Saturday, February 21, 2015

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The ageing Tata Nano needs a refresh and our family has to now take a call on which car to go for given the limited budget and affordability at this point in time. This being a second car its purpose would be to only run it in and around home a few miles everyday.


(source: maruti suzuki celerio official website)


A call to Pratham motors in HSR Layout and a word with them on the interest in Celerio was enough for them to scramble a car for a test drive. The AMT (automated manual transmission) is lately catching the fancy of many Indian car buyers as well as automobile manufacturers. Maruti, Tata have taken early leads to jump into the business of making this transmission in order to woo two kinds of crowds - ladies who would otherwise find it difficult to drive a manual tranny car and the scores of individuals who are fed up commuting in a 2 to 3 hours gruelling traffic jam each day changing gears thousands of times.

The Celerio was the first of the bunch to sport the AMT, followed by Alto, and news of Wagon R jumping onto the same bandwagon. Tata however have cleverly put in an AMT only currently into their zest sedan, needless to say only on the top diesel variant retailing over 8 lacs ex-showroom. This cost would definitely put off a few prospective automatic car buyers.


(source: maruti suzuki celerio official website)

On the non AMT side, we do have many cars that already sport an automatic transmission including but not limited to the Maruti Ritz & Dzire, the Honda Amaze, Brio and the City, the Micra and Sunny from Nissan, etc. While these are pure automatics, the AMT is a different experiment to keep the mileage returned at almost that of a manual. While the CVTs like the micra are the most fun to drive, the AMTs are basically trying to address the mundane commute in a much better way.

A couple of pleasantries later, I let my wife drive the Celerio first after which I took to the wheel myself. There are basically two modes provided with respect to the automatic transmission. One is the fully automatic D-N-R mode where the car takes over what to do fully, and the other is the Manual (M) mode with + and - for upshifts of gear or downshifts. This mode must be enough to remind you of the fact that at heart these cars are still the manual ones, but the manufacturers have pulled off neatly the clutch handling part by automating that physical action of engaging or disengaging a clucth.

My drive was roughly about 2 to 3 kms with varying terrain: some smooth roads, few really bad speed breakers, and some roads with potholes. The first part was the fully automatic drive mode. The car picks up rather hesitatingly but settles down from first gear and the gears quickly move upto 2nd and 3rd thereon. The idea of this mode is to bring the car to the highest gear in the shortest time to conserve fuel on the drives. This is both good and bad. Good for the money saved, bad for the thrill lost of driving a manual car. With due respects to manual cars, I would not hinge on discussing those here. The only aim here is to let you know the comfort that AMTs aim to offer and evaluate whether the claims really make sense.


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(source: carblogindia.com)

The automatic mode is something I can term as a complete fuss free experience. Release the handbrake and you are all set to go. That's it. Accelerate when you want, brake when you want and the car simply wont switch off. Wish granted and it performs great wherever you amble the car around. While moving from standstill since it picks up from 1st gear, all the way to 4th, its a smooth acceleration barring a momentary hesitation in second and third to lunge forward. Its not unbearable, and in my opinion not significant enough to delay you so much to get you frustrated (unlike the honda amaze automatic CVT).

While slowing down the car tends to remain in second gear most of the times unless you physically get it to a full stop where it would switch back to first gear. Now when you accelerate rather hard when its on second there is a certain vibration before the car settles down. This is rather annoying but I guess we have to live with this flaw for the remaining creature comforts of an automatic. Its just an overlooked aspect in my opinion and may be addressed in forthcoming revisions of the vehicle after customer feedback.

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(source: mid-day.com)

Now the manual mode. Slide the lever to "M" or "D" on the go as you like. In "M" mode, the onus is on the driver to trip down (pull down the gear lever) each time a gear upshift is needed. For downshifts the level would be pulled upwards. This is more precise for me and its like driving a manual without the clutch pedal but with gear shifts :-) And the car can be made to listen to your whims of which gear you want to be on. One clever thing that you expected and is provided as a feature is that you only need to upshift while on the move. If you slow down the car downshifts by itself upto 1st gear. Smart.

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(source: motorbeam.com)

Even in the manual mode, the car tries to remain on second gear as much as possible. Not sure why this implementation was done this way, but that is how it is.

For the other bits that are worth liking about the Celerio now. Some colours are head turning in this car - I loved the green, red and blue specifically. The headlamp design, the indicators in the front are certain things that make the car look definitely good and modern enough. The rear seems in my opinion a bit disconnected from the whole frame, but its not totally worthless. The LXi version is for those who dont have money, and the VXi version is for those who have money but still dont get enough features for that money.

The difference is about 50000 bucks and for that money, you get power windows, wheel caps (yea we are still talking like its 1995), auto driver window down (I call this double click down), lots of chrome here and there, vanity mirrors (LXi owners wives would be an angry lot), rear parcel shelf (oh common maruti), 60-40 split seat (necessary in my opinion as a combination of passenger+luggage is possible at rear), central locks, and power windows. This feature set is worth paying the differential amount for in my opinion.

