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The big small cars

The big small cars
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First Published: Fri, Mar 20 2009. 02 09 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Mar 20 2009. 02 09 PM IST
Looking for a new car—one that is fun yet practical, zippy yet safe, easy to park yet spacious? That’s what many upwardly mobile buyers want from their cars.
The perfect answer to that need is the fully loaded super-hatch from the B-plus segment. But a car with everything very often leaves the economical buyer out in the cold, and those that are well priced may not be well built! So which is the best hatch for you?
SAFETY & BUILD
There is one hands down winner here: the Skoda Fabia. The hottest super-hatch of them all, the Fabia is roomy and well built. It also has the best safety equipment, such as airbags and ABS standard, across variants, unlike others where this stuff is optional or high-end. The car has certainly established the segment benchmark in terms of quality, performance, even style. The Maruti Swift has the least confidence-inspiring build quality.
PERFORMANCE
If you’re calling them hot hatches, then they’ve got to scorch the roads too, right? The most fun and sporty car of the lot is—believe it or not—the diesel Swift. The car is torquey and has great character. The same engine in the Indica Vista is disappointing because driving dynamics are not on par. The Fabia’s diesel is also growly and powerful, and fun enough to drive. The handling on the Fabia is the best in the class. A lot was expected from the i20, but to stay within the “small car” stipulation for lower excise duty, Hyundai opted for the i10’s 1.2 litre kappa engine. This is a good motor and the car is in no way underpowered. But it is not electric or fun.
SPACE
All the cars here are spacious, except the cramped Swift—where the interior space belies the external design, which appears wide. The “big” small car appeal works best in the Fabia and to some extent, in the i20, where too the rear space is generous. Both cars also have great boot space—again a big problem area for the Swift.
LOOKS
This is purely subjective. The Getz and Aveo U-VA look dated and passé. A new Aveo U-VA is expected later this year with a cosmetic overhaul. The Fabia has the most contemporary and upmarket styling. The Swift is sporty and cute but with so many on the road, it looks jaded. The Indica Vista looks too much like the old Indica, thus diminishing the appeal. The new i20, though, is extremely stylish, thanks to very flamboyant and sexy lines along the side.
VALUE FOR MONEY
The VFM quotient very often throws all the above parameters out of the window! The buyer in this segment wants it all—looks, power—and doesn’t want to burn through her bank balance either. The Indica Vista and Maruti Swift have the lowest sticker prices, though the Aveo U-VA, with its great after-sales package, is also very attractive. In terms of running costs, the diesel Swift (18.5 kmpl), Getz (15.5 kmpl), and Fabia (17 kmpl) are very economical, though servicing and spares on the Fabia are a tad more expensive.
VERDICT
To make a final choice, you have to first ascertain what it is that you are looking for.
If you want a car that announces your arrival, is spacious, easy on the wallet, and you don’t really want to emulate Michael Schumacher, it’s got to be the Hyundai i20. You can also throw in the novelty factor for good measure.
Also See Bumper To Bumper (PDF)
If it’s pure performance you want, then it’s a toss-up between the Skoda Fabia and Maruti Swift—though the Swift is no good when you want to take your uncle-aunty or bhaiyya-bhabhi along for the ride. The Fabia also has the best cabin appeal and quality levels—and is indeed the true super-hatch of the bunch.
For the best deal, without compromising on space or running up huge after-sales costs, the most sensible choice would be the Chevrolet U-VA.
The author is editor (auto), NDTV, and a columnist for Business of Life. Read his columns at www.livemint.com/roadrunner
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
CONNECT
PLAY
By squeezing two cameras, a music player and a hand-held game system into one device, the third-generation Nintendo DSi ($170) is aiming for a spot in your pocket next to your smartphone. The first thing you will notice are the two 0.3-megapixel cameras, one facing away from you and one for self-portraits. You can swap games or play music when the lid is closed, and an audio mixer lets you mash up sounds for a new ringtone. The speakers are louder and the screens brighter. Don’t worry, all 850 DS cartridges still work. And don’t overlook the SD card slot. ©2009/The New York Times
UPDATE
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SHOOT
Canon’s SX1 IS ($599) is a bit of a trendsetter. The 10-megapixel compact uses a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensor, which is the kind found in higher-performance digital single-lens reflex cameras. Though relatively small at 3.5x3.5x5 inches and 22 ounces, there are quite a few tricks inside the SX1 IS. The self-timer starts when a new face is added to a group, and exposure and colour balance can be keyed to faces. In addition to standard JPEG images, uncompressed RAW images can also be shot with it. ©2009/The New York Times
SET UP
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First Published: Fri, Mar 20 2009. 02 09 PM IST