The finest wheels your money can get

It’s a tough act, balancing your needs and your budget when choosing and buying that dream vehicle. Find out which automobile is just right for you and yet doesn’t punch a large hole in your pocket in this issue’s cover story.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: January 27, 2008

Honestly, those buying new vehicles in 2008 will be spoilt for choice. A boom year for automobiles has seen a dozen or more new cars and bikes enter the Indian market in the second half of 2007 and this year promises to be even better. With such a plethora of choices, we figured it was time to get a fix on the automobiles which we felt were the best in their category. To make the section interesting, we asked experts, did some research on our own and concluded that what everyone really looks for when choosing a vehicle is whether it would suit their specific needs and lifestyles. And, of course, whether buying a specific vehicle would give them the best ride to suit their budget.

The story tells you not just why we selected a vehicle and why we think it’s a great buy, but also lists its nearest competitors. Doing this story increased our knowledge on the best vehicles available in India. We hope it does the same for you.

The Best Luxury Car
Mercedes Benz S-Class

Mercedes Benz S-Class
Mercedes Benz S-Class
Why we chose it: This car is actually in a segment of its own. It defines the segment and almost every major technological innovation that has filtered its way into the world of cars has been introduced first on the S-Class. And while the other cars in the segment are good, and maybe even a bit cheaper and faster, the SClass still has the badge of honour. And by far, the most amount of toys. Of course, this is a luxury car, and it comes with all the trimmings: seats that you can sink into, a fridge to store the champagne and a fantastic entertainment system.

The problem, therefore, is not one of what car to buy, but which S-Class to buy. We would suggest that you take the dough out for the S320 CDI, because it goes fairly fast, actually very fast for a diesel, thanks to the 210 horsepower, 3-litre V6 diesel engine. It is also cheaper to run and has all the toys anyway. If you want the ultimate S-Class, you can ask Mercedes to import a S600 for you, which has a massive 6-litre, 604-horsepower V12 engine under the hood.

The price: S320 CDI, Rs 78 lakh*

The challengers
Audi A8 (1), BMW 7-Series (2)

The other German cars in this category are also very good, but unlike the Mercedes’ solid, angry look, perfect for dictators and despots alike, the Audi and the Bimmer are more sedate and gentle to look at. Under the hood, they are just as mean, but the Merc just has that, you know, appeal.

The Best Family Car
Audi A6 Quattro

Audi A6 Quattro
Audi A6 Quattro
Why we chose it: The Audi A6 leaves other cars in this segment for dead. It might not have the sleek lines of the Mercedes E-Class or the element of futurism as in the BMW 5-series, but when it comes to performance, it has both these cars beat. The Quattro fourwheel drive system gives the car brilliant handling characteristics.

It also has tons of space inside and a host of electronic safety features that make this car difficult to have an accident with. In case of an accident, both front and rear head protection airbags should keep you and your family relatively safe. The Audi A6 is available with a couple of engine choices in India, the 3.2 and the 4.2, but we would choose the former even though the 4.2 has stellar performance. The 3.2 retains some modicum of civility and kindness to your wallet, and it still delivers impressive performance numbers with over 255 horsepower.

The price: 3.0 TDI Quattro, Rs 50 lakh*

The challengers
BMW 5-series (1), Mercedes-Benz E-class (2)

The Merc and the Bimmer look nicer than the Audi’s rather plain Jane looks. The Merc has very sleek lines and the Bimmer is a just, well, radical, especially at night with the LED lights on. Make no mistake, these are two very good cars.

The Best SUV
BMW X5

BMW X5
BMW X5
Why we chose it: The X5 will take some beating in this category. It isn’t cheap but its massive 3-litre diesel engine provides this car with a lot of grunt. The new version of the car, which BMW has just launched, has been softened a bit thanks to a lowered suspension. BMW figured that most X5s are rarely driven off-road, but despite that, this car has extremely good off-road abilities, including an impressive ‘Hill Control’ function that allows the car to maintain traction on slippery uphill or downhill sections while keeping the driver cocooned in its beefy body.

