Sunday, January 25, 2009

The new Mahindra XYLO definitive pictorial review - pricing, features, drive, accessories, detailed and honest opinions!

12:15pm. Sireesh Auto, Rupena Agrahara, Mahindra showroom. Me and my friend. Prebooked test drive. Even before I could have a full look at the XYLO, the test drive car was already waiting. No wasting time, jumped into it and started off on my drive. What I bring below is a detailed review of everything about this car. But before that thanks to Venkatesh @ Sireesh, for enabling this review for all of you.

Looks

Looks are subjective always. Whats looking good to me may not look good to you. The Xylo is Wide, Tall, and bulky, even bigger looking in proportion and actual size to the Scorpio. The tyres look pretty puny for a vehicle of this size. Well agreed this is not the most modern looking car of all, but as I said, I dont see a car from the outside much. What is important to me is the inside. I observed so many things in this car, that I am not sure how to put them in the review, but let me do my best here!

The front of the XYLO pretty much is close to scorpio, but the headlamp cluster is much more lengthier and less round. Its an odd proportion, but I like it for how it is. The front fender looks slightly out of place and does not fit snugly with the bumper. Its more like a rake attached to the XYLO :). The side mirrors are quite wide and nice. The engine compartment is tight, and many things are neatly laid out within it. Its amazing to see how many parts are fitting into a place like this on the XYLO. Well done to M & M on this front. The rear lamp cluster looks more like a bottle of Appy (the famous apple fizz drink), and it sure seems a bit funny whenever you cast your eyes on it. It is worthwhile noting here that the boot door opens sideways and not bottom to top as is in the case of Scorpio. The lower end version comes with standard tubeless tyres, 15 inchers with lots of rubber width, while the higher end version comes with alloys as a fitting from the company itself. Whether they are durable or not is another question to be answered in the long run.

Interiors

Lets look further onto the interiors. This has always been M & M's strong point, and the XYLO is no exception. But mistakes could always happen and as you read this section you will notice how some small things have been goofed up with in the interiors. The dashboard comes with black and aluminium finish in the center or beige and aluminium, I prefer the former though its available only in the high end model. The top end model comes with split A/C, a DDAS (now common, have I not heard this name before somewhere?) - according to Mahindra, its called digital display assist system! Maruti must file for infringement on using a similar name! Whatever that is, the central information console is pretty cool and it provides information as the speed, gear you are in, the distance you can go before you empty your tank (approximate calculations of course) and other such information. Its a shame that the XYLO does not sport a climate control even on the top end version.

The whole central part of the dashboard looks like a big watermelon in shape. The inbuilt stereo has AUX + USB support with four speakers and a woofer (and maybe tweeters which I did not notice or observe). The backlighting is cool and things are easy to operate and read on the music player. However the volume distorts the music beyond level 15. So this is not the best in class system one would say. But level 15 itself is pretty loud and clear and I dont see many people go beyond this for normal use, unless you want to get deaf sooner! Having said that the central aluminium finish is ok to me, but it may not be so with others who may not like it. The steering is chunky but does not feel as good as that of the Scorpio. The real comparison of this car is being done with Toyota Innova, another MUV which is on the costlier side. But M&M has carefully propositioned this car as a sedan-killer, and not an Innova killer, since they seem to realize their own drawbacks in this car, which I shall speak about shortly.

Drawbacks in the interiors

I never usually keep a section for this in my reviews and tend to mention it in the Interiors section itself, but the XYLO needed some special attention to these possible mistakes or goof ups and I wanted to point them out in a section separately for you to take note. So here goes! Firstly there are two armrests in the front seats. One for the driver and one for the copassenger. While this is fine, the way it has been designed in the Xylo is that while the armrest is activated, the driver cannot plug the seatbelt into its slot. This is really absurd. M&M has given parcel trays (or for that matter, lunch trays if you may want to call them) for people to eat sitting on each seat. This is perhaps laudable for long trips when this necessity occurs, but the quality of the trays seems really pathetic. It looks and feels extremely plasticky to use. This is not just limited to the food tray, but also to the door lock. I could not imagine that the door lock was feeling a bit out of quality on such a car. After having seen and felt the Scorpio locks for a long time now, this was certainly not expected out of M&M for the Xylo.

