Volkswagen unveils the all-new Polo in Berlin

Volkswagen Polo is the type of car that’s not easy to replace. It debuted way back in 2009, yet the Polo ended 2016 as the world’s best-selling sub-compact car. Volkswagen’s super-mini was so competent at launch that it was crowned the 2010 World Car of the Year. Eight years later, the Polo still wins comparison tests with much-newer rivals and considered amongst the best in the segment. How many cars you know can claim doing these at the fag end of their life cycles? 

Having said that, the Polo can’t go on forever in its current form. Volkswagen knows this well and the result is the all-new Polo that was unveiled in Berlin today.

As with every new car launch, there are good things and bad things to report about the new Polo. Let’s alternate between them to see how the car stacks up. 

The Good:

The biggest disadvantage of the current Polo is the rear seat space, or the lack of it to be precise. That should be history now as the new Polo is longer, wider and boasts increased wheelbase vis-à-vis the current model. With spec sheets that read 4,053 mm long, 1,751 mm wide and 1,446 mm tall, the Polo is now all grown up. Crucially, the wheelbase has gone up to 2,564 mm from the current model’s 2,470 mm, so expect better knee room, shoulder room and boot space in the new car. Potential buyers will no longer have to strike the Polo off the list if space is a key consideration. 

The Bad:

If you thought your eyes deceived you for a moment when you looked at the new Polo, worry not. It might be an all-new car built on a brand-new platform but the sixth-generation Polo is, at best, a mild evolution of its predecessor. We aren’t complaining, the current Polo is still one of the better-looking hatchbacks out there. But, casual onlookers would be having a tough time telling the new model from the existing Polo. It’s clean, it’s timeless, the detailing in the headlights and taillights look terrific and the mini-Golf looks create quite an impression but we all expected more, didn’t we?

The Good:

Built on Volkswagen’s latest MQB-based modular platform that’s shared with the newly-launched Seat Ibiza and the upcoming next-generation Skoda Fabia, the new Polo benefits with a lighter kerb weight than the outgoing model. Apart from the obvious gains in fuel efficiency, the new Polo is claimed to be stiffer and safer than ever before, designed to meet the stringent European crash test norms. 

The Bad:

While the new platform is undoubtedly beneficial in some aspects, folks who have driven the previous-generation Volkswagens will vouch for their tough build and indestructible feel. Those traits are still there in the new-generation model, albeit not to the same level. Just drive the Skoda Laura and the current Octavia back-to-back and you’ll know what we mean. Sadly, the new Polo would be no exception to this. 

The Good:

A key strength of the existing Polo is its interior quality, fit and finish. The new Polo, in addition to gaining an all-new cabin with richer materials and nicer features, is likely to carry forward the traits that have made the current Polo’s cabin a much-revered place to be in. 

Certainly, the new Polo has gone premium in terms of kit offered. Amongst the features on board are full LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging for smartphones and the fully-digital Active Info Display. Safety is top notch too with advanced tech like Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Assist area monitoring system including City Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind Spot Detection with Rear Traffic Alert and semi-automated Park Assist system with a ‘maneuvering function’ doing all they can to protect the occupants in the event of a crash.

The Bad:

The ‘dieselgate’ scandal might not have significantly affected Volkswagen’s sales numbers but the resulting cost-cutting initiatives put in place to cut the losses short means the new Polo loses a few variants, engines and transmissions vis-à-vis the current model. For instance, the Polo 3-door is no more and the power-train lineup is consolidated.

Having said that, the engine and transmission lineup is no slouch.

Base variants get a 1.0-liter MPI engine in two states of tune (64 HP & 74 HP) while the mid variants get a 1.0-liter TSI engine in two states of tune (94 HP & 113 HP). At the top of the petrol range is a 1.5-liter TSI mill generating 148 HP. Diesel options are confined to a sole 1.6-liter TDI engine in two states of tune (79 HP & 94 HP). In select markets, a Natural Gas-propelled 1.0-liter TGI variant would also be on offer. Depending on the engine chosen, a 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic transmission is paired with it.

The Good:

Since its debut in 1975, the Polo has been a strong-seller for Volkswagen with over 14 million units sold till date. The new model is likely to take off from where its predecessor left - right at the top of the segment. In 2015, 2016 and so far in 2017, the Polo has been the best-selling sub-compact car globally. Expect this to continue in 2018 and beyond. 

