Driving love demands that even an economiser looking out for a car in the entry level segment would want both the fun to drive characteristics plus the tall fuel efficiency. Like sorting out grain from chaff, we have sorted out the various things like speedy overtaking, a nice and silent engine, sweet gearbox, high speed stability, direct steering feel and also fuel efficiency. Whilst fuel efficiency and also fun to drive characteristics cannot be said in one breath, this time around, we have tried to sort them out as far as possible. This would help sort out the anomalies that one may have while out in the market looking out for that hot hatch or sedan while keeping an eye on the pocket.
Under Rs 3 lakhs category :
Under the Rs 3 lakhs category come in cars like the Tata Nano, Maruti Alto K10 and F8, Hyundai Santro, Chevrolet Spark, Tata Indica ev2 Xeta and the Maruti Omni and Eeco. Many would be crinkling at the thought of us including the Eeco as also the Omni. But then, we did clear that at the start of this article that this is being done to sort out the driver’s car from the mundane lot. The Omni is the oldest warhorse here and needless to say, it is outpaced by all the cars here be its own Eeco model. The Omni however has an ace up its round sleeve and that is fuel efficiency. It is the third most fuel efficient car in this comparison. Turning radius is also good. As for the safety and acceleration aspects, it’s a dud. Gearbox is also pretty notchy. The Eeco fares good in this aspect with its more modern engine and better acceleration figures. It also has a gearbox which doesn’t feel as notchy as the one in the Omni. Driveability is also better with the engine feeling well matched to the gear ratios. Out on the highway, the Eeco doesn’t feel out of breath and seems a much better highway cruiser than the Omni. Turning radius is also similar to the Omni making parking and other driving related duties much easier. The world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano has got a manual steering but then it has much lesser mass to carry around in a corner. This enables it to have some sort of driver’s car tag, however the tyres lose out on grip very early and turns at high speeds aren’t recommended in this car. However, the gearbox is one up than the one in the Eeco and Omni. The steering wheel is also better than in both the Marutis. As far as acceleration is concerned, the Nano certainly outdoes the Omni but the Eeco is faster and can also hold onto a better high speed of 130 kmph compared to the 105 kmph of the Nano.
The 2 cylinder engine in the Nano just doesn’t have the metal to gun the others here. The Tata Indica eV2 Xeta does have a bigger heart than the Nano and it shows in the acceleration runs with the Xeta being only bested by the Santro and the Eeco in the run. The steering wheel allows the car to be placed exactly where one wants it to be and the car can be chucked around, thanks to its low ground clearance. The gearbox is almost the same one as the Nano and shifts are positive. The top speed is the highest in this category and this makes it the best highway cruiser in this range. The Altos in both the engine forms simply don’t cut mustard in this range. They don’t have a good initial pickup plus both have a lower high speed than most of the other cars here , except for the Nano which has the lowest top speed. Directional stability is also not that good with both the variants displaying an aversion to turns. The gearbox in the K10 is a pretty much sorted affair while the cars feel wafty at high speed drives. As for the old Hyundai Santro, it has everything going for it starting with a smooth gearbox which is the best in this segment as also an engine which begs to be revved hard. It turns in fairly smoothly into corners and is a far more stable affair. Out on the highway, directional crosswinds would sometimes catch it off guard. Moreover, the engine driveability is also better in this car than the others in here. As for the maneuverability, it is also good with a high set seating position and also nice and crisp steering wheel.
Next up is the small cutsey Matiz nee Spark. The Chevrolet Spark is Chevrolet’s life line in the sub Rs 3 lakhs mark. It has got a nimble and light feeling to its steering wheel and inspite of being a tall boy design, there is no compromise in high speed stability. While the Santro may look like light in its build, the Chevy has got a certain heaviness going for it. The engine is also right there with the others in its class with a cheerful characteristic to it, something which the puny Nano also has in spades. Gearbox, however is a bit mushy and not so encouraging part of the Spark. As for fuel efficiency, the Nano outshines all others here followed by the Alto, Omni, Eeco, Indica, Spark and Santro.
Overall, in the under Rs 3 lakhs market, it would be the Hyundai Santro for being the most involving car to drive followed by the Tata Indica, Chevrolet Spark, Tata Nano, Maruti Eeco, Maruti Alto and the Maruti Omni. This is the first part of the series and the other parts would follow in due course of time.