The vanity mirror for the copassenger is next. Fine one can understand that ladies have to be pleased to all levels, but giving two lights next to the vanity mirror is a bit of overdoing that. I have never imagined what gain I can have out of having such lights, when I have powerful cabin lights! The uneven placement of the second 12V socket at the back struck me when I sat behind. The place was already dirty and it shows how much the passengers can kick this area over and over again. Next are the cup holders to the front near the dashboard. These are more half cup holders with open ended borders to the left and right. This according to me is a risk as the cup contents could easily fall onto the carpet. Having said that the cup holders themselves only would serve small cups and not big ones. I was struggling to find the bottle holder in this car. The guy at the back opened the storage behind the handbrake and I noticed there were two cupholders as part of the lid, and the rest of the area was for the bottle!! So if I wanted to keep a bottle, the lid of this bottle storage area must always be opened, which is ridiculous! Its more like a design flaw than anything else. M&M, this was not expected of you in your urgency to bring us a sedan killer. The other thing I noticed was the child lock on the doors. This looked like a lollipop stick pointing out of the door to be fiddled with! Quite amusing.

Drive and performance

Even if you were disgusted or happy about anything and everything a car has to offer, the drive and performance would make your opinions swing either for or against a car. And this by far to me is the most important thing in a car that makes me give either more or less points to it. So lets see my drive experience with the Xylo right away. I took a small drive about half a kilometer that involved two U-turns, merging with main roads, and sufficient braking and acceleration. My friend took a 2km drive which also involved speeding, and road humps. While I talk about the drive, I shall also mention some other things which are part of interiors of the car.

It was a really hot winter afternoon (a misnomer isnt it? but thats how the city is!) and I was definitely expecting the A/C to calm me down sufficiently. This is a strong point in Scorpio and tends to be so with the Xylo too. The vents are neatly located both in front and rear and the rear ones are ceiling mounted and not near the foot as in some other cars! Thanks M&M for this. It feels just fine. The last row A/c does not have any controls, while the middle row sports a dial to set speeds of the A/C cooling fan. At my seating position the power windows felt a bit inaccessible, but for people who are even more closer to the steering, perhaps this would then become a pain (I am trying to clandestinely tell you that I am a tall guy :) ).

Firstly I tried getting into the drivers seat and the immediate feeling I got is I was about to get onto a truck (lorry as in indian english). This seating is really high, and this also provides a real tall stance to this car. But ingress/egress is not easy, and old people will definitely suffer to make it into the car. Secondly switching between rear two rows is quite a pain as the gap could be a bit less for bulky people. Somehow after I managed to get into the drivers seat, I felt that the seat in Xylo was much better than Scorpio itself. It hugs you from all sides literally and is more cushiony than the bigger brother. The meter console is quite simplistic with white dials and black fonts, but nothing elegant. The view of the road is awesome and it feels like you are sitting quite high up there! This car could have been called Xy-high instead of Xy-lo :)

Ok now for the drive. I cranked the engine on, and felt the engine vibrating within the car. Its fine with me, not too noisy but not too quiet. The gear stick is easy to use, but is shaped rather oddly rectangularly. And since I am used to round gear shifts all this while, the sedan killer did give me something funny and unique in this department. The gear operation is smooth, and is much better than the Scorpio. I slowly nudged the gear to ONE, and expected a surge forward, but nothing. No big deal. After driving the swift for 20000 kms, such an expecation was only natural from me. I had to press the accelerator pedal hard and the car slowly started moving forward. But the speeds I can go at in each gear is pretty limited and since the speedo was disconnected it prevented me from knowing what speed I was at. The brakes were real hard and when I did break near the signals, the entire car shook sideways. This clearly indicated the body roll problem has been overlooked in the Xylo too. Must I now conclude that M&M does not know how to solve this problem? Or that this is a problem in all tall SUV/s - MUV/s? But whatever it is, this behaviour of the car is irritating and causes unwanted problems at high speeds. I have sat in a Scorpio for a 1000km journey into TamilNadu long back, and by the time we returned to Bangalore everyone was complaining of neck and back ache.

