Top Gear goes maniacal with a mechanical contraption that can only be described as pure evil. Horsepower, billowing black smoke and fire make it a solid adversary that can run you down in hell. Jeremy… meet Brutus. Brutus… meet Jeremy and so begins another mad automotive sketch when man meets the Devil’s mean machine. Watch the trailer of this sequence with Brutus. From the maker’s accent, I guess it’s German.
They all want to do business in India and who are we to stop them. The East India Company was here and a fine job they did. Circa 2010-11 – James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson land at India Gate and have a look around. And they are a part of David Cameron‘s finest trade ambassadors. It’s a mission and it’s not impossible.
But hey, can you Jaguar your way with a Rolls and a Mini Cooper for company on India’s busiest streets? And with a motor mouth like they have, you have one of the greatest episodes on TV out there. Top Gear never felt this good. And I am an Indian. You will realise why I resort to such chest thumping.
Pulled up post their India episode by all the liberal cuckolds in London and India, Top Gear was nearly forced to apologise for something that is a classic if there ever was one. Clarkson and gang run with the dabbawallahs with pure British horsepower (the Germans contributed here and there and India owns a major chunk of one), take the leap in a train, break into a sweat in Rajasthan, before heading for the cool climes of the Himalayas. India has never been chartered so wittily.
Wondering what the fuss was about, I got a chance to watch the complete 90 minute episode online. Bing, Bang, Poof… these guys sure know how to entertain and pull a rabbit out of a hat. They did that through and through. First running the dabbas through the streets with Hammond ‘the Hamster’ dumping half the dabbas, curries and all, on the Churchgate street as his Mini Cooper made a Bourne Identity-like car swerve. James May was his usual OCD self but looked like he landed in Sanjay Gandhi National Park trying to deliver his dabbas with the Rolls not doing much when it comes to navigation. Clarkson drove the Jag to the hilt. Pedal to metal and the dabbas on the floor. Sambar boot space he got in the end.
I dunno how they managed it, but the Mumbai-Jaipur train journey was a laugh riot. Not for the three musketeers though. They puffed and painted their way with banners that spke wonders of Her Majesty’s business acumen and what she had to offer and pasted the train cars with the message of a lifetime – “The United Kingdom Promotes British IT for You” and British bakers got a boost with “Eat English Muffins” being promoted with great fanfare.
A minor change in bogies at Jaipur ensured that the message remained on the train cars with a slight realignment of letters. The images below would clearly define this.
“Manual labour and queueing are two things I can’t do,” so says Clarkson. But he sure has a lot of patience putting up an elaborate set up for the “Trade Missions” gala nite at one of Delhi’s poshest suburbs. And boy, what a night it was. Pants off, the best sports car keys in a bucket, boring the arc lights off the glitzy women, feeding McVities biscuits with sour cream on top and passing it off as Gordon Ramsay manna… ha it was a sight to behold and truly exposed Delhi’s shallow underbelly.
This is Brit humour documented with some of the sharpest screwballs in history. The British cars, standing for all that is under Her Majesty’s bonnet, made it up to the Himalayan foothills and boy what a journey it was. Ragged, but definitely worth it, and I would say, India has been cheerfully exposed for all it truly is – beautiful, slimy, crowded, stupid, inventive, breathtaking. Yup, I loved it. Keith Vas and all you sods out there trying to drop your liberal pants whenever Mr Clarkson catches a stinging cold… go ahead, do it. Do it by the Thames, will ensure there are sharks at the river’s edge.
Got to finally try out the Renault Duster. My love affair with SUVs (I would slot Duster in the MUV category, but I will be a bit generous in this blog), brought the Duster right up to my doorstep. Good old Uncle Olav decided to drive down from Kollam to visit his sisters in Mangalore… in his new Renault Duster.
Now, I am not a big fab of the colour white, but surprisingly the colour looked good on the Duster as it drove into our yard.
Looks-wise, I have to say the vehicle is pretty neat. But for me the real deal has always been under the hood and getting behind the wheel. Sliding into the drivers seat, the Renault Duster actually feels much lower than it appears from outside. The interiors have a feel of a sedan and you don’t realise that the clearance is more than what it actually is.
The interiors are a standard fit. The seats are comfortable, though I am not too fond of the seats sinking in too much as they do here. The gear shift is a little dodgy, in the sense it reminds me of the hard case Wagon R gear shift which is not so smooth.
