Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Two fantastic diesels
Two fantastic diesel cars were launched recently, and I sincerely hope both of these do well. I couldn't say two beautiful diesel cars because while one of them is from the same design house that designs Maseratis, the other looks like an Australian hybrid cow. But they both seem set to be champions in their respective segments.
The first is the Fiat Linea. Designed at the Fiat Style House, it has European elegance written all over. In an age when the Japs are busy making their midsize cars look like spaceships, the Linea is simple and beautiful without too many nicks and edges like the new Honda City, which loses it in trying to emulate the beautiful Civic. While the Linea has two petrol variants, it is the diesel (1.3 liter multijet, tweaked to make 90 bhp and capable of 160 kmph) that will sell in the midsize segment, given the price sensitivity in that class.
From the back, the Linea will remind you of an Opel Vectra, and the front grille continuing down to the bumper is a powerful style statement as well. I am an elegant car, and not a wannabe. Here's a design that takes the Linea from the midsize and places it right in the executive segment, where the Civic, Accord, and Camry rule.
What's attractive about the Linea is its pricing. It is priced lesser than the ugly Korean Hyundai Verna and also a lot lesser than the Honda City or the Toyota Altis. Will it be able to wean away Honda and Toyota buyers? There's little chance of that happening, but people considering buying the Swift Dzire (which gets the ugliest car award along with Suzuki Versa, Toyota Qualis, and Toyota Innova), Tata Indigo, and Mahindra Renault Logan will definitely consider this as a viable option. It would have been nice to see Indians falling in love with the European character of a car instead of falling prey to boring Japanese reliability, but Indians are only second generation car buyers and you cannot expect a lot of class and maturity in their choice. They want practical cars, and Honda and Toyota give you stable, practical cars that don't give you any trouble. The fact that they don't give you any pleasure either can be overlooked in a market like this. I would like to keep aside Mitsubishi from this discussion because that's one company that has given us cars that you don't want to part with. You can soup up your Lancer, add a different engine, take it to a rally, and give it a wacky paint job after you have had it for ten years, whereas you will only upgrade from your Honda or Toyota.
Will Tata be able to do justice to the Fiat name? Unfortunately, no. The Tatas make the Safari owner and the call center Indica driver stand in the same queue when they come to get their cars serviced. It is doubtful that they will do any justice to the Linea either. It would have been a different case had Fiat had their MoU with Mahindra and Mahindra.
Coming to Mahindra, the Xylo is the other car that I want to write about. It baffles you at first. Is it as ugly as the Innova? Is it as butchy and mean looking as the Scorpio? It will be nice if you can reach the driver's seat before you can make up your mind either way. If you think it is ugly, you will miss what this car has to offer once you are inside. Plush seating, lots of legroom, unexpectedly sweet ergonomics for an Indian car, and a lighter and surprisingly fast engine. It also has the most spacious third row, and is ideal for the big, fat Indian family, like mine. I sometimes have to take 8 people in one vehicle for distances anywhere between 300 to 650 kms. And the knowledge that they are not trying to fit themselves in in the third row of my Bolero on those two jump seats meant for monkey-sized people is a huge relief. In my Bolero, I always feel awkward sitting in the driver's seat because I know two of them at the back must be cursing the roads and everything else in general.
Will the big Indian family now buy a Mahindra Xylo instead of an Innova or a Tavera? I hope they do. It makes sense because again this baby is priced at 7 lakhs on road, which is way cheaper than the Innova. The 2.5 liter engine of the Xylo produces 112 bhp, and despite the weight of the vehicle, it is very quick. I read that the cons are braking and the lack of anti-roll bars at the back, but I haven't driven one to confirm that yet.
What will it be for you, then? Practically thinking, a person like me should go for a Xylo, but the beauty of the Linea (and the affordability factor) is too tempting to resist.