The seats of the Xylo might address this to some extent, but the body roll is extremely high even at speeds below 50kmph. This only means that at higher speeds, one could deem this car to be unstable to a high degree. I am not technical enough to speak about what tests have been conducted regarding this aspect, but I can talk about my experience when I have sat in this car. To sum up - I could not hold a small camera steady enough for a shot of the dashboard when this Xylo was being driven on a rather straight stretch of road at progressively increasing speed. Each time my friend hit the brake pedal, my heart was in my mouth. I was violently shaken, and thrown about in the middle seat. I changed to the last row on my way back and the problem of throwing around seemed to be compounded. If there is one reason I WILL NOT buy this car, it is this body roll. And given the fact this occurs at lower speeds, my disinterest in this vehicle grows further since it then wont be fit even for city use in some way or the other.For a 2.6 litre m-eagle engine, this car lacks grunt or does not give the feeling of good pick up within. The feedback to the driver is too low and I was not sure that the car responded as I had indicated it to with the accel pedal and the steering.

Seating luxury and other stuff

One thing commendable about the Xylo is the seating. The seating is spacious, all the way upto and including the last row. When folded, the last row paves way for a huge really huge boot space where you can stack all the items in your house :) The lights in the ceiling are spot on, and well designed for maximum impact. The sunglass holder, vanity mirror, armrests in every row are all very good thinking. However I am still wondering why the cup holders in the armrests are in pink or purple colours, they looked kiddish to me and slightly out of place with the overall black theme of the inside!

There is also a butterfly latch to the rear window, which makes it a bit airy when the aircon is not in use. Toyota, you have some things to learn from M&M in this regard and hopefully in the next version of Innova, you wont fry us alive in the rear seat. The rear parking assist is a nice touch in the top end version and it shows you the safe parking area alert in the mirror portion. We tested it and it was fine. Please be advised though that objects of height lesser than that of reverse parking camera located at rear would not be identified!

Pricing, safety (??), final opinion and future options

In short the pricing with options:

E2 - low end 7,55,263 OTR
E4 - with dual ac, rear wiper, coloured bumpers, etc 8,08,350 OTR
E6 - Electric side view mirror adjust, audio system, parking assist, arm rests, lumbar supports, all lamps 8,82,672 OTR
E6 - with ski racks 8,88,570 OTR
E8 - the ultimate, with alloys, DDAS 9,26,321 OTR

Ok, all this pricing is tempting enough. But heck what about safety? NO ABS, NO AIRBAGS? M&M are you kidding us? Why must we take a car that does not provide any safety standards? Then it wont be a sedan killer, it could also be a people killer in the long run if not driven properly. Personally I would love side airbags, considering the amount of body roll this car gives me! :) They also plan to launch a 4x4 version of this car. I cant imagine what that vehicle will feel like. If you read this review M&M, please get your product right before launching the 4x4 version.

My opinion: 50-50

Bad for body roll, safety, and driving experience for both driver and passengers, good for features inside the car, space, height and road stance. So I am undecided. It might fit the taxi segment a lot, but without safety, its a far cry that this vehicle will sell in huge numbers. If I were you and I had 9-odd lakhs, I would still go for the Innova for its stability, strong feel and more than comfortable ride.But if you have a large family, today there is no other MUV in the 6-8 lacs segment other than Xylo. Its definitely a good start for M&M but if they reduce the body roll and give a more definitively comfortable ride with safety options, then this car is an ideal one. I feel this car will sell initially on the hype, and the sales if not on a decline trend will remain stable without an increasing trend down the line. As usual one can expect M&M to get feedback from their first set of scapegoats before they launch a new and improved Sedan Killer - Xylo the second, without the quirks of the first! This car is neither a sedan killer, nor a Scorpio or Innova killer at the moment!

Enjoy the Xylo!