The price: X5 530d, Rs 67 lakh* (ex-showroom)

The challengers
Audi Q7 (1), Porsche Cayenne Turbo S (2)

The Audi looks more of a car than an off-roader but it has impressive off-road abilities. The Porsche does not look pretty. But it boasts of superb performance. Pity, it has the fuel economy of an oil tanker.

The Best Sports Car
The Porsche 911 Carrera 4

The Porsche 911 Carrera 4
The Porsche 911 Carrera 4
Why we chose it: This, at the end of the day, is a 911. The reason you may not want to buy the Turbo instead is because you will never be able to find a stretch of road to let the engine rev up to its maximum. However, make no mistake, this might be a bit cheaper than the 911 Turbo, but it is no way inferior to its bigger brother and still operates like the devil.

The price: Rs 75 lakh*

The challengers
Mercedes CL500 (1), BMW M3 (2), Audi TT (3)

This is like being served liqueur chocolates and having to choose. Each of these cars is fantastic and if we could afford them, we would buy 10 of each, one in every colour. It really depends on the badge you want.

The Best Sedan
Skoda Superb

Skoda Superb
Skoda Superb
Why we chose it: It is a fantastic value-formoney product. What you get in essence is a Volkswagen Passat with a Czech badge for less money. The car has got oodles of space, decent performance thanks to a range consisting of a peppy 2.5-litre petrol V6 and a relatively frugal 2.8-litre diesel V6. The only problem with the Superb is that the car is expected to undergo a model changeover in Europe in 2008, so the Indian model could also have a switcharoo.

The price: 2.5 V6 TDI, Rs 24 lakh*

The challengers
Toyota Camry, VW Passat, Honda Accord

Let’s look at each car individually. The Camry is the gold standard when it comes to reliability and the new car actually has some impressive lines. But the Toyota does not have the total driving involvement you would expect thanks to its wheezy engine. The Passat, recently launched in India, is the all-new model and not the one the old Superb is based on. VW has also brought in only a diesel engine and a rather timid one at that. The Honda Accord, on the other hand, has a fantastic 3.0 V6 petrol engine option that moves like a rocket. But even the Honda is going to see a model change soon.

The Best Car for a Weekend Getaway
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado

Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado
Why we chose it: The Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is a big, beefy car and even though it drinks a lot of fuel, it can charge through any terrain, no matter how muddy, rocky or hilly. Large enough to accommodate all members of your family and their luggage as well—this is a heaving chunk of metal. And because it is from Toyota, you know that it won’t go wrong.

The price: Rs 44 lakh*

The challengers
Suzuki Grand Vitara (1), Honda CR-V (2), Ford Endeavour (3)

The Grand-Vitara and the CR-V drink a lot less fuel than the Prado, but then again while the Prado is screaming with its pectoral muscles on display, the other two cars go around quietly getting their job done. And they are both a lot cheaper. The Ford is not only cheaper but also runs on diesel, the only problem being that it is a bit sluggish.

The Best First Car
Maruti Swift DDis

Why we chose it: The Swift Diesel might be a bit pricey for a first car but as far as small cars go, this is a very economical model, with a lovely diesel engine. The Swift’s performance has been detailed before and it still looks great. This is a car with a month-long waiting list , but it is popular for a reason and we think you should get in on the action. However, we would suggest that you re-do the interiors.

The price: VDi, Rs 5.6 lakh*

The challengers
Hyundai Getz Prime CRDi (1), Chevrolet U-VA (2), Ford Fusion (3)

The Getz Prime CRDi is a good car and the diesel engine is lovely. But the car is a bit pricey. The Chevrolet U-VA is peppy and excitable to drive. The Ford, like the previous two cars, is also big on the inside, which is rather useful.

