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Old 2nd August 2010, 22:52   #1
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Default Beast prevails over beauty. Story of my SX4-ZXi VVT

It is a long story, and it is certainly not a 'love at first sight' story. Quite the opposite, actually.

Way back in April 2008, while driving my 2002 Palio (aka 'old faithful') from Bangalore to Ooty, I had a feeling that the car will not make too many long trips in future. The car still drove on the highway like a dream - tight handling, perfectly weighed steering and great suspensions. But the small niggles were getting more frequent, the body was showing its age, and to add to the small niggles, some big ones (such as engine overheating) were showing up once in a while. However, I was wrong about my prediction. The car refused to give up. It served me well on several long distance trips (including a Bangalore-Pune round trip) since then.

Beast prevails over beauty. Story of my SX4-ZXi VVT-palio1.jpg
My 'old faithful' that refuses to give up!

But the thought of needing a new car that first came in my mind in April 2008 slowly grew root. By December 2008, I started reading ACI regularly to bring myself up-to-speed on India car scene. The first new launch to stir my imagination was the i20. Linea was also launched around that time (Jan 2009), but somehow failed to grab my attention. Probably the over-familiarity with Fiat (and some fresh frustration over continuing niggles in my Palio) made me look away. Then came May 2009. I was very excited by the Jazz story that ACI carried. I thought this one is for me! But came June 2009, and as we all know, the Jazz story turned out to be both shocking and disappointing. But the pains of Jazz were quickly forgotten, thanks to another mega-launch the same month.

In June 2009, like so many other bhpians, I was caught in the fever of Punto. Punto was lunched on June 17, 2009, and I was totally drawn (once again!) into the Fiat frenzy. I was not totally sold on Punto that time, but the Punto fever was strong enough to make me uncontrollably crave for a new car. It did not matter anymore whether my Palio was still trustworthy or not. I wanted a new car and my mind had subconsciously taken a decision. The fun and also the agony began!

With a test drive of Punto MJD EP, my test driving began. I will describe the initial selection and experience quickly, and then move on the grand finale that dragged on for a year!

Before I go on, I need to mention a couple of funny things. I had overlooked Linea earlier, but the Punto launch that drew me to Fiat showrooms (i.e. beyond the service area that was well familiar to me thanks to my Palio) made me take a closer look at Linea. And oh boy! I totally fell in love with this beauty. This was something previously never seen on Indian roads. The looks were to die for, and the feature list was just mind-blowing. Add to that the best-in-class ride & handling package! This could have been the perfect solution, and I could have saved one agonizing year of my life. But there was a catch: the 1.4L, 89bhp, coarse-sounding mill was a pill that was a bit difficult to swallow. And the 1.3 MJD was out of my budget, even after stretching it considerably. The 1.4L engine made me think not only twice, but hundreds of time.

Second funny thing was that way before this thought process started, SX4 was launched, and I did not even bother to go and take a look at it. I had never been to a Maruti showroom before, and the SX4 was never good enough to make me go there. Or so I thought. I did not like its odd looks. And nobody said anything good about its ride, and the opinions on its handling were mixed at best. The engine got mixed reviews as well. Lack of VVT was a sore point, especially when Suzuki already had VVT version of the same engine running outside India. Later I read some more negative reviews and with that I closed my mind as far as SX4 was concerned. But by June 2009, amidst all the drama that was unfolding with new glittery launches, I started seeing more SX4s on road in Bangalore. Slowly the odd shape grew on me and I started even liking it a little bit. The massive 16 inch alloys, the humongous ground clearance (the utility and necessity of which was absolutely clear to me by then thanks to several drives on roads outside the GQ) , the reliability of a Maruti (though I must admit: I did not know whether this was a myth or reality because I had no personal experience) and the completeness of the package with airbags, ABS and Automatic Climate Control made me take a second look. Then in October 2009 Maruti launched SX4 VVT, and the lure of the 1.6L, 103bhp VVT engine was strong enough to make me visit their showroom and take a test drive. And the rest, I would like to say, is history in my personal history book (though it still took about 10 months more, and a very tough fight over that period, as described in the next post).

