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A matter of estates

They were once overpriced and boringly designed, now they’re trendy, utilitarian and even sporty. It’s time to take another look at the estate.

Yogendra Pratap | Print Edition: October 5, 2008

Yogendra Pratap
You remember the Maruti Baleno Altura? Or the Opel Corsa Swing? Do you remember what the Skoda Octavia Combi looked like? And the Tata Estate? And the Palio Weekend or the Fiat Palio Adventure? If you don’t, then you can sure catch a glimpse of the Tata Indigo Marina, which is doing pretty well as a radio taxi in the metros. And I am sure if you remember any one of them, you would be able to tell me that they were all estates or station wagons, and none of them did particularly well on the sales charts. Apart from, perhaps, the Tata Estate that did garner a large market share of its segment, estates have not done particularly well in India.

And that is surprising because Indians have lifestyles that are typically suited to a car that has plenty of boot space even for large and bulky items, can easily transport a pet and is more spacious on the inside. Estates or station wagons are very popular the world over. In Europe, as in the US, estates are a big hit with families that love the outdoors, like to go skiing, cycling, camping or fishing over the weekends and holidays. Increasingly, estates are being made to appeal to the younger generations, looking at performance in addition to the utility of the vehicles. All the premium brands have estates that rock. With performance to rival not sedans but sports cars, these estates are trendy and utilitarian besides being shockingly quick.

 

Skoda Fabia Combi: A game-changer?
Typically, estates have been dull- and drablooking cars in India and have always been exorbitantly priced, with the one exception being the Indigo Marina, which is priced sensibly, but does not look much better. What has gone against the estate is also the trend to use roof racks or roof-mounted luggage carriers. Not only are these not totally safe, but in the form that they are used, they must also be causing more than a slight disturbance to the aerodynamics of the car—making it considerably less fuel-efficient. Given that fuel prices are steadily headed north, such factors will increasingly come into play and people would much rather have the luggage inside the car than on the roof. But what is needed to galvanise the sale of these body types is a trendy and good-looking car that is priced right (as compared to the rest of its family) and offers more not only in terms of utility but also things more associated with sedans, like sportiness and dynamics, powerful engines and efficient ones at the same time.

The only such vehicle in the horizon is the Skoda Fabia Combi because the Fabia hatch itself is so over-engineered for a small car in India that it turns out to be quite expensive—and these basics costs seem reasonable for a car the size of the Combi. It will not only be more sporty, performance-wise, but will also look it and will, of course, offer all the great Fabia qualities that we have seen on the hatch. If Skoda-Auto is able to price it right, then we might have that game-changer setting the trend in India. The only problem is that the Fabia as a whole is not doing the great numbers and the success of the Combi will only be relative.

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