Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From Swift to a Rapid (after test driving everything else with a turbo under 23lakhs)

From Swift to a Rapid (after test driving everything else with a turbo under 23lakhs)

Swift to Rapid (on a budget!) - The journey...

The past:
My passion for speed started with 2 wheelers. The RX-100's, Shoguns, the lot... I wanted something different, so I searched all over the place and bought a used Supra SS in the year 2000 (the 110c, 16BHP, 4-speed close ratio gearbox version) from a friend's friend. I've never had so much fun on any other bike till date, so many fond memories… I still have the bike, it now runs a Shaolin based engine (the con rod and piston are RX-135's – due to lack of Shaolin oversized pistons), It's very nicely ported, 5 speed of course, has a 90/100 kit with a custom ignition, a 28mm flat slide carb, K&N intake, carbon fiber reeds, a brilliant exhaust chamber, front disc – estimated approx. 20BHP, flies to 135kmph on Michelin M45 rubber. Mr. Jaffer/Babu (Dream Machines, Sanjaynagar, Bangalore) should be credited for being patient with my precise needs of how the bike should deliver the power I wanted. We've blown through at least 5~6 cylinders, 10+ pistons and what not to get to this level… Modding a Suzuki in India is not easy as the Yamahas, half a day spent on a RX-135/Z (mild exhaust porting, air intake, exhaust chamber) would result in performance that's very close to my bike…. Anyway I wanted something different…

Fast forward 6 yrs. from then to 2006… I decided to buy a car finally. My budget was 5 lakhs, the motor had to be free-revving and punchy, and the car had to handle well. Nothing else fitted the bill other than a Swift Petrol. It looked awesome as well! So, I picked up a red Swift VXI. A year from then, got a performance K&N intake installed, got a free flow exhaust system/headers in place, platinum-iridium plugs and Potenza G3 185/70 tyres. Loved it! Just earlier this month, we drove down to Goa and we touched 180kmph quite a few times (150kmph was regular). The car was running as good as new, it engine was butter smooth, always ran on Shell Engine Oil/Gear Oil/Brake fluid/Coolant… I had some much fun in this car for 5.5 yrs., many memorable adventures ;-). Off late, I need more punch and power, and I contemplated turbocharging the car. Red Rooster quoted about 1.5~2Lakhs, which is not a bad deal, but is it worth it? I had second thoughts, mainly cause the VXI doesn't have ABS and Airbags. I needed something faster, a new car now, also safer. So, sold the beloved Swift couple of weeks back… and I miss it dearly :-(

I only had one complaint with the Swift. The gearbox design. I hate tall gear ratios. If you have a 5-speed box, I expect the gears to be close enough, the 5th gear should logically attain top speed (not necessarily at red line, at least 1000rpm short)... The Swift reached its top speed in 4th, the 5th was a very lazy overdrive. And the consequence of such is design obviously is that gears 1 thru 4 are widely spaced out… not very ideal. I swore that my next car would be different.

The present - the search for the new car:
For starters, I laid out some minimum requirements. Namely:

-If I was buying a Petrol, it had to be 16v DOHC with a Turbocharger (non-Variable Geometry Turbo was ok for Petrol), Direct Injection & Variable Valve Timing

-If I was buying a Diesel, it had to be 16v DOHC Common-rail with a Variable Geometry Turbo

-Engine: 1.6 ~ 2.0 liter or higher (a smaller engine was acceptable if also supercharged... deep down I was hoping the 1.4 TSI Twincharger would debut with the Jetta)

-Horsepower: 120~160BHP or higher (I was targeting ~100 BHP / ton)

-Torque: 25 kgm or higher

-No turbo lag (little lag was acceptable if everything else was brilliant in the car)

-Gearbox: 6 speed (or a brilliant 5 speed box was acceptable). Short/close ratio gearbox , Tall ratios is a no-no