My requirements: Amongst all this emotional activity, it dawned upon me that my requirements were primarily as follows. Had to have: ABS, airbags, OEM alloy wheels, automatic climate control, steering mounted audio controls, space for 4 people plus luggage, excellent ride & handling, excellent highway stability, good ground clearance and high reliability. Additional requirements, which I felt could be compromised on if required, were 15" or bigger alloys, USB port for music system, rear armrest, and of course, visual appeal (from inside the car as well as outside). As you could easily point out right away, I had to eventually give up on a few of my primary requirements.

Initial shortlist: The initial shortlist included i20, Verna, Fiesta (1.6SXi as well as S) , Punto (1.4 EP as well as MJD EP), Linea 1.4 EP, Manza Auro+ Safire, Jazz (I know, but it was in my initial list), and SX4-ZXi.

For inexplicable reasons, the only diesel that I ever contemplated was Punto MJD EP. Actually it is not totally true. To add to the fun and the confusion, towards the 'slog overs' of the mega final that I am going to describe in the next post, in came the great Punto VGT and made me sleepless for a few nights.

Anyway, during the course of the year, for some reason or other all other contestants dropped out and the two finalists emerged: Linea 1.4 EP and SX4-ZXi. As I mentioned, towards the very end, Punto VGT entered the battle, but quickly exited to leave the field to the two main contestants.

The Linea 1.4 EP vs. SX4-ZXi story now begins, and is described in the next post.
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Old 2nd August 2010, 23:05   #2
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Default Beauty Vs. the Beast

Linea and SX4 are two totally different cars, and it sometimes feels almost stupid to be comparing them to each other for almost a year. It is a classical apples and oranges comparison. But I am sure I am not the only one on team-bhp who has spent sleepless nights comparing these two. I like cars with strong characters (irrespective of whether good or evil characters), and both these cars have strong enough characters (or so I think) that made me lose the track of logical reasoning.

Linea is the perfect beauty. The type that can make you lose your head, mind, and money on the spot! Second thoughts are banned here! You act on your instincts. You fall in love with its lines, the beautiful headlamps, the gorgeous proportions. The instrument cluster is to die-for. The steering wheel is a piece of art by itself. The extremely useful MID and the Blue-and-me are the icings on the cake. But the beauty is cursed. It has a weak heart (or so I thought). And can I depend on her for years, without ever having a second thought? The answer, unfortunately, was not a resounding 'yes' (or so I thought, again).

SX4 on the other hand, is not that polished and polite. She comes across as rude. You don't like her the first time you meet her. It takes many meetings to start understanding her. Then slowly you start realizing the values she possesses. And someday, unexpectedly, she wins your heart. It is a completely opposite process than Linea's 'love at first sight' situation. Of course, just like Linea, SX4 has its own shares of weaknesses, and some very serious ones at that! One needs to be sure, very sure, that they can live with its weaknesses before falling for her.

Leaving aside the impressions and coming to technicalities, Linea is the classic European car that prides itself on its ride, handling, and all sorts of technology. This is actually what I thought was 'my type'. In some rare emotional moments, it even reminded me of my Audi A4. This is the ultimate test of a car touching my soul. Linea is the car that loves highways, long sweeping curves, twists of a mountain pass, and of course, the long deserted roads that disappear into the horizon. If this was going to be my driving profile, I would have bought a Linea without a second thought.

If Linea is the classic highway car, SX4 is not even sure whether it is a car. You can't get more different than Linea than SX4. SX4 is a so-called cross-over. Its super-hard suspensions offer a ride which is a complete contrast to the smooth Linea glide. The 'controversial' EPS does not stand a chance against the precision of Linea's HPS. But if you can look beyond these vices, then it has virtues. It loves broken roads, it is not afraid of the over-enthusiastically designed speed-breakers, can strongly pull up a steep mountain road, and the surefootedness of its 205-wide shoes (and of course, the beautifully implemented ABS) can keep you assured even on slippery slopes down the hill. And that this is exactly going to be my driving profile eventually sealed the deal.

If Linea is the epitome of beauty, then SX4 could be termed as the beast.

