Test drives pt1: A streetcar named desire

I was recently in the market to buy a new car, trading in my old i20 which had rendered its service well for the most part but, at 120k km, was pretty long in the tooth. And now that Putin decided three covid waves weren’t enough and there wasn’t a better time to, er, denazify a country with a Jewish President, I said I had had enough of postponing the purchase and bit the bullet. Yeah, spirit of the roaring twenties, baby!

For a variety of reasons, I ended up testing four cars en route to completing my purchase.

I thought writing about these four cars and what made them different would be interesting. So here goes.

Long before I had finally decided to go ahead with the sale of my old faithful, I had had my eyes on the Honda Jazz. The automatic transmission (a CVT) made it alluring. But a big part of it was just the name. A name that might appear to be bland to most car users meant a little more to a jazz aficionado like me. I even dreamed of sticking a Charlie Parker poster on the rear door or some such crazy idea.

And so it was that the second car I tested was the Jazz. I will write about the first one a bit later.

My visit to the dealership reaffirmed my choice. Not because of anything the dealer staff did but because looking at the car up close appeared to confirm my faith in this selection. The paint looked terrific, the car looked sturdy. It is way roomier sitting in the passenger seat than it appears to be from outside. And its design was unconventionally stylish. A hatchback with personality. I asked for a test drive.

On the appointed day, the car arrived outside our condo for the drive. I got in and didn’t have to adjust the seat height too much to get it to where I liked it. That is, the transfer from the old i20 to the Jazz was seamless.

It was my first experience of driving an automatic. And boy, did it feel awesome. To not have to keep your left hand ready by the gearshift, to not keep the left foot ever ready to move to the clutch. Mind you, the old i20 had a very smooth gearshift and as I got better and better at driving, I learned to virtually slide it into gear with a finger. And I drive fast though never beyond the edge into dangerous driving. Or so I think. I am the kind of guy who would back a manual to vroom faster than an automatic.

Even so, driving the automatic was so relaxed it outweighed the cons. And let’s be honest, unless you are driving on the Eastern Freeway or on Palm Beach Road, there isn’t much ‘performance’ to enjoy on Mumbai roads anyway. If most of your driving is bumper-to-bumper, the automatic is such a breeze compared to a manual.

I did notice the infamous CVT rubber band effect right away. It kind of growls and lags before the acceleration really kicks in. You cannot expect a manual transmission-like responsiveness to the acceleration input. But…if you can live with that, then the gear change is smooth in a CVT (because it isn’t really sequential gears in the conventional sense, if I understand the engineering correctly).

I liked the steering, the braking. I took a quick spin around Vashi and brought the car back in for the all-important test any car about to be welcomed into our household must pass. The parking test.

Our condo consists of two back-to-back (rather than side-by-side) plots combined into one. What this means is it’s oriented lengthwise. And therefore has a narrow passageway for cars to approach the respective parking slots. Our stilt slot is sandwiched between two pillar walls in addition. You get the drift. The room to turn into the parking safely is very limited and cars beyond a certain width and length simply won’t make it inside. So…if a car can’t be parked into our parking slot, it’s a no-no, no matter how good of a car it is otherwise. Skoda Octavia or Honda Civic (well, they don’t offer it for sale in India anyway) or any other of my adolescent crushes? Just forget about it!

I was able to park it in our slot without much difficulty. That’s very encouraging with a new car because with repeated iterations, we learn to manage the parking with greater and greater ease. So if the first attempt is easy enough, parking is not a worry at all.

I collected some more information about the car’s features and asked for a quote for the old car value. On hearing it, asked for a higher figure. The person from the dealer-end agreed to check and get back to me on that. I was thus one step short of the handshake.

It was all going swimmingly well as the two guys who had come from the dealer-end began to drive the car away and back to the showroom. That is, they were driving away until they stopped dead in their tracks as they descended down the ramp back onto the road.

We headed over to check and our worst fears had come true. So…the Jazz has a pretty low front fender. Our condo has a fairly steep ramp to begin with. And because of some gas pipe work done recently by the municipality, they had covered the patch with an additional layer of tar. Which raised the road level just at the point where the car gets onto it and off the ramp. With the result that the Jazz fender lightly touched the road on descent!

The dealer staff nervously assured me that it was fine. But I couldn’t agree. Let’s say I found an alternative parking slot from somewhere and somehow. The route to my office has some pretty rough speedbreakers especially in Andheri (I mean, Fantasyland didn’t used to be too far away from it, so makes sense!). How would a car with such a low fender navigate them? No, I decided this car wasn’t fit for Indian conditions and all that jazz.

I had always wondered why a car that offered as much value as the Jazz didn’t sell more than it does. Had I got the answer now? Was it basically the low fender that turned interested buyers away? And yet, right in my street, there is not one, not two, but three Jazz cars parked by the roadside.

There are people who drive it, who seem to have owned it for a long time. One has to presume they didn’t encounter significant issues owing to the fender during their ownership of it. No, I won’t say anything against the car. Except…that it wasn’t for me as much as I had wanted it and as much as I had got so close to signing off on it.

So which one did I sign up for? Watch this space…as I write about the other ones that I tested before finalizing.

5 Responses to “Test drives pt1: A streetcar named desire”

  1. Test Drives pt2: The car that outgrew me | Pictured life Says:

    […] Life at first sting « Test drives pt1: A streetcar named desire […]

  2. Ashok Sharma Says:

    Hi Madan, followed you here from brangan. Totally love your musical taste. Everything that you write gels with me including our love of Jazz, the music and now the automobile. Honda Jazz was the first car that I owned (actually rented for 8 months) when I lived in New Zealand in 1991. Beautiful memories with the car including my first dating experience. Great choice!!!!

    • Madan Says:

      Hi, thanks a lot, Ashok! Unfortunately, as you can tell from the write up, I couldn’t buy the Jazz due to the issues mentioned though it was my first choice. Such is life sometimes.

      • Ashok Sharma Says:

        Hi Madan, I don’t know what happened. I had responded directly from email and it seems my response is not posted here. Anyway, I missed the part where you ended up not buying the jazz. Oh well, Jazz is not for everyone. Ha ha, patting myself on the back for the pun. Speaking of Jazz, and Prog rock and such, I can’t tell you how much I dig your posts that I am read from time to time. There is a lot to read and digest. Loved your write-up on Taare Gin. This is my most favorite song of the century. And your analysis only bolsters the case. Any boy, you have a great voice and intonation.

      • Madan Says:

        Thanks a lot! Definitely one of my favourites too, and glad you enjoyed my singing.

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