Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Driving lessons on my Swift VDi

During our family holiday at Lonavla, I gave some driving lessons to my wife and younger daughter at a deserted spot near the Sunset Point at INS Shivaji. We found something very interesting about the car, which I must share.

The deserted spot near Sunset Point at INS Shivaji. Duke's Nose visible.

For a beginner, the co-ordination between clutch and accelerator is most tricky while trying to set the car in motion. The reason is that when one releases the clutch, load comes on the engine and its RPM falls, tending to stall it. To prevent stalling, one has to gradually rev the engine by gently pressing the accelerator while releasing the clutch. To our pleasant surprise, we found that one can set a diesel Swift in motion by simply releasing the clutch (without even touching the accelerator). The technical reasons for this, as I figure, are :

a) Due to high torque of the Swift diesel engine at low RPM, even at idling RPM (about 800) the engine is able to pull the car at low speed.
b) The accelerator of the Swift diesel is completely electronic (‘drive-by-wire’ technology) and does not involve any mechanical linkages or cables. As you press the gas pedal you are merely turning a potentiometer (or something of that sort) and sending an electronic signal to the on-board computer. At idling (when the pedal is at zero position) the computer controls the idling RPM, and it is probable that even when some load is put on the engine the computer tries to maintain the set engine RPM by increasing the fuel input.

Whatever be the technical reasons, the bottomline is that even for a child it is as easy as apple pie to set a diesel Swift in motion. The fact that the clutch is very very smooth and effortless also helps.

Sunset as seen from the Sunset Point, INS Shivaji

160 kmph on the Lonavla – Bombay expressway

Approaching Lonavla

I drove from Bombay to Lonavla and back with my wife and two daughters during the X’mas holidays in 2007. We had a wonderful stay at INS Shivaji at Lonavla, did a fair bit of trekking (climbed the Duke’s Nose peak), relived wonderful memories of INS Shivaji / Lonavla / Khandala with my family (we lived there from 1988 to 1990) and met up with my oldest friend Mr. N. Bezbora (86 years young and a great man) and his family at Lonavla town.

Mr. N. Bezbora and I at his lovely garden

Inside INS Shivaji -- Duke's Nose visible at background

And yes, I also enjoyed some great driving on my Swift VDi on the Bombay-Poona Super Expressway.

Why do I call this expressway ‘Super’? Because, unlike most expressways (including the Golden Quadrilateral) in India, this one is almost entirely 6-laned and since the ‘up’ and ‘down’ roads (each 3-laned) are completely segregated (with no interconnecting ‘cuts’), one does not find vehicles moving in the wrong direction. Also, the road is well-barricaded and passes through uninhabited terrain and therefore one does not usually find stray animals or humans loitering on the road. No autorikshas, cycle-rikshas or hand-carts either.

At the Naval College of Engg. inside INS Shivaji -- one of INS Vikrant's propellers (14 ft dia, 9550 kg) visible

The only problem I found on the expressway was several slow-moving (relatively) cars hogging the fast lane and forcing you to either slow down and honk or to overtake them from the left. But even in this respect I found the lane discipline significantly better than most other places in India. Drivers doing 80 to 100 kmph in India often think that they now deserve to be in the fast lane. Little do they know of the scorn with which drivers of superior vehicles moving at 150 kmph or more view them.
Duke's Nose -- as seen from the expressway

I just had to try out my new toy at its max rated speed of 160 kmph and the Bombay – Poona road provided the best opportunity. During our onward journey we started from Bombay at 5 AM (to avoid city traffic) and found ourselves at Lonavla just after sunrise at 7 AM. Since it was dark almost throughout, I did not attempt anything more than 120 kmph. While returning, we started at 10 AM and just after crossing the ghats and descending to level ground at Khopoli I started looking for opportunities to speed up. Finding a long straight stretch where I could see the road clearly for several km, I stepped on the gas and reached 160 kmph quite effortlessly. The car felt absolutely stable and steady and the hum of the engine (whatever was audible above the wind and ground noise) was sweet music to my ears. Though there were 4 of us (plus luggage and half tank of fuel) in the car and AC was on, the engine was clearly ready to exceed 160 kmph and might have gone up to higher speeds. But my 56 years of age caught up with me and I decided not to try higher speeds, having achieved my target of 160 kmph (100 miles per hour). Subsequently, I touched 160 kmph on two more occasions during this drive. What a great way to celebrate Christmas with my family (it was 25.12.07)!

After touching 160 kmph for the third time, I pulled over at a safe spot and felt the temperature of my tubeless radials by hand. They were satisfactorily warm (not hot) and the front tyres were warmer than the rear ones. The time was around 11 AM.

