Back in 2002 when I was a scrawny 16 year old in the market for an automatic scoot, two scooters dominated the scene, Honda’s Activa and Kinetic’s Activa, sorry, Nova. As teenagers desperately eager to lay our hands on motorized transport, me and my friends poured over all the magazines, which judged the two scoots to be very close competitors, some even gave the Nova the 1st prize. But I was adamant about my choice, the Activa, so adamant infact that I braved a 3 month long waiting period, pedaling to college on my bicycle, while my friends turned up on their spanking new Novas. But now, I can cockily proclaim that I was right, Activa was totally worth the wait. Today, most of those 2002 Nova’s spend a chunk of their time in and out of the mechanic’s, while my Activa continues to soldier on like clockwork. As the years passed on, Honda went on to become the No.1 scooter manufacturer and Kinetic went bankrupt.
But apparently, that was not the last we would hear of the Nova. Mahindra, who had incidentally made loads of money selling jeeps from 1960, took over Kinetic’s two-wheeler operations last year and in order to get things going a.s.a.p. resurrected the Nova with their Taiwanese partner SYM’s help. The SYM Flyte’s heart was carefully transplanted into the Nova’s carcass. This has done a world of good to the erstwhile Nova. The SYM’s engine-gearbox combination is one of the best in the business. It is a right up there with the Activas and Accesses of this world (or should that be Accii). The power delivery is relaxed and linear and the engine remarkably refined, which makes it feel like it is going slower than it actually is. The gearbox is perfectly judged with not even the slightest hint of the notorious CVT judder. It engages ‘smooth n quick’ when you twist the accelerator and there is no excessive engine braking (like the Dio/old Activa) when you roll of it. This particular power-train has been around for long enough in Taiwan for us to know that Nova’s infamous reliability issues will no longer rear their ugly head. And last but not the least; it is probably the best sounding scooter on the market. The Duro’s ride quality is another highlight. It is supple and silent at low speeds and will be much appreciated by the fairer sex and the elderly.
All the SYM bits have worked wonders, but the Kinetic bits are still a hindrance. The first thing a prospective buyer would notice when he walks into the showroom is that the Duro looks just like the Nova. The Nova is a fine looking scooter, but it has developed a bad rep for itself. Mahindra should have put in a bit more effort to modify the plastic bits and sufficiently differentiate it from the Nova. I mean how hard can it be? Some of our leading manufacturers do it every other month. The overall fit and finish and the quality of plastics used, leaves a lot to be desired. Mahindra’s management has a mammoth task of improving the quality standards ahead of them. However much I tried, I was unable to find a comfortable seating position on the Duro. Either the seat and foot-board felt too high or the handlebar felt too low. The handlebars tend to knock on your knees while negotiating a low speed U turn. Sadly, unlike the Flyte/Rodeo’s excellent telescopic front suspension, the Duro sports the same old link type suspension from the Nova. Furthermore, thanks to being sprung on the softer side, it wallows, pitches, thuds and bottoms out at anything above 70 kph.
At Rs 42,612 On-Road, Pune, the Duro is 6 thousand rupees cheaper than the Access 125 and 3 thousand rupees cheaper than the cheapest Activa, which is decent value for money. But apart from pushing up the volumes by a small margin, the Duro doesn’t really help build up the ‘Mahindra2wheeler’ brand. Mahindra already had a good thing going with the Flyte and a good next move would have been introducing another model from the SYM line-up. The tie-up with SYM has the potential to be a masterstroke for Mahindra. They just need to iron out Kinetic’s follies, one at a time.