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