Mercedized.. Part-2

After the good experience on the MCV C120LE City bus, we (Myself and Bharat) returned to Majestic to find our way back home. We did some train spotting on our way back, and content with that short Mercedes experience, we were walking towards the City bus section of Majestic. All of a sudden, Bharat suggested we have a look at the "Mofussil" section to see if the inter-city Mercedes Coach was anywhere in sight. I wanted to see if the MSRTC Shivneri was still running as well. We, thus, headed in. The Mysore platform had a huge queue of Volvo buses, and an almost parallel line of Rajahamsas/Sheetal/Meghadootas. Dejected, we decided to return home, and just turned back.

OH! Wait a minute... did I just see that square box rolling towards us? Yes, it was. The much awaited Mercedes Benz O500R two-axle RE bus was rushing towards us. The bus just rushed past us.. with the boards reading "Bangalore Mysore". No seconds were spared.. if the bus was going to Mysore, we decided to make a quick run. Indeed, it was! The bus stopped a few metres ahead, and backed up to the "Mysore Platform". Bharat was the first to run towards the bus.. both of us called home to intimate the change in our programs, and go set to head out on that bus. The driver announced that tickets would be sold on board the bus, unlike the Volvos where we need to get them from a counter. A few snaps later, we both were inside the bus. The conductor said we'll leave only after 20 minutes. We replied, "doesn't matter".

First Impressions.. The body looked very boxy to me (personal opinion). The bus looks slightly narrower and a bit taller than a Volvo 9400 (the sole competition in the segment). The rear looked bland to me, while the front did have a few curves. The finish is far from being called "classic" - it had all the shine and whistles of an Indian product. In comparision, the Volvo 9400 looked strictly sleek and modern. In the interiors, the bus did not have anything special to boast about. The interior lights were unhindered - hence interiors were better lit. The seats were regular ones from Harita. The leg space appeared a bit low. The aisle were narrow as well - syncing with my observation of the bus being narrower. 

The driver panel did not look as "modern" as the Volvo. The meters were all analog, no multi-information displays (a default these days even on low-end cars), screws visible outside, etc. Not really a layout aimed at a "modern" market. The 'partition' between the driver cabin and the passenger section appeared to be made of FRP - to very sturdy to hold a passenger falling on it in the event of a hard braking. The leg space at the first row seats were not humongous as in the Volvo or even the Isuzu. The entertainment system for passengers is by means of two foldable LCD screens - the one at the front appeared to be 17 inches, and the one at the middle  of the bus was 15 inches - having two screens is an amazing idea. Both were of Xenos make. The speakers can be switched off individually - another marvellous idea. The interiors were clad with a lot of plastics - there were plastics everywhere including the hat-rack.

Into action... Around 6 (1800), the bus was switched on, and backed further into the platform. The engine was now left on, with the AC blowers running at the maximum speed. The vibration levels were negligible (on par with competition). The sound levels inside were well under control. We finally started off at around 1820 or so, with about 30 passengers on board (out of 45). The bus was very sluggish at the start - it literally struggled to get moving. The conductor issued tickets to all passengers, and then distributed bottles of water. (Yes! KSRTC still provides a 500-ml bottle of waterto all passengers on the Volvo/Mercedes) The rear LCD screen was pulled down, and the DVD player was switched on. The run was painfully slow, and we ended up taking about 40 minutes to reach Satellite bus terminus itself. We had a 10 minute break at Satellite, for passengers to use the washroom, and also have some light snacks. No passengers joined us here.

Back on the road, the run was even more slow. The slow run continued until we crossed Kengeri. Once past Kengeri, our boss meant business. He started picking speed quickly. Overtakes were mindless, left-right-center! The Retarders gave a "slicing" sound everytime the brakes were applied. BUT, sharp brakes meant passengers leaping forward - the same feeling carried over from a Volvo. I was swept off my seat atleast twice in the run (I turned cautious after these). The brakes were damn good. The bus had great grunt for overtakes, and one could sense the flow of raw power as and when the driver attempted overtakes. Many brakes and dives later, we were in Mysore at  2140, 3 hours and 20 minutes after we started off from Bangalore.

