Cheap as chips

Suzuki Su­per Carry vs. Tata Ace HT Words by Niky Ta­mayo Photography by Chris­tian Halili

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Shakedown -

From In­dia with love, Suzuki Maruti’s su­per-cute diesel ute is a pint-sized brute

The Su­per Carry is the king of small util­i­ties, with thou­sands serv­ing as mini­jeep­neys, wa­ter de­liv­ery trucks, and barangay pa­trol ve­hi­cles. Un­for­tu­nately for Suzuki, these are mostly sur­plus im­ports, of­ten with a new coat of paint, a left-hand-drive con­ver­sion, and a new badge.

The Ja­panese car­maker is fi­nally fir­ing back, with the very first ‘of­fi­cial’ Su­per Carry in the coun­try. And given the way other mo­torists have been rolling down win­dows in traf­fic to ask “magkano,” it seems like it’s about damn time.

The P469,000 base price may be steep ver­sus typ­i­cal sur­plus units or Chi­nese clones, but this Su­per Carry has some­thing those ve­hi­cles don’t: diesel power. That said, the 32hp (!) tur­bocharged (!!) two-cylin­der (!!!) unit doesn’t have a whole lot of it. While ac­cel­er­a­tion is ac­cept­able at low speeds, the drag from 40kph to the 80kph elec­tronic lim­iter takes for­ever.

On the han­dling front, the Su­per Carry tends to­ward slight and safe un­der­steer. Beefy ra­dius rods peek­ing out from un­der the front bumper keep brake dive in check with­out ul­tra-stiff springs. Rear leaf springs make the un­laden rear bouncy over rough roads, but never ex­ces­sively so. The heavy, unas­sisted steer­ing light­ens up once un­der­way and is steady at speed, with good self-cen­ter­ing. This is a car you can real­is­ti­cally drive on the high­way.

Out here, you can hit 29-32km/L at a steady 60kph. In light city traf­fic, about

15-18km/L. Worlds apart from sur­plus gaso­line Su­per Carry trucks, which can drink like SUVs in traf­fic.

One rea­son the small Suzuki drinks so lit­tle diesel, how­ever, is there’s no heavy A/C com­pres­sor drag­ging the en­gine down. Even if you wanted to in­stall one, there’s lit­tle space in the en­gine bay for it, and no dash­board cutouts for A/C vents. As such, we of­ten found our­selves re­ly­ing on nat­u­ral air-con­di­tion­ing (open win­dows) and a small USB-pow­ered fan for cool­ing.

That the Suzuki ac­tu­ally has a USB port is a sur­prise. It’s at­tached to a head unit with in­te­grated speak­ers— in­te­grated be­cause there are no cutouts for speak­ers, ei­ther. Sound is best de­scribed as...well, let’s say many tri­cy­cles have bet­ter sound sys­tems.

But the Su­per Carry goes where tri­cy­cles can only dream of tread­ing. Im­pres­sive ground clear­ance, full weather pro­tec­tion, and an in­te­grated snorkel al­low it to brave floods deep enough to stall most cars. And that com­mand­ing driv­ing po­si­tion and the nar­row body al­low it to squeeze through the tight­est of al­leys.

While not as prac­ti­cal, maybe, as a full-size FB-type truck, sim­i­larly equipped full-size util­ity ve­hi­cles cost some P200,000 more. For small en­ter­prises, the Su­per Carry pro­vides a point of en­try sev­eral steps above your typ­i­cal sec­ond­hand mini-truck or de­liv­ery tri­cy­cle. And un­like big­ger diesel util­i­ties, the tiny Euro 4 twocylin­der prom­ises ex­tra-low emis­sions and ul­tra-low run­ning costs. Clean and green has never been so cheap.

The truck that de­throned the tuk­tuk takes the Philip­pine tri­cy­cle head on

hough wildly pop­u­lar in Asia, the Su­per Carry has had a hard time in In­dia, mostly due to this car: the Tata Ace. Tata has sold over 1.5 mil­lion units of these trucks over the past decade. It also sells an even smaller ver­sion, the Ace Zip, based on the Nano mi­cro­car. And the Zip out­sells the Nano nearly three to one.

Mar­keted as an al­ter­na­tive to util­ity tri­cy­cles, the Ace costs some P100,000 less than the Su­per Carry. And it’s easy to see how it cuts costs to get there. While both trucks use leaf-sprung rear axles, the Tata also uses a leaf-and­beam front setup, with the steer­ing rack con­nected straight to the left spin­dle. Hav­ing half the mov­ing parts of Suzuki’s MacPher­son setup prom­ises good dura­bil­ity, but it proves squir­relly and crashy over bumps. With no pos­i­tive lo­ca­tion for the rear axle, there’s also wheel hop and axle tramp over the odd hump or rut. Which hap­pens ev­ery 30sec out here in the prov­inces.

The two-cylin­der en­gine is 100cc smaller than the Suzuki’s. Lack­ing a T turbo, it makes just half the horse­power. That ‘HT’ in the name stands for ‘high torque,’ an ironic tag for a truck with a rated top speed of 60kph. You can just reach 70kph on a good stretch, or 80kph if you floor the ac­cel­er­a­tor go­ing down­hill.

But with the skinny tires, skit­tish han­dling, and non-ABS brakes, I soon de­cide to re­spect Tata’s rec­om­mended top speed. I’d go slower, but I’m afraid of get­ting run down by trucks. At the high­way min­i­mum, hug­ging the right­most lane, the Ace does 28-30km/L of diesel. See? Driv­ing slowly does save you money.

While not great on the high­way, light steer­ing and a firm pedal make the Ace a great in-vil­lage de­liv­ery trans­port. There’s no ra­dio, A/C, or 12V socket, but there are cutouts in the dash for both con­trols and vents, and help­ful in­for­ma­tion plac­ards on how to wire up ac­ces­sories. The high seat­ing po­si­tion puts even this short writer’s head close to the ceil­ing, but it does make park­ing eas­ier than in the Su­per Carry.

While the Suzuki has an edge on the high­way, the Tata drinks less at low speeds. Pos­si­bly be­cause noth­ing is slower. The gear ra­tios are so wide that ac­cel­er­a­tion suf­fers when you shift up into third at 25kph and fourth at 50kph. Con­sid­er­ing the Ace’s low top speed, I’d rather have shorter ra­tios than high­wayfriendly gear­ing.

It would also be nice to have more in-cabin stor­age, which is cur­rently lim­ited to a sin­gle dash-top shelf and a cargo net be­hind the seats for pa­pers. I’d rather have a cen­ter bench seat than that big padded en­gine cover, and I’d trade the iffy un­der-seat pock­ets for bet­ter en­gine-bay ac­cess as well.

In terms of rear cargo ca­pac­ity, how­ever, the Ace matches the more pow­er­ful Su­per Carry, and then some. This is the cheap­est-per-kilo­gram truck on the mar­ket, per­fect for in­ner city and barangay use.

Whether that’s enough to con­vince lo­cal buy­ers to go In­dian over Ja­panese is an­other mat­ter.

The draw­back? Peo­ple kept chas­ing us to ask “how much?”

Suzuki scrimped on the lux­u­ries, but not the qual­ity

This rugged truck is apoc­a­lypse­proof. Trust us

The Ace is ba­sic but func­tional, like AUVs of old

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