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Rediff.com  » Business » How good are the new Palio, Scorpio?

How good are the new Palio, Scorpio?

August 30, 2003 13:01 IST

So what is so new about the new Scorpio?' is one question Mahindra dealers and salespeople had better be ready to answer.

Because if you do not have the eye of a diamond polisher or the X-ray vision of Superman, you will not be able to make out the differences.

Like a very mature car maker, Mahindra decided to do a rather understated make-over to their best-selling SUV.

All right, the front grille has been altered and a revised number plate position means the air-dam covered by sporty wire-mesh is now very visible.

This was done so that the temperature inside the engine compartment is kept low. But none of these are changes that get the layman interested.

But not so with the interiors and that is where we will start the tour of the new Scorpio from. The new upholstery is refreshing and the seats, especially the middle row ones, have been improved considerably to provide a sense of space and more leg room.

Front seat passengers now get arm rests and slightly firmer, and hence more comfortable seats.

Being an SUV,  seating position is taller than normal cars and the body on chassis nature of the Scorpio ensures that passengers do move around a bit in tandem with the expected body roll.

Mahindra R&D was not very happy with the ride and handling set-up that they had to settle for when they were ready to launch the Scorpio a year ago. You see, you either get brilliant ride quality or an SUV that goes around corners decently - not both.

We at BSM were given a much-improved car to try out as early as December 2002 and Mahindra had built these improvements into the cars that we had used for the One Lap Of India event in February 2003.

The latest round of suspension tweaks revolved around providing better middle and rear seat ride quality and from our stint with the new

Scorpio, they have succeeded in that.

A rather fundamental change was made to the engine - the new chain drive motor, designated SZ 2600 Plus Diesel Turbo DI, has done wonders for the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) characteristics of the Scorpio.

Not that there was much criticism on this front to begin with, but the oil burner has been further refined. Even after a cold start, the engine note (and more so the turbo whine) does not intrude into the cabin and irritate you.

Though Mahindra insists the engine is 'new',  the output figures remain the same, i.e.; 109 bhp at 3800 rpm and 26 kgm of torque at 1800 clicks.

The rear axle ratio has been changed from 4.55 to 3.33 in search for those additional few kpl. Good move, but wait a while and we'll tell you the actual fuel efficiency figures.

Maybe new graphics or an all-new shade of paint to celebrate the Scorpio anniversary would have been nice - but that has to wait.

So there you are, small but critical improvements that are sure to take our Car Of The Year  2003 to more exciting times.

Neighbour's envy?

The press release claimed that Fiat would be introducing the Palio NV in 'a new youthful, glamourous and attractive colour called Passion Purple', but when I ran down to our parking lot to take a look at the NV, my hopes of recapturing squandered youth were dashed to the ground.

There was this regular silver Palio, which, apart from the NV badge on the boot, looked familiar as ever.

Well, okay, it also sported a Fiat centenary logo on the hatch, which had to be significant, because the aforementioned press release also said this emblem 'stands for change in continuity, a sign of the past reinterpreted in a modern light'.

Folks, I kid you not...

Actually, the 'old' Palio was quite a competent car, and if you remember, it won our 'Car of the Year' award in 2001. While the 1.6 GTX was (and is) the wild-child hot-hatch, the 1.2 represented the more staid and sensible deal.

Fuel efficiency was something of a problem with the Palio duo though, which, coupled with Fiat's spares and service woes, led to declining sales.

The company hopes to remedy the situation with the new 1.2 NV, which is fitted with a modified exhaust system aimed at boosting mileage.

I'm told the car's catalytic converter has been brought closer to the exhaust manifold, which makes for better controlled emissions during cold starts, and improved fuel efficiency.

Other notable changes include a modified temperature regulator for the air-conditioning system which is supposed to reduce the compressor's load on the engine (again affecting mileage), and a new air dam under the front bumper.

The NV also gets a tachometer (earlier available only on the 1.6), door-open indicators linked to all four doors, and a roof light with delayed cut-off, which allows it to fade out gradually.

There is also a Sport variant, and the Sport NV gets 14-inch alloys and 175/65 rubber (already standard on the 1.6 GTX), both of which are likely to improve the cars' handling and roadholding characteristics.

How is the new car to drive? Well, I haven't conducted a full-blown test yet, but my initial impression is that the new car doesn't feel all that different from the old one.

Our test car was an ELX NV, which, unlike the Sport NV, rides on 13-inch pressed-steel wheels. On that car at least, ride quality was brilliant as ever, and the car went over

Mumbai's potholed roads (post-monsoon special-edition tarmac, no less) without a care in the world. The Kenwood FM/tape-player was not bad at all, fit and finish was quite okay, there were no rattles or squeaks from any part of the car, and things generally seemed to be in order.

Srini and I disagreed on engine performance though. I thought the engine seemed less punchy than older Palio 1.2s that I've driven in the past, while he didn't think there's any difference in performance, and found the NV quite good fun to drive.

I'd say the engine is sluggish below 3000 revs, after which it perks up a bit. Having also driven the Palio 1.9 extensively, maybe I've just got too used to the torquey nature of the bigger diesel. Whatever, the 1.9D is certainly more usable, more tractable in city traffic.

We didn't really get a chance to accurately test the NV's mileage, but the car seems to be averaging approximately 10 - 10.5 kpl with the AC on, which is fair enough. I'm still not too sure about the fuel-injection re-mapping though.

Prices have not been announced yet, but if Fiat are sensible with pricing, then the NV's super-comfy ride quality and new-found fuel efficiency might just mean that the Palio 1.2 will continue to remain in contention against newer cars from the competition, which are well on their way.

Best of luck, Fiat.

Bijoy Kumar Y and Sameer Kumar in Mumbai