Financial Angle: By the way, before going into further details and while still discussing the contrasting nature of these two cars, it is interesting to note the equality between the two cars in their pricing. Back in January 2010, SX4 was priced about 8.88L and Linea was priced about 8.87L, whereas in July 2010, SX4 was priced about 9.31L and Linea about 9.27L (All prices are OTR, Bangalore). Even the discount schemes add up to very similar numbers for both these cars. Thus, there is nothing to differentiate between these cars purely based on their pricing. This, in a way, made it easier to compare them. I could compare their virtues and vices directly against each other, without having to worry about normalizing them to take into account the differences in pricing. It is a far more complex problem to evaluate two different cars when they differ not only on their qualities but also on their prices. One has to constantly evaluate any added benefits over added cost and make sure not to cross the point of diminishing return. Thankfully, I did not have to face this problem.

After several test drives of both these cars, here are some of my observations. Since I am used to driving my Palio for several years and several thousand kilometers, it is only natural (and I hope pardonable) that I keep comparing both of these cars not only against each other, but also against Palio. Also, when I say SX4, I am referring to SX4-ZXi , and when I say Linea, I am referring to Linea EP (sometimes I forget to write the variants) in the subsequent discussion, unless otherwise stated.

Ride Quality:
Linea wins this category without any doubt. However, on a close look, this is not so one-sided. While Linea offers a fantastic ride (at both low and high speeds), it is not totally free of body role (I am used to the absolute minimum body roll in Palio). SX4 has even more body roll, but still remains within acceptable limits. The low speed ride of SX4 is questionable at best, but the high speed ride is pretty good.

Handling: Again, this is the forte of Linea, and SX4 will have to try hard just to compete. But it does compete to a certain extent, thanks again to the super-hard suspensions that aid the handling to some extent. Also, the grip provided by 205-wide tyres also enhances the driving experience. Again, one can call the handling of SX4 as acceptable.

Engine: This is where SX4 takes its revenge on Linea. The new VVT is a significant improvement over the previous iteration. This engine is very refined and sounds happy to rev-up. At above 3000 RPM, it emits a sweet purring sound that is almost addictive. And the pulling power of more than 100 horses is both necessary (given its 1200kg mass) and sufficient (if not more than that), for all city as well as highway needs. Linea, on the other hand, left me a tad disappointed with its 1.4L petrol mill (just to remind you again, 1.3 MJD VGT was out of my budget, so no point discussing that here). Also, the fact that Linea weighs about 40kg more than SX4-ZXi does not help it at all in this comparison. Actually it was not the lack of pulling power (it was quite decent, except for a dead spot in 2nd gear) that was the main problem, but the engine sounded very coarse and strained while pulling it from rest. At high revs, the engine noise can become annoying. I know many enthusiasts love the sound of Fiat's petrols, and they may be totally right, but somehow I could not get myself to like the sound on Linea's 1.4 engine.

Speaking of 2nd gear, I don't know what it is with all these cars in India, but I found pretty much every car I tested to be having somewhat weak 2nd gear. Surprisingly, even some diesels, even though acclaimed for low-end torque, suffered from this. I guess turbo-lag is the problem for the diesels. But for most petrols, without turbo (and hence no question of turbo lag) and with relatively poorer low-end torque, this issue is prominent. Anyway, neither Linea nor SX4 have powerful 2nd gears, and SX4 wins only in relative terms.

Braking: Both Linea and SX4 have excellent brakes equipped with ABS. However, Linea brakes feel a bit spongy though they work very well. SX4 brakes feel very precise and sharp right from the first touch, and the initial 'bite' is very good. I really liked the brakes on SX4, they not only work very well but also inspire a lot of confidence in the driver about the braking ability.

Space: It is a close fight between these two here, but the SX4 eventually wins. Although Linea has longer wheelbase, the dashboard intrudes a bit too much into the cabin and takes away lot of space. Further, the positioning of pedals and steering wheel is a bit non-ergonomic; it requires the driver to pull his or her seat further back, thus in tern intruding on the space in the back. The headroom in the back is also at most adequate. Overall, Linea cabin has adequate space, but does not feel spacious. In comparison, SX4 feels much more specious both at front and back seats. The simple, ergonomically designed, 'no-frills' dashboard design of SX4 helps in freeing up some useful space in the front. Boot space is almost identical in both the cars, though SX4 scores some negative points due to ridiculously high boot floor which will make loading heave item painful.

