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Switch hitter: The new Mahindra Scorpio

By Pablo Chaterji in Mumbai
June 22, 2009 17:03 IST
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Your spanking new Scorpio's parked in the backyard, freshly washed, glinting in the sunlight and begging to be taken for a ride.

You succumb to its entreaties, pick up the keys and jump in, a tune on your lips. You settle into the driver's seat, adjust the mirrors, slip your favourite CD into the audio system, turn up the air-conditioning and crank her up. The engine settles into a steady idle; you engage first and you're off.

The Scorpio's running smoothly and the new-car smell hovers around your nostrils. You smile -- everything's as it should be.

In the distance, you see cars slowing down as the traffic signal turns from amber to red. You shed speed accordingly, downshifting until you come to a gentle halt, and you put the Scorpio into neutral. Just over two seconds later, the engine cuts out automatically.

"Whoa! What's going on?!" you wonder. Panic floods you, with visions of breakdown vans and irate motorists standing on their horns behind you.

Then it hits -- you're driving the Scorpio Micro Hybrid. Relieved, and feeling sheepish at having forgotten, you wait for the light to turn green, depress the clutch pedal and continue on your merry way.

If you're wondering what that was all about, it's quite simple. In this, the latest iteration of their best-selling Scorpio, Mahindra have incorporated what they call a 'fuelsmart system with micro hybrid technology.'

Before you ask, the answer is no, there's no electric motor whirring away as a sidekick to the IC engine and yes, the name is therefore a bit misleading, perhaps even gimmicky. What is it, then?

In essence, it's like a rather simple cut-off switch. The technology, developed by M&M and Bosch, enables the vehicle to detect movement while you're driving. When you've slowed down to a complete halt, and after you've engaged neutral, the system kicks in and cuts off the engine after two seconds. When you're good to go again, all you do is depress the clutch pedal and the engine starts up.

The benefits of this feature are obvious, on the face of it. The less time your engine spends running, the less fuel it consumes -- that isn't exactly rocket science, is it? Additionally, when the engine's not running, it's not spewing noxious gases into the atmosphere -- another plus.

How does it work in the real world, though? The answer is 'Well, but not without drawbacks.'

When you're waiting at a traffic light, it's all right to have the engine cut out for a couple of minutes and then re-start itself when you depress the clutch. However, when you're crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic and coming to a brief halt, it's downright annoying to have the engine keep switching itself off -- the interval needs to be a lot longer than two seconds.

In these conditions, whatever fuel and environmental benefits you're gaining are likely to be offset by your battery and starter motor being stressed more than necessary.

Further, the aircon is switched off with the engine, and if you're roasting in an Indian summer, you're not likely to be amused.

The good news is that there's a button with which you can turn this system off, so it's up to you to use it judiciously. Fuel economy figures don't show a noticeable spike -- 9.6 kpl versus 9.9 with the system switched on -- but a saving is a saving.

Aside from that, this is still the good old Scorpio. The same, dependable m-Hawk engine does duty under the hood, and there are only a few cosmetic changes to distinguish this model -- new bumpers, redesigned headlights, fresh side cladding and a large chrome insert in the grille.

M&M are asking an extra Rs 3,800 for this model and, all things considered, I'd say it's money well spent. Just remember to, er, remember that you've switched it on.

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Pablo Chaterji in Mumbai
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