We love to drive, but all of us cannot afford, let’s say, even a Ford Fiesta or a Skoda Laura RS to quench our driving thirst – that 3 Series Beemer is too distant a dream. Does that mean acceleration runs or corner-carving antics are reserved for the fat-walleted? And does lots of horsepower always equal lots of fun? Well, the latter may be true but hey, it’s not a perfect world.
So, what are the cars you can afford the EMIs of, and which will do the commute on weekdays and give you a buzz on early Sunday mornings? We did an internal poll and short-listed the Honda Brio, Maruti Suzuki Swift petrol and diesel, the Fiat Punto 90 and the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 (Kyle was disappointed that the Maruti Suzuki A-star didn’t make it). Since the Punto 90 is a diesel, we decided to include the Swift petrol and omitted the diesel. As for the Fabia 1.6, well, VW didn’t have its Polo 1.6 around, so we decided to get the Skoda along as it is the next closest to the VW warm hatch.
So what exactly is this new FTD Test all about? The FTDT comprises four segments: the Slalom, the BCAT (Braking & Collision Avoidance Test), Cornering and Roundabout, and Straight-line Performance. These four are terrific tests to check out the car’s dynamics in terms of handling, agility, grip, stability, steering precision and feel, and engine and braking performance. In effect, FTDT simulates your driving experience in real life conditions – whether it be filtering through traffic, taking your favourite right-hander into your road leading to your house, shifting lanes to avoid an obstacle, putting distance between the other cars when the lights go green, overtaking slow vehicles (or fast ones!), manoeuvring a roundabout... well, you get the picture. The things we do for you.
Anyway, turn over to see how the cars have fared. Since it is a test, we have got winners, but seriously, that’s not this story’s focus. And don’t complain to us that the cars are not strictly comparable (this of course is addressed to the manufacturers, as they usually don’t get the point!). So are you strapped in? 4.. 3... 2... 1...
Read how the Fabia did on page 2>>
Skoda Fabia 1.6
Tractable motor, dynamically decent, but...
Would it have been different had it been the Polo 1.6? Possible, as the Polo feels more planted. And to tell you the truth, it is not as exciting to look at. Not that it matters, but you know...
The underpinnings of this car are strong and it does not feel out of control despite the 100-plus bhp on tap. Fast directional changes do unsettle it a bit as it rides softly, while the tyres are designed more for a comfortable ride than to offer grip. The weak link is the steering feel. Dead-on centre is vague and that does not give it the precision that you’d expect.
What it means to you: The Fabia is not a taut car and its height gives it a tendency to roll – and that’s a dampener. You need more grippy rubber. And steering feedback is a must for being FTD.
Similarly, changing lanes in this car is not an issue and the brakes have enough bite. But the steering does not give you the precision you require in such a manoeuvre. Braking on seeing an obstacle and then manoeuvring to avoid it brings the ABS pulsing to life, but it works, though it tends to dive initially.
What it means to you: Good brakes, needs better rubber and, of course, that bit about the steering feel.
CORNERING & ROUNDABOUT
All cars went through a fast, safe left-hander at 60 kph. On this course, the Fabia’s engine grunt pulled it through very well. It had a tendency to understeer, so it called for rapid steering inputs. We took it around a roundabout at 40 kph and it still tended to go wide instead of making a proper arc.
What it means to you: Don’t take corners too fast. Or if you do, be ready to pull the car back from its intended trajectory. And it is advisable to go around roundabouts at sedate speeds.
The most powerful of the cars around better have something to show, right? The engine may not be as vivacious as the famed Palio 1.6, but it is a strong, understated performer. Keeping the revs at the optimum rewards you with brilliant acceleration and it has the breathing power to do more. In the kind of speed bands you tend to do on a regular basis, the Fabia 1.6 proves it is mighty quick. These are the figures: 20 to 60 kph: 4.14 seconds, 40 to 80 kph: 5.76 seconds, 80 to 120 kph: 10.07 seconds.
What it means to you: This motor gives it sterling performance and when the highway is clean and straight, it can surprise bigger cars with its guts. And the same goes for the traffic signal drags – keep it revving and watch it leave the others trying to play catch-up.
Read how the Swift did on page 3>>
Swift 1.2 VVT
Hooligan attitude, screaming motor, rally genesis, but...
No hatch has the kind of personality or essence that the Swift enjoys among the many folks of India. But surprise, surprise, it doesn’t climb beyond third position. Here’s why...
The Swift is quite light. At 990 kg, it may be 90 kg heavier than, say, the Toyota Etios Liva, but with 86 bhp on tap and a motor that begs to be revved, it has all the right ingredients. Around the cones, the light steering aids direction changes and so does the overall nimbleness of the package, but the sudden direction changes upset the rear and it turned out to be the only car that lost its mojo and faced the other direction by cone number four of six. We dug deeper to find out why, and the culprit turned out to be the rubber. Shod with MRF ZVTVs, the rubber lacks absolute grip – even reducing tyre pressures didn’t help.
What it means to you: Don’t get too happy trying to go around eight cars at one go. A bit scary, we say.
So the rubber was faulty and the Swift lost a brownie point, but come BCAT and it salvaged its pride thanks to its strong brakes. Accelerating hard and then stepping on the brakes helped the front end develop good grip, especially mechanical grip, and led to the car passing through the cones with flying colours.
What it means to you: Worrying about a cow or dog making uncalled for movements while crossing the road may not be worrisome moments after all, as long as you have the reflexes to go along with it.
CORNERING & ROUNDABOUT
Mechanical grip is strong as ever, but the tyres really do ruin the car’s abilities. There is a fair amount of squirm,and that is a bit disturbing. On the flipside, the front end does hold its line decently and there is some steering feedback. Importantly, it’s the only car that allows you to make lots of steering and throttle changes at the limit, without upsetting its balance, something that’s very rare among most cars sold in India.
