It was six years back in April 2007 I purchased my current car – a Honda City GXi. I love this car, it is easy to manoeuvre on the city roads and you feel comfortable in any of the seats. After much thought, I decided I will make this one as our family car for “Driver” driving to school & household trips. The last family car we had was a Mahindra Renault Logan, which I sold immediately after deciding to get myself a new car.

It was time to shop for a new car.

I am not an Automobile enthusiast, I enjoy a good car, but it’s only a bit more than a utility for me. This is a feeling I inherited from my dad who let me learn to drive on my own in his Ambassador.  I just thought I will go to Sundaram Honda in Chennai and buy the new Honda City iVTEC. When I went to the showroom I saw the newly launched Honda Amaze. At about Rs.7.5 Lakhs on Road for Petrol fully loaded and Rs.8.5 Lakhs on road for Petrol/Automatic, Amaze looked impressive. But I felt I needed something bigger. Next was Honda City (what I wanted to see in the first place) which was priced at about Rs.11.2 Lakhs for Petrol and about Rs.12.2 Lakhs for Petrol/Automatic on Road. The car looked great on specification and from the outside. But I was disappointed with the interiors, especially compared to what I was upgrading from. The interiors felt very “Plasticky” and small car’ish, certainly not something you will associate in a mid-segment saloon. I was told that the model (AVN) which has a touch screen, navigation and factory-fitted Bluetooth is not in offering anymore. I don’t like fixing 3rd party accessories after spending on a new car, so no Bluetooth OOB was a big bummer for me. In my current car, I listen to a few podcasts regularly, I was doing this with my iPhone and Pioneer FH P6050UB Car Stereo using a USB cable. But for a new car, Bluetooth is a must so I can be free from the hassles of cables also no car in the market that I am aware of that supports connecting my new phone (Nokia Lumia 920) through USB.

Now I had no choice but to shop around.

A few things I was clear on, were the type of car I wanted. My budget was about Rs.10 Lakhs (no stretching), only a saloon (so no SUVs), only Petrol (I dislike the slightest engine noise even if its heard only on the outside which almost all Diesel engines do), no GM cars (after my bad resale experience with Opel Corsa which I liked a lot), not much concerned on mileage as my usage per day is less, and finally, hassle-free after-sales service (who said I can’t dream in India). Given a choice, I prefer Steering Wheels to have controls designed for a Right-Hand Driver (as it’s in India). One example of this is that the Turn Indicator controls should be on the right side of the steering wheel and on the left as it will be in all European and American-designed cars.

I went around test-driving/looking around at what was in the market and my comments are listed below:

  • Ford Fiesta – Not impressive, didn’t have a refresh for the last few years
  • Renault Scala – Somehow it didn’t feel right to go for another car from Renault (after my not-so-great experience with Logan with Interiors). I have nothing against Renault, they are making great cars in India but it didn’t feel right for me
  • Nissan Sunny  – This was quite impressive. I liked the Push Button start Rear seat AC blowers, Nice legroom in both rows. But the reason I skipped this one was the price at Rs.10 Lakhs (XV SPL Edn which had the touchscreen, Bluetooth and more), which I felt was higher
  • Tata Indigo Manza – I was impressed at just seeing the features of this car on their website and I like their original TV advertisements subtly compared to Airline seats. And many years back when we had a Tata Indigo (the first model) the experience was pretty nice. The price of Rs.7.5 Lakhs fully loaded was attractive with possibilities of good discount as well. But few friends I consulted scared the hell out of me on the after-service, so I dropped this one on doubt without even test driving it
  • Hyundai Verna – Hyundai Motor Plaza in Chennai is next door to my office at Ekaduthangal in Chennai. So one afternoon after lunch I test drove the car. Its interiors were the best I saw in any brand for this price point. It had a glove-box cooling, fantastic interiors (wooden panels just like in my 2007 Honda City), Push Button Start, Hands-Free Bluetooth, Plush leather upholstery and Automatic transmission that was very responsive while driving. All this at Rs.10.3 Lakhs On Road (1.6 Petrol VTVT A/T) was good too. The show stopper was the low ground clearance which I was not comfortable with – I tend to not stop fully on speed breakers (which are all poorly designed in Chennai)
  • Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire Regal – Dzire is in the same league as Honda Amaze so I wasn’t looking at it due to the size. But the recently launched Limited Edition “Regal” with retro/classic front grills made me consider this car. The fact I could buy even an automatic transmission and still spend only around Rs.7 Lakhs (on-road) was indeed appealing
  • Maruti Suzuki SX4 – I was not sure about this one as I hardly saw any SX4 in the streets of Chennai. Every Maruti saloon I saw on the roads was a Swift Dzire, so I wasn’t sure about this. Getting to test drive this was tough, as in the last weeks of April when I tried to do that, none of the dealers in Chennai had the car in display/ test drive due to the recent model refresh. SX4 was not even listed in any Maruti Dealer Showrooms’ waiting list chart. But one of my relatives who is a car enthusiast highly recommended this car due to its great specifications. He added that the poor sales of this car were due to its higher price than DZire and he assured me the new model which got released this April, made this car even better and likely to change its fortune. In any case, I am not buying Maruti stocks, so all that mattered was how good the car was made and after service (as it is a Maruti car there were no doubts about this, you had service centres everywhere there is a tar-road in India).

But all doubts I had about this car or even what car to buy was over the minute I test drove Maruti SX4. The car was fluid and manly, and ground clearance of 180mm (I was told was the highest in this segment in India) felt good for Indian roads, Audio System clarity was superb, especially the low notes. The top model which I was planning to buy (ZXi with Navigation) included a touch screen, a fully functional navigation system & Bluetooth. The price felt right too Rs.10.5 Lakhs on the road which included an Rs.25000 Discount and an additional Rs.6000 for bumper-to-bumper insurance (a must for Indian Traffic conditions). The only worry I had before I made the “advance” payment was the delivery time. Maruti Dealers are notorious to be bad on their commitment to delivering on the time they promised. Swift DZire has a stated waiting period of 6 weeks, this looked stupid to me at a time when the whole Indian Automobile industry is having a tough time. Kapico in Chennai convinced me that they will deliver in 3 weeks, which I am happy to say today they did (give and take a few days). I made the booking on the 4th of this month.

That’s how I got delivery of my new car today – a Maruti SX4 ZXi Navigation. I went with Serene Blue as my previous cars were Green, Grey, White and Beige/Golden; in SX4 Maruti didn’t have Dark Blue which I liked.

Maruti SX4 frontview

Maruti SX4 front view

Maruti SX4 Rear view

Maruti SX4 Rear view

Maruti SX4 Ariel view

Maruti SX4 Ariel view

The car feels great to drive. The audio is superb. The navigation system from Garmin seems to work in Chennai, it gave me near-correct directions to a place I wanted to go. The touch screen navigation/music system seems to be powered by Android OS & other open-source frameworks (as per the About screen).

Bluetooth pairing with my Windows Phone (Nokia Lumia 920) went smoothly – Music starts and stops playing from the phone correctly on Engine ON/OFF, and Voice calls reception was good (I was told by my callers). Windows Phone rocks with its SMS Read Out facility and Voice command recognition for controlling the SMS.

Maruti SX4 Dashboard

Maruti SX4 Dashboard

Hmm, that was a long post. Bye for now and I am off for a short drive in my new car.

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