One of my colleagues at work mentioned a problem he was having. He had one car (Wagon-R) and was trying to teach his wife how to drive. For days he and his wife would venture out early in the morning for his wife to attempt getting familiar with the car, the gears, the roads, pedestrians, two wheelers and also slopes of flyovers and railway underpasses. To top it all they stay in a place called Choolaimedu which has one long really really crowded narrow lane permanently full of all types and modes of transport. Very little progress was happening from the aspect of the wife learning driving.
Finally they test drove a semi-automatic with the contraption called an “auto clutch” which gets fitted to a regular manual car. I remembered some ownership reports of the same and pointed them to it and they decided not to attempt getting it. They ventured back to the driving sessions but without much interest. Somewhere along the way when I was asked about the auto clutch I had told my colleague about the Hyundai I10 automatic which now replaces the original cheapest Hatchback from Hyundai – the Santro. He and his wife test drove the I10 and felt their needs would be met by it and decided to buy it. They got it for 4.85 lakhs on road with some corporate discounts and some offer. I got to see the car one evening last week. :-).
Outside:The exteriors look like any other I10 – just a small badge at the left rear stating ‘Auto’ shows something different. The car color was Electric Red. The pull type door handles worked well and the door was light easy to open. Felt very similar to a Santro. I don’t care too much for the front of the car but can live with the looks of the car from the sides and the rear. The rear roof spoiler accessory makes the car look much better. So will wider tires, nice alloys and dark tints.
Inside: The interior was beige mostly except for a dark brown section on the dashboard which seemed to have no reason to be there and looked very weird.Front fog lamps not present and neither were the rear wash wipe and demister. I sat in the passenger seat initially while my colleague got the car out of the parking lot and onto the road. The engine sound was almost nil inside the cabin and the transmission didn’t have any weird jerks while shifting. He didn’t have any trouble maneuvering the car from the basement through streams of people walking around. We finally got to an empty stretch of road and I was offered a chance to TD, I had initially refused but didn’t want to pass this opportunity so I got into the driver seat.
The seating position was good and very “Santroish” with good visibility all around including from both outside mirrors which were just the right size and in the right place. The gear knob had a silver finish piece on top and felt just the right size to hold and also had the button to lock the gear in place when not pressed.
Drive: I pressed the brake down, started the engine and moved from Park into ‘D’ for Drive. When I lifted my leg off the brake the car gently started moving without any jerks. To pick up pace one has to gently push the accelerator and the car does respond. Of course not with the urgency of a manual but decent enough.
I didn’t want to push this new car much but before I knew it it was touching 60 KMPH ! No harshness from the engine nor any significant increase in sound. I could feel the automatic transmission shift up through the gears – but only since I was keenly expecting it and listening for it. Making a ‘U’ turn at a break in the median was really nice, just stop wait and when a good sized gap appears in oncoming traffic just ease into it by pressing the accelerator. No attention required to shift gears up and both hands are free to manage the turning of the wheel.
The stretch of road I drove the car on was mostly well paved so didn’t hit any potholes with the car. The only rough stretches that were there we covered with great care since this was an brand new car without even its number plates. It had decent enough clearance for normal bumps and speed breakers without any issue.
Slowing down also was easy enough just press down on the brakes accordingly and the transmission moves down accordingly. I didn’t get to test panic braking but wish this car came with ABS as it would be good to have.
No tachometer on the version I drove (Magna trim) was the only negative I could think of… But again it is not really required for an automatic where the transmission will shift up a gear before things get too hot.
Overall I think it is a good car.It felt much better to drive than the last automatic I had driven ( a Santro automatic). I have driven an automatic Honda Civic for a couple of years – this one comes nowhere near that car – but for India and the space and traffic that exists here – it is definitely sized right. The pricing as always I wish it could have been cheaper as it makes a lot of sense to get an automatic in crowded cities.
Ownership Experience:Since I took my time writing this up I got to hear of the ownership experience one week past purchase. The views of the two drivers of the car echo the differing expectations men and women have of the vehicles they own and drive.
The husbandwho was very enthusiastic about the ease of driving the car still says its very easy to drive in peak traffic but has now started cribbing that it doesn’t give the rush and response as his car a manual transmission Wagon-R. He is back to driving his manual shift car.
The wife on the other hand is overjoyed at getting a car of her own that she can drive almost everywhere due to its compact size, good visibility and most of all she can concentrate on the road and on avoiding the many million maniacs driving alongside without any worry whatsoever about stalling the engine on starting or needing to worry about shifting up and shifting down and clutch modulation etc. Within a day of purchase she was happily driving through the railway subway near Loyola college coming from Nungambakkam towards Choolaimedu which has a pretty nasty upward slope ending at a stop light which 99% of the time will always be red forcing the motorists to wait on the upward slope.
Agony usually happens in new drivers who have to start off from a stop on a slope and usual mistakes while starting are rolling too far backwards and hitting the vehicles behind, cars in front rolling back and hitting your car or the most common one of stalling the engine and not being able to start back again. Honks from motorists behind the new driver will add to the stress. This crazy slope is now handled by this new driver with the automatic geared car where she only has to press the accelerator just enough to move up. Husband still has to sit with his eyes closed beside her but that’s better than having to watch the road, her and keep reminding her to shift up since the 1st gear alone cannot be used :-).
The wife who loves this car so much hasn’t driven manual transmission cars enough to appreciate the fine level of control – for such a driver the automatic makes a lot of sense and can be the best thing for them to drive. For drivers very experienced with squeezing out the most of mileage and power from their vehicles an automatic may not be very engaging to drive.
PS: One item I do not have but will update later is the actual fuel efficiency of the car. Hope to get it from the owners after they drive it for a bit.
Photos: From the Hyundai India I10 Website – since I didn’t have my proper camera with me and the ones with the phone camera suck 🙁
External Link:An old post on Cybersteering that has a round up of automatics available back then and with tips on how to drive with an automatic: http://www.cybersteering.com/cruise/feature/karma/auto.html