The Bad:

Despite being a popular Volkswagen in India, the new Polo’s launch here is uncertain. The Polo has always been an expensive proposition in its segment and the new model is said to be increasingly so. In a cost-conscious market like ours, that’s going to be a tough sell. Moreover, the new Polo has breached the all-important 4-meter mark, losing the excise benefits.

Will the current Polo soldier on with more facelifts and feature additions? Will Volkswagen Group’s association with Tata to use the latter’s AMP platform spin off a replacement for the current Polo? We do not know yet. All we know is the new global Polo isn’t headed here, which is a shame.

And, finally, the Best:

The good old GTI goes on sale alongside the regular variants with hot looks and a stonking 2.0-liter TSI generating 197 HP under the hood.  Obviously, we won’t be getting behind the wheel anytime soon but who stops us from drooling at it over and over?

The new Polo will make its public debut at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show before going on sale in select markets later this year. Stay tuned for more!


Hyundai unveils Kona, its all-new compact SUV

Hyundai Motor took the wraps off the Kona, its all-new compact SUV, today. The Kona is the South Korean car-maker's first global B-segment SUV and joins the likes of the Tucson, Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe in the growing SUV lineup. 

What strikes immediately on looking at the Kona is its aggressive, impactful design. Trying hard not to be the regular 'hatchback-on-steroids' kind of crossover, the Kona is bold, daring and distinct. Whether it looks good or not is completely up to one's tastes though.

Up front, the now-familiar 'Cascading Grille' sits right at the center with a thin slat above and a prominent air dam right below. Surrounding the grille are three separate pairs of lights. The slim unit at the top houses the LED Daytime Running Lights and the turn signals while the bigger ones below has LED headlights. The third pair placed further towards the center, we presume, are the fog lights. The aggressive profile features prominent character lines, contrasting roof and thick plastic cladding for that rugged look and feel. The cladding extensions that encompass the lighting clusters at the front and the back look busy and rather unusual. The stacked lighting configuration continues at the rear, with the brake lights on top and the turn indicators and reverse lamp housed in separate units below.

Sporty and vibrant colour combinations are likely to be offered for those who would want their Konas customized.

The Kona's dimensions read 4,165 mm long, 1,800 mm wide and 1,550 mm tall with a wheelbase that measures 2,600 mm. The long wheelbase and minimal overhangs give the Kona a planted stance.

While the Kona's interiors have not been seen yet, Hyundai claims best-in-class passenger and luggage space in its newest compact SUV. Apparently, this has been made possible by optimizing the underfloor layout including the 4WD drive-train, exhaust system and suspension layout. Depending on the market, the Kona is equipped with a 5-, 7- or 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with advanced connectivity options that include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A new Head-Up Display (HUD) is on offer too, projecting vital information like speed, navigation instructions, audio information and Lane Departure Warning messages. There's more, the Kona even offers first-in-segment wireless smartphone charging.

Advanced safety suite on board include Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, High Beam Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Blind Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning.

Three petrol engines - a turbocharged 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder mill with 118 horsepower, a turbocharged 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder mill with 174 horsepower and a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder unit with 147 horsepower, are on offer while select markets will also have the option of a 1.6-liter diesel engine under the sculpted hood. Transmission options include 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic and 7-speed DCT (Dual-Clutch Transmission) gearboxes.

The Kona is available in 2WD and 4WD configurations. Front suspension features McPherson struts while the rear gets either a high-stiffness torsion beam or a dual-arm multi-link system for the 2WD and 4WD variants respectively.

The Kona will go on sale in Korea later this month, followed by North America and Europe. We believe India doesn't feature in the list of probable markets for the Kona in the near future. That makes sense as the Creta, developed specifically for emerging markets like ours, sits in the same segment and price band as the Kona.


BMW unveils 8-Series Concept, sends the internet into a dizzy!

Every year, the grounds of Grand Hotel Villa d’Este bordering the waters of Lake Como in Italy plays host to one of world’s most exclusive gathering of historic automobiles and motorcycles. Called “Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este”, the event is quite popular amongst automotive historians and enthusiasts. The 2017 edition is ongoing and BMW has used it to unveil the 8-Series Concept, the brand’s take on a luxury coupe of the not-so-distant future. 

Expected to make it to production as early as 2018 with minimal changes, the concept previews the future design direction of the brand. And boy, does it look exciting!