What the car is missing though is Airbags on AMT version which is a big minus (now you remember the indian dialogue "if i am driving slow i dont need airbags" :-) ). There is no stereo in either AMT version which is another minus. No seat covers, etc. The rear wiper is present which is much better than defogger. Another point is the gear indicator shows up on the console only in auto mode (wonder why!) if that really matters to you.

I don't like manufacturers deliberately cutting down on the airbags just to make a model sell well. This shows the irresponsibility from their side on the lives of buyers. Even the impending rules from government for making airbags mandatory would mean they consider only the driver as a human being and provide a single airbag to satisfy the government. What I really hate is the either automatic or airbags choices which are really senseless and idiotic in the year 2015. I wish manufacturers use their heads more than just keep cash registers ringing by selling unsafe cars year on year. I wish someone puts up a petition challenging all this in a big way. For me an optional airbag facility would have made this an A+ car to drive. Unfortunately Maruti for their own reasons cut out that pleasure from buyers and dampened them for good.

So if I buy the car, I guess I'll be one of those owners who'd have to tell anyone who asks "I am driving slowly why must I need an airbag?" to satisfy my foolishness of buying a car without these. The other way to ask this question is to say "I am willing to pay who is giving me airbags in this combination?" - that's atleast a better proposition.

The space in Celerio is really commendable for a hatchback, and five people might be able to sit in peace. Overall I found the headroom, legroom and general comfort to be substantial for a car this size and Maruti has really worked on the space part and got this equation right on this car. Given Celerio is coming in with diesel, it would be a right spot that the company has got with respect to having its sales charts on fire. Not that it already hasn't with whats available.

On bad roads the Celerio is a good boy and handles most bad-boy-road-humps with ease even when loaded upto 4 people and a kid. I really went on some seriously ugly humps and it didn't bat an eyelid. The handling was good and the occupants did not complain or were thrown about much. I did find the pickup to be slightly less with AC on and 4 people loaded but I need to drive this car more to ascertain whether this is indeed a sore point or not. A 2km test drive was insufficient for me to understand this part. The window was slightly higher to my liking and kids would not be able to see out if they are on the rear seat. The Hyundai i20 is like that and there are some cars such as these which have deep seating which is both good and bad. The driver maybe able to feel the pinch with this kind of seating.

There is no seat height adjust or steering tilt which is really sad as I am pretty sure providing that feature is not going to cost Maruti a bomb. These are mainly missed out to keep that differentiation in sales and in my opinion these are really stupid moves to say the least.

In summary the Celerio is a likeable car for the way it handles, and the space. Sprucing up the feature list can make it the next Wagon R for the next decade or so. The AMT is a breeze and its a no brainer for new drivers. Five adults would be comfortable on this vehicle and on long drives it surely would be much appreciated for the cruises it can offer. The hill holding capability is not yet tested by me but I did see that on a sloping section of road, the car did not move backwards on releasing the brakes which means there is some sort of implementation to prevent that.

The LXi at the time of writing sells in Bangalore at 5.3 OTR and the VXi at 5.8 OTR. The recommendation is to go for VXi as the features are much better. All the colours are nice to look at and Maruti's service assurance should keep 90% of the customers happy with any purchase you do through them.

There can be many things told about the car, but experiencing an AMT in action is a totally different pleasure and I am sure you would not have any complaints on that front. Until the next car review, this is Srikanth from the Bangalore blog signing off for now.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

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After having done many visits over south india to the east, my family expressed a desire to visit the western coastal areas of India either in Karnataka or Kerala. So I looked up tripadvisor and found Bekal and Kasaragod which were two areas that offered beach properties for holidaying.

After looking at the reviews, I chose Nileshwar and adjoining areas for a decent resort. Most of the reviews indicated that Malabar beach front resort and spa was the place to go to considering the value for money proposition. Some did say Nileshwar hermitage and Kannan Resort were also good, but I decided for Malabar instead.

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There is an earlier report on how not to do a journey to this place which you can read here if you’d like to. We reached Kanhangad (pronounced kaa-nyan-gaad) which is roughly about a couple of hours from Mangalore junction railway station. The train ride from Mangalore gets pretty interesting as we proceed towards this place as the scenic regions of Kerala are a treat to watch.

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We reached Kanhangad railway station after an overnight train journey roughly by about 10am which is more or less the perfect time for both adults and kids to feel refreshed enough to disembark after a rather long train journey. Our cab arranged by resort was ready and waiting for us at the station. The resort itself was about a fifteen minute journey and just outside the town towards the village areas.



My family was warmly welcomed by the people at the reception including the manager. We were offered a welcome drink and my kids started to get adjusted to the place as such within a short time. We found the usual Kerala style of construction of the resort which was no surprise after our earlier honeymoon trip to Punnamada, Kerala a decade ago.