-0-100: ~ 10 seconds
-20-80 in 3rd gear: ~ 10 seconds
-30-100 in 4th gear: ~ 11 seconds

-Top speed: ~200 kmph

-Mileage ~10kmpl in city

-Brakes: All round discs (no drum stuff)

-Wheels: 16 inch alloys, 205/55~60 tyres

-Safety: ABS + EBD, 2 Airbags minimum

-Handling: No body roll, shouldn't wallop around during hard cornering, Steering feedback should be direct, Stiff'ish suspension

The other tit-bits/features that I wanted were: A/C climate control with rear vents, Audio system with USB in, Steering mounted audio controls, Auto sense headlights and wiper, Rear defogger, Realtime mileage indicator / distance to empty in the HUD, Electrically adjustable side view mirrors, Auto dimming inside mirror, Fog lights, Rear park sensors - the works!

Yeah, I had the bar set very high! And wanted a lot for very less! Little did I know…

Finally the Price: I froze on an extended budget of around 15 lakhs. I was prepared to sell my dog (for the sensitive folks, pun intentionally intended, my HUGE German Shepard goes by the name Shadow, and I love him dearly, he's 11yrs old), one kidney (one's enough to live), one eye (I figured one's enough to drive, right?), and was alreadt to sell one to two bedrooms from my 3 bedroom flat… ha ha!

So, I set out to test drive the best cars of today. This was October-through-November'2011. I straight away dismissed *most* of the Petrols in the market as they didn't have a Turbo, also dismissed all the Diesels under 100BHP (Ford Fiesta, Linea, SX4 etc.) as they really didn't feel fast enough for my taste. And Tata …wait a minute, I thought we were talking about cars, so moving on…

Fiat Linea Tjet plus 1.4 – I sort of like the T-Jet, good punchy motor, good gearbox, looks great, all round disc brakes, slightly higher priced I guess… Didn't like that the engine wasn't cutting edge (Not Direct Injection, doesn't have Variable valve timing), and it was a 1.4L. Torque was acceptable, the 0-100 was acceptable (11.05s), the 20-80 in 3rd (11.94s) was also ok, but 30-100 in 4th (15.52s) was too slow for my taste since I'd experienced something similar in the Swift, the mileage wasn't great at 9.4kmpl in the city either for a 1.4L. Feature rich and packed, I also get the wheels/tyres and safety features that I wanted, brilliant handling. But, the in-gear acceleration times and the mileage threw me off… so did the lack of Direct Injection & Variable Valve Timing.

Hyundai (fluidic) Verna SX 1.6 VGT: I love the way this baby looks. Love how refined the CRDI engine is, you can hardly hear it. Love how many features are packed into it. Love the price at 11.57L, … and all the love ends there. Personally, the car doesn't feel like it has 126BHP under the hood. Too sluggish for my taste for city driving. Hate the gearbox. With a 6 speed box, don't understand how the 5th and the 4th gears should hit almost the same top speed…yes, I know there's a marginal difference of about 10kmph. The tall ratios reflect in the in-gear acceleration times and makes the turbo lag quite pronounced in the city. 0-100 is good in 10.54s, but in-gear acceleration figures (20-80 in 3rd at 13s, and 30-100 in 4th at 15.1s) were ridiculous for a car with 126BHP and 6 gears. This thing has all round discs, but doesn't feel that way either. I hate the handling, lack of steering feedback, loathed the body roll and it scared the crap out of me when I experienced how unstable it was at high speeds. Deleted it from my list of probable cars. I wish Hyundai would learn someday, no offence to those who love the new Verna, just expressing my point of view.

