Ninety-four thousand rand will not buy you much with four wheels these days, but for that amount, you could get a Tata Indigo SW with all the bells and whistles required to carry a small family in comfort.
While our car wheezed along with two adults, we tried to imagine what its performance would be like if loaded for a weekend break with the 2,3 kids, Labrador and camping equipment. The word to describe the experience has to be slow... very, very slow. Ensure enough padkos is stowed in the cabin's many storage spaces and don't forget your whip - it will be essential equipment to keep those gasping horses forging ahead.
And switching off the standard air - conditioning in an attempt to ease the little engine's task did not do much either. In fact, I felt rather sorry for the station wagon while coaxing it along the truck-choked roads. However, apart from its brittle plastics, performance and ride, the car's long list of interior equipment did make things more bearable. This would probably also hold clout with many prospective buyers in the sub-R110 000 price bracket looking for more from their cars where safety and luxury features are concerned.
All models comply with Euro 3 safety standards, and the range-topping GLX comes standard with dual front airbags and ABS braking with EBD, in addition to the crumple zones, side intrusion bars, and anti-submarining seats that are standard on the GLS. Standard comfort equipment includes air - conditioning, power steering, power windows (with child lock), rear window wiper and washer, remote boot and fuel flap release and several storage areas, including a roof-mounted "bin" in the rear and a handy tray beneath the steering wheel for bits and bobs.
Since the ride was rather harsh, but thankfully not to the teeth-chattering point, whether you would be sure to find your knick-knacks in the same spot, is debatable.
While the car itself was rattle-free, checking the rear - view mirror was a rather perilous exercise, since the attachment was continuously jounced and jostled as we made our way along the B-roads. It could just have been the case with the car we drove, but lively conversation did much to drown out the wind noise and soften the strain of focusing on a shaky mirror.
Our route, dotted with gently rolling hills and some flat stretches, did not allow us to really test the car's dynamics. But Tata would be the first to proclaim that its cars are not the nimblest examples on our roads. However, the Indigo SW's neat, compact styling should do much to secure its success.
The station wagon is covered by a two-year/45 000 km maintenance plan, three-year/100 000 km warranty and three-year roadside assistance, with unlimited kilometres.
With no delusions of grandeur, and quietly going about its business, Tata's current range has experienced great demand since its introduction late last year. General manager Phonnie Cilliers assured us that a new parts warehouse had been established to accommodate the unanticipated demand. Following from Tata's 768 passenger units (Indica hatchback and Indigo saloon) sold in July, the distributor is targeting retail sales of 1 300 units in October 2005 - a big leap from the initial 20 to 30 units a month projected at the brand's December 2004 launch.