The Indian market is a crazy place. And while it might be difficult to crack, it’s grown in such a way that new segments have arisen in it. Be it the compact saloon segment or the crossovers, we’ve all been super kind to the most entrants. Here’s looking back a little to appreciate the models that started it all in their respective segments.
First, the king, that is Maruti 800.
It was brought to India with the government’s help, and managed to stand on its own. Not just that, the car started a trend that went on to become what’s the biggest segment in the country – affordable hatchbacks. Right from the SS80, the 800 has helped people dream big, in a way that the Nano always wanted to. Relatively simple mechanics meant it wasn’t too difficult to repair, especially the later models, and the robust engineering helped it run smoothly forever. The 45 hp version stood out for being the most fun to drive, ticking almost every box.
Ratan Tata – the chairman emeritus of Tata – had to face a lot of opposition to his ideas, and the Indica wasn’t an easy decision for him to make, and the diesel hatchback segment would have been a totally different arena had he not taken the plunge. Thankfully he did, and the Indica went on to redefine economy.
Tata indigo eCS
The sub-4 metre saloon (sedan) segment wasn’t born in a day. The Tata Indigo eCS which was nothing but a shortened version of the Indigo, based on the Indica platform, continues to be one of the more spacious ones around. Neither as feature rich nor as good a driver’s car, the Indigo eCS led the taxi segment for a while, but eventually gave way to the more modern and overall better products in the segment.
Premier brought Fiat to India, which turned out to be a very successful offering its heyday, but its (and the market’s) first sub-4 metre/compact SUV was far from being successful. The more competent rivals like the EcoSport ensure that the Rio stayed out of the limelight, while its under appreciable performance did itself no favour, either.
Fiat Palio 1.6
It’s a remarkable thing that the Fiat Abarth Punto will now take the crown of being India’s proper hot hatch (in the current line-up) but it was the Palio 1.6 that started it all. Fans and enthusiasts still want one, and unlike the Punto, the Palio 1.6 came with a naturally aspirated engine that made 100 hp in a time when your everyday hatchback (read the 800) made about 35.
A hatchback that costs almost as much as the saloon it shares its platform with, offers almost as much space but with added practicality. Yes, that’s the premium hatchback segment for you, and it was the Jazz that changed the way the market perceived expensive hatchbacks. The segment is now booming, and if there’s a car that is needed to be thanked, it has to be the Jazz.
Fiat Linea T-Jet
Fiat Linea is a great car to drive in its ‘regular’ form, but making a performance saloon out of an otherwise good to drive, but pretty looking car is another feather in Fiat’s hat. The 1.4-litre T-Jet turbocharged petrol engine makes 112 hp and 207 Nm of torque, both of which are more than adequate to make an enthusiast happy without hampering the comfort of the rear passengers. It would be really nice if Fiat could place the engine in the Punto and… Oh, wait a sec!
Don’t get fooled by the Innova being as ubiquitous (okay almost) as the 800, but if there was a vehicle that started the MPV segment, then it is the Innova. A number of updates later, the car retains the same shape that made it famous, and with a big update coming next year, it just promises to be better. It might have become pricier than before, and the onslaught of car-based MPVs might have taken a share from its cake, but Innova still excels in ride comfort – something that solely makes it stand out.
Do you remember the brilliant advertisements that Tata Motors/Telco aired for the Safari? They were nothing short of awesome, and as a first proper, made in India 7-seater SUV, the Safari was no less stunning, either. The Storme takes it all forward with its better road holding capability, a much improved interior, and more power.
Mitsubishi Pajero SFX
Looking for a full-size SUV that can go off-road, have an insurmountable road presence, and can seat seven? Well of course, there’s the market’s favourite Fortuner, but it wasn’t so always. The Pajero SFX was the one that pushed for a segment that didn’t exist. And it did so brilliantly. It was straight out of the 1990s, and had no problems about it. The 2.8-litre engine was good, and although short geared, the 92-litre fuel tank made the Pajero a good contender for highway cruising. And off-roading, of course.