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     Volume 5 Issue 84 | March 3, 2006 |

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The Good the Big and the Outrageous

Ours is a small country with an even smaller road network. However, that does not stop us from buying lots of cars and taking them to the streets to create ever-growing traffic jams. In the last couple of years, we have seen a huge number of car manufacturers offering their brand new wares on the market. Each car is tailor made for a particular environment. So what does the market have in store for you?

The Good
Good means practical, frugal and reliable. In some cases good also stands for boring. Oh well, you cannot have everything. So who would need such cars? Considering skyrocketing oil prices, most would-be car owners want vehicles that do not guzzle up too much fuel.

Nothing can beat small cars with small engines when it comes to fuel efficiency. Entry-level contenders include Suzukis assembled in India. The cheapest and smallest is the Maruti Suzuki 800, a wheezy 800cc that can be termed the most basic car available. Fit and finish are rather poor but with these types of cars you don't really worry too much about squeaks and rattles. They are cute looking cars, with shiny cheap interior plastic and dashboard graphics that resembles an arcade game console. Then there is the slightly bigger engined Alto, Zen and Wagon R by the same company. These have a little bit more power but that's about it. They are also a little lightweight, which makes them vulnerable to our pot-holed, badly maintained city roads. This makes maintenance costs run higher than usual. Then there is the Tata Inidca which is a better car for value despite costing a little more. The advantage is that the Indica is offered with a diesel variant. All these are offered only with manual transmissions that provide more fuel savings than an automatic transmission. But that's what you want a small car for isn't it? Reconditioned car salesmen would like to tell you otherwise.

If you want superb reliability, there's the Toyota Echo that comes with a 1300 cc engine and is slightly bigger. In a similar class there is the Suzuki's tall and narrow Liana with a 1300 cc engine. Next in line is the new and rather stubby Honda City/Jazz. It's definitely not pretty, rather the opposite. These last three cars have great build quality, good equipment levels and the air conditioning won't stress out the engine. Also being small these will help you snap into parking spaces with that much ease. Practical, but definitely nothing to set the pulse racing. Prices for the choices above fall within the range of 4-16 lakhs.

The Big
Slightly bigger offerings are the highly competent Nissan Sunny, Proton Wira, Toyota Corolla, Mitsubishi Lancer and Honda Civic. These belong to the same size segment and have engines between 1300 and 1500 cc. Equipment levels are quite high with standard power toys as well as decent amounts of space for four large adults and one child haplessly squeezed among them. Price range is 8-18 lakhs. Safety features include the standard driver's side and passenger airbags as well as ABS (anti brake locking) systems. The Proton is the cheapest of the bunch and is reliable in the sense that it is based on previous models, tried and tested Mitsubishis.

Bigger models include a host of cars such as the Hyundai Sonata, Mitsubishi Gallant, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Volvo S40 (with 1600cc engine) and the BMW 3 series. Prices go up respectively with starting units at around 20 lakhs. Build and refinement are very high as well as the long list of equipments. Recent offering is the new Subaru Imprezza with four-wheel drive as standard. Smart looking car with great race bred handling.

Of course, if you want even bigger there's the Volvo S80 2400cc turbo model with 0-100kmph in about 8 seconds. Now that's fast for such a big car. Then there's the Toyota Crown followed by the C and E class of the Mercedes stable. If the Mercedes models have the word Kompressor after the badge that means it is supercharged. In layman's terms the air is force-fed into the engine to create extra oomph! A lot of oomph! Prices are close to the stratosphere. The biggest in the range available in Bangladesh from Mercedes is the S Class that has more toys than you can finish playing with in a year's time. The car to avoid is the bloated BMW 7 series with a trunk section that looks as if someone shoved in a box as an afterthought. What happened to the sleek 7 series of yore? Comparatively the smaller and cheaper BMW 5 series is way much better.

Big cars are also necessary in case you have a bunch of noisy kids whom you would like to throw somewhere far into the rear. People carriers, multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) or microbuses; call them what you want but these are basically glorified vans. That doesn't make them bad though. These are the cars with a snubbed front and have enough space inside to take in the children and the grandparents with space left over for the kitchen sink as well. Choice pick would be the Honda Odyssey with a large 2.2 litre engine and typical safety features like air bags, ABS and EBD.

The Outrageous
When it rains here it really rains and city streets look like a set from the movie Waterworld. But that's about the only time you will need off-roaders. In most cases such big gas guzzling vehicles are an absolute waste. They help only when you need to look down at the world with snooty eyes. That's why these cars fall into the outrageous category. Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, Land Cruiser, Mitsubishi Pajero are capable but typical. The most recent entrant into the off-roading market is the Subaru Forester with very car like handling that belies the fact that you are traveling in anything else. BMWs X5 is a handsome beast and a very fast one indeed. But it's been prowling the Dhaka streets for a while now. The X3 is a smaller version with terrible proportions. Somehow the lines don't quite flow together. If you want to bask in luxury nothing beats the Range Rover with its beautifully done interior in wood, leather and aluminum. The exterior is very square like a brick but it's like a brick designed by Versace. In one word, it's elegant.

If you want truly outrageous then there's the Porsche Cayenne off-roader. Nothing else on the road beats the turbo version that has around 400 horsepower and enough acceleration to make a lot of sports cars hide their front end in shame. Problem with the Cayenne is it has styling similar to the sports car and that is at odds with what we typically expect of an off roader. Prices are of course stratospheric costing upwards of 1.5crore. And let's not forget the AMG tuned Mercedes ML 55 AMG. These two tuned monsters can accelerate to 100 kmph in under 7 seconds.

If you want a convertible to enjoy the polluted air of the city there are the Volvo C70, BMW 3 series convertibles, Porsche Boxter and the ridiculously fast Mercedes SL. Nothing spells out cool more than these cars. Of course keep the top up or else you will be coughing your way to an early grave if the speeding doesn't kill you first. BMW's Z4 convertible on the other hand is a very weirdly proportioned car as if designed by someone who was drunk. Ugly it may be but the German badge still serves as a convincing status symbol.

Outrageous cars on the other hand can't be anything other than the ridiculously sublime and oh-so-gorgeous BMW M3. Where the Z4 looks weird in any conditions the M3 looks amazing even in the vilest of colours. Yes, you can order the M3 in a shade of bile yellow. It's an insane car with out-of-the-world performance. It's a surreal experience as you rev the engine to the redline, hear the beep and shift up with a resulting explosive push in the back. Few other cars offer such thrilling rides. With out-of-the world performance comes out-of-the-world price. Also on hand is the Nissan 350Z which offers blistering performance at slightly less blistering prices. The king of all these crazy cars is none other than the Porsche 911. Right now it is the ultimate flash car in the country. With a rear engine layout and a host of safety features as well as handling aids this car can't go wrong unless you are a seriously terrible driver. The problem remains that we don't have roads to test the limits of these cars. What a pity!

Bangladesh is poor country but you would be hard pressed to think so seeing all these snazzy cars prowling the streets. These are some of the best and worst picks that you may ponder on this year.


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