VW Vento 1.6 TDI Highline: I really like the Vento. Brilliant and punchy motor, revs quite freely for a diesel, amazing torque of 25kgm and how it's delivered! Virtually no turbo lag, good 5 speed gearbox with excellent gear ratios, looks great, pricing is fine …Didn't like the fact that the engine was a little noisy and that the handling /steering feedback was ok/acceptable (not great). The 0-100 (11.30s) figures don't do justice on paper as it feels faster than that, but the brilliant part is the in-gear acceleration. 20-80 in 3rd (9.24s), and 30-100 in 4th (10.5s) is unbelievable for a car in this class, they're the best figures for any car up to 17lakhs. Heck, don't believe me? Compare it to the Skoda Laura 1.8 TSI's in-gear acceleration figures of 20-80 in 3rd (9.47s) and 30-100 in 4th (10.79s) – the Vento is actually quicker in-gear, WOW! The mileage is great too at 13.1kmpl in the city. Feature rich, and I also had the safety features I wanted. The Vento also just got Steering mounted audio controls, Rear parking sensors and USB input in the audio system as well. I was just wishing the diesel clatter could have been slightly better handled, the handling could have been slightly better, and was also wishing it had 16" wheels with 195/60 or 205/55 tyres. I really love this car for the price of 12Lakhs… but wanted to explore other options before I decided.

BTW - VW is offering 6.99% interest on car loans, on the Petrol variants and the Trendline Diesel. The Breeze offer (Sat Nav, Touch Music system, Rear park, etc.) is only on the Petrols. The Comfortline Diesel does not get any offers whatsoever.

Chevy Optra – I grew up admiring the car, but didn't want to go in for it. It's an old model. I do love the punchy engine though.

Chevy Cruze LT 2.0 VCDi: I love the way the Cruze looks, good punchy motor, fantastic torque, ok gearbox though,…Didn't like that the engine wasn't DOHC, didn't like the fact that the manual wasn't 6 speed like the automatic variant. And it has significant turbo lag in the manual variant, which was a turn-off. The feature list is endless – I get everything I want, which was brilliant! The 0-100 figures are good (9.64s), but the in-gear acceleration figures are poor, 20-80 in 3rd (13.83s) and the 30-100 in 4th (16.38s) are both very poor for a 2.0L engine, and I know this is because of the turbo log. Mileage is not bad at 10.3kmpl in the city for a 150BHP Commom rail engine. Was it worth 15.13L ? Almost yes – but only if the in-gear acceleration figures were better and if it had a 6-speed box, and no turbo lag of course.

Chevy Cruze (Automatic) LTZ 2.0 VCDi: So, I drove the Cruze Automatic LTZ next – 6 speed, well chosen ratios, did not exhibit any noticeable turbo lag, and was actually fun to drive. In manual tiptronic mode, the gearbox doesn't upshift at all, even at red-line – till you shift yourself. Nice eh? You're in full control... Being an auto, the 0-100 is very good in 9.95s, and in kick-down mode the 20-80 in 3rd (6.17s) and 30-100 in 4th (8.18s) is excellent as well. Now compare it to the Laura 2.0 DSG TDI's figures 0-100 (9.72s), 20-80 in 3rd (6.27s), 30-100 in 4th (7.93s) and you'll see that the Cruze Automatic is very competitive! and it felt very good on the road as well. Hmm, I really liked the Cruze automatic, but the price put me off. At 18.12 Lakhs, you're now in Skoda Laura territory. The Laura 2.0 TDI with DSG is available at 18.88L with a 80k discount. I'd choose a Laura any day… so I drove the Laura next. One thing to note is that the new 2012 Cruze refresh is set to debut soon, and it's rumored to be a 160BHP DOHC engine with a 6-speed manual box. This will be awesome for sure, but the Chevy guys themselves don't know when it'll launch. I can't wait any longer, I need a car – missing my Swift too much...