We headed out for dinner. Just while heading out, I spotted another Merc heading out to Bangalore. Just as we were back, it was the same bus that brought us preparing to head back. While Bharat was pestering me to travel in the same bus, I was adamant at taking a Volvo. The next bus was indeed a Volvo, an 8-year old Mark-I Volvo!!! Despite his numerous requests to take the Merc, I remained adamant we take the Volvo. Finally, at 2300, boarding for the Volvo started. The first impression on getting into the bus was.. the bus has held up really well. The interiors, although a bit weary, still looked intact. The bus was vibrating as if the engine was mounted without bushes. We started off at 2330 from Mysore. There was no conductor on board, the driver doubled up as a conductor as well. There were all of 5 passengers on board! The lights were switched off soon after we started off. 

The bus, although 8 years old, was riding so smooth, putting many of the new buses to shame. The noise levels were well under control, and so were the vibrations during the run. There was a bit of noise from the rear axle while going through rough patches. The driver had this nasty habit to shifting to neutral the moment the bus hit a down grade - it was downright irritating, and we ended up idling often. The bus was dependent more on its momentum to reach back, than any tractive effort. Despite the horrific driving style, we crossed Kengeri at around 0130 - two hours since leaving from Mysore. Once past Kengeri, the driver expressed some sense of urge, and he kept accelerating often. We were finally at Kempegowda Bus Station at 0145. We had called up for a Meru Cab.. I was dropped at home by around 0215, and Bharat continued his journey home..

On a comparo.. While I might be branded biased to a particular brand, I felt the Mercedes Benz Intercity coach had no specific advantage over a Volvo as far as a passenger in concerned. Except the fact that the bus is made by a brand known for premium cars, the average passenger would equate the ride with the 'now household' brand 'Volvo'. The ride comfort was more or less the same, except may be for slightly less vibrations at Idle (not in my opinion). The interior lighting was certainly 'light years' ahead of the Volvo. The leg space, and seat width were certainly lower, and too tight for comfort. The bus picks up amazingly well, and the driver was all in praise for the pick-up of the bus (not sure if that was a sarcastic remark, since the bus struggled to get moving from Majestic). The driver, who was in charge of our ride, rated both buses equal - none was claimed to be better than the other. 

Small yet significant things.. Excessive use of plastics in the interiors gave an overall cheap look to the bus. For some reason, Plastics are not associated with durability in India (atleast among the general public). The Air-conditioner appeared to be RPM specific - the bus hardly cooled when it was at idle (despite the AC panel displaying the set temperature to be around 21*c), but it cooled amazingly well once the bus started moving - better when we hit better speeds. While this might help improve fuel efficiency, the general public might get irritated sitting in a stuffy bus in traffic snarls. The AC vents can only control the direction of air flow, not the volume. In case of the Volvo, once can adjust both the direction and volume of air flow.

Conclusion.. Certainly not worth the hype the bus has created. The bus is equal to its competitor, the Volvo 9400. While the Mercedes Benz O500R is powered by a 305-hp 7.2 litre engine, the Volvo 9400 comes with a humble 290-hp 7-litre engine. Both buses seat 45 passengers, in 11 rows, with regular push-back seating configuration. Both buses come with retarders, and similar bells and whistles. At the end of the ride, both the buses are strictly equivalent to each other, strictly from a passenger perspective. While Volvo revolutionized the bus industry, and made 18+ hour bus journeys more comfortable, it would be fair on our part to expect Mercedes to further revolutionize the segment. What ever be said, the most benefited by having two amazing products are passengers, who now have more choice!


Sunup said…
How much did they charge you in the Merc? The same Rs 260 as in Volvo? So many fare options one gets these days while traveling to Mysore. The AC Corona fare to Mysore is Rs 200 and they even serve bottled water in that. But cooling is not good in the Corona. And the AC Meghadoots, I guess, costs one between 130 or 150 I guess.
Binai K Sankar said…
Yes. We were charged Rs. 260 per head in the Mercedes. Interestingly, our ticket said the bus was a "Volvo"!!!