YOUR COMMENTS ARE VALUABLE FOR THIS POST, AS I HAVE TAKE CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF MY TIME TO TEST DRIVE THIS CAR AND BRING THIS REVIEW TO YOU! PLEASE USE THE COMMENTS SECTION AND TELL ME WHAT YOU FEEL!

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Namma Metro - a peek into the completion schedule

I saw an image in Times Of India, which spelt out the completion times for the Bengaluru Metro or Namma Metro train service. This includes completion of work and commissioning of the actual line. I present that image here for reference:

Source : Times of India.

Currently the line between Byappanahalli terminal and cricket stadium has gathered lots of steam and is on full pace especially in MG Road and CMH road. There have been a few roadblocks in terms of stay orders, but this is hopefull not expected to delay things more than a certain limit of time. So what you see as December 2010 could be well going into 2011 for commissioning. The Peenya to Swastik section of the line could also end somewhere in 2011 December if there are no hitches. Hopefully by 2013 all lines would be ready for use. It is also important to note that 2013 would be the end of BJP regime more or less in Karnataka so a lot depends on how they ensure this activity is complete by then. It is commendable that an extension of the line to Jaraganehalli and Hesaraghatta (shown in green) was done by the current CM. This makes more sense to connect the people of South and North specifically to city center. The lines shown in dark brown would probably be underground and this would be the biggest challenge for the Namma Metro considering uncertainities that would arise while the digging/trenching process is started. There have already been surprises with respect to the magic/match boxes, and the BMRC would have no excuses that this may not occur to them as well.

Monorail considerations are also on to firstly connect in a circular fashion, areas between Trinity circle, Lalbagh, Vijayanagar and Rajajinagar. But there also needs to be a deeper thought process to link up another route on the peripheries of the lines shown on this map. Security remains the top requirement of today for the metro, and no exceptions must be taken in this regard. The simplification of station design ensures that the overall work focus is maintained rather than just commercialization or elevations of these stations and subsequent monetization of the same. Hopefully its a better approach to take more time and do something of good quality once and for all, rather than constrict schedules and firefight at the last moment just to save some skin here and there, and avoid people's wrath. On the compensation front, it seems that BMRC has not learnt enough and they are still lingering the process which might cause further delays. They must realize that evicting necessary people at necessary places is more important at the moment for things to go on smoothly. However this has its own downside with respect to the sentiments of the people who have grown up in their current homes and would be displaced. One good example is the fact that the CMH road approach for Metro was not at all required, and it would have been more easier to run the line on Old Madras Road, considering the fact that CMH road is, was and always would be accessible from OMR from any point.

Another controversy currently going on is the non-consultation with E.Sreedharan on matters related to the Metro. This is a shame that Karnataka has depicted an attitude like this when there is a capable person who is offering his services to bring out things on time. Ego is one thing, and realization of infrastructure in the true sense is another. The latter ultimately would be the collective efforts while the former is about who is the greatest in planning things. You decide which one we want! Its time we induct this man atleast now and make the project go forward faster. Another big difference and problem between Delhi and Namma Metros is the fact that in Delhi the rail route develops first and then everything linked to it, including real estate, whereas in Bangalore its vice-versa. Thousands of properties have been sold by developers harping on a non-existent PRR linking Surjapura and Electronics city even until today. The same thing with NICE Corridor. Whats the point in selling me a property that does not have access to the corridor by quotoing the corridor? It sounds insane. Even more insane is the fact that people actually buy these properties either without doing much research on the facts or sometimes foolishly and knowingly accepting the quirks upfront.

All said and done, I strongly believe and hope and also am sure that change is on the way and hopefully the worst case by 2015 which is exactly six years from now (yes this blog will still exist by then :)) you and I would be taking the train more often than our cars for obvious reasons. I dont want to speak about BMTC linking up with the train routes, as it is evident that they are a self sustaining organization by now and they sure know what they are doing with a man like Tripathi at the helm of affairs. Even before you know it, BRT system will be in place and it certainly will be a well connected enjoyable experience. To end this post, only one question then remains to BMRC - how are you going to make this ride a safe one, what are your policies and plans for security on Namma Metro?

