The requirement was a for a second car which:
· had a boot (since we already a hatchback in the zen)
· should be powerful
· should be a decent if not an excellent handler
· decent ride
· did not cost over 7 lakhs
Not too bothered about:
· Fuel economy
· Resale value, since I plan to keep it for about 4-5 years and do about 80-100k kms
The obvious first choice was to get a used vtec. Unfortunately in my 3 months of searching didn’t find a reasonably priced vtec with a reassuring past. Most either had doctored meters or was priced between 6.5 and 7 L for a 2001/ 2002 car!!! I even came across a 2003 model for 8.5L!!!
So then I decided to go in for a new car, which left me to choose between:
· Baleno 1.6
· Ford ikon 1.6 Sxi
· Fiat Petra 1.6
My dad had bought a baleno the previous week and was totally in love with it, so that was a serious option as far as I was concerned. But my wife hated the baleno’s backside and she did not want us to pick up yet another maruthi. So that was ruled out.
Then I went and test drove a petra, was quite happy. Few dislikes and question marks
· After sales service
· Only a single petrol model. No versions with the ABS and Airbags
· No option with body colored mirrors, except the black, where the black plastic looked close enough to the body color under showroom conditions
But then the only petrol model had power steering, power windows and central locking AND a 1.6 liter engine pushing out 100 bhp. Other pluses, the heavy body, the ride and MOST importantly a price of ONLY 5.5L on the road in Bangalore as compared to over 7L for an ikon SXi!!! For service I was counting on RAC to do the work for me. I was/ am very happy with the work they do on my Zen and I had seen a few Palio GTX’s lying around in RAC.
So then the deal was done. Kotak mahindra did the financing and it went through like a dream. I was delivered the car on the promised day at the promised time. However, I was quite taken aback by the overall “government like” attitude of TVS. Things like, We will not process anything till we encash the cheque or you give cash kind of things. But then what the hell… I must say that the guys at sundaram were quite courteous and met all commitments.
2 weeks later, when I went to collect some papers, one of the guys at the dealer, Bijoy, even sat with me for about half an hour to take feedback on the performance of the car. He was quite knowledgeable about cars so I was mighty impressed!!!
The day after I picked up the car, I changed the tyres and put in 195/70 R 14 Federals. Even before I really opened up the engine I could feel a sort of slip at the rear while cornering around the ulsoor area, which prompted me to go change the tyres. Also put in a Kenwood MP3 CD player with JBL GT Series speakers. All under 35k.
Other accessories like autocop, mud flaps, mats, Teflon coating etc. came to another 14k
Coming to the details of the car:
Absolute delight. The car can really move. And it doesn’t really feel fast. The max I have done so far is a 160kmph on the stretch between Tumkur and Bangalore and it felt ON THE GROUND!!!! No ‘about to take off’ feeling.
I have done quite a few road trips with the car already. A 2000km trip to Goa. A Sunday morning drive to Shivanasamudram, a weekend trip to bheemeshwari, an 800km 5 day camping trip to the Nilgiris.
On the way back from Goa, on the Ankola Hubli road, we got caught in a race with a Skoda (Not an RS of course J ) under wet conditions. We were able to keep up and stay ahead of him on long stretches!!! The point im trying to make is that we were able to keep up with a much bigger car without really stretching. We did the second half of that 136km stretch in under 45 minutes in the wet. The car felt stable and the tires didn’t lose grip or make any fuss throughout.
The handling of the car is slightly on the edgy side. It has a “tendency” to over steer. I would attribute it to the slightly softer set up at the rear to improve the ride. Also the fact that the suspension set up would have been fine tuned for the Palio and the addition of the boot has changed the dynamics and the folks at fiat have not invested enough in R&D to fix it.
There is also quite some body roll at the rear. But if you control your angle of entry into corners, this can be handled. However, the car has no touch of under steer. Will turn in if you are willing to!!! Quite unlike most road cars. The tendency to over steer is quite entertaining, ‘cos it puts you on your toes at high speeds.
Due to the torquey nature of the engine there is also quite a bit of torque steer on not so perfectly flat surfaces.