I must add that when I pulled over to check tyre temperature after doing 160 kmph, I did not stop the engine but let it idle. This is very important because turbochargers become very hot at high power and they must be allowed to cool down gradually. If one abruptly stops the engine (thereby stopping oil circulation) after doing high speeds / power, lubricating oil at the turbo may burn and cause damage.

Prior to this, I had done 160 kmph only once before in my life – in March 2003 I had driven my friend Cdr Gopalkrishna’s Hyundai Accent Viva and reached that speed. Interestingly, that drive too was on this very same Bombay – Lonavla stretch of this super expressway. Needless to say, doing 160 kmph on my own car (finally!) was more gratifying.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Awesome mileage of 26 kmpl from my Swift VDi– using non-premium diesel

During my Jamshedpur – Kolkata - Delhi – Jamshedpur drive, I got a fuel efficiency of 21.2 kmpl overall (on a certain stretch I had measured 24 kmpl). So how come I got 26 kmpl overall (Jamshedpur to Bombay) now?

a) Engines (especially turbocharged & intercooled diesels) have much greater efficiency at low ambients. During this trip in winter the average ambient temperature was lower. I generally started every day at around 5 AM which gave me more time at lower temperatures.
b) The average speed during this trip was substantially lower (70-90 kmph as against 90-120 kmph during the Jamshedpur – Kolkata - Delhi – Jamshedpur drive. This probably is the most important contributor to the high fuel efficiency.
c) The use of AC was minimal (around 25%).
d) The fact the engine has now been properly run-in must have helped too.
e) My Jamshedpur – Kolkata - Delhi – Jamshedpur drive included quite a bit of city driving.

I must highlight the fact that an individual’s driving style greatly affects fuel consumption. Usually, I don’t accelerate or decelerate too rapidly, keep use of brakes to a minimum and try to drive at a steady speed on highways.

How do I calculate fuel consumption?

I take a lot of care in calculating fuel consumption because this is the single most important indicator of engine health. I note down the odometer reading whenever the fuel gauge needle is exactly aligned with the ½ tank mark. Next time the needle comes to the ½ mark, I again note the odometer reading and calculate the mileage by dividing the difference by the amount of fuel filled since the earlier reading.

Jamshedpur to Bombay in 4 days

Jaya and I started from Jamshedpur on 16.12.07 and reached Bombay (Jogeshwari West) on 19.12.07, covering a total distance of 1905 km over 4 days. The Swift VDi performed amazingly during this drive and gave me a mileage of 26 KMPL over this entire distance. Brief day-wise details as follows :

Day 1 (16.12.07)

Started from Jamshedpur at 6 AM and reached Sambalpur (471 km from Jam) around 5 PM.

From Jam, took the narrow road via Jadugora (Uranium mines) to reach Moubhandar because the stretch of NH33 between Jam and Moubhandar continues to be in a horribly dilapidated state. From Moubhandar to Bahragora the highway (NH33) is generally OK, with many newly resurfaced good stretches interspersed with some short terrible ones (probably to remind the motorist that one is still in Jharkhand).

The narrow Jadugora road is BETTER than some stretches of National Highway 33!

After entering Orissa through the Jamshola border, I found the Orissa roads (NH6) to be much better than Jharkhand but some poorly maintained stretches (around 5%) are there where one has to slow down. There are a few ghats (hill roads). The most striking feature of the 360 km stretch of NH6 between Jamshola border to Sambalpur is that there is very little human habitation along the road which passes mostly through dense forests. One sees very few people, and for this reason I think this stretch is best avoided at night.

Day 2 (17.12.07)

Started from Sambalpur (Orissa) at 4.30 AM and reached Nagpur (Maharashtra) around 5 PM, crossing the state of Chhattisgarh en route. This was the longest distance (557 km) traversed over a single day during our Jamshedpur-Bombay drive.

The stretch in Orissa between Sambalpur to the Chhattisgarh border (90 km) is not good, with lots of cracks and shallow craters on the road surface. The 300 km NH6 stretch through Chhattisgarh is very good (includes the excellent 4-lane Raipur-Bhilai-Durg toll road). However, due to heavy local traffic, one cannot do high speeds on the Raipur-Bhilai-Durg stretch.

At a temple gate in 36-garh

After entering Maharashtra, the 170 km to Nagpur is excellent. This gave me hope that all roads in Maharashtra would be equally excellent, but I found on day-3 that Maharahtra has bad roads too.

Day 3 (18.12.07)

Started from Nagpur at 7 AM and reached Jalgaon at 5 PM, covering a distance of 447 km.

The road surface on most of this stretch of NH6 is not good (with shallow craters) and one has to restrict the speed to around 80 kmph unless one’s suspension is covered by an unlimited warranty. However, there are a few excellent stretches like that Amravati bypass.

At a Reliance A1 Plaza along the highway -- early in the morning

Between Nagpur and Talegaon, 4-laning is going on. Road improvement is also going on at many other places along this route. Things are definitely getting better for Indian motorists.