GOT SOME THOUGHTS? VOICE THEM OVER IN THE COMMENTS SECTION OF THIS POST.

It would sure be good to hear your opinions.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

the FIAT LINEA in depth review - features, pricing, and drive

You might ask me why this review is coming up so late! That's because I admire and appreciate the company behind the product. And I believe that I must be ethical to them. So one day after the FIAT LINEA was launched by FIAT INDIA for the country, here I am writing a full detailed test drive report with pictures to make your decisions easier. Thanks to Prerana for providing me with a test drive car. The Prerana motors showroom was well decked up with shining red Fiat logos and was well prepared. for welcoming the Linea into the country!

Without much of beating around the bush, let me go straight onto the review of the car. Me and my friend Kiran wanted to check out the LINEA (since we heard its already in the showrooms of TATA) on a Saturday evening. Since my son too was looking for an outing with his parents, it was decided that we take him to see the LINEA as well. One thing that strikes me about FIAT is its simplicity. They have never made a fuss about their cars, they always have told customers about the car even before its launch date and have never kept things under wraps for long. As usual, FIAT's LINEA launch was nothing short of spectacular with dazzling fashion shows and beautiful females, just as in the case of the FIAT 500 launch.

When we reached the showroom, the white/silver LINEA caught my attention. It was neatly displayed in the showroom. Its presence was so enthralling to me. It occupied the showroom like a gigantic being in itself and was all over the place. In the melee I forgot to see a red Linea parked outside! Since there was someone else admiring the car, we decided to see if a test drive was possible and sure to our surprise, they did say they could offer us a drive. So before I really write about the drive, let me first talk about the car. I own a swift VDI hatchback which also sports the FIAT multijet engine, which is the same with Linea with a few subtle differences. This lies in a tune up to 90bhp and variable geometry turbo or VGT feature. The comparision ends there.

Looks

This car is a stunner in whichever way you look at it. Agreed some say that the front portion looks too bulky and short, but its seriously does not malign the overall look of the car. The side profile is impressive by all standards and it feels like you are looking at a skoda octi in a way. The rear has got one of the most beautiful studded red lamps, which gel well with the overall body of the car. The boot is not too hunched up, but just in right proportion. No ugly pillars as well. So all in all a great looking car from the exterior. I did not get to check the headlamps since it was still sunny outside. But the jeweled headlamp cluster itself looks shiny and brilliant. Italian design always is considered top notch and the Linea like the Palio keeps up that promise.

Interiors

Its been an endeavour of mine to anticipate and judge the quality of interiors in cars in India. Toyota and Honda set benchmarks for this, and in the smaller car segment, nothing to beat Hyundai. In this context lets see where FIAT's interiors fit in. Frankly the Palio's interiors were not something to write home about. But the Linea - hold on - is way off that mark, with pleasing interiors, dashboard design, ergonomics and comfort in that order. Want more facts? Why not?

The dashboard is symmetrical, grey and silver finishings with soothing orange backlighting to set the mood for driving. The buttons, sliders and dials, offer a plush feel found only in high end luxury cars. Mind you even Honda does not fit in to the quality offered by FIAT. The best things about the buttons is the fact that they are so neatly fit into the slots meant for them and still make the dashboard seem like one flat piece where you could rest your hands on. The writing on the buttons are informative to the last level (for eg, power window buttons even show how to open the window, ie., which direction to push the button to open the window). The pad for moving the side view mirrors electically left, right top or bottom is very nicely placed and is not like the ugly joystick offered by Sx4. The dials themselves are small and nice to hold and is not about the ugly aspect of putting up chrome everywhere like in the Sx4. The door levers are much like the Fiesta's but I personally wished they were more usable or atleast feel durable than breakable in future.

