You don't have to go too far back in time to notice that interesting technologies and features were the sole fiefdom of expensive cars. The hatchbacks and sedans that the masses could buy, were given the “affordable” treatment, which meant they were basic, drab and pretty much to the point. However, things have changed considerably over the last year or so, because some rather geeky stuff is now coming preloaded on affordable hatchbacks and sedans - the cars that you can buy, without probably needing to sell a few limbs. It is good to see mainstream car makers now thinking along the lines of introducing never before seen features on newer models of their cars, and keeping them within the reach of the potential buyer.
Still don’t believe us? We knew you would say that! Which is why, with the help of this feature, we would like to point you to a selection of affordable vehicles. These will appeal to the geek in you, the child in you, and even the connoisseur in you! For keeping the playing field level, we have only considered cars under the Rs 10 lakh price bracket. Otherwise, wouldn't you just buy the gizmo-laden Mercedes A-Class anyway? The idea being, if you are considering buying a new car in the near future, these are the ones that you can consider.
Petrol range starts at Rs 5,59,000 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Diesel range starts at Rs 6,69,000 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Currently the geekiest car this side of Rs 10 lakhs, the Ford Ecosport will impress to the extent that you will wonder about the price tag, over and over again.
Ford's SYNC feature adds convenience as well as safety aspects to the experience
Let us start with the SYNC feature. Since this is a technology website primarily, let us start with the things that matter to us - this is powered by an Intel Atom processor, and runs on the Windows Embedded Automotive Platform 7. The version that the EcoSport gets is the 2013 one, because SYNC has seen regular updates all this while. This feature is divided into four segments - phone calls, text messages, music and accident assistance. For the first two, you need to pair your phone via Bluetooth to the SYNC feature, and then make calls using the voice assistant. So, the next time you need to call and tell your boss you are stuck in a traffic jam, no struggling with a bluetooth headset - simply say “call Boss” and SYNC will make the call for you, which you will hear via the audio system’s speakers. SYNC downloads the phone’s contact list on to the on-board memory, to assist with the voice dialing feature. The second aspect also assists with safe driving - SMS read outs. If you are one of those creatures who cannot stay away from an SMS that just arrived in the inbox, and have the compulsive urge to read it, you can now ask SYNC to read it out for you. Yes, SYNC’s dictionary will be limited to proper words, which is why stuff like “gng for mvie” may not sound the way it should! But, at least, it lets you keep your eyes on the road. The fourth is the feature we are very thankful for. This is the Emergency Assist feature, which will send an alert with the car’s GPS coordinates to the emergency services, allowing occupants to speak with the operator for help. In worst case scenarios, if the occupants are not able to speak, the GPS coordinates will be useful in locating the car, and getting help there quickly.
Lots of well designed spaces to keep all your stuff, so that things don't fly everywhere the next time you go off-roading!
For a car of this size, space has been optimized rather well. Ford says that there are as many as 20 storage spaces, allowing you keep all your belongings safely. For example, under the front passenger set is a tray that can store your laptop and even some documents and books. Now, if this doesn’t appeal to someone with OCD, nothing will!
Hill Brake Assist is very useful, if you are working in tight spaces on an incline
We will not get too much into the engine performance and transmission details, but one feature does stand out, as far as drivability is concerned - Hill Launch Assist. When the car is standing on an incline, there are chances of it rolling back a bit before you set off forwards. With the HLA, the brake is held for a few more seconds, after you take your foot off the pedal, to allow you to drive forwards without giving the person standing behind you a scare. Also, very useful when you are parked on an incline, between two stationary objects.
Petrol range starts at Rs 4,85,409 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Diesel range starts at Rs 5,99,900 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Before the Ford EcoSport came along, the 2013 edition of the Hyundai i20 was possibly the most loaded car, in terms of technology and features. And yes, being an i20 owner (the 2011 edition), the upgrades do look rather significant. And we aren’t even considering the visual updates!
The DRLs look brilliant, but it is scientifically proven that a car with DRLs is visible earlier, head-on, than a car without.
The biggest element, when you see an i20 driving towards you during the daytime, would be the Daytime Running Lights. These are the LED strips framing each redesigned fog-lamps on two sides. This feature is very rare in cars under Rs 20lakh, and till now were solely seen on the European luxury sedans. It is a visual feature, but primarily, DRLs are a safety aspect.
Auto headlamps work brilliantly for sudden lighting changes, like when you enter an underground parking during the day
Keeping with the headlamps, the 2013 edition i20 also gets the automatic headlamps feature. The moment the ambient light goes below acceptable levels, the headlamps automatically switch on. For example, you enter an underground parking during the day, and the moment the car senses the change in lighting, the change is triggered automatically. You will love to show this feature off to a friend who just bought a Maruti Swift! But, this is a very good safety feature to have.
Rain sensing wipers are an important safety aspect, clearing your vision immediately, in case of a sudden splash of water
Rain sensing wipers is another safety feature, apart from being one that you can show off to friends. If there is a sudden splash of water on the windscreen, even when it's not raining, the wipers get into action immediately, and remain on for the duration depending on the quantity of water. The speed of the wipers also changes depending on the quantity of water and the speed at which it is falling.
