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.