Skoda Laura 1.8 TSI Petrol - Classic: Man, it's brilliant! A turbocharged petrol with 160BHP, a brilliant 6 speed gearbox, brilliant steering feedback and handling. A petrolhead's dream… I test drove it twice, both very long drives. State of the art engine, gorgeous to look at… I wanted this. Look at the acceleration figures, 0-100 in 8.17s, 20-80 in 3rd (9.47s), 30-100 in 4th (10.79s), top speed of 223kmph. I really wanted this car… To top it all up, Skoda is now offering a flat 1.8L discount on this car. From 15.6L, you get it now for 13.8L. Unbelievable! And fuel efficient for an engine of this caliber – 9.8kmpl in the city. I was going to buy this, abso-freakin-lutely… What I didn't like was that the Classic is totally stripped of features, doesn't even have alloys for crying out loud. The Ambiente is better spec'd and you get it for about 16.94L with a 1lakh discount, but the Classic at 13.8L is fantastic value. Another thing that was tugging away at the back of my mind was that the Laura had been around for some time, it's due for an update/refresh next year. I will get screwed (read: poor re-sale value) when I want to sell this after 6yrs maybe. But then again, why are they giving a 1.8L discount? Cause nobody wants to buy Petrol anymore and the thought of selling it away for peanuts i.e 5lakhs or so maybe 6yrs down the line came back to haunt me. I'm not rich, didn't inherit anything, don't have a business, I just have a salaried job, and I work too damn hard for every rupee I earn, and I'd have to take a 7yr loan for this car (nah, I won't even be eligible to pay EMI's for a 5yr loan for this car) and can't afford to lose too much in resale few years down the lane. Also, factor in the petrol cost… but deep down I said kept telling myself "idiot, focus on the engine, balls to the fuel cost". I hate that in our country, we pay less for diesel, compare it to the US where diesel fuel is actually marginally more expensive than petrol!!!

- I slept on this for a few days…

Skoda Laura 2.0 TDI (140BHP, DSG) - Ambiente: I loved this as well, I already knew the handling and steering is awesome, and the 2L engine is fantastic. No turbo lag whatsoever. The DSG gearbox is brilliant! I think it has 6th sense, it's so intuitive! Acceleration figures are class leading 0-100 (9.72s), 20-80 in 3rd (6.27s), 30-100 in 4th (7.93s), and yet it's extremely fuel efficient for a powerful automatic (11.6kmpl in the city). Did I mention the DSG? ;-) it's so much fun in Sport mode, lightening quick shifts. The Ambiente is better spec'd as well (compared to the Petrol only Classic), and I get back some of the features, but not all. This thing costs 18.88L, and it doesn't have climate control, or USB input in the audio system, no rear park sensors and has 15" alloys (not 16"). But it's beautiful, and in crappy traffic like Bangalore or in the beautiful winding western ghats, the DSG automatic will be an absolute dream. I decided that if I was buying an automatic, it's gotta be a Laura DSG Diesel. I knew I couldn't afford it, I was just dreaming… I slept on this some more... I hadn't driven the Jetta yet.

VW Jetta 2.0 TDI – Highline: What a package! Has pretty much everything anyone needs, Looks fantastic, handles well, punchy motor, the DSG is phenomenal as usual, you get 8 freakin airbags, traction control (which is also there on the Laura), Electronic stability program, Electronic Differential Lock, etc. – so it's as safe as safe can get, and very clever. It's built like a tank! Similar acceleration and fuel economy as the Laura (same engine and weight as the Laura, so obviously). And, you have one extra gizmo - the paddle shifts. The best fun I've had in my entire life! The best test drive of any car in India (I say India because I recently drove a Ferrari 458 Italia at the Las Vegas Speedway for $399.. more on that later, I promise!) But, if anyone hasn't driven the Jetta Highline DSG with paddles, take a test drive ASAP – just for the heck of it. You won't be disappointed… Right then, I decided that if I buy an automatic, it has to be a diesel with DSG of course, but it has to have paddle shifts! Jetta was the new automatic of choice... What I didn't like is that when you pay 22.28L, you don't get USB input in the audio system, and you don't get climate control either. I think they will throw these into the next refresh, whenever it happens… I also wanted to test drive the Jetta manual, but they didn't have one. It would be an interesting buy at 17.64L. But then, at 22.28L for the Highline with paddle shifts, you're now creeping into Skoda Superb territory. Mu hu ha ha ha! (read: evil laugh)

