speed of even 15kmph was a task.

However, it was a test of the vehicle in conditions that can be found only in India. Through the large craters and over the nonexistent roads, only sporadically did we scrape the floor of the vehicle. And even at the end of the 2 hour ordeal, only the drivers were more relieved. The car remained unfazed.

Judgment Two: The suspension of the car has been well and truly tuned for Indian road conditions.

Day 2

Whatever little time we had to rest our battered bones after 9 hours of driving on day 1, we had to be ready to resume our journey in the morning the next day. Our destination this time was to head to Digha, a fast emerging coastal weekend destination just across the Bengal border.

The distance was a mere 350 kilometers but it was a dark continent for us as we had no prior information on what road conditions await us. To make matters worse, half of the group wanted to visit the Sun temple, which meant a detour of around 70 kilometers. Coming so close to the world heritage site, there was no way we could have given that a miss.

The road from Puri to Konark and then onwards to Cuttack was the most challenging of the whole trip. We had to leave the national highway after just a few kilometeres and let the two lane state highway assault us. The road was narrow with the oncoming traffic on your face but it was very well paved and allowed us to maintain a pretty high speed. It was surprising because nobody had expected such well made state highways in a state that is one of the poorest in the country.

After a brief stop and a hearty meal at Konark we headed towards Cuttack, the second largest city in Odisha. It took us almost the entire day to get there and while we were lucky to bypass Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack was unforgiving. We got stuck for another two hours meddling with the chaotic stop go traffic of the city. As always, the car did not flinch.

On the outskirts of Cuttack, we had to stop for our first refuelling. We had done nearly 665 kilometers in one full tank of 35 litres. Considering the conditions and when the air conditioning was working full time, we got an astounding mileage of 19kmpl. And that is the reason why the top speed of the car is not 170 or 180 kmph though I would presume it is more than capable of it. Higher speed is directly proportional to lower fuel economy. Where would you drive faster than 140 kmph anyway?

Judgment Three: The Amaze diesel gives you an economy that is as good as you can get. Driven sensibly, 20 plus is a given.

By the time we left Cuttack behind, it was early evening and with over 200 kilometers still to go, we were destined to spend the night driving. The road though was kind on us and thin traffic ensured that we were cruising along. We reached Balasore in a jiffy and with the clock striking 10, we stopped over for dinner and a grand idea emerged – of subjecting the car to the extreme test and driving through the night directly to the City of Joy. That meant another 250 kilometers and 5 hours of driving.

With a full stomach and the lure of Kolkata, we took the plunge. What followed was a race with just one pit stop at Kharagpur. We were hell bent to test both our capabilities as driver and the durability of the vehicle. By the time we reached Kolkata it was 4:30 in the morning. The car had been on the road nonstop for over 19 hours. And it never did give us a problem. Not even a niggle.

Final Score:

Distance: 1153 kilometers

Fuel consumed: 64 litres

Fuel economy: 18.01 kmpl

Top speed: 143 kmph

Engine : 1.5 litre IDtec diesel

Max power: 100 PS@3600 rpm

Max torque: 200 NM@1750 rpm

Verdict : Honda passes the diesel test.

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It has, or if I daresay, had all the markings of a winner. Decent to look at, a capable engine, loads of features and an aggressive price tag. And with the backing of a network as wide as Hyundai’s, the success of the Grand i10 was perhaps a given. Read more

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Except when there is an Auto Expo, the first half of a year is always less exciting than the latter half that has the festive season and a rush of new car launches leading up to it. The first three months (January-March) is when the marketing teams are busy shoring up numbers and launching cars is often a distraction. The next six months till September is the annual lul period when consumer sentiment is low either due to the weather or annual vacations. Read more

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The first half of the year is behind us and barring the Honda Amaze and Ford EcoSport, it has been a washout so far. Traditional, established brands have struggled to attract new buyers just like many “new” cars and for the industry this year is turning out to be nothing short of a nightmare. As we head to the business end of the year where the festive season brings with it hopes of a revival, here are the 5 cars that may just hit the bull’s eye. Read more

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When competition hots up, the meek become nervous and buckle under pressure…the not so meek neither so mighty, show resilience and soar higher than ever before. The Maruti Swift Dzire seems to belong to the second category. Read more

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Like every other year, dozens of cars–big and small, awful and spectacular, practical and extravagant–will hit the roads this year as well. And like always only a few will hit the bull’s eye and the others will fall by the wayside. These are the some that look worth waiting for. Read more

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The Civic has always been a car that has divided public opinion…straight down the middle. Those who loved and ended up buying it, swore by its cockpit like interiors, refinement, agility, comfort and ability to beat the shit out of a diesel pumping heart of Skoda Octavia. Those who did not, berated it for its ground clearance and gas guzzling nature. And as the gas, petrol in this case, became more and more dearer and its parent Honda became more and more distanced from the market realities, Civic paid the price. Read more

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