We do things a little differently here in India. We love helping people out on the road with directions, but will cut those same folks off 200 metres down that road while making a right U-turn from the left lane. All hell breaks loose for a few moments. Language that can stir the dead is exchanged amidst a cacophony of angry honking, and then we settle back into the rest of the angry drive, ready to unleash disturbing vocabulary again at the first instance of a traffic challenge. That's us driving.
Our cars have their own personalities too. Personal transport in India is serious business, and now cars are increasingly designed specifically for India, or at least homologated very differently to say, their European counterparts. As a result, certain quirks and traits have crept up in Indian automobiles over the years, and we've picked out ten of those qualities that separate our cars from the rest. Read on, and see if you agree with our observations.
1. Our cars are compact
For the most part, Indian cars are designed with tight dimensions to cope with our intense traffic and parking hassles. There are laws that dictate the size of our vehicles, like the sub-four-metre length regulation that attracts a lower excise duty. As a result compact cars rule the roads. Compare this to the US, where a car like the Chevrolet Cruze is considered a compact sedan. A car like the Hyundai Xcent would probably be called a roller skate there, then...
2. Hatchbacks grow big bums
The Honda Brio was never a hugely successful car in India, despite it being a good product. Maybe the looks couldn't win over everyone, but that's a different story. But then Honda decided to add a boot to the hatch and the car turned around into one of the hottest selling automobiles in the country. In fact, the country's best selling car at the moment is a Suzuki Swift with a boot, the Maruti Swift Dzire. While these cars normally leave a lot to be desired in the style department, one can't overlook the fact of these usually sub-four-metre vehicles being hugely practical while offering the economies of a traditional hatchback. We like big boots and we cannot lie...
3. Chrome is overly prominent
We like shiny things here. And more chrome apparently adds a premium touch and takes the car upmarket. Car makers here abide by this notion and lash their products with chrome that very often is more garish than classy, unfortunately. Even a company like Honda that is known worldwide for producing vehicles with reasonable sporty intent, is offering oodles of the shiny stuff on cars like the new City. Seen alongside is a typical licence plate embellishment, in this case, on a Toyota Innova. Singh is bling.
4. ‘Sport’ versions and limited-edition vehicles look tacky
When a ‘Sport' variant is launched in our country, it rarely creates too much buzz in the market, because the car, more often than not, is entirely unchanged mechanically and instead gets terribly thought-out graphics and ‘special' features like (fake) wood inside and even more chrome! On a sports variant! Car makers get away with it here, so they keep up the practice. Hyundai's Grand i10 SportZ edition is one of the newer examples - we found a Maruti 800 Uniq with its wonderfully er, creative decals.
5. Safety comes at a premium
Safety last, let's give them Bluetooth first, the manufacturers seem to be thinking. Airbags, ABS and ESP are still not even options for several cars lower down in the auto chain. The worst part is that average vehicle speeds have risen on our highways, but we're not getting even the basic minimum with regard to safety features. And so our country remains the most dangerous place in the world to drive in.
6. We get terrible accessories
Whether it's spoilers, bolt-on guards and bumpers, extra lights, or even roof racks, they tend to severely lack class and finish. We found an Innova with a side-step that actually juts far out from the car's side body panels. Picture the car moving forward on a road crowded with traffic and pedestrians on either side and imagine how easy it is to greviously injure someone. And even if they don't threaten life or limb, the majority of ‘extra fittings' available certainly need plenty of extra attention.
7. Beige necessities
Light-coloured upholstery in cabins might look swanky and upmarket to several, but aren't we forgetting that dirt shows up prominently on beige interiors after only a short time? It's a real headache to keep beige upholstery clean, but somehow that's the way we seem to like it. Spills are no thrills in Indian cars, and we're talking coffee this time.
8. Sporty cars are rare
It may be because of our infamous roads, but we are a region that thrives on cars that don't set pulses racing in the twisty bits. This is because our cars have to transport every kind of individual - the missus, the brats and the in-laws, sometimes all at once. And so, our vehicles are not the best handling in the world, but generally built for a comfortable ride. As a result, the enthusiast is usually hard pressed for sweet-driving options.
9. Wheels tend to be small
We rarely get wheels that nicely fill out the wheel wells here. This is because having larger wheels or low profile tyres are not really suitable for our tarmac - big alloy rims are seldom seen because of the propensity to crack after the shock of one of our lethal unmarked speed breakers, for example. Also, wheels for Indian cars need plenty of travel, to absorb impacts from the road surface effectively. But maybe this is changing ever so slowly with our improving road infrastructure - the recently launched Tata Zest compact sedan gets 15-inch alloys.
10. Cars are worth their own weight in load
Interior space is a huge factor when it comes to an Indian buying a car, and every manufacturer tries its best to offer the best possible room in the cabin. Because of our chaotic traffic, cars are often chauffeur-driven, prompting plenty of engineering thought into interior packaging. In addition, it is often the case that even large families can afford only a small car like a Wagon R, and the sight of six or seven heads inside such a car is still accepted as normal. And so the space race continues.
So there you have it - our ten observations of vehicles in India. Is there anything you can add to our list? If you're an international reader, how do cars in your country differ from ours? Do share your thoughts with us, we value your insights greatly.