A major problem (which continued right up to Bombay) is the high truck traffic density in Maharshtra. One has to keep slowing down to overtake trucks (whenever traffic headed towards you allows you) Affects one’s average speed.

Day 4 (19.12.07)

Started from Jalgaon at 4.45 AM and reached Bombay (Jogeshwari West) at 3 PM, covering a distance of 423 km.

Ab Bombay door nahin! Near Nashik.

Road (NH6) from Jalgaon to Dhule is quite good. At Dhule, one turns left into NH3 and comes across big ghat stretches till Nashik (and beyond). 4-laning is going on almost all along. Despite the good road surface, one cannot consistently do high speeds due to too many bends / curves (due to hilly terrain) on the road and excessive truck density.

After Bhiwandi, there is excellent 4-lane expressway till Thane / Bombay.

Overall impression

The 1905 km drive from Jamshedpur to Bombay reinforces my belief in the ‘India Shining’ story. Road surfaces have improved a great deal over the last 10 years. People everywhere appear more affluent.

My Swift VDi has performed superbly. I could overtake most vehicles on the highways with ease, including on the ghat stretches. Actually, the performance of my diesel Swift on the steep inclines on the hill stretches impressed me the most. On inclines where my Maruti Esteem would have required 2nd gear, I climbed effortlessly in 4th. And an overall mileage of 26 kmpl (measured accurately over the entire distance of 1900 km) is truly awesome.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Horrible roads of Jharkhand

After experiencing the excellent roads of the Golden Quadrilateral between Kolkata and Delhi, driving on the terrible roads of Jharkhand was even more painful during my recent drive to Kolkata and back (08 to 11 December 2007). While driving from Jamshedpur to Kolkata, one has to travel about 120 km through Jharkhand (NH33) till one reaches the West Bengal border at Chichira. This 120 km has some truly atrocious stretches.

Road (?) between Jamshedpur and Ghatsila. Note the overturned truck.

Once again, my Swift came through these awful stretches quite commendably. Of course, I did not attempt destructive testing of the suspension by driving at high speeds over these stretches. I drove slowly, often in 1st gear for miles together, and the high torque of my engine at low RPM’s came in handy to negotiate the huge craters. This time too the bottom part of my front bumper scraped the ground several times and received deep scratches.

Scratches on bottom part of my front bumper / spoiler

Close-up of the deep scratches. Both above pics taken with my mobile phone when the car was on a hoist during 2nd service at Jamshedpur today .

The agony in Jharkhand notwithstanding, once I reach Kharagpur it is pure bliss till Kolkata as this stretch (NH6) is part of the Golden Quadrilateral between Kolkata and Chennai and has been converted into a world class 4-lane dual carriageway.

On the Golden Quadrilateral near Kharagpur -- on a foggy morning (11.12.07) -- pure ecstasy!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Jamshedpur – Kolkata – Delhi – Jamshedpur drive : Some statistics

At the end of this reasonably long drive, some statistics could be interesting to like-minded folks :

Total distance covered during Jamshedpur-Kolkata-Delhi-Jamshedpur trip : 3836 km
Total fuel consumed : 181 litres (Rs 6060 approx)
Average mileage over entire trip : 21.2 kmpl
Max mileage measured over some stretches : 24 kmpl

Total duration of trip : 21 days
Days on road : 11 days
Jam to Kol : 1 day (292 km)
Kol to Delhi : 6 days (248 km + 261 km + 280 km + 332 km + 322 km + 215 km)
Delhi to Jam : 4 days (198 km + 285 km + 612 km + 258 km)

The bottomline

During this 3836 km long drive, my Swift VDi has exceeded my expectations. The performance of the engine, both at low and high speeds, has been simply great. I drove between 100-120 kmph over vast distances and did spurts of 130-140 kmph over short periods. At 140 kmph, the car felt rock steady and the engine was smooth, no louder than a similar petrol engine and far from struggling – actually, it was begging for more. The acceleration (pick-up) is superb at all speeds and I could quickly and safely overtake most other vehicles on the highways whenever I wanted to.

The brakes are very powerful and allow the driver to remain in total control at high speeds. Though I have not tried out hard braking even once in my new car, the rate of decceleration experienced by me at high speeds even by gentle braking has given me enough confidence on the braking system of my Swift.

The electronic power steering is quite effective at all speeds and I am fully satisfied with it.

Before purchasing the car I had read somewhere (on the net) that the diesel Swift clutch is a bit hard and so I was a bit apprehensive about it. However, my personal experience is that the clutch is very very smooth.

I have found the aircon quite effective so far but I would reserve my final verdict on it only after checking out its performance during the summer of 2008 at Jamshedpur.