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Our rooms were just after the restaurant area and these rooms were like villaments with two floors of staying areas for multiple families. The rooms themselves were pretty equipped though not to the standards of other bigger resorts we know of. But it was adequate for us to settle down. The beds, tables, sofas, and toilet facilities with wardrobes were all in plenty and there was enough room for a family of four to play around the room.


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The piece of the cake in this whole arrangement was the balcony, which would offer a fantastic view of the ocean front, and would also lead you to it every time you wanted to sit by the sea. Of all the properties I have visited which were supposed to offer a by the sea experience, this was one of the resorts which was practically right next to the sea shore. This is a perfect place to play around for the kids, and you can keep walking to the sea as many times as you want in full privacy that the resort offers. Its just you and the sea - and its that private. Full paisa vasool.

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The restaurant is large and airy and there would be many items on offer for food. However since this is a small resort and hence the team of cooks call you and let you know what is available for breakfast and lunch. There is not much of choice really unlike some other bigger resorts which offer buffet meals, but I guess that is also to do with the occupancy rate. During the time of our stay, we were the only family which was occupying the entire resort, so the meal plans had to be only for us which is why the crunch. This was not a big bother for me, so I was at home with this kind of arrangement.

One thing though is that the resort lacks people who can communicate in english properly, or understand other languages properly so there are two outcomes of this kind of situation - either you don’t get what you want until you explain it multiple times, or you learn Malayalam :-)

The dishes themselves were limited to either Kerala style dishes, or standard fare like sandwiches, etc. Pricing was not a concern, though it was slightly on the higher side but variety was a huge concern for me. Thankfully they did have Appam, Phulka and the likes which was the kind of stuff kids could eat so it did not create much flutter for me. Definitely though the dishes and the menu itself can be made better for the money charged. Which by the way was about 5000 per room per day during off season occupancy (end september).


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Next up is the swimming pool. These guys have a large pool with a kids pool as well. They have lots of poolside tables, sprinklers, and good amount of towels to dry yourself. All professional enough for a great experience. I am not a swimmer myself, but my kids enjoyed being in the pool. There are lots of crows around the resort since well, its Kerala and its got hundreds of coconut trees and its by the beach, and these birds are a concern while people sit in the restaurant. There is nothing much that can be done about it except that the staff have put in a huge mesh around the place to keep the prying birds away.

Further there is also free Wi-Fi in the resort, which gets switched off for some unknown reason in the night. Only the manager can say why! Same is the issue with hot water and it was a concern to us, since we got hot water only after multiple requests and due to an issue with the solar water heating which had conked out and had to be repaired. Getting manual labour to rectify these things is a concern in Kerala and this was no different case either. However the manager was pretty sympathetic to my requests which were a complaint on non functioning WiFi to a wrongly made Dosa, to no hot water and to a request to get me some medicine urgently to attend to my son having a viral fever while in the resort. Attitude cannot replace actual faults but atleast the management was willing to listen and admit to the complaints. Hopefully they would work on it to make this a better place.



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There is a watch tower from where you can climb up and get a unobstructed view of the beach and fishing boats plying around and its fun to spend time there. Its not a neat place though so you must watch what you step on. It can be dangerous for kids to go up there alone, so keep a watchful eye. As for the beach access, there is a security placed there at all times, though he is only more of a security than a beach attendant. Going deep into sea waters is not policed and its upto you to maintain your limits of having fun. From where the resort limits end to the sea shore is a short one minute walk, and there are hammocks and by the sea basking furniture which are a nice touch. Once you step onto the seashore the fun awaits and you are seriously one with nature. The kind of fatigue reduction the sea can offer you is unparalleled and I can bet on the fact that this alone is worth the money you pay. Pristine sunrises, warm sunsets and scorching hot afternoons - every part of the day is just worth it when all you have to do is sleep, eat, build castles in the sand, and play in the water.


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Two days is all you can really enjoy this and there is nothing beyond this nearby except if you decide to go out of Kanhangad to places like Bekal which are again beach fronts of their own. Our reason was to get out of the maddening city crowd of Bangalore and enjoy the calm sea shores of Kerala. And this resort provided exactly that requirement.


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There are some negatives considering the cost like the food variety, etc - but overall this place is neither lovable nor can you hate it so much. Its a perfect offering of sea front cottages, which at best keep you happy and occupied. You are really one with nature. The resort accepts card payments and the people at the reception are receptive to most needs. There is nothing outside this place in terms of tourist attraction or even great hotels, but that is something that did not bother us much.


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The journey back to Bangalore can be by a direct train from Kanhangad station via Mangalore or by road via Coorg, or by air via road to Mangalore and air to Bangalore. So if you are planning an outing to a sea front resort, with direct train from Bangalore, then the Malabar Beach front resort and spa is a good place to visit. You can either plan a two day visit or even a one day visit - neither will disappoint you.

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About Me
Srikanth Eswaran
Bengloor Huduga

Srikanth is a blogger, reader, photographer, butter dosa eater, an urban car racer & an apple fanboy. He loves music, playing table tennis and traveling. Most times he would like to be solitary to introspect on what life has thrown to him and the bigger purpose of life.