Skoda Superb: Has the 2 best engines, the 1.8 160BHP TSI, and the 2.0 140BHP TDI – with 6-speed and 7-speed DSG or manual. The most feature rich and complete package in any car I've driven in India (till date). Enough said… I was way out of my league. Will revisit this in 6 yrs.…

Then the Skoda Rapid launched, the TDI Elegance:
I read the Autocar preview, looked good. Then the Team-BHP review came out, and man – what a review! It was beautifully crafted, and as detailed as ever. Kudos to Samurai and Vid6639, you guys did an awesome job. After reading the review, I ran to the nearest Skoda showroom and took a hard look at the car. I really loved the way it looked, Skoda did a good job. Then I drove it, thrice in 3 days – I began to appreciate the improved handling and NVH (as compared to the Vento). I was impressed. And to top it all off, Skoda has apparently communicated (as per some websites) that the 0-100 is 10.8s for the TDI (as compared to the Vento's measured 11.3s, as per Autocar). Hmm… not sure how far this is true, we'll know when Autocar or somebody else measures it in more detail, but note that the Rapid is very slightly lighter. The engine felt very nice for sure, slightly better than the Vento for some reason, and equally punchy or better. To remind you again, Vento's 20-80 in 3rd (9.24s), and 30-100 in 4th (10.5s) is class-leading and is marginally better than Laura 1.8 TSI's 20-80 in 3rd (9.47s) and 30-100 in 4th (10.79s)! The in-gear acceleration figures should be the same as the Vento at least right? It certainly felt very quick, identical or better than the Vento. And, I get the TDI Elegance for 11.2L, which is 80k cheaper than the Vento Comfortline. Of course, you immediately realize that you don't get Steering audio controls, USB input in the audio system and Rear park sensors, but in all – these 3 features wouldn't cost you more than 25k to install (if you were to take a basic 2-Din Pioneer system, and basic functional rear park sensors, and pioneer's steering remote). The Rapid was looking like a very good deal, the best part was that I was thoroughly impressed by the engine.

Now, I had to decide between the Rapid Elegance at 11.2Lakhs, or the Laura TSI Classic at 13.8Lakhs.

I couldn't decide for almost a week, I had countless constructive arguments with friends and my younger bro (who works at Chrysler, in Detroit) over this decision.

Then, I just bit the bullet, and froze on the Rapid – it's extremely good value for money, its Diesel and very fuel efficient, so my running costs are very low. And I'll get a good resale value when I sell it. And I get to keep my dog, my kidney, my eye and my bedrooms, and I can afford a 5yr car loan!

Then, I had countless arguments with myself and my good pal Shadow-the-Shepard, cause the Rapid didn't meet some of the over-enthusiastic minimum requirements that I'd set for myself: Here's how I counter argued them (...myself):

-1.6L 16V DOHC with VGT (variable geometry turbo) - check

-I'd set a min. target of 120BHP – the Rapid was 105BHP. I'll wait for the Pete's tuning box to complete testing on the Vento. I spoke to Mr.Pete himself the other day, and he was kind enough to let me know that they're still testing on the Vento, and the results weren't great, so the box was sent back to PSI for analysis... The box should be ready in about 2~3 months though. BTW – Red Rooster and Race Dynamics said they have a tuning box for the Vento for 20k, expected to boost horsepower to 130BHP.