The suspension seems to be strong and reasonably solid – only time will tell how sturdy it proves over the bad roads of Jharkhand in the long run.

As far as fuel economy is concerned, my Swift VDi is a real champ. My average fuel cost over this entire 3836 km long drive was just 1.58 INR per km! Getting an average of 21.2 kmpl over this entire trip (which includes city driving, long bad stretches requiring driving in 1st / 2nd gear, etc.) with the AC on around 70% of the time for this 1075 kg (kerb weight) car is truly a marvel of technology. Please note that I mostly drove between 90-120 kmph on the good stretches and was not trying to set a mileage record (by driving at a steady speed of 60 kmph or so). Even then, I measured mileage of 24 kmpl on some stretches. One can’t ask for more and don’t forget that diesel is still much cheaper than petrol in India.

Coming to shortcomings, the only thing that comes to my mind after using the car for 5 weeks is the interiors. Though functional and ergonomically designed, I find the interiors rather ‘plastic-y’ and lacking class. Even my Maruti Esteem had a better dashboard (a non-plasticy material with a soft feel and classy look), a steering wheel which was softer to the touch even without an add-on cover, a lockable glove-box and better upholstery. One can’t have everything, I suppose, for Rupees 5 lakhs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Over 600 km in one day (Home Revs?)

All shippies are familiar with 'home revs' -- when a ship is headed back to home port, engine room boys incredibly manage to add a few extra revs to the propeller RPM to reach home a bit sooner!

I guess the same phenomenon was at work when we started from Kanpur at 6 AM on 12 Nov -- both Jaya and I were keen to reach home after a 3 week absence and when we finally stopped at Barhi for the night, I noted that I had driven 615 km during the day. Taking into account Indian driving conditions, 615 km is a decent distance to cover over a day. This was made possible mainly due to good roads and a good car. Actually, I could have (theoretically) just gone on and reached Jamshedpur during the night of 12 Nov itself but for my self-imposed rule of not driving on Indian roads after dark. Driving on Indian highways after dark (for any vehicle smaller than 5-ton) is suicidal and is best avoided by anyone who has longevity as one of the goals of his / her life.

After spending a night at Barhi (in a seedy hotel -- dreaming about longevity!) we started for Jamshedpur at 6 AM. The roads in Jharkhand are bad and the drive to Hazaribagh and then to Ramgarh was pretty painful. After Ramgarh, the road to Ranchi was reasonably good. The road from Ranchi to Jamshedpur was a mix of bad and good stretches and I had to drive slowly and carefully even on the good stretches because gigantic potholes / craters appeared without warning.

The car took the 'ups and downs' of the road with equal aplomb and I felt satisfied with its design and performance. We reached Jamshedpur by noon. Our first long (over 3500 km) drive in our new Maruti Swift had gone off very well. First impressions do count. Looks like my new car and I are headed for a very satisfying and long-lasting relationship. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Watch this space over the next few years.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Agra to Kanpur in 4 hours

We left Delhi on 10 Nov in the afternoon and reached Agra in the evening. Spent the night at Agra and started for Kanpur at 0430 hrs this morning. Early morning is a good time to start a long drive as the roads are deserted (no jaywalkers or local traffic and also very few trucks move at that time) and it is easy to get out of a city / town. By the time the sun rises one has got nicely tuned to the highway and with increasing visibility one can really step on the gas and enjoy the drive. The picture below shows the sun rising on NH2 this morning.

Whenever I drive in the dark, I try to follow some other driver who is driving at a decent speed. Driver of the leading vehicle does the dirty work of keeping his eyes peeled for perils on the road (and honking to make trucks let him pass). I simply concentrate on following his tail lights and maintaining a reasonable distance. One must always remember not to use high beam while following this strategy. This morning I followed a Scorpio for a considerable distance.

The roads are excellent and I could maintain a range of 100 to 120 kmph throughout. I could do 130 kmph on some stretches and touched 140 a few times. Reached Kanpur in slightly over 4 hours (tea / pee breaks included) -- averaging about 65 kmph overall.

The more I experience this new toy of mine, the more I fall in love with it. At 140 kmph the car was rock steady and smooth and was begging to be pushed harder. I guess the only reason why I haven't pushed the car to its top speed of 160 kmph is that I'm not a young man any more and don't like to like to take any risks on the Indian highways. If I had been driving this same car on the expressways of a civilised country, I would definitely have taken it to top speed as soon as the running-in was completed.

Dead insects stuck on the front licence plate during the drive to Kanpur

Car used extensively at Delhi

We had a great time with family and friends at NCR (the National Capital Region -- comprising Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida and Faridabad) for a few days and also celebrated Diwali there. We were based at Gurgaon and the distances to New Delhi, Noida, etc. being considerable, having the car with us was a real boon. This is one of the things I really like about holidaying with my car. One doesn't have to worry about getting a cab back after a late night with friends.

