We take a quick look back at some great cars that were sold in India but didn't quite take off on the sales charts for various reasons.
There are cars that sell in great numbers right from the day they are launched and then there are those which don’t quite turn out to be hits on the sales charts. But it isn’t quite necessary that the ones that sell a lot are great cars and vice versa. In fact, there have been some awesome machines that never managed to garner massive numbers at dealerships due to various reasons – whether its availability or brand value or even something as ridiculous as misconceptions. Fact of the matter though, is that these vehicles eventually turn out to be great sellers on the used car market, garnering premiums most times and at other times just bringing a lot of joy to second owners because they know something that the original owners didn’t! Here’s a brief compilation of some of these kind of cars that were sold in India but never really made it big back then. Of course, there might be more that we’ve missed out on, so feel free to add your bits in the comments section below.
When it comes to practical cars, there aren’t many that can beat the Chevrolet Forester in terms of desirability. Yes, it was (to put it in very mild words), bland in terms of design with its very boxy profile, but what everyone with that viewpoint always misses out on is that it was short, wide and in essence wasn’t even a Chevrolet. This vehicle was born the Subaru Forester and just the way that adding ‘Apple’ to any electronic gadget instantly makes it cool, that Subaru background itself is enough to make the Forester one of the coolest cars to own. Just the very mention of Subaru (and many owners replaced the Chevrolet bowtie on the car with the Subaru logo) is enough to garnish the Forester with an unmatched rally legacy and the car actually carried that off well in its design that had an aggressive front end complete with a hood scoop and sculpted wheel arches. It won’t get you any brownie points with your generic-hatchback-driving neighbour, but drive a Forester around a proper car guy and you’ll get a nod of appreciation.
You see, it’s not just about the Subaru family tie-up that came through because General Motors bought stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, it’s also about that AWD badge on the boot. When the Chevrolet Forester launched some time in 2003, it was faced with little competition but the bowtie brand was still in its infancy in the country – which meant people didn’t want to risk it with a new name. That’s probably one of the reasons that this vehicle didn’t quite manage to create the kind of stir it was worthy of but those who did walk into Chevrolet showrooms and drove out in Foresters are still reluctant to part with them. In fact, there are quite a few who still want to have one of these but well maintained and reasonably priced used examples are hard to come by. And if you still don’t know why the Chevrolet Forester has figured in this list, then go take a look at its spec sheet – a 2-litre flat four-cylinder engine that pumped out close to 140 horses and 186Nm is as exotic as it got in India!
Launched in India in the second half of the last decade, the Ford Fusion came about as a boxy car in terms of its design – mainly thanks to the Suzuki Swift and the Hyundai Getz also emerging at around the same time. But when it comes to practicality, this little car is still hard to beat. Armed with the choice of a superiorly fun-to-drive 1.6-litre petrol ‘Duratec’ and a 1.4-litre diesel ‘Duratorq’ engine, the Ford Fusion still embodies what every premium hatchback wants to be today. It is spacious, sturdy and handles rather well too. In fact, it is so spacious that it beats most hatchbacks available in the market today. Comfortable seats, loads of loading space in the boot and very well designed ergonomics make the Fusion a favourite among those looking for a used hatchback.
Then there is the way it looks – while most people might find it bland, I think it’s still one of the most muscular looking and ‘grown up’ hatchbacks on our roads today. With the square headlights, chunky grille, flared wheel arches and the black rubbing strip running around the periphery of the car, it looks more crossover-ish than a proper hatchback. Even on the inside, the textured plastic on the dash, the chunky steering wheel, and the two-tone colour scheme all give a sense of young maturity to the Ford Fusion. Praticality is at an all-time high with the Ford as well – especially with the flip open storage box on top of the dash and the little shelf just above the glovebox as well. Used examples still sell at a decent price and quite justifiably so too!
A big sedan from Ford? Seriously? That’s what everyone thought when the Blue Oval launched the Mondeo in India, especially at a time when their biggest hit was the little Ikon. Launched in December 2001, the Mondeo actually got some good numbers off the line, but then demand declined rapidly till the car was discontinued. Internationally, the Mondeo is a very respectable car in its segment and even today, a decent condition example with a slightly high odometer reading could fetch around Rs 2-2.5 lakh on the used car market.
The Ford Mondeo came loaded to the brim for its time – airbags, ABS, EBD, plush interiors et al. There was also the choice of either a 2-litre gasoline engine or a similar capacity diesel unit. Both engines were pretty good on performance and most customers who took test drives of the cars at Ford showrooms then came back smiling wide. But India didn’t quite go all ga-ga to a big luxury Ford yet and even more so when the car had some stiff competition in its segment in the form of the Honda Accord and the Hyundai Sonata. It was also pretty expensive – only the Mercedes-Benz C-Class costing more than the Mondeo in that upper-D segment. Fact remains though that those who did dare to buy themselves a Ford Mondeo either still refuse to let it go or have had to sell theirs off rather reluctantly.
When General Motors came to India over ten years ago, it thought of doing so with its German luxury brand – Opel. Soon it realised that its prospects lie more with an accessible brand than a luxury one and that spelt the death knell for Opel. Though Opel’s stint in India was short, it gave us one of the most striking and premium looking sedans of its time – the Opel Vectra. Sharp styling and the promise of superior performance courtesy a 2.2-litre inline-4 petrol engine lured in buyers with Opel managing to sell more than their target figure of 100 cars in the first month. The Vectra was launched at a price tag of Rs 17 lakh (ex-showroom in Mumbai) which pit it directly against the likes of the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and the Ford Mondeo. Sadly, the fact that Opel was on its way out to make way for Chevrolet to come in and take over General Motors’ Indian armoury meant that sales declined and it couldn’t keep up with its Japanese competition. The Vectra soon got forgotten despite a price reduction of almost Rs 3 lakh after a year of its launch. The Opel Vectra is still one of the best looking cars that was sold in the D-segment and with black tints running all throughout on the windows, it looks like a car the Godfather would take out to head to the local drag strip. Well, dark tints on windows are illegal now which makes this image even more fitting in my mind!
