Have you been to Chennai lately? Of course, I'm not posing this question to those who stay there, it's just that I want to point out that Chennai is changing rapidly, if you haven't noticed it.
Sleek flyovers, happening malls, repackaged idli-sambhar joints, new hangouts and discos, slick chicks and dudes. . . hmm, can't believe how the last conservative outpost in the country is becoming liberal.
There are newer, better cars on the road, and five-star hotel porches have some fancy machines parked around too.
And in a few months from now, maybe you'll get to see the new Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia standing next to Porsche Cayennes at the swanky Park Chennai at Nungambakkam and leaving Pallavan Transport Corporation buses behind at traffic signals.
I was in Chennai recently to check out some classic and vintage machinery, and in the process also wrangled a drive of this Toyota Corolla challenger wearing the three-diamond badge.
Yes, that's right, it may be called the Lancer Cedia, but this Mitsubishi is not like the Lancer you and I are familiar with. So why is it called the Lancer Cedia?
That's because the Lancer has grown over the years, and the Cedia badge which distinguished it in the initial years has now been done with in most markets.
But in India, we will have both the generations of the Lancer sold side-by-side. That way, Hindustan Motors says it can cater to customers in two segments -- so in all likelihood, we'll have the Lancer in the C-segment and the Cedia in the C+-segment. So is the Cedia good enough to take on the Corolla, Octavia and the Elantra? Let's find out.
Leaving the dusty environs of Tambaram behind, I point the nose of the Cedia towards the newly constructed two-lane Chennai bypass. While getting there, I am surprised that there are hardly any heads turning to look at what is essentially a new car on Indian roads.
Back in Mumbai, I would have people knocking on my window at traffic signals to ask about the Cedia -- any new car can evoke a reaction. Is the average Chennai car-watcher's palate jaded, or is it the Cedia's pleasant but regular looks?
The Cedia does not have any of the crisp new-gen lines of the Honda City, nor does it follow the tall-ish Neo-Classical Sedan looks of the Corolla.
Still, no one will have any reason to complain about the Cedia's non-controversial looks and quite a few will even appreciate the Mitsubishi corporate front-end treatment.
I could live with that, but it's just that if I were to own a Cedia, I would want it to look a bit special. Maybe a rally-spec Evo version in solid colours with go-faster bits would do the trick. What say, HM?
I am comfortably settled in the driver's seat and I like the interior layout and the dash. Though the switchgear looks like it belongs to a Mitsubishi of a previous generation, the overall look is quite contemporary.
The version I was driving had grey, entry-level trim, but I am sure that beige plastic and upholstery with plasto-chrome and faux wood bits will be more like it in the final Indian-spec Cedia.
I liked the four-spoke steering wheel, both in terms of looks and feel. Oh, there's even a little button-filled plastic protuberance below the steering wheel for cruise control, but I wonder if it will make an appearance in the final production version.
Like the Lancer's 12-valve 1500cc unit, the Cedia's 2000cc inline-four feels free and refined, especially for a powerplant that features a busy four valves per cylinder.
Developing 125 bhp at 5500 revs and 17.64 kgm of torque at 4250 rpm, the larger Mitsubishi engine may not beat the Corolla's smaller 1.8 in horsepower terms, but thanks to the additional cubes -- making it the biggest petrol unit in its class -- the engine feels less stressed and more relaxed.
Which makes a big difference if you want to crunch miles. In fact, driving on the Chennai bypass for the better part of an hour, I felt like I had barely spent enough time in the car. I should have proceeded to check out the nightlife in Bangalore as well.
Transmitting the power to the front wheels is a five-speed gearbox that's again quite similar in feel to that of the Lancer. The gear ratios are evenly spaced and do a good job both on the highway and on the crowded city roads.
In fact, the fact that the torque curve peaks at high revs does not in any way make it less driveable in stop-and-go traffic -- the Cedia is surprisingly composed in these conditions, as even if the tacho needle is in the lower ranges, it does not hamper driveability.
The gearshift quality may not be in the realm of the Honda City's, but it's enjoyable in its own right. Perhaps a rounded, sporty gear lever knob will allow for more involving throws. Still, it didn't stop me from exploring the higher reaches of the engine while on the highway.
Enthusiastic downshifts are rewarded by a surge in acceleration, and the 16-valver's general peaceful sense of contentment changes to something a bit more rabid.
Soon I was leapfrogging slower trucks on the two-lane bypass, so much so that it was becoming addictive -- drawing up behind a truck, checking out if the coast is clear, a quick downshift, and you're through with more than enough room to spare.
The Cedia's underpinnings are impressive for a car in its class, with McPherson struts and coil springs at front and a multi-link setup at the rear with stabiliser bar.
On good roads, it offers a decent ride, while on bad roads, er, I'm sorry, I didn't experience much of those where I drove in Chennai. Maybe I should evaluate the car on the monsoon-kissed Mumbai moonscape.
Also, this test Cedia rode on 185/65 14-inch Yokohama rubber -- but the tyre specs, in all likelihood, are expected to change, with larger 15-inch Indian rubber coming in their place.
So a comprehensive test of this car with all the localised bits and revised suspension settings will be more relevant. But what's for sure is that the Cedia will be competitively spec-ed when it's ready for launch. ABS with EBD is certain, and so are airbags for the driver and front passenger.
The Cedia will be assembled by Hindustan Motors at their Chennai plant from SKD kits and should be on our roads by the end of this year.
Price indications are that it should be somewhere in the realm of what the Corolla or the Octavia retail in showrooms -- Rs 11 lakh or thereabouts.
What HM can consider is fitting in the four-speed automatic Invecs-II gearbox with manual override from the 1.8 version of the Lancer, which will be appreciated by buyers in this category. But that, even if it happens, will be some time away.
Quick, HM, bring forward the launch of the Cedia, try making it coincide with the festive season. You see, there are a whole lot of folks waiting to upgrade from their existing cars, especially in Chennai. Change is best noticed when it's rapid.