What is it about the car? Why is it that in spite of it being just another means of transportation, people end up being emotionally attached to it? This piece of writing makes no attempts to get these questions answered. It just makes an effort to understand the impact that the car as a machine makes in our lives and how it wants to serve you irrespective of what your treatment towards it has been.
As you would have guessed, I am going to present a case to you which would help me in finding answers to the questions I have posted above. This means the case I am presenting has to be a detailed story covering the happenings that an automobile had to go through over an extended period of over two years. So, here it goes…
The Maruti Suzuki Ritz has been an enigmatic car. When it was launched, it was lauded by people for its practicality and smart usage of space. It was the first car to get the by now famous 1.2 K Series petrol engine from Suzuki. It was launched after the stupendous success of the Swift in almost the same segment as that of the Swift. It was evident that Maruti wanted to split the overwhelming demand that they were getting for the Swift. And did they succeed? Well, they did. At least partly because the Ritz took time to be accepted by people primarily because of its styling. You had to let the style grow on you when compared to the scorcher looking Swift. An earlier example of such a car from Maruti is the Wagon R. It too took its time to find acceptance among people. And when it did not set the sales chart on fire like the Swift, these twins from Maruti with similar diesel engines devoured a huge chunk of the market pie in the B segment. And it is the story of a similar diesel powered Ritz that I have to tell.
When on one fine typical lazy Sunday afternoon I woke up to the sound of the nowadays ubiquitous diesel clatter, I was surprised. Nobody in the house where I was staying had a diesel car. The curiosity of the auto enthusiast in me made me look out the window. It was a silver Ritz VDi from one of my wife’s family friends. I yawned and went back to my nap.
These afternoon naps are funny in a way. Once you break it, the chances of you going back to it are very slim. I tried for the next five minutes and gave up hope and proceeded to freshen up to avoid looking like I had just gotten up from bed, which incidentally is true but is something we don’t want others to know.
I met the good natured family friend, shook hands with him and proceeded to have tea with him and my in-laws. It was then that the neighbour knocked and asked if the Ritz could be moved as they had to take their car out of the complex. And being the generous person that I was, I offered to him that I will do it.
Trying to back the car out, I was perplexed to find that there was no rear view mirror inside this car. Apparently it has been dislodged from its position and was hinged above the passenger side sun screen. I smiled and proceeded to use the exterior mirrors. What I did not realise was that what I had seen was just the tip of the iceberg.
Parking the car back in, I heard something fall off the back seat. I turned around and saw the true size of the iceberg. The car looked like it had had a torrid time and was a mess. The seats were torn. The tray between the rear seat and the hatch was partially broken and protruding inside, there were crayon marks on the door and melted wax drippings on the floor. There was even a slight crack on the windscreen which somehow strangely reminded me of a bullet hole. I couldn’t fathom as to what and how this could have happened to a car that had not been long enough in the market for this kind of damage to happen to it. Maybe my feelings were exaggerated because of the love that I had for cars and the dislike to see one in a bad condition. Nevertheless, I decided to quiz the family friend on the car and its current situation.
“It looks bad inside, doesn’t it?” was the question that I was asked when I was about to hand over the keys to him. I smiled and asked him what had happened in a manner which was as jovial as possible. He shook his head and proceeded to tell me the details about the car and about his 6 year old daughter and how she manages to do lots of her playing around inside the car and how he always has to ferry around a lot of people from his extended family. The crack on the windscreen it seems was from a tiny granite stone which fell off a lorry laden with it on the highway. The car was bought in first quarter 2010 and had done around 40K kilometres in around a year and a half’s time. It was returning a city mileage of around 15-16 KMPL and a highway mileage of around 19-20 KMPL. The car was being serviced regularly which was the least he could do to keep the car in running condition. When he was briefing me on the car and its short history, it became evident that he was helpless about the state of his car due to the size of his family and the nature of his trips. When I asked him about the broken tray behind the rear seat, he replied with another shake of his head “Yeah that is broken because it was overloaded during a shopping trip!” I felt sad for him and the car.
3 months later and I got the opportunity to hear the Ritz again. The diesel clatter was the same. I heaved a sigh of relief at the thought of the engine being in good condition. But my sigh of relief soon turned into an open mouthed shock when I saw the car. If the earlier damages were on the inside, this time there were on the outside. I walked around the car to see innumerable scratches, dents and marks evenly distributed across the body of the car. The highlight of all awaited me at the front of the car where the front bumper was tied to the body with a rope made of jute. I shook my head in utter disbelief.
Apparently these were the results of one of his relatives learning to drive in the car. I wondered what all might have happened on the road for this to happen to the car. The positive was that driving had indeed been learnt at the end of it all. If it hadn’t been learnt after all that the car had to go through, it would have been a terribly ironic situation, he said to me. I thought about it and smiled.
Around 3 more months passed before I could see the Ritz again. In these 3 months, I had secretly wished that I wouldn’t have to see it for reasons which are quite understandable. I did not want to comprehend what it might look like now. I did not want to feel bad for the car again. But from on a yet another Sunday afternoon nap, I was woken up by the by now easily recognisable clatter from The Unofficial Diesel Engine of India, the 1.3 MultiJet. Oops, wrong car – the 1.3 Quadrajet. No, no, wrong again – the 1.3 DDiS it is. One engine, so many names… Phew!