The Best Young Couple’s Car
Honda Civic

Why we chose it: This is the perfect car for the PlayStation generation with its large LED speed display and its bluebacklit dials and controls. Though this car has definitely lost some of its exclusivity in major cities, it is still a fantastic car to drive. And if you do take friends out for a drive, the Civic also has a lot of interior space. We would suggest you buy the manual version instead of the tiptronic automatic version, because you get more of a feel with this version.

The price: 1.8V (Manual), Rs 12.5 lakh*

The challengers
Toyota Corolla (1), Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia (2)

The Corolla well might see a model change in 2008, which would be good since the old model is a bit stodgy to look at, but make no mistake with Toyota’s legendary build quality. This is a reliable car to drive to work in the morning and go partying at night. The Cedia is definitely the most fun car of the three to drive, coming with the biggest engine, but the interiors are not as cool as the Civic.

The Best Car Below Rs 10 lakh
Maruti SX4

Why we chose it: The Maruti SX4 is a fantastic deal, not just because of its great engine, but also because the ZXi specified car comes with a whole lot of little tips and tricks that can be a lot of fun. Also, the SX4 is a very nice car to drive, with nice handling and is spacious. Great value for money at the end of the day, particularly in a hyper-competitive and price-driven segment.

The price: ZXi, Rs 7.6 lakh*

The challengers
Honda City VTEC (1), Chevrolet Optra Magnum (2), Ford Fiesta (3), Hyundai Verna (4)

All these cars are great to drive, have terrific build quality and fantastic performance. There is actually no reason you should not buy them, but then again this is a segment driven by ‘new-ness’. However, keep in mind that the Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai are available with diesel engines, the Ford’s engine being frugal and the Hyundai’s and Chevrolet’s more peppy.

Best Car for an Indian Joint Family
Toyota Innova

Why we chose it: The Toyota, as we have said before, has brilliant build quality and space for the inlaws as well and is more than capable of carrying a couple of baby seats to boot. Plus, it really isn’t that bad to drive, though its size does make reversing an occasional problem. But tell you what, whether it is family or lots of friends, this Toyota is a fantastic vehicle, though it really isn’t a car.

The price: Several variants between Rs 8.2-11.5 lakh*

The challengers
Mahindra Scorpio M-Hawk (1), Chevrolet Captiva (2)

The new Scorpio M-Hawk might have a smaller engine and while it is slightly more expensive than the older 2.6 CRDe version, this car is more refined in all respects with a far superior handling. The challenger to the Innova might come from Mahindra’s new ‘Ingenio’ next year. The Captiva is around the corner from GM and is going to be a very, very big car, but we certainly suggest that you take it for a drive first.

Best Car for a Family with Dogs
Skoda Octavia Combi

Why we chose it: The Skoda is a brilliant car if you have a big dog like a Labrador, German Shepherd or a Mastiff. There is more than enough space for the dog to move about and the Skoda has fantastic build quality and very good performance too.

The price: 1.9 TDi L&K, Rs 15.5 lakh*

The challengers
Toyota Innova (1), Indigo Marina (2)

The Innova is a large car, with a lot of space and it makes perfect sense for any job that needs space. But no vehicle can win two categories. The Marina has a lot of space, but isn’t exactly the most fun car to drive. Still your dogs won’t mind!

The Best Bike
Bajaj Pulsar 220

Why we chose it: Absolutely brilliant if you can get your hands on one, because there is still a long waiting list for this bike. Even the oil-cooled Pulsar 200 is a great buy. The power from the DTSi engine comes on nice and easy and fuel economy is pretty decent as well.

The price: Rs 86,200*

The challengers
TVS RTR160 (1), HH Karizma (2), Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500 (3)

The TVS and the Hero Honda are in the same mould as the Pulsar, sporty. The Thunderbird is a big, heavy thumper. It’s your choice on what you want really.

*Disclaimer: All prices are approximate on-road prices for Delhi. Prices may vary in other cities. These prices are to the best of our knowledge and were considered at the time of going to press.

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