Mercedized.. all in a day!

Monday, October 11, 2010 was a day I would not like to forget in my life.. a red lettered, three-pointed star day! The day was earmarked for "Travel(ing) with the Star". Yes, you guess it right - that was the day I did a back-to-back trial on two Mercedes Benz products in Bangalore. The two reviews would come in two parts. Presenting part-1.

One fine evening while crossing the foot-over-bridge from the mofussil section to the city section of Kempegowda Bus Station, I saw this pink (or rose?) coloured bus parked all set to head to the airport. Unable to believe my eyes, rushed off to the bus - yes - it was the MCV C120LE City Bus that Mercedes Benz has provided for trials with BMTC. I was thinking that the bus was returned after trials (coinciding with news paper reports that the bus was to head to Mumbai for trials with B.E.S.&T., and some rumours that the bus would be tried by KSRTC in Mysore). The spotting appeared as a surprise for me. But the time was already past 5, and I did not have enough time to have a short run in the bus. A program was set for the next day.

Front view of the MCV C120LE

Rear profile of the MCV C120LE

Accordingly, I landed at Majestic (the common synonym for Kempegowda Bus Station) around 1 in the afternoon. I was partnered in crime by fellow busfan Bharat Narayan. The stream of Volvos to the Airport continued all the time. The bus (Mercedes) came in at around 1350, and was parked behind a Volvo. As soon as the Volvo left, the Mercedes was parked ready to leave. On enquiring with the conductor, we came to know the bus would leave only at 1420. The crew went out to have their lunch in the meantime. We got into the bus and started feeling the bus.

First impressions.. The interior design is pleasing. The curves are smooth, and the colours are too good. The designs make the bus look spacious. The seats were of a different design, but were too hard. Very little cushioning. The leg room was tight. The bus had a total of 38 seats. The bus has 6 row of four seats (2x2 layout) and the last row of five seats in the "upper" section of the bus. The forward section has 9 seats - 2 rows on each side, facing each other, and one single seat over the wheel well on the right side. The exterior looks old school. The finish is far from being called a "premium" product. The colour is pleasing - a welcome change from Red. The rear door opens inwards and not swinging outside.

The engine was switched on 10 minutes to go for the journey. The AC was switched on. The AC vents do not have controls to adjust air flow volume or direction. The controls are sorely missed - especially given the mixed weather of Bangalore. Some passengers like to have air blowing on their face, while some others like to keep the vents closed. The rear door was closed well before the journey began. The bus started off dot at 1420. The vibration levels at idle were really low. The bus felt a bit sluggish at the beginning, especially when starting off from a stop. The power delivery seemed linear, substantiated the fact that there was no jerk whenever the driver pressed the accelerator pedal. Those familiar with the Volvo will also be familar with the jerk everytime the bus starts or stops.

The jerk was thankfully absent in the Merc - the bus just glided out of bus stops every time. It was sluggish every time it started from stop. The ride comfortable was nothing great to mention, except that the annoying vibrations at high RPMs were absent. The bus rattled heavily, directly pointing fingers are poor quality of fittings inside. Our ride was about 25 minutes long (Majestic to Hebbal) - coverirng a lots of signals and enough up grades. The bus feels a bit underpowered initially, but picks up later.

On a comparison note.. The annoying jerk and vibrations of the Volvo are absent in the MCV C120LE. However, the quality of interior fittings leaves a lot to be desired, especially with the "premium" image the manufacturer seems to project. The seating capacity in both the buses are same - 38 each. Volvo provides three extra foldable seats in the lower portion, in addtion to the 38 fixed seats. Space utilisation seemed much better in the Volvo. The legspace and the cushioning in the seats are anyday better in the Volvo. The Merc also seemed to have slightly narrow seats - fatsos like me wouldn't like them :)

The Volvo is powered by a 290hp 7-Litre diesel engine, while the C120LE is powered by a 256hp 6.4-Litre diesel engine. Both buses feature Automatic Transmission. The MCV has two openable side windows while the Volvo has sealed glasses throughout. The C120LE has a rigid opaque partition between the driver and the passengers, while the Volvo has left the area open.

The MCV C120LE is a true competition to the Volvo 8400 (B7RLE) in terms of ride, but the quality of interiors needs to improve a lot. The exterior design could have been far better than the current design which reminds us of old desi-buses. Overall, a good product - if only the pricing is right.