I am a motorcycle person, and generally hate cages. I do not like driving one bit, and generally rant about everything, including traffic to bad road to non existent driving sense on the streets.
Having finished saying all of the above, one cannot deny that a van has certain undeniable advantages.
You can avoid getting wet, for one. A van is “generally” more stable than a motorcycle, even if it is a mere perception, undeniably, accidents on a motorcycles, even minor ones, increase the chances of death or dismemberment, in that order.
But then again, I am a certified two wheels nut, who does not want to drive at all. However, in the interest of the Family, consisting of a Wife and two dogs, I needed a van. After I sold off the 800, where it literally broke my heart to see her go because she was such a fantastic partner in crime, and also because she was the first car I bought with my own money, I had been largely travelling around on my trusty Apache 150, until the rains decided to arrive, and the prospect of arriving in office two up with a set of wet clothes were not one of the most attractive propositions. Ergo, I needed a van.
I started to scout for options. Looked everywhere for something suitable which can accommodate a truckload of my friends, my Family and then still have space for some, but will be well within the 4 lakhs range, which was my working budget. I discounted the second hand market, because although as much as I wanted a CJ3B or a Classic, I simply did not have the time which would be required to maintain the beast, and I did not want another beautiful machine to go to waste because of lack of time. I drove my friends up the wall, cribbed and cried to my folks and generally acted like an idiot and painfully resolved to buy myself the Omni, which, though is a fantastic Value For Money proposition, simply did not appeal to me because of the awkward looks and the non existent safety features. Until, that is, Maruti Suzuki decided to launch the Eeco.
The moment I saw the first snaps doing the rounds on the internet, I decided to do a reconnaissance. The first weekend after the van was launched, I queued up at the local showroom for a Test Drive. As soon as that half an hour drive was over, I came home and immediately arranged my finances. The next day saw me back at the showroom, booking her. With a waiting period of three months, I sat around twiddling my thumbs, till Maruti Suzuki, in its true blue customer dedicated fashion, decided to give me delivery a lot earlier than what it had first proposed, and a spanking new Eeco stood all ready to be delivered to me on the 30th of July 2010.
It was love at first sight. Metallic grey and shining under a gloomy sky, she looked like an awkward toddler who has just broken into adolescence. Tall and imposing, acres of room inside, the famed G13B engine, albeit in a 1.2 litre avatar to cater to the BS IV demands to boot, all of 73 horses and a 101 Nm of torque. Enough power to pull a mini truck and then some. Driving down from the showroom, I marveled at the height, at how I could acknowledge Innova and Scorpio owners with a nod of the head instead of looking into the sun, at a half of their price. I marveled at her power, which, when linear delivered to those rear wheels, had enough in them to slingshot the massive van to a ton in just under fourteen seconds.
To heck with the body roll, to heck with lack of power steering, to heck with the archaic manual ac dials, to heck with the awkward dynamics. I could not care less. I was completely smitten.
A trip to the accessories guy saw me fitting her up with gadgets which I required most, a front nudge guard, a pair of steppers for the older folks to get up without straining themselves, a luggage carrier on top to carry that extra luggage on top when fully loaded on long trips and a Bluetooth enabled head-unit which enabled me to take calls on the go without troubling my concentration on the road too much.
I started driving around. A year and a half of driving, and I have notched up close to twenty five thousand kilometres. As a friend pointed out, the van is the first (his mistake, actually, it is the second, the first being the trusty 800) tin top which I actually connected with.
Drive quality and ergonomics
She has a fantastic engine. The power delivery is very linear, with no awkward surges, and no surprise gaps in the delivery. Smooth, sensible torque spread. That being said, the engine is absolutely dead under the 3000 rpm mark, and believe me, if you are downshifting on an uphill climb, you need to climb higher up in the rev range to extract the juice prior to slipping the gear down, else, the van just starts crawling if you do the shift when the torque starts to build up.
