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May 31, 2003
"Hey look, the Xing" (Teenager pushing a shopping cart)
"Uncle, the sides are not changed?" (McKid carrying a Happy Meal asking me)
"Naya Santro" (Gujarati housewife walking by)
"Is that your new car?" (Lady executive to her colleagues)
"You bought this car?" (Youth excitedly asking me)
"So she saw my skirt and said... look, the new Santro" (20-something girls chatting past)
"It's in front of me, yaar. The steering wheel looks different" (Executive peering in and talking on the cellphone)
Photographing the new Hyundai Santro Xing turned out to be an inadvertent vox populi of sorts. We were inside the Phoenix High Street shopping and entertainment complex in Mumbai, and Param was photographing the car. I was standing nearby and was witness to an endless procession of people commenting on the car. It was simply unbelievable.
I could park an Mercedes-Benz SL at that same spot and people would have admired it and but walked on. But with the Xing, there was much more involvement from passers-by.
While you wouldn't touch anybody's SL, with the Xing, there was an entire 'touch and try' session taking place. Many of them were bold enough to open the doors and even check the upholstery.
And I wanted to tell them, look folks, it's just the same old Santro with a major facelift. It has got a new front end and a revised rear end, that's all.
It's no big deal, manufacturers do it all the time. It's the done thing when you want to freshen the car up to revitalise sales and extend its life for some more years. Heck, it's not even an all-new car. It's just...
"Excuse me, can I get a test-drive?" (Impertinent but optimistic 30-year old man requesting me) Sigh. Well, I guess you have to give Hyundai Motor India its due. They have not waited for a downturn in the Santro's sales to do some damage control.
The Santro, averaging a sales figure of about 7,000 units a month, is the leader in its segment. Conventional wisdom could have meant if it ain't broke, why fix it. But looks like the guys at Hyundai weren't waiting for it to break.
Okay, so what's the big deal about the Xing, other than having to keep seeing Shah Rukh Khan's mug on the telly? Here it is. For over a year, the engineers and designers at Hyundai Korea have been working on this extensive redesign. The most obvious changes are at the front and the rear.
Gone is the old grumpy look and in is a more international and contemporary look. The front gets a new grille, bumper and headlamp treatment, which goes along with the new look of Hyundais internationally -- it began with the scheduled-for-India Getz, the Tuscani sports coupe and the recent Accent facelift.
Though the headlamps seem disproportionately big, you can't deny they add a cheery character to the car. The new tailgate treatment at the rear incorporates a new glass section and a large black strip running from end-to-end to remove monotony. The tail lamps are also quite pretty and add, let's say, zing to the rear end.
Inside, the dash and the central console is more or less the same, except for better vents, a new three-spoke steering wheel and sporty dials.
Finally, the Santro Xing gets some features that were felt missing earlier, including a newly designed ergonomic handrest, a rear parcel shelf and a luggage lamp, power controls for the rear windows and that really useful storage tray under the two front seats.
What you won't notice however is that the new Santro is longer by about 70 mm (though the wheelbase stays the same) and wider by 30 mm. It does not necessarily translate to better room inside, but the overall tall-boy look does seem to have diminished somewhat.
When viewed in profile, it's clear what the carry-over elements of the earlier version are, but it's a masterful job indeed.
Hyundai did a clever thing by increasing the prices of the Santro a few weeks before launching the Xing. Which means they can claim that they have retained the same price for the new model! Now that translates to an ex-showroom price of Rs 3,46,368 in Mumbai and Rs 3,29,721 in Delhi, for the base XE variant. The top-of-the-line is the XS, at Rs 4,12,696 (Mumbai) and Rs 3,92,834 (Delhi).
The engine stays the same peppy 1.1 Epsilon unit: inline four with three valves per cylinder, displacing 1086 CC, developing 62 bhp at 5500 revs and 9.1 kgm of torque at 4000 rpm.
Driving the Xing -- and attracting more finger-pointings and hey-looks -- you figure that the Hyundai still remains the best city car around.
The steering wheel is more butch, which feels quite different from the earlier Santros -- no complaints, it's just that it doesn't go with the overall size of the car.
Initially, the door handle seems to intrude with your right elbow, but if you get used to it, you'll end up resting your arm on it and assuming a relaxed posture.
I like the five-speed gearbox, it's quick and snappy and takes the drudgery away from the frequent gearshifts involved in city driving. But there's always the automatic gearbox option -- which comes wearing an exclusive shade of red -- that makes the urban commute even better.
The power delivery is just about adequate and the ride for the rear passengers is still twitchy, especially on bad roads. Maybe these are the only two negatives in what's overall a good small car.
Earlier you could complain about the looks, but now Hyundai has erased that from its complaints list as well. With this major nip-and-tuck operation, the Korean major has just extended the life of the Santro, and has consolidated their lead in the B-segment.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some eager people to attend to.