What it means to you: It is a forgiving car even for lousy drivers. Good drivers and good rubber will make the Swift unbeatable.
Okay, so it isn’t the fastest or the quickest, but boy does it scream as the variable valves kick in. Up to 3000 rpm, it isn’t the most rev-friendly, but post that it gains enough gusto and some vocal abilities. The times of 5.81 seconds for 0-60 kph and 13.44 seconds for the tonne may not seem hypersonic, but they are quick enough in the real world, nevertheless. Times of 4.23 seconds from 20 to 60 kph, 5.78 seconds from 40 to 80 kph and 10.59 seconds from 80 to 120 kph are commendable too, largely thanks to a fairly decent torque curve.
What it means to you: In the urban environment, the Swift will get you from A to B pretty quickly and leave you grinning from ear lobe to ear lobe. It could easily have gone to second position. Or even first!
Who took second place? It's on page 4>>
Quirky looks, a buzzy, lively engine, but…
It’s the least powerful engine in this shootout, but it still managed to propel the Brio to number two. How? It’s the package – as soon as you sit in the Brio, you feel like taking it out to a set of corners and flogging it! Its looks may not appeal to everyone, and it’s not especially roomy, but it’s irrepressibly cheerful.
The Brio is softly sprung, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not capable of being thrown around. On our slalom run, the directional changes we put it through unsettled it only slightly – this car uses MRF ZVTV tyres too, but they seem to work considerably better than on the Swift! A different compound would probably aid grip further. This is a quick steering car, without quite being feedback-rich.
What it means to you: The Brio manages to offer the best of both worlds. On the one hand, its soft suspension aids ride quality, and the steering setup is very neutral in nature. Simultaneously, when you decide that you want to have some fun, it’s more than happy to play along – it really offers bang for the buck, this little car!
The Brio doesn’t, at first, feel like it’s going to be too confidence-inspiring if you throw it from side to side at speed – this is mainly down to its soft-sprung nature. Again, though, it manages to surprise you – the brakes are nippy, the ABS isn’t intrusive on panic braking and it steers away from obstacles in a perfectly acceptable manner.
What it means to you: It’s quite simple – it means that the Brio can keep up with the big boys in favourable conditions.
CORNERING & ROUNDABOUT
At 60 kph, throwing the Brio into a fast left-hander is great fun, although you have to keep the revs up in order to power out quickly. The car steers quite quickly, but its soft suspension means that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the two. On a roundabout, it starts to go wide and washes out soon enough.
What it means to you: Corners can be taken relatively fast, but you need to be more careful at roundabouts – not that you’re likely to do the kind of thing that we were!
Timings: 20 to 60 kph: 6.55 seconds, 40 to 80 kph: 10.28 seconds, 80 to 120 kph: 26 seconds. The Brio’s lack of horses shows up here, but that’s not to say that you can’t have fun with it. The engine is gutsy and has an enthusiastic note to it when revved hard – which is what you need to do to get the best out of it. It can probably surprise some bigger cars in the right hands.
What it means to you: Given the right conditions, the Brio is a sparkling car. At the traffic-light GP, if you time the revs right, it’ll leave everybody else behind – at least to begin with!
And the winner is on page 5>>
Fiat Punto 90
You half expected it, didn’t you?
Well, stereotypes can also be true sometimes, right? ‘Fiat makes driver’s cars’ is one of those, but the Punto 90 does prove it is true. Despite being the oldest hatchback around, this hatch can be called ageless in terms of its FTD abilities. Oh, and after all that, it looks so jaw-droppingly good too!
The Punto 90 is a no-drama car. It quietly went about demolishing the slalom run as if it had been born to do this every day. Sorry about it, but some clichés are also true, like the one that says ‘handling like it’s on rails’. No other hatchback sold in India does that. Rapid directional changes just don’t fluster it. The steering feedback is firm and offers terrific precision.
What it means to you: That you have a hatchback that is dynamically sorted and obeys your commands. When you have to sift between slow moving traffic, this should be your weapon of choice. But a rider: you need to be at the right gear and in the right rpm range.
Like with the phenomenal ability to shift weight between both sides without flustering you, the braking and collision avoidance is also accomplished smoothly. At the braking marker, you can just slam on the brakes and it sheds speeds rapidly. So rapidly that the obstacle does not even pretend to be one.
What it means to you: Brakes provide good stopping power and pedal feedback is good too. Avoiding an obstacle is done effortlessly, as the steering allows you to manoeuvre precisely.
CORNERING & ROUNDABOUT
Taking the left-hander at more than normal speeds, the Punto surprises you with its precision again. You can simply track the front left wheel and position it where you want to. And it barely understeers, keeping to your intended trajectory well and true. On the roundabout, it maintains its line without wanting to break out, even if you increase speeds.
What it means to you: This car is a terrific corner carver. Keep the engine on the boil and you can really straighten them all. The steering makes this package a winner.
Okay, it cannot all be perfect, can it? It is established that the Punto is a dynamically sorted car, with attributes that should ideally be seen in larger sedans. And that ensures it gets the trophy here and not the performance from the drivetrain. The specs may look good on paper, but it is the gearing that mars the package. The Swift diesel for instance can show Fiat how it is done, despite the lesser horsepower. But mid-range and usable power is not that bad. Here are the figures: 20 to 60 kph: 5.50 seconds, 40 to 80 kph: 6.83 seconds, 80 to 120 kph: 12.35 seconds.
What it means to you: Provided you know how to flog the engine and make the best of the open highway given to you, the Punto 90 awards you with the requisite rush. Congrats, Fiat!