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Cheap Thrills

With the success of mainstream cars - are makers going soft on enthusiasts?

2w ago

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Take stock of what you see on our roads and you will find the variety of wheels to be drab in general. Don’t get me wrong. A car is an aspiration, a sign of ‘arriving’ in life. And while us lot tend to wax lyrical about the joys of acceleration and the intoxication of speed, a car is still what it is. There’s a reason we put up posters of Lamborghinis or Ferraris on our bedroom walls. But unless you’re the kind to be escorted by a security detail on your way to work, you are unlikely to get these poster heroes to your garage. You still deal with the same traffic and roads. Which means your right foot is never buried in the carpet by any means. And you end up buying an efficient hatchback. And be diluting the enthusiast within.

Time and again, we have given in to our heads over our hearts. This is a feeling shared by anyone who likes cars. Desire and accessibility have moved closer. The smaller turbo-petrol motors have hit our ‘WANT’ lists like a storm. But then again, only in an attempt to meet emissions. The cure for speed and power has not necessitated bigger brakes and sportier handling. Words like cheap, fun and usable have hardly been present together in a marketing brief for Indian cars. People at the drawing board have been pushing the design envelope. Creature comforts and tech options are getting healthier. I don’t really agree with the need for digital speedos or touchscreen aircon. But the buyer is spoilt for choice. If there ever was a time to say there are no bad cars, this could be it.

Beating to the enthusiast drum however, one might feel disappointed. The presence of genuine driver’s cars is next to none. A Honda City may be fun to drive, but it sells on the bread and butter universal appeal to the no-nonsense buyer. On the enthusiast front, you have the VW Polo. There's no doubt of ability. But again, it is a dignified choice appreciated only by a select few, and chosen by fewer seeing the near-same design for a decade, with updated prices. It won't matter to a non-petrolista if it has a DSG or torque convertor 'box, or that it will much the miles on the expressway with aplomb. Same with the Baleno RS, shod with the Boosterjet engine and a lot going for it. Even the now deceased JTP cars from Tata, there was more to them than just sticker jobs. Yet the makers still consider an enthusiast buyer to be nearly non-existent. Both these ventures were axed due to lack of feasibility.

On the other hand, Mahindra is clawing back with a vengeance, with the new Thar. And the one place it does right, is tugging at the heartstrings. The company knows and acknowledges the fandom of their enthusiast base. The go-faster cars I mentioned, ceased to exist because of being unloved efforts. Putting the JTP brand as a definitive notch above the regular Tiago and Tigor was what Tata should have done, instead of simply broadening the variant choice. Jayem Automotive, the JTP mothership, had motorsport pedigree. Even Maruti could have given us a taste of fresh blooded energy by taking their much loved Swift and giving us the Sport version, which is on sal abroad. Instead we got commercials that were true to spirit, but left the enthusiast lacking. It would be unfair to not look at their cars which continue to get better, but it is sad to see such ideas to be a victim of number crunching.

The speed-blooded buyer is here to stay, no two ways about it. And it is about time we got to buy cars that made us feel alive and in love, rather than just being sensible. Even when buying something as mundane as an entry-level hatch, there is a joy attached to the purchase. No matter the budget, that is what we seek to find. Numbers and sales define a car’s success. But soul and identity, keeps them remembered.

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