Thursday, April 10, 2014

How I Met My New Car!

The Background:

I will start this with my second innings (post marriage) as my life changed big time after that as it usually happens with almost all of us.

Cars owned so far:
Maruti Zen LX (Pre owned) 1999 Model – Bought it in April 2007 and Sold in June 2008.
Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDi (Pre owned) 2002 Model – Bought it in July 2008 and Sold in May 2010.
Maruti Alto LXi (New) bought it in July 2011 – still have.

The need for a new car:
Fortunately we both are roadies and never turn down any opportunity to go anywhere by road – even at a very short notice – we do pack our bags and just move on in any direction as long as we are driving its all fun. I don’t remember we ever travelled by a train / bus or an air plane in last 8 years of our marriage barring a one off occasion when we were short of time or when the distance was too long. We had to attend a very important friends marriage in Delhi and had hardly any notice time was the only time we went by air and came back by Rajdhani but I vowed never to repeat this again. We bought Alto in 2011 precisely for the reason that my wife was a little uncomfortable learning driving in a Skoda Octavia – it was too big and too heavy (as per her). Now after keeping Alto for a year – I made sure that it was her almost all the time in the driver’s seat just so she develops some confidence and she cleared the final driving test as we went to our home town in the summers of 2013 to deliver the car to her parents, she was the one who did the maximum driving while I played games on my cell phone.

We were planning to go on our life’s longest road trips which will be a couple of thousand kilometers from Mumbai towards up north and back, hence needed a brand new car which could take us to long distances without giving any issues. So, we needed a diesel car with ABS, Air Bags, ample of boot space, safety features, good stereo, mileage – more the better, looks don’t matter that much as I will be inside the car most of the times. We were actually on the lookout for car with occasional seven seating capacity (for city runs) but specifically in the range of 10-11 lacs with 50K up and down didn’t matter that much but not more than that for sure. Unfortunately this is one segment or range which has the most of the options and is way too confusing when it comes to picking up a vehicle. This is going to be one vehicle which we intend to keep for a minimum of 5-6 years or may be more. All our road trips are mostly done with at least a couple on board and most of our friends have either one or two kids. Now, the issue that we faced while finalizing our next vehicle was that the kids were growing by the day and I found it shocking that none of the hatches in today’s market as well as sedans are good or comfortable when it comes to adjusting two couples even with one kid each.

The Contenders: (Diesel only)
Fiat Punto: The first car that we drove and were almost sold out (on driving and looks front) was Punto. I don’t think I have ever taken that kind of aggressive test drive of any car and mind it – this one wasn’t even a 90 BHP car which was launched later, still the kind of feedback that I got from the stunning beauty was way too good, only if it wasn’t for its interior and a little on space front – we would have surely settled for this one. I was even convinced to give up on boot space too just because it was too stable on high speed with fantastic steering and stunning looks. I wasn’t too concerned about the lesser number of dealers / workshops as that’s once a year affair so why bother. But its dated interiors and cramped rear seat was a deal breaker.

XUV5OO: Out of contention right after the price declaration – way off the budget – we took the test drive and were totally bowled over with the equipment list as well as driving experience. If budget permitted – we would have definitely gone for a W8 AWD version for sure.

Renault Duster: Compact SUV is one segment which is growing in India with leaps and bounds and this is one awesome vehicle to own in today’s time as it can be used as a good city driven vehicle on daily basis as well as a simply great vehicle for highways. Unfortunately we found it over prized yet again as buying a 1.5 with 85 BHP engine at almost close to 13.5 lacs didn’t make any sense – I would have rather put in another 100K or little more to settle for XUV. Also this time round we didn’t wanted to make any compromise on safety, features and security as well so decided to go for Top model of whatever vehicle we settle for and that included a minimum of ABS, Airbags (Front at least) and Alloy wheels. Never even took a test drive.

Ford Ecosport: It wasn’t launched but since I have a couple of close friends working for Overdrive – it was believed that this too will be priced similar to Duster if not more as Ecosports feature list too was way too long and it was to come super loaded if I may call it. Its ground clearance, water wading, safety etc impressed me big time and was too keen on this one as well but the only drawback again was that it was a hatch back with very limited boot space.

Ford Figo: This was the car actually which started it all – we were totally sold out on this one since its very launch as a very dear friend bought a Fiesta TDCi – which we drove multiple times on our highway trips to Goa and Gujarat – since it shared the same engine – we were totally bowled over its city as well as highway performance – even the mileage was too good. Top model of Figo came fully loaded with anything and everything, they missed just two things while making Figo – One it had no rear power windows and two – the steering isn't height adjustable. It fitted perfectly well in our price band too – we could have saved a few lacs for sure. 

Honda and Hyundai: I never look in the direction of a Hyundai showroom – period. And Honda had nothing to offer us – no diesel – no ways we could have maintained a petrol car with that kind of driving.

Toyota and Tata: I know it’s a crime to put those two together but unfortunately Toyota’s center console thing pissed me off big time and the less I talk about Tata the better hence a total no go.

Nissan / Renault: Technically same cars with just different badges – unfortunately they both never appealed to me – although they both come with good equipment levels yet we stayed away from them. They both were well in our budget and almost had everything – if it wasn’t for Ertiga being launched simultaneously – we would have surely settled for Scala. 