The (big) city driving experience with my Swift VDi was excellent. Driving in Jamshedpur and Delhi are obviously quite different. Having spent eight years in Delhi earlier I am quite familiar with the challenges Delhi traffic places on a private car driver. I found the diesel Swift adequately agile, both in respect of power and manoeuverability, to meet the challenges of driving in Delhi / Gurgaon / Noida. At no time did I feel handicapped by the low speed 'sluggishness' which older generation diesel engines were notorious for. The Swift also has a very low turning radius and a good power steering which are very useful under city driving conditions.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Kanpur to Delhi

Kanpur to Fatehpur Sikri

On 04 Nov we left Kanpur and hit NH2 again. Roads were good but rural tractor / ‘Tempo’ traffic kept on increasing gradually. I could maintain 90-110 kmph usually. Did 125 kmph on some stretches.

Having seen the Taj Mahal a few times in the past, we decided to skip it this time and head straight towards Fatehpur Sikri. But at Agra we came across the imposing Akbar’s Tomb right adjacent to the highway as we were passing by and stopped to see it. It was well worth the visit. Akbar’s Tomb is huge, spread over hundreds of acres, and the architecture is really grand. The lawns are well maintained with hundreds of deer grazing there. The structures on the higher levels appear truly magnificent but tourists are allowed to visit only the ground floor of the mausoleum. The crypt itself (where the tomb is located) is located deep inside the mausoleum building and is a chamber with an amazing echo effect. I found this design quite different from that of the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb. Check out some pics I took at

After Agra we sought directions for turning off towards Fatehpur Sikri and 8 km after Akbar’s Tomb we turned left at a prominently marked turn off. But the roads (about 17 km) were very bad till we reached the Agra-Jaipur road. After that, the last 11 km to Fatehpur Sikri on the Agra-Jaipur road was okay. [While returning from Fatehpur Sikri on 05 Nov, we took a little different route which joined NH2 at a place called Farah, 22 km short of Mathura. This route was much better.]

At Fatehpur Sikri we checked into a hotel first and after lunch and some rest we visited the historic monuments there. I was visiting them for the first time and found them very impressive indeed.Check out some pics I took at

It was convenient to have the car there as one can drive right up to the monuments of tourist interest.

The last lap to Delhi

After spending the night at Fatehpur Sikri we left for Delhi early on 05 Nov. Roads were very good but due to increasing population density along the highway I had to drive more carefully. We cut across to Gurgaon (a wrong turn at one point added about 30 km to our route) from Faridabad (Bhatkal Chowk) and settled down with a close Naval friend. We had reached NCR (National Capital Region), 8 days after leaving Kolkata.

Fuel Consumption

Ever since I bought the car, it has done about 2200 km and returned a mileage of 21 kmpl over this entire distance which includes city driving, driving on bad roads, etc. I use the AC almost all the time except early in the morning when the ambient temperature is low (winter is approaching). On the highways I have got mileage of 23 kmpl. Don’t forget that the fuel I’m burning is diesel which is about 33% cheaper than petrol in India. I think the mileage is quite amazing and exceeds my expectations at the time of buying the car.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Drive from Kolkata to Kanpur; 1st service;

Drive from Kolkata to Asansol

After seeing off my mother-in-law at Kolkata airport on 28 Oct, Jaya and I drove directly to Asansol, about 225 km from Kolkata,. From the airport we took the Jessore Road, Dum Dum Road and Barrackpore Trunk Road to get into the New Bally Bridge (across the Hooghly) and flyovers leading to the Durgapur expressway.

Roads, flyovers and bridges were superb throughout, comparable to the autobahns / expressways of Europe. The main difference lay in the users, many of whom do not deserve a driving license. It is really frustrating to drive on an international standard dual carriageway where suddenly you see a vehicle headed straight towards you (on the wrong side, on the fast lane) and slow moving heavily loaded trucks moving at a snail’s pace on the fast lane. Only when you slow down and honk they grudgingly let you pass. That IS the NORM in India – almost all heavy vehicles have “AWAZ KARO” or “HORN MARO” painted boldly on their rears!