I did not look out the window at the car for obvious reasons and proceeded to have the normal customary talk with all the guests. When they were leaving I still wouldn’t have seen the car and got the surprise of my life if I hadn’t involuntarily accompanied them to the gates. I say it was a surprise because I do not want to use the word shock because it might give you the feeling it was negative again. In real terms, it was closer to a shock than a surprise because the car had been transformed. Not like the way Optimus Prime does but transformed into itself all over again. All the lines and marks were gone. The front and rear bumpers were shining brand new. I opened the doors and found that all the crayon and wax drops were gone. The rear tray had been removed completely which made the rear look much cleaner. Our amused family friend, seeing me staring at the car proceeded to tell me that he gave the car for a complete overhaul and got all the broken bits changed. The front and rear bumpers were brand new along with the cladding on the sides. The interiors were completely cleaned and polished and the results were astonishing. He decided to leave the slight crack on the windscreen as it was. Maybe as a mark of remembrance on what this car has been through, I wondered. All this work along with the regular servicing for around 20K rupees from a Maruti authorised service centre. He had a genuinely happy face when he was explaining all this to me.
“It is a good car that has served me well. I couldn’t bear to see it that way and decided to give it some treatment and take proper care of it going forward”, he said with a smile. I found myself shaking his hand by clutching it with both my hands and with a smile which might have led to them to wonder if I was getting too carried away. But I wouldn’t have cared less. My respect for him had doubled.
This ladies and gentlemen, is a knack that cars have. They have the ability to grow onto you and change you. This car for example, was used in very challenging and stressful conditions. But it kept to its tasks day in and day out. In a manner that its owner wanted to keep his commitment to the car after seeing the car’s commitment to his family. This led to the owner genuinely wanting to give back to the car in the form of a complete makeover. I loved the happy ending and what other way to celebrate it than to have a drive in the recharged car. I got the keys and took her out for a short drive.
I had driven Ritz diesel’s before and so I knew what to expect. And my expectations were met just fine. 51K kilometres and the 1.3 was still a stonker. It pulled effortlessly right from the lower rev range up to the 2.5K rpm mark after which it pulled with vigour as the turbo kicked in. Somehow I felt the vigour was subdued when compared to the ferocious turbo kick in a Swift. But it blended with the character of this car when compared to the sportier nature of the Swift.
This was a tall-boy car that was different from other tall-boys in the market. The primary differentiator being its behaviour around bends on the road. If we look at the design philosophy of the Suzuki Splash (that is what it is called internationally but which cannot be used in India because Ford has rights to the name), we can understand that the engineers made efforts to make the tweak the platform of the Swift and give it whatever the Swift didn’t have – practicality and spaciousness. This explains why they went for a tall-boy design. But they also did not want it to be plagued by the body rolling and scary cornering manners that tall-boys are notorious for (read Maruti Wagon R).
So, the design is essentially an attempt to get the best of both worlds. Practicality and space to go with admirable driving dynamics. And to say they have succeeded to a large extent would be an understatement. It might not be a practical car with Swift like driveability yet but it does hold itself when it comes to handling. The much criticised rear of the Ritz plays a major part in this. If you look at the rear from a profile, you will see that the car actually squats on the rear wheels rather than standing on them. The wheels are wider than what you would expect which is a trait of cars with good handling. This width gives the Ritz perfect stance around bends which is in turn is responsible for your confidence in piloting it. But still, stretch it a bit too far and you will feel the body roll at some point. But it is not anywhere near where you would find it in a Wagon R.
Inside, there are oodles of space when compared to the Swift on which it is based. It is still a stretch for three people at the back but the generous heard room gives an airy feeling. Long drives would be much more acceptable now that there is more space to stretch your legs, especially for the back bench people. The quality of plastics reminded me of the Swift and there was nothing much to applaud here – it is something that we have come to expect from a Maruti nowadays. The tachometer which looks like it popped up from within looks sporty. One thing I particularly liked was the way the gear box was an integral part of the front panel flowing down from it rather than a separate entity near the hand brake. This meant that the gear knob was at the right distance from you and felt that much more easily accessible. The feel of the gearbox was a rubbery notchy mix very similar to that in a Swift. But it goes about its job neatly.
In a straight line, things are quick with 100 KMPH coming up almost instantaneously. 120 KMPH was the maximum that I could do before I ran out of road but it was evident that it could do a bit more. But the brakes just like most of the Marutis these days, feel wooden after a certain point and wouldn’t give you the assurance to take the car to much higher speeds which it is capable of.
What all this means is that this Ritz is still in pretty good nick after all the tough conditions that it had to go through. But what struck me about the Ritz was not just its performance or practicality. It was the way it recovered itself from a lot of beating. You might argue any car can be brought back with the right service from trained personnel. But this Ritz was brought back to its original flair not just in a professional manner but also with a consideration for its owner by burning no holes in his wallet. Imagine similar works to what was done on this Ritz being done on a VW or a Skoda and I am sure you would understand the gravity of what I mean.
This single handedly is the sole reason why Maruti is almost immovable from the top of the list of car makers in India. There maybe talks about them facing stiff competition as there are more cars in the segments where Maruti sells cars now. But the reliability of their cars coupled with best in class fuel efficiency and maintenance costs which are almost incomparable to other cars in the market means that they have almost no competition.
That then, is the story of a diesel Ritz. I have tried to explain the major events that happened in its life over a period of two years to make it look like a long term ownership review. Whether I have succeeded or not pales in comparison with the other fact that we all need to understand. The fact about the spirit of the car – how it wants to keep running and serving you even in the most unfriendly circumstances. You can overload it, distort it or stress it beyond its limit but as long as it has the four wheels and an engine which runs, it will keep going. So that you and your family can travel around in safety. To this spirit of the car, I bow.