Having said this much there are a few other things inside which is worth mentioning about. There are separate lamps for both rear and front and they look solid and well built into the roof. The driver and rear passengers both have an armrest each which is thoughtful. Also, the speaker enclosure is of high quality and feels upmarket. The car I drove came with four speakers and two tweeters but was sounding quite good considering that it was a fitment straight out of the factory. I thought it also had USB/AUX support. There is also an A/C vent towards the rear which is again thoughtful and provides good cooling. FIAT's consistency was always with the AC which chilled people within seconds (not even minutes). By adding a climatic control one can set precise temperature inside this car which makes the cooling just right and not unbearable. The headroom in this car was more than sufficient to accomodate tall people both in rear and front. No complaints here. Also one another thing I really loved in this car was the simplicity of the dials. They looked so (Oh!) retro and gave me an ambassador feeling when I first saw them. But dont be fooled by these looks. The digital display on the dash shows you really interesting information on fuel left, distance you can travel, etc. The boot is huge and you can hide two kids in it! Jokes apart, its really sufficient to carry your luggage whereever you wanna go.

The steering itself is meaty and chunky even without a leather wrap and this has again been a strong point of all FIATs until now. It gives you the sense of direction and steer, along with the feeling of stability on the road. The horn though was a let down and perhaps it needs a more skoda-ish horn which is what people respond to these days on the streets.

The Drive

So finally how was the drive? I ll get to it in a moment. But before that lets understand VGT or variable geometry turbocharging, which is the latest thing in today's diesel engines. You can read more on that here. What this really means for a layman is that the time it takes between your accelerator pedal press to the time it takes to move the car at that speed, is called as a turbo lag. The VGT aims to reduce this turbo lag, leading to a more linear pull at any gear and any speed. Here is where I would like to draw a comparison of the linea to the swift I possess. Since both have same engines, the turbo kick appears in swift at about 1800 RPM, which pushes the car abruptly but swiftly forward giving a roller coaster experience. What they have done in the Linea is to keep this turbo kick come in only beyond 4000RPM (to reach this RPM you would be on the highways usually) and at lower RPMs they let the VGT feature give a more linear pulling experience even at lower speeds. So this basically means you would perhaps not get the kick you get in swift with Linea, but it will give you a sense of luxury a sedan is supposed to offer at any speed without jerking the car much abruptly. This is one area where I found it to be a bit unenterprising if not disappointing. You cannot race with the Linea, its not meant for that. However you do get a plush feel with the car, and that is what matters most. Also the suspension is soft and easily soaks down potholes without disturbing the passengers. However this also means one must be worried about ground clearance. When you load the car with many people, it tends to go down a bit, making it easy for the car to scrape on bumps underneath. This is an unwanted characterestic of the Honda's which also seems to affect FIAT, but only when the real driving happens, one can justify if this is really as bad. As of now, we will say that this is not really much of an issue.

Technology and Safety

This car does come with Blue & Me, an initiative by FIAT and Microsoft to incorporate bluetooth sync of your mobile phone with the car. To read more about it, go here. You could answer your mobile calls on your car, without having to lift your phone. Its all about hands free functionality with voice recognition. So you could say your friends name out, and it will dial your friend and connect you to him or her! As for safety the car comes with ABS and EBD. As usual Airbags are offered only on higher models, which according to me is a shame. Every Indian must have the liberty and birth right to feel safe, even say after spending money, and automotive manufacturers have to wake up to this requirement. It is them who introduce new cars, and it is them who must also lead the way for safety. Lets hope FIAT does provide this as an option for all variants of Linea and other cars in the fray in future.

Price and Conclusions

By keeping the price point really affordable, FIAT has ensured that its next innings will go smoothly. A diesel engine with all this luxury at a little above eight lakhs seriously makes common sense compared to the Sx4's and Aveo sedans, which dont offer the same. At this point we cannot compare the Indigo and Linea in any possible way. But just wait a while and Tata will unveil a new Indigo sedan which can be comparable to any luxury car. My conclusion on the linea - the linea mania is here to stay for a while. Lets not expect FIAT to sell millions of Lineas in a short while, but its preparedness for the launch, the launch itself and Rajeev Kapoor at the helm this time, might make it easy for FIAT to get its due recognition with the Linea. Before I end this post, here, here and here are links to the launch party, and further a couple of photos of this imposing car.

For more details, visit www.fiatlinea.in

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