After spending a night at Asansol, we drove to Bodhgaya in Bihar on 29 Oct. We found it to be a lovely place, clean and well maintained, and the Mahabodhi Temple is quite magnificent. The other Buddhist temples erected by various Buddhist countries like Japan, China, Thailand, Burma, Bhutan, etc., are also worth seeing. The 80 feet high Buddha statue erected by Japan is grand. Some pics I took are at

Aborted First Service of car at Karlo Automobiles, Bodhgaya

Since the car crossed 1000 km as we reached Bodhgaya, I took it to Karlo Automobiles (Maruti Dealer Workshop) for the mandatory First Service. I was horrified to find that they knew virtually NOTHING about the Swift diesel and its maintenance. They drained my engine oil and were about to pour new oil meant for petrol engines into my engine when I intervened – luckily, I was hanging around my car keeping a close watch on all goings-on like a new grandma at a maternity hospital watching over the newborn infant. Thereafter, they brought a can of Indian Oil Servo Pride 40 meant for ordinary low-tech diesel engines. I pointed out to them that Maruti Udyog specifies SF 15W40 oil meeting specs of API-CG4 and ACEA B3 for the Swift. That sounded like Greek and Latin to them. They informed me that they had put Servo Pride 40 engine oil in several diesel Swifts and they were working fine! God help diesel Swift owners in India. Clearly, Maruti Udyog is introducing high tech cars in India without upgrading its service infrastructure.

I called up a senior official at Maruti Udyog but he was unable to do anything. Finally, I made those Maruti authorized imbeciles pour my drained oil back into my engine (after straining through a clean cloth) and I drove out of Karlo Automobiles without my First Service.

Drive to Gaya and Varanasi

On 30 Oct we first drove to Gaya and then to Varanasi. Came across some pretty bad stretches on NH2 near Aurangabad / Sasaram. But it was heartening to see road construction work going on at full swing at these stretches. The NH2 (new Grand Trunk road, from Kolkata to Delhi) has been upgraded really well with large (and wide) bridges and flyovers and concrete surface has been used for a considerable part of this highway. It was a real pleasure to drive on the good stretches in my new Swift.

First service finally done at Varanasi

I took the car to ‘Varanasi Motors’ (a large Maruti Dealer Workshop) at Varanasi. After the bitter experience with Karlo Motors at Bodhgaya, I was apprehensive about their preparedness to service my car and demanded to be shown the engine oil first. They showed me a can of Mobil Delvac Super 1300 oil (15W40; API CF-4 but certified for CG-4 / SG / SH / SJ applications; ACEA B2). I was glad to see that this oil was meeting almost all the specs laid down for my Swift. I had some reservations about its ACEA B2 Quality Classification as against ACEA B3 laid down for the Swift but the works manager showed me documents and convinced me that Maruti Udyog has indeed recommended the use of this oil in the diesel Swift. I asked Varanasi Motors to go ahead with the First Service and they did a reasonably good job.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Starting for Delhi

In a couple of hours we'll leave for Kolkata airport along with my mother-in-law who is flying to Delhi en route to London where she will spend 5 months with her son. Our visit to Kolkata this time was primarily to assist her to lock up the house, pack, etc. and then to put her on the plane.

Jaya and I will start for Asansol directly from the airport. After spending the evening / night at Asansol, we plan to drive to Bodhgaya tomorrow. The car would cross 1000 km by then and I have to get the First Service (oil change, etc.) done at a Maruti workshop at Bodhgaya.

Incidentally, even after 500+ km, the engine oil looks like new. I had expected the oil to turn darker faster, it being a diesel engine.

City driving in Kolkata over the last 3 days was very comfortable in my Swift. I was obviously comparing it with my last car (Maruti Esteem) which I drove mostly in Kolkata. The Swift feels more solid (suspension) and peppy and the AC is much better. However, in a narrow RPM band of 800 to 1200 or so my Esteem was more responsive. Since the car is still being run-in, I rev very slowly and that is the only reason why I felt this difference. Actually, the 0 to 100 kmph acceleration time for my diesel Swift is much less than that for a petrol Esteem.

Friday, October 26, 2007

First long drive -- Jamshedpur to Kolkata

Left Jam at 4.30 AM on 24 Oct and reached Kolkata, just 290 km away, in 8 hours. Why did it take so long? Because large stretches of NH33 in Jharkhand are in a horrible condition – one has to see it to believe it. Even before the monsoons the roads were reported to be bad and this year we had above average rains and the present condition of NH33 has hit rock bottom (literally). About 35% of the 105 km stretch of NH33 between Jam and Chichira border (Jharkhand / West Bengal) is totally gone and the remaining 65% can be described at best as ‘motorable’.

For scores of km one sees only huge craters (calling them potholes would be an understatement) on the ‘highway’ and one has to decide which craters to choose because you cannot avoid them. I had to drive in first gear for scores of km. At a couple of places the car bottom scraped the ground and while negotiating some enormous craters at the Chichira border, the bottom of the front bumper (spoiler / air dam) scraped the ground too.

But the car came out of all this in flying colours. The suspension felt strong and solid and the engine highly torquey even at low RPM’s. On broken roads one has to keep operating the clutch and shifting gears and these felt very smooth and almost effortless. The AC is powerful and a big boon on such dusty roads.

