Who said you need big money to have big fun? Who said you need a bottomless bank account and your own fuel pump to drive a great car every day? What we’ve assembled here are cars that deliver the thrills without breaking your bank balance. We dug around to find some driver’s cars with soul, that were available for under Rs 2 lakh at the time. Yes, you will have to buy them used, but as long as they make you grin from ear to ear, does that really matter?
Honda City VTEC
The first generation of the Honda City in India occupies a very special place in every motorhead’s heart. That low-slung look is distinctly cool even today, and that high-revving, high-tech petrol engine is dynamite. The VTEC suffix denotes that this car employs variable valve timing and lift electronic control – what this essentially does, in layman terms, is optimise the opening and closing of the valves according to the revs of the engine; at low revs, the focus is on fuel efficiency, while at high revs, it is on maximising power output.
So, in action, the VTEC’s bottom end feels slightly weak. But the mid-range on, it picks up with ever more vigour to a top-end that is just manic. In fact, the way the engine builds power all the way up to its 7,100rpm redline is what makes the VTEC so special. Then, there’s that gearbox. It’s light, precise and has short throws, making it an absolute joy to use. The engine-gearbox just make you want to drive harder and harder and harder.
Legendary City VTEC still thrills for the way its engine revs to 7,000rpm.
There’s also a street racer vibe to the VTEC today. The sight of the trademark spoiler in the rear view mirror could have something to do with this. Also, while the cabin may seem spartan, you won’t really complain. There’s just something very pure and unadulterated about the package.
The low ride height and aerodynamic shape also provide great straightline speed, and tight control around corners. However, Honda had to make some compromises in terms of the firmness of the suspension, so you do get better ride in the city at the cost of sheer cornering ability.
The VTEC remains truckloads of fun to drive. It won’t have valets running to you at the hotel porch but fellow boy racers will nod in approval. We strongly suggest buying a later model though, because once the 15-year rule for cars kicks in, early models will be headed for the scrap yard in some states.
The word ‘SUV’ brings to mind images of big, bulky cars with gargantuan tyres, mighty large engines and lots of weight. The Gypsy, however, is an off-roader. It’s just about 4 metres in length, houses a 1.3-litre petrol engine under its hood and weighs in at 985kg for the soft-top variant. Think about this – the Gypsy is the Indian Army’s vehicle of choice, and our faujis drive in some really challenging conditions. If it’s good for them, it should definitely be good enough for all of us.
For sheer off-road capability and kicking up a sandstorm, there is little to match the Gypsy at its price.
The Gypsy is as bare a car as you could buy in today’s day and age. Even a brand new one comes without power steering, air conditioning, power windows, a stereo system or anything which resembles creature comforts in the slightest of ways. What you do get, though, is switchable four-wheel drive and a power-to-weight ratio that allows it to scramble up hills, rocks and dunes as if they are but niggles in its path. The way the Gypsy can kick up sand in the face of many a modern SUV is known to be a matter of pride for owners. And should anything break, Maruti’s service crew will have it up and running in no time. Spares aren’t a problem.
Switchable four-wheel drive and a very light weight will allow you to clamber up pretty much any terrain.
But can you live with it on a daily basis? Well, that depends on your threshold for discomfort. Let’s just put it this way. The leaf spring suspension, wildly inconsistent steering and light weight means there’s never a dull moment in a Gypsy drive on tarmac. The Esteem-sourced engine does like to be revved and the gearbox feels oddly good to use – the lack of any insulating layers whatsoever allows you to hear a distinct clink every time you slot into a new ratio.
The problem with the Gypsy though, is the difficulty in finding a good one for cheap. Your best bet is to find one decommissioned by the government or armed forces. These Gypsys typically come into the market through auctions that are open to all. Note, these auctions generally unload Gypsies in lots of four-six cars. Off-roading clubs often pick these lots up – talk to one, they will probably be happy to let you in on the deal.
When the Swift came to India, it enamoured pretty much everyone – that bulbous, curvaceous look was different from anything the Indian market had ever seen. And then, there was the drive.
The original Swift was characterised by very many things essential for a good driving experience. The 1.3-litre petrol engine was peppy and responsive, the gearbox allowed you to execute crisp shifts. However, the powertrain was just part of the equation. There was something else that made it feel special. And that was how tight and chuckable it felt around corners.
Small, practical and oodles of fun to drive, the Swift makes the everyday commute a joyride.
Even so many years down the road, the original Swift continues to excite. It gives you that sense of connection that’s somehow missing in modern hatchbacks. Drive one hard and, like good music, it really can uplift your mood. At the same time, this is also a car you don’t need much space to have fun with and that’s what makes it so likeable.
What’s more, you won’t have to look too hard to find one in reasonably good condition. First-gen Swifts are easy to find, easier to get serviced and cheap to keep running. Cheap thrills, indeed.
Skoda Octavia vRS
Caveat first: you’ll need to find a seller benevolent enough to sell a vRS in good condition for under Rs 200,000. These cars are relatively rare, and owners are known to be a possessive lot. In all probability, if you do find a vRS under Rs 200,000, you’d be dealing with a second owner. So, check the car you find properly, and if all’s good, you’re in for a treat.
Let’s start with the looks. We’ve always loved that crouching-tiger-waiting-to-pounce stance. Its haunches are muscular, the lines clean and tyres fat. And don’t you just love those wheels? But what sets the Octy vRS apart is the way it drives.
Even today, the Octavia vRS can outrun cars far pricier than it. Proper, handling-centric suspension delivers the goods and gives massive confidence at speed.
Find yourself a good seating position, slot the gear into first and hit the gas. There is a sudden gush of power as the turbo spools up and pumps air into the cylinders of the 1.8-litre petrol engine. You feel it in the small of your back. The engine produces thick bands of torque that push the Octavia vRS on and on. In fact, this decade-old car will still take you to 200kph-plus speeds, and that is remarkable.
The Octy vRS also takes the RS in its badge seriously. Where the Laura vRS that came later was mildly a cosmetic job, the Octy even got firmer dampers and a redone suspension. Skoda’s expertise in designing suspensions… you experience that here. The Octavia’s steering is precise and offers supreme levels of feel.
What’s more, the Octavia vRS might be something of an investment too. One of the few cars in the history of the automobile to feature a five-valve-per-cylinder setup, there’s a good chance it will become something of a collector’s item in the coming future.
So there you go
So there you have it. A list of a handful of cars you can go and buy without lightening your wallet too much. We recommend you try getting your hands on one, because why ‘commute’ when you can ‘drive’?