Smart Pedal and Clutch Lock are designed to prevent unnecessary wear of the components
A critical safety feature is the Smart Pedal, that is also added to the Hyundai i20. When the system detects heavy and emergency braking, the acceleration pedal is immediately overwritten, for the duration the brake pedal is pressed. This is to prevent accidental press of the throttle during that time from compromising passenger safety.
To keep wear and sudden load on the engine and transmission down, Hyundai has implemented the Clutch Lock as well, which is active when the engine is shut down. The next time you are starting the engine, you will need to keep the clutch pressed. This is to prevent a jerk start, in case the person driving the car forgets it is not in neutral, and pushes the start button. This runs a huge amount of stress through the chain - the starter, the transmission and the engine.
Now, you don't really need to curse the driver behind you!
This final feature that we are talking about may be a minor thing, but the Electro Chromic Mirror is designed to reduce glare back into the driver’s eyes, when driving at night. This is particularly useful when the person driving directly behind isn’t very polite with headlight use. For the versions with the rear parking camera, there is the embedded display on this rear view mirror that can be utilized.
VW Polo GT TSI
Petrol version from Rs 7,99,000 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Standing apart from the standard Polo, the Polo GT TSI gets a 7-speed automatic gearbox, which is a first in the segment. But, it is not just about the numbers. The Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe (Direct Shift Gearbox) is basically two gearboxes in one, working alternatively - two clutches, two shafts and the ECU that manages gear shift depending on speed and throttle position. Most normal automatic transmissions carry all gears on one shaft, but DSG runs gears 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th on one shaft, while gears 2nd, 4th and 6th run on the second shaft. What the dual clutch setup gives is quicker shifting because the inactive clutch estimates the movement speed and throttle input and is ready to engage the gear next in line. There is less lag between gear shifts, as compared to a single shaft setup where the clutch has to disengage one gear, select the next gear and re-engage. Till now, the much more expensive cars - the likes of the Skoda Laura and the Volkswagen Jetta featured the DSG gearbox. The Polo GT TSI is the first hatchback in India to get DSG.
The DSG gearbox is the first in the segment, and basically packs in two gearboxes into one
Like the Ford EcoSport, the Polo GT TSI also has the Hill-Hold function, which holds the brake for a few seconds after the brake pedal is disengaged, to prevent roll back before moving forwards again.
FIAT Punto and FIAT Linea
Punto petrol range starts at Rs 5,03,710 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Punto diesel range starts at Rs 5,73,395 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Linea petrol range starts at Rs 7,12,301 (ex-showroom Delhi)
Linea diesel range starts at Rs 8,15,813 (ex-showroom Delhi)
While the Ford EcoSport bought the SYNC feature to India now, FIAT has had something on the same lines in the Punto and Linea cars for quite some time now. It is called the Blue & Me, and is the voice command feature for receiving and making calls, having the text messages read out and changing the tracks playing back on the audio system. This feature also works on the Windows Embedded Automotive platform, just like Ford’s SYNC.
FIAT were the first to bring the feature that makes using the phone while driving a safer and convenient task
Globally, Blue & Me also offers navigation and emergency services, and we expect the next update in India to bring in those features as well.
Petrol range starts at Rs 7,29,000 (ex-showroom Delhi)
While Honda City cars have been fairly cut and dry in terms of their offerings, the updated City has added flappy paddle gearbox to the mix. Cruise Control has been around since the previous generation, and in unison, both features make this car stand out in the segment. And both are very sophisticated features, meant for the discerning driver.
It is time to take the pedal off the metal, and cruise!
Cruise Control is only supposed to be used on a straight road to maintain the same speed without having to keep your foot on the throttle. When the driver gives the command for Cruise Control, the system understands the throttle position and the speed at that time, and that is maintained as long as the brake pedal isn’t pressed.
The flappy paddle gearbox is a rather neat thing to have, if you like the relaxed form of driving or you are someone who aspires to drive an automatic car anyway. The five speed manual transmission can be controlled via these two paddles accessible from either side of the steering wheel.
Chevrolet Beat (Diesel)
Diesel range starts at Rs 4,72,816 (ex-showroom Delhi)
This little pocket rocket may actually offer good performance at affordable prices, but does not do so while being drab. The latest Beat update brings in some rather high-end features, making driving a better experience.
The Intelligent Launch Support System is designed to kick in when the starting conditions aren’t optimal (like on a slope, or on a surface that doesn’t provide adequate traction.), and uses the team of Insta-Torque Boost and the Electronic Throttle to vary the amount of torque the car needs to move forward. Not quite traction control or Hill Assist, but this is certainly a feature that stands out in this price segment.
Chevrolet's Diesel engine for the Beat hatchback
The Smart Engine protection mode keeps the RPM in check, to prevent damage to the engine. At no point during launch from a stationary position is the RPM allowed to exceed 3000, and even during the normal driving modes, this number is managed in accordance with the coolant temperature and engine oil pressure sensor readings. This is simply to prevent overload on the engine, leading to failure.
If you are driving any of these cars, we would love to hear from you and about your experience with these features. You can also get in touch with the author directly via Twitter @vishalmathur85