After the Chichira border checkpost, roads (in West Bengal) improved dramatically. And after Kharagpur (52 km from Chichira) we enjoyed the excellent 6-lane dual carriageway (part of the Golden Quadrilateral project of NHAI) for 120 km to Kolkata. Boy, was it fun. But since I’m trying to religiously run-in the car for the first 1000 km, I tried not to accelerate rapidly and did not exceed 100 kmph. But it took much effort to control myself as the car lurches forward like a tiger as you press the gas pedal and at 100 kmph it seems like the engine is just about warming up for better things.

The overall experience with the car during this drive was simply great. This is my first diesel car and at no time did I feel any sluggishness usually associated with older generation diesel engines. As a matter of fact, compared to my earlier car (Maruti Esteem) the engine felt more responsive and powerful at all RPM’s. Of course, the diesel engine is a bit noisier at lower speeds but at higher speeds one can barely hear the engine over the tyre / wind noise.

Now for the icing on the cake. I calculated the fuel consumption fairly precisely and was delighted to find that the car has returned a mileage of 18.59 kmpl over 470 km clocked since I bought the car. As this 470 km includes about 180 km of city driving in Jamshedpur / Kolkata and 40 km of crawling through craters, etc., the mileage obtained on the expressway can be estimated to be 20 kmpl! Not bad, considering that mileage figures are initially lower and tend to improve after the engine is run-in properly. AC was on for about 90% of the time.

Plan to drive down to Delhi from Kolkata, starting 28 Oct. That’s going to be around 1500 km and will give me a much better feel of the car and its capabilities and limitations.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Leaving for first long drive

Got the car registered at Jamshedpur after the govt. offices reopened here after 5 days of Durga Puja break. Got the regn. no. JH 05U 1020. The car is looking 'complete' now with the licence plate.
Jaya and I will start off for our first long drive in our new Swift in an hour or so. We shall drive first to Kolkata and then to Delhi after spending a few days at Kolkata.

Are we excited? Very much so. I'm also a bit apprehensive as the highway from Jamshedpur to the West Bengal border (Chichira) is in a very bad condition. I'll have to drive very slowly and carefully. Driving in India is always eventful!
Shall share our experience after reaching Kolkata.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our new baby comes home!

The old girl and I went to the Maruti dealer at Bistupur, Jamshedpur and took delivery of our factory fresh Swift VDi this evening. The dealer had put some red ribbons (complete with a bow!) and our new car was looking cute.

I have observed one funny thing about my feelings for all my wheels -- I might see hundreds of identical cars (including those of the same colour) on the road, but my OWN car somehow looks extra special! When we travelled from Vizag to Delhi to take delivery of our first car (Maruti 800) in 1988, we did not get any of our colour choices and had to settle for a bright blue (called 'Racing Blue' by Maruti) colour which was a big flop in the market and therefore only a few thousand Maruti 800's of that colour were ever made. But all 4 of us fell in love with it anyway and genuinely thought it was a great looking car. Just like if your newborn baby turns out to be not so pretty, you still love it more than any other baby in the world.

The old girl was probably more excited than me and had both of us posing in front of our new baby.

Since the Tata Main Hospital was on our way and one of my father's closest friends (Dr. HP Sinha) who also happens to be my father-in-law's classmate from medical college is admitted there, we stopped there and spent some time cheering up Sinha uncle. There I received a call from Dr. Biman Malakar, one of my Hallmates from LLR Hall IIT Kgp, informing me that he was visiting Jamshedpur. So we picked him up en route and brought him home. Later we dropped him back in the car. Bimanda is the first person in our circle of friends / relatives to see our new car and take a ride in it.

When I told Bimanda that it was diesel car, he just could not believe it because there was no 'diesel-like' noise or vibration. I was driving quite slowly throughout because the roads were crowded with Puja revellers and also because it'll take me some time to get used to the feel of my new car. Probably I did not even exceed 1500 RPM. But I never felt the engine to be sluggish or behaving differently as compared to a petrol engine. The suspension felt good and overall feel was solid. The power steering feels very responsive and so do the brakes.

All in all, a good beginning to a love affair which should last for many years, inshallah. I haven't removed the ribbons yet. But I got the polythene covers removed from the seats at the showroom itself. I hate them and can't understand how some people keep driving for months with these covers.

One last thing -- the smell of a new car is so unique and intoxicating! If someone could bottle it and market it, he is sure to become a billionnaire. I hope my 'new car smell' lasts for a few weeks -- I'm keeping the car windows tightly shut. My 'car shed' is just outside my room in our house and I can get the distictive smell even as I write this. Heady stuff!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Homing on to the Maruti Swift Vdi

My Maruti Esteem, though lovingly maintained and still in superb condition, was getting on in years and I had been thinking of a new car for somtime. My requirements from a car at present are mainly :

1) High fuel efficiency (I want to keep pursuing my old passion of long drives – like Jamshedpur to Bombay / Delhi / Gangtok, etc. – without thinking of having to get out of early retirement which I am enjoying immensely).
2) Space is not much of an issue as most of the time the car will carry only my wife and me. So a compact hatchback will also serve our purpose quite well.
3) Driving pleasure and comfort – car should not be too lightweight and should have as solid a feel as a good sturdy compact can provide. Since car will be self-driven, driving pleasure is very important.
4) Good quality of service, good service network and economical spares.

