Steering the wrong way

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By The Santro XK may be a cheaper option but the person in the driver?s seat will feel the pinch, says Anamit Sen
  • Published 20.08.05

It?s a question one has pondered upon several times before ? if there?s a toss-up between power steering and air-conditioning when buying a new car, which would it be? Both are generally considered to be luxury add-ons ? a car doesn?t really need either to run from Point A to Point B. Yet, both are features that are eminently desirable ? something I chanced upon not too recently, when I got an opportunity to test a car without one of these comforts.

Hyundai has recently launched a revised engine in the Santro Xing. Called the eRLX engine, Hyundai calls it the ?active intelligence? technology engine. It features a number of innovations, which unfortunately, thanks to the gobbledygook language of marketing folk, only serves to confuse the buyer. So, I went along to Hyundai Motor Plaza on the outskirts of New Delhi to collect a new Santro Xing, powered by this very engine, for a driving impression. The new gleaming white car was to remain with me for all of three days. Externally, the car looks just the same ? not a surprise really, as all the new bits are under the bonnet.

So what exactly is the new engine all about? First and foremost, it features RhiA or Rotary Head Intelligent Valve Actuator. Would this have a mind of its own while in operation, one couldn?t help but wonder. In reality though, this is just a more efficient manner of opening and closing the valves in the cylinder head so that energy losses are kept to a minimum.

Next up is DPiL. No, this isn?t an acronym for a depilator as some might think, but stands for Differentially Programmed Intelligent Injection. This has the job of controlling the injection timing, varying it according to the demand placed on the engine, thus making it more responsive. All this then results in more fuel-efficient running and when required, better acceleration as well. The third enhancement to the engine is RtiL or Real Time Intelligent Ignition. This relates to the engine management computer. Instead of a pre-determined ignition curve to regulate the characteristics of the engine, this feature adjusts the curve according to the requirement at any particular time.

The car with me for the test drive was an XK ? a variant of the Santro that?s much easier on the bank balance. But where costs are cut, features and add-ons suffer the same fate ? something very evident as soon as you get into the car. The front doors, for instance, have manual window-winders instead of the usual power window buttons. So getting the windows up or down does require some exertion. Another observation is that locking the driver?s door doesn?t result in the simultaneous locking of the other doors. This is due to the absence of central locking. Also, there?s no rear window washer and wiper. The very first time I drove a Santro in driving rain several years ago, I remember thinking of this particular add-on being a boon in terms of a visibility aid. What the new car does have though, is a passenger side door mirror and a driver?s side door mirror as well as a prismatic rear-view mirror.

The Santro XK also comes minus power steering. After a bit of hemming and hawing, I decided that since the car did have air-conditioning, it wouldn?t be such an issue. In fact, problems are not evident at first as one starts moving off in a straight direction. Taking turns is not a big deal except that the steering feels a little heavier than before and it takes a bit of effort to go through the full turning radius. It was while parking into a narrow space, however, that I felt the crying need for power steering. The sheer effort of turning the steering wheel took away the relaxed satisfaction of having driven in AC comfort up to that point. This was compounded by the fact that the tyres were radials ? 155/70 R 13 ? and while these may be good at improving fuel economy and affording a cushier ride, they are dogs to turn at parking speeds in a car without power steering.

When it comes to driving the Santro XK, a couple of things spring to mind immediately ? like how the engine does not sound as raspy as it did before. True, the engine is quite peppy ? it develops around 62bhp at 5500rpm and 9.8kgm of torque at 3000rpm. But yes, to anybody who has driven cars with more powerful and ?torquier? engines, it is certainly found wanting.

The XK just does not have the torque to take off in the higher gears and that?s a matter of cubic centimetres. One needs to shift gears more often to keep the engine buzzing. Speaking of changing gears, while the gearshift lever is in its usual very convenient position, this particular gearbox action seemed a little vague, even rubbery, in comparison to the usual crisp and direct movement found in most Santro Xings.

Price is a factor obviously for many Indian buyers and there is a Rs 20,000 difference between this variant and the one with power steering. If I were to recommend a Santro Xing to anybody, it would be very difficult to suggest a variant that comes without power steering. It just isn?t a luxury anymore, more a necessity. Driving causes fatigue and a driver needs all the help he/she can get to stay alert and responsive on the road. Besides, with more and more cars being financed, it would be silly to go for something without a driver?s aid. Remember the Rs 20,000 will be a one-time saving ? an owner will be driving the car everyday perhaps, for a much longer period. Is it really a saving then? Sorry Hyundai ? the eRLX is a good car to have but I just can?t agree with this version ? it?s a clanger and no amount of advertising speak is going to change that fact!

My first car

Deepti Gujral

I bought my first car, a black Santro, two years ago. It was my first big investment from my earnings and I felt proud of myself and very happy when I bought it. Actually, I’d been wanting to buy a car ever since I moved to Mumbai after I won the Gladrags 2003 because it’s very difficult for a model to travel in the city, especially in crowded local trains.

I decided on a small car because it is difficult to get parking in the city. Also, I park my car outside my building so it didn’t make sense to buy a big car. I chose the Santro because it is cute and compact. I don’t have a family here, it’s usually just me and my bags so I don’t really need a big car. Besides, a small car is easy to maintain. I usually drive the car for pleasure but that’s another thing — I can drive myself whenever my driver is on leave. Also, I don’t have the judgement to drive a big car — I actually learnt driving just before I bought my Santro