Ground Clearance: This is where SX4 beats not only Linea, but practically every other sedan out there on Indian roads. The huge 190mm GC along with super-hard suspensions makes it virtually impossible to take a hit on the underbody. Even the biggest of the speed-breakers are conquered without any fuss. It was amazing to experience this during the test drives. Even on really bad roads, the SX4 may sometimes exhibit mildly embarrassing traits such slight body roll and a bit bumpy ride, but its underbody will never (well, almost) touch anything on the road. It is in a league of its own here. Linea, on the other hand, feels extremely inadequate here. Not that it is really bad, but you do have to be very careful on every small bump on the road and anything resembling a speedbreaker. The longish wheelbase and the softish suspensions make it a perfect candidate for scrapping virtually anything on the road.

I had a heart-wrenching experience of this during one TD. Wanting to specifically evaluate the well-discussed (on this forum) problem of Linea's GC, I took a Linea on a pretty bad patch of road where I drive my Palio (without any scrapping) every day. To my surprise, Linea took the patch rather well, and I managed to come out with only the mud-flaps scrapping the bumps a couple of times. Needless to say, I was extremely careful and was trying to use all my braking and acceleration skills to ensure that the car is not 'dipping in' while crossing any bump. And it worked! Feeling relived and happy, I resumed driving in 'normal' mode. I hardly noticed a very tiny speedbreaker immediately after that, and drove 'normally' on it. And to my horror, that thing hit the car so badly that I was speechless and even the poor salesman (he was a true gentleman) felt very sad for the car. He was nice enough to take this in the right spirit, but I could see the pain in his eyes. I really felt very bad for that car, and was restless for a while. Had this been my car that had got hit this way, I would have probably been in tears. Poor Linea! But this highlighted the need of being overly cautious while driving Linea over seemingly normal roads.

Features: This round goes to Linea. While both cars are well equipped by the standards of Indian automotive scene, the Linea takes the game further away with its MID and extremely useful "Advanced My Car" settings, the fantastic Bluetooth systems, rear AC, driver's arm rest, sun curtain for the rear windshield, and various small things such as night-panel and beautifully backlit controls. I really love the instrument cluster of Linea, and in comparison, I almost hate the very ordinary looking instrument cluster of SX4. However, surprisingly, Linea lacks a few very useful features that SX4 offers: remote control for music system, AUX-in for the music system and the variable intermittent wiper speeds. Further, SX4 comes with all 5 alloys, whereas Linea has only 4 alloys.

Aesthetics and beauty: Linea, as expected, wins this round, but SX4 is not to far away. SX4 is beautiful in her own way, the type of beauty that grows on you slowly. SX4 has a purposeful, a bit rude but attractive stance. The flared wheel arches and the raised backside give it a masculine look. I really love the massive 16" alloys of SX4, which I feel look much nicer than the "flowery" alloys of Linea. From inside, Linea has better interiors (aesthetically) than SX4, but SX4 interiors may age better because of the simplicity and functional approach. Overall, I absolutely love the looks of Linea, and have started really liking the looks of SX4.

Ergonomics: This round goes to SX4. The dashboard, the ACC controls, the music systems controls including the controls on steering wheel, everything is ergonomically perfect. Not a single button on the dashboard or center console is hidden behind the steering wheel. (Palio has a flaw that the main AC button gets hidden behind the steering wheel for certain configurations of driver seat position and the driver's height). Even the positioning of USB port and 12V socket (cigarette lighter) is just perfect! Linea has some ergonomic errors, such as awkward position of USB port and the 12V socket (cigarette lighter).

AC: SX4 has one a brilliant Automatic Climate Control. Very easy to use and extremely ergonomic controls! From all reviews I read and also from all test drives I took, it was clear that the ACC works just superb in SX4! On the contrary, Linea AC was always a suspect. It has a beautiful panel for ACC (SX4 lacks the digital ACC panel, which I wish they had), and it is also easy to use, but there are many reports complaining about lack of AC performance in Linea. Made me feel a bit nervous, because a poor OEM AC can't be fixed by aftermarket means.