Vento / Rapid: Rapid was my second choice after keeping an Octavia for more than two years – we were way too happy with what that car offered us, superb mileage and damn great power. I even drove friends Rapid and it was too good, fantastic drive and confidence inspiring car just like its other siblings. Why we didn’t settle for it? Same reason – Ertiga was launched right when we were about to decide.

Maruti Ertiga: April 2012 and Ertiga was officially launched. Fortunately this was one car which had almost everything we were looking for under one roof. Proven Diesel Engine under the hood – a Fiat Multijet Diesel 1248cc with 90 BHP, which does duty in almost half of the cars in India today. It was a breeze to drive in city with car like driving experience – didn’t feel one bit like a proper MUV with minimum body roll. Flexible seating was one thing that was damn big plus for us – with 7 and 5 seating options, fold down the third row and its boot becomes huge, ABS, Front Air Bags for Driver and passenger both, Alloy Wheels, Factory fitted two din stereo system (Single CD USB) with remote. 185mm Ground clearance, what else could have asked for? This was the perfect choice as it was fitting our bill perfectly of 7 seats in local commute and comfortable 5 on highways with ample of luggage space. Outstanding fuel economy and Maruti’s superb after sales service. The only drawback was its waiting period which was something like 6 months then.

The Test Drive:
Months passed – the car got launched – I kept hanging on to various automobile communities, online forums and my own friends from automobile sector for initial reviews. I wasn’t surprised to hear the positive feedback from almost all sides – the only criticism I guess was coming from people comparing it with its bigger counterparts and that was irrelevant for us. We visited the nearby showroom which was newly inaugurated at Raghuleela Shopping Mall, Kandivali West (Mumbai) – hardly one and a half kilometer from our house. It looked big from outside but wasn’t that huge once we sat in it, interiors were impressive but with a lot of beige thrown in – it looked pretty airy from inside. I had driven the same diesel engine in Punto, Indica, Swift / Dzire and SX4 so almost had an idea how it’s going to perform in the city drives, although it had better brakes (ABS) and the high seating helped (I am short). Stereo was fantastic at least better than a lot of average systems I checked in various cars – I took a couple of folders in my pen drive and they all worked fine via USB port, 4 speakers with two tweeters was a pretty good deal. We had almost made up our mind but still needed some more time to think about it as it all looked good on paper but the question was how it will feel in real life. So the SE arranged for a test drive very next day and promised the car will be sent to our home.

First Test Drive: Sales executive visited our place as promised the very next day with one of the finance guys to explain the bank formalities, EMI details, Registration and Insurance etc. we set off for the drive with me and wifey in front, they both took the second row and of course my daughter took her favorite third row. Right from the moment I stepped in – I loved its seating, front pillars were thick and so were the wing mirrors but I guess that is something one gets used to it. Clutch, brake and steering (after I lowered it as per my height) felt great with good feedback – it was light but was giving me enough feedback. After initial 1 km drive I got used to the size of the vehicle and tested some quick overtaking from left, right and squeezed in between autos – it was fun with 90 horses at service – it had nice pick up and after I took it into the turbo on zone – it just flew. Although the sales guys were a little uncomfortable with the way I abused the car (not too badly though) but they didn’t mind as long as I stayed inches away from any vehicles I passed through. I was convinced that this is THE car for us.

Second Test Drive: Another couple of months passed and it was almost Diwali Time – when we called the sales rep for a second test drive – this time I told him that I am going to do a little real test drive and will book the car spot on if it performs as I believe it will. He obliged with an affirmation and came to our place with the car around 4 PM the very same day. Why I remember that episode was because that’s exactly the same time my kiddo comes back from school and she was one of the big reason why we were taking an Ertiga (Seven Seater) as she always wanted a separate seat to sit with her friends. Fortunately the same day they had a PTA at school and I saw two more parents getting down from the school bus with their kids hand in hand – an idea quickly clicked in my mind and I offered all of them to come on a long drive with us. Check the count; we had 3 mothers in second row, 3 kids (all 6 year olds) in the third row, I on driving seat with Sales rep as front passenger. I warned all of them that the drive is going to be a little harsh with some sudden braking and a little fast pick up – may hear the tires screeching too. But almost all the kids love that I guess – with both the AC fans on speed 2 – we set off on the drive and it was simply mind blowing the way car performed with full load. No one complained and I with the sales rep had a big smile on both our faces because he got the booking and I was about to get what I wanted (I guess some 6 odd months later).

Booking: After we were satisfied fully with the performance and with what we needed in our long term ride – went ahead and booked it finally. Booking a Maruti Suzuki vehicle is a breeze – they just took a deposit of 5 grand that too fully refundable in case if we change our mind midways, with expected delivery somewhere in March end or April first week. We were in no hurry as we planned our longest road trip around third week of June and as per my calculation by that time we will have the first service done and we will have a couple of short trips just to become more used to the vehicle. The funniest part was that when it came to choosing a color – it was a tough choice – Kiddo wanted Wine Red whereas wifey wanted Dark Grey – so practically I had no choice and I let them decide what they think was best. Buying a recently launched vehicle comes with its own disadvantage or maybe we were bad bargainers – we got no discount and no goodies whatsoever by Maruti as well. The SE promised that he will try do something (whatever) at the time of delivery. And this is how (very eagerly) we started the waiting period for our upcoming new family member.

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