Another interesting point worth mentioning here is, on long trips or on trips with a full boot, the handling depends on how you load your luggage in the boot. Would be advisable to keep your heavy bags in the center and as far inside as possible. Try and get it above the rear axle. Makes a huge difference. On our way to Goa, I was quite surprised at how the back was feeling so heavy all of a sudden during cornering. The moment we reached Goa and took out the bags, it was back to the normal feeling. On the trip back, I tried the above-mentioned loading pattern and the handling was back to its normal entertaining edgy self J
This is the magical bit. Quality of roads not a problem. The car takes the bad roads like it was meant to!!! I never thought I would ever appreciate ride so much. ALSO, unlike in the Accent the handling is not so bad to accommodate the great ride. I would think the Europeans are way ahead of everybody else when it comes to getting the right mix of ride and handling.
In my trip to the Nilgiris I was constantly maintaining speeds of 80-100 irrespective of road surface. On slightly looser surfaces you do need to watch out for the over steer and torque steer in lower gears. But then the steering is responsive enough to help you catch it early on.
What can I say? Why are Indians so bothered about FE? Maybe because the damn thing costs so much in India?? The Petra returns an average of between 9-10 in Bangalore city. On the highway the best I have got is about 12 and the worst about 8-9 in the Nilgiris, ripping through narrow winding roads in 1st/ 2nd and 3rd gears!!!
Touch and feel
DRAB!!! The seat covers are quite lousy and stain very easily. The front seats don’t have enough lateral support. You get thrown around quite easily during hard cornering. But the seat has excellent support for the lower back and thighs.
The looks of the dashboard plastics are sad. The exterior plastics have faded in under 3 months. The mirrors and the door strips are a dull gray already! Will have to get them painted to black very shortly.
However the doors shut with a thud that has to be experienced, especially for a guy who spent his last 3.5 years in a Japanese car. And once you shut the door, you are totally isolated from the outside road. No wind noise, not affected by the road, no feeling of speed. Absolute cruising.
The boot is bl**dy huge. On our trip to the Nilgiris, we had 3 reasonably big bags, a tent, 2 sleeping bags, one pillow, 2 camera bags, 3 blankets, 2 5 litre cans of water and 3-4 small bags. HUGE
The A pillars are very thick which affect the forward visibility, but I guess that improves safety. Again the front seats back rests are very high which affect you visibility when turning onto main roads. But again this is for safety I guess. I would rather have a seat go all the way up to my neck and live through a front impact than suffer from the effects of whiplash….
The side view mirrors are rather sad in terms of coverage. You don’t see much more than what you already see in the rear view mirror. I had those additional blind spot mirrors fitted to improve visibility.
The biggest problem I would think is the availability of spares. The folks at TVS don’t even keep enough stock of mud flaps. I was talking to a colleague who had to wait for over a week to get a part replaced after an accident. I heard of another guy who was asked to wait for over a month to get the engine gasket. The guy finally managed to have it couriered from Delhi sooner than TVS was able to arrange it!!!
Quality of service per se is not so bad. The car came out better than it went in. one nagging problem, the bushes that support the car’s hood tends to sink in (at least on my car). As a result im not able to open the hood. Happened within 2 weeks of getting the car. Got it fixed. Again after the 7500km service im not able to open the hood!!! TVS is supposed to send someone over to fix this.
Apart from that the coolant level tends to go down rather fast. The level went below the low level mark within about 6500km, which was surprising.
Likes: Performance, handling, ride, huge boot for road trips
Dislikes: non availability of spares, quality of interior and exterior plastics, lack of a model with features such as body colored plastics, ABS, Airbags, electrically controlled side mirrors
Overall: I love the car!!!! The service I can live with since it happens only once in 3 months. The performance, ride and handling more than make up for everything else J
I plan to put in a Webasto sun roof (30k), OZ Racing 14” alloys (25k), Stanley leather+ vinyl seat covers (20k) and have the interior and exterior plastics painted (5k??) Still I would not have crossed the 7L mark which is what I would have paid for an Ikon SXI
Sometime after the guarantee is over, I plan to put in K&N Filters, do up the exhaust system and explore the possibility of changing the ECU. But that’s a good 9 months away….