First Base

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BY
VIVEK VENUGOPAL

February 20

It’s funny how uncanny things can be for an enthusiast at the wheels of different machines. At one you may find yourself yawning, while you are doing 100 miles an hour and on some other machine you could be having 1000 smiles an hour, even when you aren’t exceeding the speed limits. And that is exactly my point. Fun sometimes comes in pint sized packages. I’m talking about hot hatches here. Unfortunately, we have not had too many models that really qualify as hot hatches. But, we sure have had some fun hatches. Maruti Suzuki Zen is one of them. A sensible, easy to find, joy to own and cheap to run, fun car with decent mod potential, the Zen was the definitive hatch to have in its days and even today, it’s the most sought after car from the nineties. But the problem is that it’s not exactly very exclusive and it doesn’t have that pose value you want when you’re driving around, when your mates are in fancier and more modern cars. The solution? A limited edition three door Zen.

And that’s the reason why Anuj, a young business man from Kochi, zeroed in on a used Zen Steel as the new addition to his garage. When Anuj bought the car 4 months back, it was in stock condition. So he took it to Coimbatore based tuner, Raj Hingorani for some extra oomph. To start with, the breathing was taken care of with a K&N conical air filter on the intake side and 4-2-1 headers that leads to a side exhaust, for free (and loud) exhaling. The car is also running esteem cams. NGK iridium spark plugs take care of the fireworks inside the engine and Anuj insists on using Mobil 1 synthetic oil. He claims the car now has very good low end grunt and the performance has improved throughout the rev range.

On the handling side, the tyres were upsized to 195/45 R15 Pirelli P7s and they now run on white Lenso Raiden 15inch rims. The wheel size is a little larger than ideal, but you can’t really go any lower on profile with 15 inchers on our roads. Bigger, Esteem front brakes ensure shorter stopping distances, while the excessively soft rear stock shock absorbers were replaced with more heavy duty dampers from the Maruti Gypsy. The front suspension has also been beefed up to provide better handling and braking performance while a strut brace has been added to improve structural rigidity.

On the looks front, Anuj thought the standard silver colour of the Steel wasn’t really cutting it and opted for a full respray in aquarius blue – a shade very popular in the enthusiast circles, thanks to Fiesta 1.6 S. The engine bay has been stripped out completely and painted white. Upfront, two pairs of Hella 500F and 700F driving lamps give the car a purposeful look. A neat touch is the clear lens indicators on the bumper which has another circular element built into it. The Lenso wheels are now finished in white and it complements the overall look of the car. The interior though, is more or less stock at the moment.

For now, Anuj is pretty happy with the car. But that doesn’t mean he is not going to mod it further. When asked about the future mods he was planning to carry out, he gave a rather exhausting list, which includes everything from decals, a killer audio and a GTI head. Seems like we featured his car, a little early.

Get the turbo on boost and it is a different story altogether. The car accelerates forward in proper tuned car fashion. There is no let up in power till 5500rpm and though most enthusiasts complain about the rev limit being lower on turbocharged cars, but there is no denying they are fast in every gear. This particular Laura sounds rorty thanks to its uprated Miltek exhaust system I got to throw around Ketan’s car on the same twisty bits where I did the Honda BRV that morning. Not only could I carry almost double the speed through a follow through, it still felt like child’s play in the Laura. The combination of good grippy tyres and the Bilstein B14 coilovers is hard to beat in the corners. Yes, these track focussed coilovers are a bit stiff for daily use, but it offers supercar levels of grip in the corners. The chassis feels even tighter thanks to Eibach antiroll bars and polyurethane bushes all around. And the Tarox G88 brakes with Strada pads are so confidence inspiring, you soon forget you are doing silly speeds all the time.

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BY VIVEK VENUGOPAL

ASSISTANT FASHION EDITOR

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