The gearshifts are nothing spectacular, and can do their assigned work quite well. Smooth is the word. The Diagonal Shift Assistance, which allows the driver to shift gears diagonally, is quite handy, allowing smooth shifts without carrying a ruler around. The second gear though, is ridiculously tall, the van can comfortably do a 20 to 80 without shifting into 3rd, which is actually a good thing, because you need a tall second gear for city driving conditions.
It, like the Omni, is a rearwheel drive, so you need to be careful while taking fast corners, she does a fishtail the moment you take a sharp corner above 80 and then a frantic work ensues to oversteer, correct her line and she starts to slingshot again.
The suspensions are very good, and can take quite a beating, and remain unfazed with it all. I was very worried after the van went into a gigantic pothole on the NH7on a weekend dash to Chennai from Bangalore, and jumped up around ten inches or more when coming out and landed with a thud. I showed her to the service personnel next day. Nothing! The ride quality is on the stiffer side, owing to this essentially being intended to be used as a people mover and load carrier, and this is actually an advantage, because, at the expense of ride quality, the handling of such a tall van with small wheels and awkward ergonomics improves a lot for the stiff setting and does come quite in handy when driving fast.
The steering feedback is very good, owing to lack of a power steering, and each undulation of the road and the texture is transferred well to the driver. This is a huge confidence boost when one is driving fast in slick conditions.
The ergonomics are awkward, to say the least. It is tall, and it has small, 13 inch tyres. Which lends it bucket-loads of body roll, and then some more when she is done rolling. However, it would certainly be recommended to get at least a 175/70 R13, which will lend a slightly softer ride, and will be a boon when you are driving in cities like Bangalore with very bad roads. But she is very much drivable, and fast-drivable at that. Proof? I did a Chennai Bangalore dash in just around 4 hours with an average velocity of a 90 kmph, and kept pace with an Accord for over 2 hours during that journey, till, well, the Accord stopped for the driver to take a leak!
There is, quite literally, acres of space inside! Mine is a five seater air-conditioned version, ergo, there is plenty of space inside to hold five people comfortably, two dogs, and the luggage carrier does the job of carrying excess luggage, if any. And even with all that weight, it accelerates remarkably well. It is certainly no Innova, but for that price range, the amount of space it offers is well, fantastic!
Long distance capability
I keep reiterating that it is certainly no Scorpio or Innova when it comes to touring, but it can certainly hold its own. It does decent enough speeds (I hit almost 140 on the highway), it can run non stop for 400 odd kilometres (I am sure she can do more, I ran out of road). She does a very good job of keeping out the elements. The entire stretch from Chennai to Bangalore, it kept raining, and there was no leakage from anywhere, the sliding doors and the window reams held out. I arrived home safe and dry. The seats are comfortable and though the back can take a beating because of the stiff suspension setting and lack of a good lumbar support in the seats, such discomforts are nothing which a warm cuppa and a little walking around to get the blood flowing would not cure.
This is quite simply the sole reason why one should buy an Eeco. It screams functionality from every nook and cranny. It is not an Innova. It is not a Scorpio. But then it does not claim to be one. It offers acres of space, a very decent power-train, a decent amount of features at a fraction of the Innova or the Scorpio’s price. It does not have the upmarket image of either, but then, with both being used as taxis nowadays, I do enjoy the occasional glances at the van which nobody has seen as taxis, but is big enough and looks powerful enough to be one.
Quite simply, I had never hoped to pay this amount, and get a van which can carry, quite literally everything! Although she is not the best looker in the market, although she does not have a powertrain to show off, although she suffers from awkward ergonomics, I am in love with her, completely. Why? Because whatever she promises she will do, she does. And she does it quite astonishingly well. There is room for improvement. Much room, but I wonder whether it can be offered at this price. I do not think so. Then again, if it is, I would be the happiest person around!
It is an amazing hold-all van, and I am very satisfied with the purchase. In the inimitable words of a friend, I bought the van because it was good, I am not praising it because I bought it!