-I'd set a min. target of 100BHP per ton – The Rapid works out to 87BHP per ton, but the tuning box will help, right? Moving on…

-6 speed gearbox – The Rapid's 5-speed is very well matched, and has carefully selected ratios. Can't complain one bit…

-25kgm torque - check

-No turbo lag – check

-0-100 in ~10s – Autocar measured the Vento at 11.3s, some websites indicate that the Rapid can do it in 10.8s, close enough

-In gear acceleration times – The Rapid/Vento beats my requirements

-Top speed of 200kmph – The Rapid/Vento will hit a 'true' 186kmph. That's like 190/195kmph on the speedo. 200kmph on the speedo is good enough for me. Hmm, the Tuning box will help right? Maybe an air intake will add fun to the party, an exhaust mod too maybe (is one recommended for a diesel?), but I think the 5th gear will be at redline at close 200kmph (if we can get it there, cause its already doing 4100rpm at 186kmph, the redline is 5000rpm)

-Climate control with rear vents, rear defogger, mileage indicator in the HUD, Elec. Adj side view mirrors, Fog lights – all check

-Auto sense headlights/ wipers & auto dimming inside RVM – that was asking for too much in the first place, only the Laura L&K, the Jetta Highline and all other cars beyond that horizon have *all* of them. So ignore…

-USB input in audio system, steering mounted audio controls, rear park assist

– not available on the Rapid, but won't cost more than 25k. Acceptable

-All round disc brakes – fail, nothing I can do about it. Mr. Pete said he can install a new set of all round discs, but it will be very very expensive. But the Rapid's braking is good. Sporty tyres should help some more, right?

-ABS+EBD & Airbags - check

-16" alloys, 205/55~65 tyres – Can't do the 16" alloys as then I'll have to go with 205/50 tyres for the upsize (if i need to duck under the 2% deviation), moreover a 50 profile is silly for our roads. Will go in for the 205/55/R15 tyres (which is the right upsize with about 0.58% deviation). BTW – I'm having a hard time sourcing tyres of this size, the Yokohama S.Drives are temporarily stopped due to ISI certification issues, Pirelli India, Bridgestone and Michelin don't have this size in their India lineup. Continental is nowhere to be seen in Bangalore. Don't like Dunlop or Goodyear. Apollo Acellere is available, but nah. Will wait for a while…

So, the Rapid TDI Elegance it was! And I don't regret it at all!

Again, this decision wouldn't have been possible if not for the awesome and timely Team-BHP review. You guys rock! Thank you very much!
Anyway, thought I'd share all this as this might help somebody else looking for a car in this segment (or the next segment).

Oh, before I forget, I booked the car Monday last week, a Silver Rapid at Vinayak Motors. I got a call yesterday and they said the car's ready! Phenomenal work Skoda! Kudos. Hope you earn back all your reputation. I really had a very good experience at Vinayak Motors at Bangalore. Good stuff. Then in-between all this, I dropped into Skoda yesterday to check out the Silver Rapid, and I saw a Candy-White Test drive Rapid next to it. Oh boy, the white looked better to my eyes (did I mention I'm party color blind?, but it's the red/green/brown or blue/purple shades that confuse me ONLY when they're next to each other). The White Rapid looks definitely better to me... So, I changed my booking to Candy-White, only to hear that stock of White TDI Rapids will take a week or so more. Well, no problem. I'll wait. It'll be worth it!

But my bank loan isn't ready yet, they actually rejected it! Apparently I cannot afford a 8 lakh loan. Man... give me a break (and to think I was actually considering a Laura). Anyway, I spoke to the manager, and we worked something out in the morning, so the loan just got approved today...

Attaching pictures of the white Rapid TDI Elegance – test drive car – that I fell in love with

Also attaching a spreadsheet which captures all of my research in detail. Hope this is useful to somebody else as well.

Disclaimer: All performance and fuel efficiency figures quoted are courtesy Autocar India Magazine, but of course it doesn't take a genius to understand they're fairly accurate when you drive the cars. All prices quoted are actual On-the-road figures as of November 15th, 2011 at Bangalore.

I swear to do a full review after my first 1000kms, which is when I plan to starting revving up this baby to its potential! Till then, Salud !

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