Spaciousness in the Renault Duster is limited to the front row. The second row cramps up a bit, but still scores over the Mahindra Scorpio in this regard. The boot space is decent enough.
Driving a couple of versions of the Scorpio for the last ten years, and Mahindra vehicles since the nineties have definitely made me a competent off roader to comment on utility vehicles and drive home the fact that Renault is no match for the power emanating from the Scorpio.
Looks-wise, the Duster scores well and I would be partial in saying that it’s a decent city vehicle, but definitely a let down for an off roader or even a long distance highway roller. Handling is in the Maruti mould which puts it at avarage and for the price you are paying a Scorpio would be value for money rather than this. Overall a below average experience, but hey a first time SUV user may find it interesting and exciting for starters.
Last Saturday, I got a chance to go back to Udupi after a gap of nearly five years. I had last been there for my convocation in Manipal. The purpose of the journey this time – Be the co-transporter for Cronin in order to make sure he drove his new Skoda Fabia safely to and from Udupi while bringing his granny down for the weekend.
We set off from Mangalore with me at the wheel. The first thing that strikes you when you get into the drivers seat and turn the ignition are the various features that light up on the dash board. Though it may appear a bit confusing at first (especially for someone who is used to driving a Maruti Suzuki around), the panel gives you a broad view on various security features that are in place – some features may seem a bit too much for Indian vehicles (like the door open alarm etc.). Another important factor that strikes you is the spaciousness of the car. The driver’s seats and the back seats have enough of leg space to comfortably stretch your legs. The boot space is quite big for this small car and can easily take in a couple of big bags.
A slight disadvantage for a new driver is the fact that the seats are sunk in a bit too low and you will not be able to see the bonnet especially when you need to judge the traffic around you in the city. Though this may appear to be a drawback, the fact is this cars turning radius is quite good and that takes away half the tension of not being able to check out whether you are scraping someone’s bumper.
From outside the cars diesel engine is a bit too loud, somewhat like the Indica’s. Once inside with the windows up and the air-conditioning on I felt quite at ease with the silence and it hardly took me a couple of kilometers to get a complete hang of the car. One important factor – all Skoda cars are knocked down versions made completely in Europe and assembled in India. So you will find a few European features in there. I kept pushing the lever to the right of the steering wheel in order to show the indicator. It only resulted in getting the wipers up and running. The indicator lever is to the left of the steering unlike other Indian vehicles. I found this to be the only European anomaly.
The air-conditioning cools at a pleasant level and the car produces enough power to even challenge the Manipal buses (those from Mangalore will know what monsters these buses can be). Keeping in mind that this was a new car, I made sure the speedometer never went above the 100 mark, but the Fabia is a real temptress. The last time I was on the Mangalore-Udupi highway, the national highway project was well under way and along with the mining trucks made our journey hell. Now that most of the project is completed and the roads are getting set, it was great to drive on this highway (despite of a few bottlenecks at Surathkal).
The gear change is smooth and another new feature (at least for me) was the reverse gear on the shift. What you got to do is press the gear down and move it to the first gear position and the reverse function is on. Press the gear down and you are back to first gear. Pretty neat I thought. At high speeds the Fabia holds it own in control and power. No buffeting like a Maruti Swift or Wagon R, this is one mean highway mama who can ride it to hell. The only problem I had was that with the AC on the car took time to pick up speed from a lower gear to a higher gear. There was an obvious delay in picking speed especially when I got into a high gear as I was trying to pick up speed while overtaking. For someone used to pressing the accelerator to the floor this could be a big issue. But for the family man driving his kids to school, it’s your perfect hatchback.
All said and done the car is one neat model that looks good, feels good and executes its functions in the prim, proper way and with the German engineering excellence brought by Volkswagen into the Czech Skoda fold. It comes with a standard CD player music system with decent sound and airbags and interior adjustable mirrors. The price may be a bit high (approx. Rs. 7.5 lakhs) for the hatchback but I feel its money well spent for the quality you get. The diesel engine gives you a mileage ofaround 16-18 kms/litre. Good by the cars standards (keeping in mind the engine power). I have noticed Skoda making its mark in India without shouting out loud from the rooftops unlike other brands. Its performance speaks for itself and the Fabia model is no different. Good pick Mr. Almeida (that’s Cronin’s dad by the way).