With the 8-Series Concept, the designers at BMW have done a commendable job of mixing the iconic design cues of the past with an eye on the future. 

Up front, the large kidney grille is placed lower and wider, flanked on either sides by laser-lit slim headlights with hexagonal detailing. Further emphasizing the car’s width are the large side air intakes in the bumper. The silhouette looks brilliant, with the long hood and the flowing roofline giving the car a fast and dynamic look. BMW’s expertise in surfacing comes to the fore on that scooped-out portion in the door that appears to have been formed by air gushing out of the side intakes. The massively-flared rear wheel arches take over seamlessly from there and lead to a dynamic rear that’s dominated by thin L-blade taillights stretching out to the flanks. How can we not drool over those gorgeous 21-inch light-alloy wheels that feature functional aero elements as well? 

Giving not-so-subtle hints at the speed and power in store are the carbon-fiber diffuser, the twin trapezoidal tailpipes and the integrated lip spoiler. The front bumper also gets a carbon-fiber element between the two side air intakes. 

The interiors in the 8-Series Concept are clearly amongst the best we have seen in a BMW. The flat-bottomed steering wheel looks fabulous with aluminium spokes that gravitate forward and the red-anodised shift paddles. The instrument cluster gets a TFT display with an all-new user interface and revised graphics. The cabin is tastefully appointed in Merino leather in Dark Brown and Fjord White accentuated by contrasting elements made of carbon-fiber and hand-polished aluminium. Further adding to the luxury quotient are the faceted ground gearshift lever and the iDrive Controller made from Swarovski glass with a smoky quartz finish! The slim sports seats are wrapped around a carbon-fiber shell and aimed at providing the driver and the passenger a snug and cossetting fit and feel.

Details of what’s under the hood aren’t known yet but the 8-Series is expected to share engines and transmissions with the brand’s current flagship, the 7-Series sedan. A faster and more powerful M8 is also in the works, some say, as is a roadster based on this. When the production version debuts sometime next year, the 8-Series will proudly sit atop BMW’s lineup, rivaling the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe.

If you can't have enough of the pictures, we suggest you fly to Italy right away. If you can't make it there before this Sunday, wait for the next movie in the Mission Impossible franchise. Tom Cruise might just be driving one of these!


3 Best-selling cars in India that have destroyed the competition...

Success in the automotive industry doesn’t come easy. That’s all the more truer these days with cut-throat competition being the norm and customer loyalty almost non-existent. But, there are some exceptions that have not just swung the success barrier wide open but have also completely decimated their opponents while doing so.

Here are three such examples in the Indian passenger car industry. 

All three are in the midst of an incredibly successful spell right now. What’s incredible, you wonder? Well, each of these three models sell more than all their competitors combined, month after month, year after year! This, despite their rivals trying every trick in the trade to usurp them. If that isn’t incredible, what else is?

Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire

The first in the list is the car that’s been in the news these past few days. It’s the Maruti-Suzuki Dzire we’re referring to, the third generation of which was launched last week. Tata might have pioneered the segment with the Indigo CS but it was the arrival of the Swift Dzire (the first and second-generation Dzires carried the ‘Swift’ prefix) and the stupendous success it achieved that really gave compact sedans a fillip. Honda, Hyundai, Tata (again, with an all-new model), Ford and Volkswagen would follow but the level of success and popularity the Swift Dzire enjoyed remained exclusive to Maruti-Suzuki. 

The Amaze had a more powerful diesel engine and Honda’s strong brand pull to boot. The Xcent had better rear seat space and comfort in addition to Hyundai’s trusted sales and service network. The Zest was supremely spacious and offered incredible value for money. The Figo Aspire came with a stonker of a diesel engine and came kitted with safety features unheard of in the segment. The Ameo had everything we love in a German automobile. 

The result? Not one of these cars could snatch a share of the pie the Swift Dzire enjoys all to itself. Instead, the segment grew accommodating all these new entrants and saving their makers from further embarrassment.

Let’s look at the numbers. Out of the 344,474 compact sedans sold in 2016, a whopping 202,076 were Swift Dzires. That’s a staggering 59% of the segment’s share. The remaining 41% was what the Amaze, Xcent, Zest, Figo Aspire and Ameo fought for with the Honda and Hyundai faring better than the rest. 

