The year has ended on a depressing note with the brutal gang-rape and its aftermath in Delhi. The politicians, from Manmohan Singh to Sushma Swaraj to Abhijit Mukherjee, have proved that they don’t “get it”, and the Delhi government has proved that it regards the people as its enemy and is willing to lock down large areas of central Delhi to keep the people away.
So, happy new year, everybody, and I’ll focus on more positive things here.
Over three years ago I wrote about Fiat cars and their quality of service. At that time I owned a Fiat Uno, an essentially abandoned model made by Fiat in a disastrous joint venture with Premier Automobiles. I got it cheap (very cheap) and it served me for six years despite total lack of support from Fiat, but in 2010 I traded it in… for another Fiat, a Punto.
This may seem bizarre to most of the public, but there were several reasons. First, the looks. No car in that price range in the Indian market compares, in my opinion. Second, the boot space. A few other hatchbacks offer comparable space, and some (the Honda Jazz) have much more, but this was the best price/space ratio I could find. Third, Fiat actually gave me a decent buyback price on the Uno. Fourth, online reviews.
One site I read for such things is Team-BHP — the people who post here (I’m not one) are mostly knowledgable and enthusiastic, and the Punto gets very high marks on ride quality, sturdiness and reliability. Recently Team-BHP had a poll on the hatchback with the best quality of ride on bad roads, and the Punto beat the competition by a huge margin, with over 55% of the total number of votes. (A distant second was the Tata Indica Vista, followed by the Maruti Swift.) It is borne out by my experience too. We have had to go over some dreadful roads on a regular basis since I got the car, and it has weathered them.
So how about the service? It is a pleasant surprise. Yes, the service centre (Concorde Motors, Injambakkam in Chennai) is a bit crowded and noisy, but they have been attentive and prompt. The three free services are now over. Soon after I bought the car, Fiat announced a free AC upgrade (the previous one didn’t cope with Indian summers) and I went in for that. There were a couple of other niggling problems — a noise when turning which turned out to be a dent in the chassis (because of the bad roads I mentioned above), and recently, what seemed to be a bizarre problem: the car would sometimes fail to start (wouldn’t even crank) when hot, but would start fine when it cooled down. They checked it thoroughly over two days and declared it to be the battery. And, though the car was now out of warranty, they charged nothing (since I didn’t ask them to replace the battery). I wanted a second opinion since, in my previous experience, a dying battery leads to cold-start problems, not warm-start. But it was the battery (I went to the battery shop we usually deal with) and it’s fine now.
So one negative point of the Punto is the quality of the OEM battery (Exide) — but that may have changed. Another is the relatively large turning radius. But on the whole it’s a great car and highly recommended, and the service, I found, was good too. Unfortunately many people seem to have a different opinion, and Fiat’s sales via Tata showrooms have been disappointing, so they are in the process of setting up their own dealer and service network. Let’s see how that goes.
My other new vehicle is now about 20 days old. It’s a B-Twin Hoptown, a folding bike that is surprisingly fast and easy to ride. Folded up, it fits easily in the hatch of the Punto (though it’s a bit too tall with the parcel tray in place). It’s the size of a large suitcase, weighs 14kg and comes with a bag. The idea is that one can fold it up and carry it in a train or bus, but I haven’t tried that yet. It takes me about 25 minutes to do the 7km commute to work, roughly the same as the car takes in morning traffic. As with the Punto, I did much online research before deciding on it. But since they have no showrooms in Chennai (they have dealers who will order it for you, however), I ordered it online and it arrived in a cardboard box. It is fun to ride, and I expect it will pay for itself in saved petrol in well under a year.