Maruti Suzuki Alto 1.1
If you haven’t read the name of this car properly you’ll be wondering why one of the largest selling models of the infallible Maruti kingdom is featured in this list of underrated cars. Well, it’s the digits at the end of that name that make all the difference. While many know the Alto as an 800cc, slightly more premium alternative to the M800, once upon a time Maruti plonked a 1.1-litre petrol engine with 63 horses and 80 Nm under the bonnet. While the weight of the car didn’t go up by much, it left the Alto 1.1 with higher power-to-weight ratio than a normal Alto. Now we all know what that means and that’s why the Alto 1.1 was a very exciting little car to drive around in. It mixed the best of both worlds – compact dimensions, extreme agility and a peppy little engine that was also very efficient. In fact, it even spawned many engine transplants into M800 chassis and even today enthusiasts keep an eye out for an Alto 1.1 on the used car market.
Fiat Palio Adventure
The Italians haven’t really had a dream run in India going into the new millennium but Fiat’s cars have actually been quite good. People who own them swear by them and most times are reluctant to move to other brands. The Avventura may be on its way but long ago Fiat had already come up with a car that tickled our sense of adventure! Forgive the pun there, but the Fiat Palio Adventure really did get a lot of imaginations going and those who did buy this ‘wagonised’ Palio ended up putting down loads of miles on them. The car itself looked brilliant with its black cladding, bull bar, roof rails and running boards. It was made to look like it could take you far and out and that’s what the Palio Adventure. Then there was the fact that the extended bodywork at the back gave this Fiat a whole lot of space for your luggage and when the boot was empty, it doubled up as your dog’s makeshift bed too.
Maruti 800 5-speed MPI
The Maruti 800 was always pictured as the first car many Indians bought when they moved up from their two wheelers. The car was inexpensive to buy and to run which made it perfect for the emerging middle class. But then the stock M800 had a four-speed transmission and the peppy engine had a lot more potential locked away which was finally unleashed when Maruti decided to mate a 5-speed ‘box with it. What was born was the Maruti 800 5-speed MPI – yes, it came with the multi-point fuel-injected engine. Considering that it looked almost exactly the same as the 4-speed version and catered to a market that is price conscious above all else, most buyers opted for fewer cogs. The ones who did recognise the potential of the 5-speeder though enjoyed a fuel efficiency close to 20kmpl in the city and even more on the highway. The car may be out of production but owing to its low price tag it makes for an awesome used car to take you around the city in!
Suzuki Baleno Altura
Another ‘wagonised’ version of a regular car, this time it was Maruti Suzuki that played the more-space game. Whether we admit to it or not, we’re all in awe of the Suzuki Baleno. In fact, in its time it was fun to watch battles between the Honda City VTEC, the Suzuki Baleno and the Mitsubishi Lancer (though most of these were just confined to words on online forums and seldom on drag strips). Well, Maruti took the Japanese ‘family’ car and converted it into a proper station wagon. The result was given the suffix ‘Altura’ and it actually turned out to be a product that extended upon the Baleno’s performance and added bucket loads of practicality to it. Even the design was pretty neat – the Baleno Altura didn’t have the typical bulk of a wagon – instead it integrated the stretched roofline extremely well with blacked out D pillars that added a lot of class. There was a whole lot of space in there too – enough for you to head out on the weekend and have lots of fun while you’re driving there!
If there ever was a vehicle ahead of its time, it was the Chevrolet SRV. Hatchbacks had always been big business in India, but big hatchbacks were still a concept that hadn’t caught on when General Motors launched the SRV in 2006. The car was actually pretty awesome – as close as India got to a hot hatch if you could call it that. Sharing its styling with the premium Optra Magnum on the front end and integrating it with a very sporty hatch at the back, the SRV packed in a 1.6 litre petrol engine that put down 101PS and 140Nm. Of course, the Chevrolet SRV was expensive for its time with a price tag around Rs 7 lakh. With the advent of excise duty cuts that meant that petrol hatchbacks essentially got relegated to having a 1.2 litre engine if they were petrol-powered meant that the SRV was no longer a viable alternative to other big hatchbacks that were slowly filtering into the Indian market. Till today though, the sight of a Chevrolet SRV never fails to excite us!
Tata Indigo Marina
Tata Motors always believed in big, practical cars. Even at the very onset of their foray into passenger cars, they had the Tata Estate on offer – a car that was touted to be as luxurious as you could get considering those were the times before the entry of any real foreign players. With the introduction of the Indica, everything changed and Tata Motors started being perceived as a manufacturer of proper passenger vehicles. The Indica platform was always made to adapt to a variety of body styles of which the Indigo sedan was the first to roll out after the hatchback. But soon after, Tata Motors went back to the wagon way and came up with the Tata Indigo Marina – basically an Indigo with a stretched roof making up loads of space in the back. The Indica was already spacious and the Indigo even more so. The Marina took it to a new level, though the Tata badge on it did keep buyers sceptical. The handful of those who bought it though used it to the hilt, just like any other Tata Motors vehicle out there. It even got into many a taxi fleet, which actually is an indicator of how practical the Indigo Marina was.