Eight icons of performance motoring for the common man in India

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Eight icons

What makes an icon? Maybe something that remained aspirational for a long time and leaves behind a vacuum filled with legacy that is difficult to replicate. While some would say that you should never underestimate the power of a common man, the common man too lusts for power, in an estimated way. Thinking of which, we decided to list the eight icons of performance motoring for the common man in India. These cars belong to a generation when the air was slightly cleaner and they did not require a turbo charger to inject additional atmosphere in their lungs. When cars that cost around a million Indian rupees were considered to be premium. The below list includes machines, some of which weren’t really sold boasting about their fun-to-drive ability, but carried the flag of providing affordable performance to the masses in disguise. These were dream cars for the ones whose dreams were comfortable breathing below the ozone layer, cars which managed to be remembered as performance offerings, although they were sold as family saloons and hatchbacks.

Maruti Suzuki Zen

Maruti Zen

This jellybean shaped car was also termed as the Mini-Cooper of India. With a low centre of gravity, go-kart like handling and a peppy motor, this Maruti really was Zen in a small package for those times. Although the manufacturer later spoilt the pudding by coming out with the Estilo, which had to potential to make even Buddha angry in its gelusil colored avatar. The jelly-bean shape went on to become a true icon, serious folks even swapping bigger engines from the Baleno and the Esteem to make this little gem of a car go like stink.

Maruti Suzuki Esteem


The commercial for this car featured a school going guy who scored a disaster in mathematics, but his dad was rather cool to know about the numbers because he was always in a good mood when he was driving his new Esteem. So what initially was sold as the Maruti 1000, evolved into the Esteem with a 1.3-litre petrol engine and some creature comforts to boot. The Esteem was perhaps the most common car at Rallies, track events and drag races. With the added peace of mind of being a Maruti, the Esteem provided enough joy on straights and bends alike.

Mitsubishi Lancer

Lancer SFX

A car that looked fast, even at standstill. The Lancer came with a lot of heritage, history and rally pedigree behind it. If looks alone could make a car go fast, the Mitsubishi Lancer was a Scud missile. Available in Glx, SLx and SFx variants, the former two looked rather elegant while the latter made boy-racers across the country drool, every time they looked at one. The SFx was just an everyday Lancer with an added spoiler, alloy wheels and some side skirts. You could buy one in either Yellow, Red or even Black to announce that you did own the road.

For some reason though, the motor underneath wasn’t a fire breather. Powered by a 1.5-litre motor that produced 87 bhp, this particular version of the Lancer, called the Mirage elsewhere, would’ve surely made Tommi Makkinen cringe.

Honda City

Honda City Type 2

Honda announced their presence in India with this very car and I still remember Kapil Dev being among the first ones to receive his. However, he wasn’t the only one who was bowled over by a silky smooth motor that revved till the moon and sat in the bonnet of a low slung, light weight, handsome looking Japanese sedan. Although the 1.3 and 1.5 variants were pretty sprightly on their own, Honda gave us a taste of their VTEC technology with a variant that came with a spoiler, a twin exhaust adapter, an engine that produced a 106 horses and was only happy when given the beans.

Maruti Suzuki Baleno


If the Lancer looked fast at standstill, its nemesis, the Maruti Baleno was just the opposite. It looked rather middle-of-the-street for a car that went ballistic once on the move. The Baleno, like the City was popular with fans of low-slung fast moving sedans. However, this one had a more composed ride. The AC could turn the cabin into an igloo within minutes and although a Maruti, most components were sourced from the land of the rising Sun.

Ford Ikon

Fod Ikon 2

It wasn’t for nothing that Ford called their Ikon, the ‘Josh’ machine. Based on the same chassis as the fifth generation Fiesta, the Ikon packed quite a punch in its 1.6-litre avatar. Although the Rocam motor pumped out a modest 91 bhp, the Ikon could thrill with the way it steered, diving side-to-side as a result of a non-existent roll-bar at the front. The Ikon even managed to keep occupants happy, as it was specifically designed for India, with the emphasis on enhancing back-seat comfort. However, little did Ford know that most owners found solace in the driver’s seat.

Fiat Palio 1.6 GTX / S10

Fiat Palio 1.6 Review (4)

One of the first production hot-hatches in India that made a genuine 100 horses from a torquey motor that could spin it’s wheels easily in the second gear. A car that wasn’t rev crazy, but emitted a pleasing note from the exhaust, every time the needle on those Veglia Borletti dials climbed into the upper reaches of the rev band. It was even sold in a special version that carried an autograph of Sachin Tendulkar on the bonnet and came dressed in Canary Yellow.

Ford Fiesta


Another Ford, but this time a true Fiesta. Successor to the Ford Ikon, being a Ford, a manufacturer which is generally known to make fun-to-drive cars, the Fiesta couldn’t tread a different path. This Ford sedan is known to be a car that handles exceptionally well in its class and has matching performance to support it. Ford even came out with a racier ‘S’ variant that came with a sportier suspension setup, snazzy alloys and an engine that was tuned slightly different to please the enthusiast on a budget.

Think we left out your favorite machine? Feel free to agree or disagree with the list and point your tomatoes or pastries at the comments section below.


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