Bear with me, this column is a bit personal – it involves a bittersweet parting. After I moved on from Porsche India and gave up the fancy company car, I decided to try the new world of mobility, of non-car ownership and app-based cabs to get to work. Not a good idea, especially if you’re one of the most skilled backseat drivers in the world. It was teeth-grittingly stressful trying to ghost-upshift gears, invisibly depressing the throttle pedal or nudging the entire car into the correct lane while sitting at the rear. Bringing my BP into control was more important than saving the environment by reducing one car from the road. In a frustrating three weeks flat, I decided to buy one after all.
I needed a not-so-tall SUV so that my parents could get into the car with ease, decent room inside for passengers and stuff, good build quality, an automatic transmission for coping with stop-go traffic, a petrol engine for refinement and of course, it had to be an involving car to drive – steering feel and handling were important. The other functional bit was that it had to have a large boot so photographers could move freely in order to take tracking shots, it should be a car that I should not fuss about when someone else was driving, plus could handle a bit of abuse. I was putting together features on vintage and classic cars for various magazines, so it needed to be part of my essential gear.
The only car that matched all my key requirements was the Maruti Suzuki S-Cross crossover, except for that diesel-manual powertrain. I opted for the 1.3 instead of the 1.6, which was a bomb of a motor and terrific on the highway. But with a six-speed gearbox that would rarely see the upper reaches plus a heavier clutch and prodigious levels of torque steer meant I would require left leg replacement surgery after every commute in Mumbai’s infamous Lowest Parel.
In December 2016 came in a new S-Cross: a completely rational purchase right down to the indifferent grey colour, ticking most of my boxes and a thoroughly functional piece of kit. Six years and six months later, the S-Cross proved to be a great companion. No, this is not going to be a long-term report that you’d see in the back of autoX.
Instead, what I want to say is that an automobile is unlike any other consumer durable – even one that is a pure machine that you bought to address your functional requirements. Unlike a refrigerator or washing machine, the car is your silent friend / partner / companion / collaborator / buddy / significant other (insert appropriate relationship here!). What makes an automobile different is that it literally and physically accompanies you in that journey called life, and consequently is associated with emotions during each of these journeys. Whether you’re driving it by yourself or have company in the car, you are never truly alone when you’re with it. It is always with you. Unlike motionless durables fed by electricity, the car is like a sentient creature. It responds to your inputs, each act of driving is part of a long conversation, and there is a give-and-take in this relationship. The vehicle is like a family member and other members treat it that way too. Like a loyal pet, it waits for your command and provided you have fed it and kept it healthy, it serves you well without complaining. And it loves to be groomed too… ever done that to your television? There is a sense of pride when someone else makes a remark about it, on how new it’s still looking or how remarkably spacious it is or that it rides well. You take the compliment personally, as you would do with your child that’s done well. Long journeys increase this bonding even more, and when you park it after it brings you and your loved ones safe back home, you whisper a silent thank you. Heck, is a car just a car?
Even though it’s barely done 33,000 kilometres, life with the S-Cross has been enjoyable – give or take a few productive years because of Covid! It’s as good as new and has a long life ahead of it. But it’s time to get another car and another family would like to add a new member today. Yes, as I am writing this, today is my last day with the S-Cross. A friend is taking it home and she stays five minutes away. The S-Cross will still be around me, though not mine. Hence the bittersweet parting. As far as the replacement is concerned, it is an out-and-out emotional, irrational purchase – wonder how that’s going to turn out.