That’s right; everybody thought the Tata Nano would sweep all the automotive awards this year. The Nano started its winning innings with the Indian Car of the Year 2010 award and, as we go to press, the chances of the world’s cheapest car collecting more honours remain extremely high. In fact, even while the BSM jury was actually putting down the points in the score-sheets, we were pretty sure that the little wonder from Tata would walk away with our award as well. But as you can see, the winner was a surprise — the Maruti Suzuki Ritz took our top automotive honours this year. But wait, was it really a surprise? First, let’s dispense with the essentials.
Ours is the oldest automotive award in the country. We have been honouring the best new car of the year since 1996. Some of the previous Business Standard Motoring Cars Of The Year have been the Honda City (2009), Hyundai i10 (2008), Chevrolet Aveo U-VA (2007) and the Maruti Suzuki Swift (2006). Arriving at the decisive winner is a complex process that involves taking into consideration diverse but essential parameters.
Many of them are cold, rational ones, but emotional and subjective parameters like design and fun-to-drive are also considered —these are cars that we are talking about and not domestic appliances, right? But there’s more to the Business Standard Motoring Awards than the Car Of The Year. We also give away the Bike Of The Year, the Jury Award and a few others that reflect the automotive year in passing. These you will see in the Motoring page of this section.
The System and the Jury
Business Standard Motoring’s scoring methodology is the same as the one by the European and Indian Car of the Year awards. Here, each jury member is given 25 points that he has to allot to the contenders. The maximum points that can be given to one car is ten, and the rest of the 15 can be distributed as the jury member pleases. The car with the maximum points simply wins the top honours.
For this year’s award, a seven-member jury evaluated the cars and deliberated before allotting the points. Of the seven, four were senior team members of BSM, comprising three road-testers who evaluate cars (sometimes even in their sleep!) and a travel writer who gets an opportunity to drive every automobile under the sun in various parts of the world. The other three external jury members include a former rally champion and two seasoned automotive enthusiasts who are also collectors of brilliant automobiles.
Only all-new cars launched within the calendar year could qualify for the award. That means cars that received the usual engine transplants, different gearboxes and facelifts were immediately excluded. For example, the Maruti Estilo and SX4, the Hyundai i20 1.4 petrol automatic and the 1.4 diesel and the Honda Civic, to name a few, were not included. Also, not all all-new cars automatically qualify; only cars that have been assembled and manufactured in India get to the final list.
So while we may have drooled over the Jaguar XF V8 or hugged the VW Beetle, they aren’t good enough for our COTY award. So out went cars like the Audi Q5, LR Freelander 2, Porsche Panamera, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota Land Cruiser, BMW 7 Series and X6 and many more. But there is our Import Car Of The Year Award for which these cars qualify.
That left eleven cars as the finalists. And these were: Chevrolet Cruze, Fiat Punto, Fiat Linea, Honda Jazz, Mahindra Xylo, Maruti Suzuki Ritz, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Skoda Superb, Tata Nano, Tata Indigo Manza and the Toyota Fortuner.
Let’s start from the bottom. The new E-Class has once again reset the benchmarks for a car in its class and is a brilliant automobile with impressive engine options. But it’s too elusive for most of us and that put the new E far away from making it to the top, but it would still qualify for the Business Standard Motoring Executive Car Of The Year 2010 Award.
The Fortuner is a strong, much-awaited SUV and perhaps would have even become our SUV Of The Year if we had an award this year. And competition was way too powerful for this mini-Land Cruiser. Coming third from the bottom was the three-box car based on the Indica Vista, which won our Jury Award last year. The Indigo Manza has some clever bits and comes loaded with nice features, plus the Fiat-derived engine has given it a new sense of driveability missing in older Tatas. But the Manza still didn’t make the cut.
Both the Fiat Punto and the Linea were strong contenders — in their favour were aspects like design, value, ride quality and more. But it was the mismatch between the expectations from a Fiat car — especially in terms of performance and driving pleasure — and what the cars actually delivered that took away the winning chances from these two cars. The Jazz could be a big small car or a small big car, depending on how you look at it. Its refined powerplant, superb steering and other-worldly looks would have catapulted it to the top. But its forbidding pricing sucked out any chances that the car had.
The Xylo is an awesome attempt by Mahindra to make a civilised people-mover. This MPV is a great example of Indian ingenuity, but we still think that there is room for improvement. So while we congratulate M&M for their achievement, we still would egg them on their path to becoming a manufacturer of world-class products. The Superb is the ace in the pack. Never has a car above Rs 20 lakh come so close to the pinnacle. The car’s so good that its price tag was almost ignored! While it is not of course our Car Of The Year, we would be honouring the Superb elsewhere.
Ditto with the Chevrolet Cruze, which is our second runner-up. GM India has offered a car that is full of pleasant surprises. The Cruze may not be a mass car like the new Beat , but the very fact that it got enough points to come so close to the top means it would indeed be awarded.
That brings us to the number two car in our pecking order, the virtually invincible Nano. Considered a shoo-in even before the first car rolled out of the Pantnagar plant, the Nano had everything going for it. Which other car is so brilliantly packaged, dynamically clever, cheeky in looks and cheerful in performance for the price it’s asking — anywhere in the world? The Nano would have been our Car Of The Year 2010, had not the jury felt that there was room for improvement. The jury felt that though it is the cheapest production car in the world, and a good one at that, Tata Motors could still make it an even better car without losing its incredible value proposition. So that leads us to the winner...
Business Standard Motoring Car Of The Year 2010: Maruti Suzuki Ritz
It’s been four years since the nation’s largest carmaker took home our Car Of The Year award; they last won it with the Swift. With the Ritz, Maruti Suzuki has managed to topple the already legendary Tata Nano itself! As mentioned at the beginning of this article, when you look at the Ritz, its winning qualities are already apparent, so its victory should not come as a surprise. It’s just that the brilliance of the Nano nearly took the shine off the Ritz. But the BSM jury was not blinded by the Nano dazzle!
The Ritz is as clever a car. Its looks are youthful and trendy and its tall architecture means it’s practical and user-friendly too. The Ritz benefits from two engine options: the tried-and-trusted DDiS diesel motor that offers great fuel economy without sacrificing performance and the brand-new 1200cc K-series motor that is ebullient, refined and fuel-efficient. Based on the Swift platform, the Ritz’s dynamics are equally effervescent; the tall-boy architecture does not squeeze out driving pleasure. A planted stance, supportive seats and a precise steering setup means it’s a fun car to pilot too.
All this, plus the fact that the Ritz comes with essential safety kit and a pocket-friendly price-tag means it is indeed India’s best new small car. Okay, maybe we would be happy if Maruti ups the quality of the plastics some more, but that’s perhaps the only negative we can think of when it comes to this fantastic car. We know you are also surprised, Maruti Suzuki, but congratulations are indeed in order!