Driving position and visibility: SX4 is the clear winner here. I just love the high driving position in SX4. The front visibility is fantastic, and all round visibility for driver is pretty good too. I had read about the visibility issues related to front quarter glass, but except for one or two occasions, I did not find any visibility issues with quarter glass. Only at some particular angle it is a problem, and I found that in normal city and highway driving this is not something that one will experience. Also, lot is written about the rear visibility of SX4, but again I found it to be totally OK, especially now that the rear headrest is of adjustable type and not the "full type" which blocked the view in earlier models. Linea's driving position is good but not great! I am unable to figure out why, but somehow something is not quite right with the driving position. Maybe one gets used to it after a while. Visibility is good in Linea too.

Summary: Overall, it is difficult to say which car is better. Both cars have their own strengths and weaknesses and it is almost impossible to choose one car as an overall winner.

Emotional atyaachaar: The last statement above was my biggest problem for almost last one year. I just could not decide whether to buy a Linea or SX4, and got into a very frustrating situation. There were days when I decided to buy a Linea, only to be reminded of the lack of power and the GC issues during the night and then spending a sleepless night with head spinning in confusion. Eventually, I used to fall asleep deciding in favour of SX4, but when morning came, I was in pain thinking of the various reports of poor ride quality of SX4 and the lack of MID even on a 9L car! Then I used to spend the day agonizing over this and end up deciding in favour of Linea. And this cycle continued over and over again.

The tie-breaker: So how did I make a decision? Well, in February, I had to make a Bangalore-Pune-Bangalore road trip in my Palio. I decided to use this road trip as a means of gathering all sorts of specific information on my own car needs. Just as in Industrial Engineering, they do a 'time study' or a 'motion study' to understand specific time and motion sequences, or in software programming they do a 'performance analysis' of a program to understand exactly where the performance bottlenecks are, I decided to use this trip to do my own analysis. I observed each and every small feature that I used, each and every small trouble I faced, what I enjoyed having in the car, what I missed the most, what I wish I had, what I did not care at all about having and so on. The answer to my agonizing dilemma was hidden in the data. When I looked at the data and analyze it carefully, the mystery was resolved.

The answer was clear: I needed SX4 more than I needed Linea! It turned out I did not care at all about the Bluetooth and related gimmicks. It turned out that I really cared for nice and powerful AC. It turned out that neither me nor my wife care for rear AC vents. It turned out that we cared a lot for ground clearance and hated going over big speed-breakers on NH4 in a decently loaded Palio. I wished I had a good 100 horses pulling my car, because my Palio 1.2 (which incidentally has about the same power to weight ratio as Linea 1.4) seemed to lose breath at about 120kmph, and anything above that was a bit of a struggle. Surprisingly, even the small things mattered a lot. My wife was using the stereo remote all the time and I realized the utility of this remote and realized that we must have this feature, which unfortunately the Linea lacked. We seriously wished we had some place to keep cool 1L water bottles near the front seats. SX4 offers a solution to this exact problem: in front door pads.

The list goes on and on, but in the net-net, it was clear to me that I needed an SX4. Still, it took me a few more months and a few more test drives to rationalize that though process, but eventually on July 17, 2010, exactly 13 months since the Punto was launched and my hunt began, I booked an SX4-ZXi VVT in 'midnight black' color.
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Old 2nd August 2010, 23:26   #3
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Default Booking and buying experience

I booked the car on July 17, 2010, and took the delivery on July 31, 2010. Everything went smooth, except for a minor hiccup mentioned below. I made sure to stick to the procedures and norms mentioned on Team-BHP, and I particularly followed both the PRI and PDI checklists and ensured everything was OK according to those lists. Thanks a lot to Team-BHP for this extremely valuable information!

The only hiccup: I was very particular about buying July 2010 manufactured car, or in the worst case, a June 2010 car. As per Team-BHP norms, I refused to sign form 20 until I approved the car. A week after I booked the car, the dealer called me to check out the 'latest arrival' from the factory. The very first thing I checked was the VIN number, and it immediately was clear to me that it was a Match 2010 manufactured car. I refused the car on the spot and did not even bother to check out the rest of the car. Knowledge of VIN codes given on Team-BHP saved my day! Thanks a lot especially to Wildon for his extremely informative posts on the VIN decoding thread.