Diesel was my preferred choice because :

(a) not only is diesel substantially cheaper than petrol in India, being more efficient thermodynamically, every litre of diesel gives many more KM for the same cubic capacity or power
(b) with the advent of CRDI technology, new generation diesels have much less NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) than their older cousins
(c) being a mechanically oriented car lover, I was excited about the huge quantum leaps in diesel technology and wanted to try it out
(d) now that I have retired, this may well be my last car; new generation diesel engines have a much longer life than equivalent gasoline ones

After a preliminary survey of the cars available in India, I zeroed in on the following three cars and did a comparative study : Maruti Swift, Ford Fusion and Tata Indigo Dicor.

1) Maruti Swift : 1248 CC, 4-cyl, DOHC, 16 valve, max power 75bhp @ 4000 rpm, max torque 190 Nm @ 2000 rpm, kerb weight 1075 kg.
2) Ford Fusion : 1399 CC, 4-cyl, SOHC, 8 valve, 67bhp @ 4000 rpm, max torque 160Nm @ 2000 rpm, kerb weight 1180 kg.
3) Tata Indigo Dicor : 1396 CC, 4-cyl, DOHC, 16 valve, max power 69 bhp @ 4000 rpm, max torque 140 Nm @ 1800-3000 rpm, kerb weight 1155 kg.

From the above tech specs, the Swift theoretically emerges as the peppiest. Additionally, its price (around 5.2 lakh INR), sexy looks, service network (having owned two different Maruti vehicles in the past I'm satisfied with Maruti service and cost of spares), feedback posted by users on the internet, etc., clinched the decision in its favour. The nearest Maruti service station happens to be just 1 km from my house in Jamshedpur!

I went for a test drive in the Swift Vdi along with my younger daughter (who happened to be visiting) and boy, were we thrilled! It's a real peppy little beast. Just look at the specs of the Swift petrol and diesel -- though the petrol's max power is 12 bhp more, its 87 horses come at a high 6000 rpm; the diesel gives 75 horses at 4000 rpm only. I'm sure the petrol version's power at 4000 rpm would be much less than 75. And when it comes to torque, the diesel wins hands down -- an obscene (for its size and weight) 190 Nm at just 2000 rpm as compared to a measly 113 Nm at a high 4500 rpm for the petrol version. In the 6 years that I owned my Maruti Esteem, I reached a max rpm of 3000 a few times while climbing some ghats in the Darjeeling hills. Most of the time, I have driven around 1500 rpm. At my age (55 years), I'm no longer a speed freak. But it's nice to know that the max rated speeds of both the petrol and diesel Swifts are the same (160 kmph / 100 mph). I'll surely try out the max speed once in a while and share my experience.

During the test drive my daughter reminded me to try rough roads (not readily available in Jamshedpur!) and we did find a bad stretch and drove over it. The suspension felt solid. I'm told that the front suspension of the diesel version is appreciably better than the petrol one. Please note that the weight of the Vdi is only 75 kg more than the Vxi.

Some other interesting specs of the diesel engine : turbocharger (fixed geometry) with intercooler, 5-step multi injection (in every power stroke, the fuel is injected in 5 separate spurts, each individually metered and timed by the on-board computer), 1400 bar common rail pressure, chain drive timing system, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and an aluminium bed plate for the engine to reduce noise and vibration.

After the test drive, the decision to buy the Swift Vdi was obvious. I did not even bother to test drive the other two cars. By the way, I had booked a test drive for the Tata Indigo Dicor online, promptly received an acknowledgement that some dealer would contact me -- but they never did. BTW, I came to know that Tata's Dicor engine fitted on the Indigo is a flop and has a higher fuel consumption than the old non-Dicor version fitted on Indigos and Indicas. Tata engineers are now burning the midnight oil (and also scouting for tie-ups with reputed engine makers globally) to come up with a decent engine for the Indigo Dicor and the Indica V3 Dicor (slated to be introduced in 2008).

I booked the Swift Vdi a couple of weeks ago. I have been told that my car (Metallic Silky Silver colour) has been despatched from the factory at Gurgaon on 10.10.07. I'm eagerly waiting for it to arrive. Especially since 13.10.07 when my old Esteem was handed over to its new owner.

Check out my love affair with my earlier wheels at