A couple of days later, the dealer called me to check out another car. Thankfully, this was indeed a July 2010 car. The engine was mounted on 14 July 2010, the car was loaded into a truck on 16 July 2010 (as per the transit papers), and arrived in Bangalore on 26 July 2010. I did a PRI the same day and approved the car. The tyres were manufactured in last week of June, so everything made sense. I had some questions about engine noise (as listed in my post in PDI checklist thread), and PM'ed a few SX4 owners. They promptly responded and helped me out. Thanks a lot to them as well.

Overall, the Maruti dealership experience was great (except for the minor hiccup mentioned above), and I had a very pleasant experience of dealing with them and going through all the paperwork and other formalities.

Before I post a detailed review of my car, here is one of the very first pictures of my SX4.
Attached Thumbnails
Beast prevails over beauty. Story of my SX4-ZXi VVT-sx48.jpg  

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Old 2nd August 2010, 23:57   #4
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Have you already sold the Palio?
If it is a 1.6 then there will be many takers for it I guess on Team-BHP.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 00:05   #5
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Originally Posted by download2live View Post
Have you already sold the Palio?
If it is a 1.6 then there will be many takers for it I guess on Team-BHP.
No, I have not sold the Palio. I will keep it for the sake of old memories. And it is 1.2 and not 1.6.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 07:46   #6
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Congrats AD. That was a nice detailed description of the purchase process and looking forward to your initial ownership impression.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 08:43   #7
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Congrats. And your review on your TDs and comparison are too good. Will certainly help the prospective buyers of both cars.

Happy driving.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 09:11   #8
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@ Dr. AD; Congragulations first for a very beautiful car. Fantastic post too. I also had very similar confusions, only difference was that I was comparing SX4 with a SUV and my heart eventually sided with the SUV. Your analysis is detailed to the last point and it will definetely help all the T-BHP readers.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 09:23   #9
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Congrats on your Black Beast Dr. Ad and what an Acquisition!!

Your review was very precise & had all the details which should help loads of possible buyers to decide between the Beauty & the Beast in future.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 09:53   #10
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Congrats AD. It was very good meticulous review. Hope you enjoy riding the SX4 for many years to come. I too had exactly similar reasons as yours to go in for the SX4, though I was battling it more between the SX4 and the Honda City... Happy Motoring and do write about your initial ownership report of this black beauty
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Old 3rd August 2010, 10:11   #11
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Dr. clearly a decision taken from the brain and not the heart ... SX4 clearly scores in the most practical parameters. With SUV style seating and looks you can drive almost in any terrain in India.

As rightly said the SX4 looks are not of "love at first sight type" but of "gradual liking".

Enjoy many miles.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 10:11   #12
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Congrats Dr. AD!. That was real hard fought battle between the Linea and SX4. Owning a Fiat earlier and opting for the SX4 was a little surprising to me.

Do enjoy many more miles with the SX4. By the way, the car looks good in black
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Old 3rd August 2010, 10:25   #13
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Fantastic review. I just loved the narration style. Great to know that several parameters were assessed and the decision taken. Unlike you, for me SX4 was love at first sight; the sheer masculine looks and the wide rubber made me just love this vehicle. My 3 years of experience with this beast has been superb. However, 2 days ago, my impeccably maintained black beast was banged into by an irresponsible idiot when parked. It pained me to death.

Congrats and drive safe
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Old 3rd August 2010, 10:38   #14
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What a review, great narrating style. Congratulations on the beast. The black colour looks majestic and does have a great road presence. Waiting for more pics of the black beast.

Its good to know that you did not have any great issue with the quarter glass since a couple of my office colleagues crib about it almost everyday reg'ing the hampering of the vision.

Happy mile crunching, drive safely. BTW pls mention the OTR cost, insurance and which dealer did you buy from? Its good to know that you were alert when the dealer tried to pass off a March vehicle. T-BHP rocks.
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Old 3rd August 2010, 11:04   #15
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Fantastic, neat and crisp review Dr.Ad. Both Linea and SX4 are wonderful cars and the way you have compared and penned their functionalities is wonderful. Keep posting your experiences with your beast and updating the thread.
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