With the new Dzire ironing out all the shortcomings of its predecessors, the future looks bleak for every other competitor. It would take extraordinary circumstances for any other compact sedan to challenge the new Dzire.

Maruti-Suzuki Alto

Next up is yet another Maruti-Suzuki, this time the car that carries the tag of “India’s largest-selling car” with aplomb. Yes, the Alto it is! Unlike the Swift Dzire, Alto’s rise to the top wasn’t easy. In fact, the Alto just did not take off when it was first launched in 2001. Maruti-Suzuki had to resort to price cuts and discounts to keep the cars moving off the showrooms before the changeover to Euro-III norms meant the 800 died a premature death in the metros. The baton was thus forcefully handed over to the Alto and, since then, the diminutive hatchback has ruled the roost at the top, fending off competition above and below.

From the cheaper Tata Nano to the relatively expensive Hyundai Eon, both of which debuted with much hype and hoopla, competition in the A-segment has always been tough. In fact, both the Nano and the Eon were labelled Alto-killers at launch. With due respect to those two cars, neither of them could even come close to threatening Alto’s position for various reasons. Renault’s recent foray in this segment with the Kwid has met with a stellar response though, proving the Alto isn’t invincible after all. But then, Kwid’s sales are still just about half of Alto’s every month. Datsun tried it’s luck too but sales are only a fraction of what Maruti-Suzuki’s best-seller manages every month.

Maruti-Suzuki is said to be pursuing SUV-like design cues (like the Kwid) and feature-rich interiors for the next-generation Alto. If that becomes a reality, expect all hell to break loose in the A-segment!

A grand total of 451,010 entry-level hatchbacks were sold in India in 2016 out of which the Alto accounted for 245,094 units. That’s an incredible 54% of the segment in Maruti-Suzuki’s pocket. Though nowhere close to the Alto, Kwid and Eon have fared reasonably well too. The same can’t be said of the Nano and the Datsun twins - Go and redi-Go.

Toyota Fortuner

The next on the list isn’t a Maruti-Suzuki. It isn’t a Hyundai, Mahindra, Honda or Tata either, the second, third, fourth and fifth-largest car-manufacturers in India last year. It’s the Toyota Fortuner, the premium SUV that has smashed sales records for any car priced above INR 20 Lakhs in India. To give you a perspective, Toyota consistently sells 1500 to 2000 Fortuners every month. With an average asking price close to INR 30 Lakhs, that’s a cool INR 6,000 Crores in revenue for Toyota India in 30 days, massive by any standards.

For a country that’s obsessed with high-riding Utility Vehicles, it’s surprising no other global car-maker apart from Toyota got it right until recently. The two biggies, Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai, otherwise known for plugging gaps in their lineups with amazing regularity, were hardly present in the SUV space until the Creta and the Vitara Brezza came along in the last two years. Even Ford, known for its big and brawny SUVs and pickups, hardly gave Toyota a fight until the new Endeavour started threatening Fortuner’s supremacy last year. But, things were back to square one when Toyota unleashed the all-new Fortuner in response.

From the monocoque CR-V and Santa Fe, both of which are globally successful models, to the body-on-frame Pajero Sport, a hardcore SUV with a rich legacy to boot, competitors have come in all types and forms. All they managed to do is sink without a trace. Such is Toyota’s brand pull and reliability that many potential premium SUV buyers aren’t even willing to walk into other brand’s showrooms, let alone look at their offerings and take a test drive. The current Ford Endeavour, an arguably better product than the Fortuner in most aspects, sells one third of the latter and that’s on a good month. That says a lot about the sheer dominance of Toyota in this segment.

Strong brand recognition, bold and muscular styling, high ground clearance, ability to outlive their owners, legendary reliability, incredible resale value and low cost of maintenance - the Toyota Fortuner ticked every box in the list and some more. In its latest form, add feature-loaded interiors to the repertoire and you know why the Fortuner will continue to be a best-seller.

Of the 18,242 premium SUVs Indians bought in 2016, 9,524 were Fortuners. That’s a 52% share of the lucrative premium SUV segment that’s known for fat profit margins. This is despite Toyota running out of vehicles for a few weeks when the model change was happening in November, a period that coincided with Endeavour hitting an all-time high on the back of the launch of the new-generation model.

Yes, Ford has finally managed to end Toyota’s monopoly in the segment but is it enough to put Toyota under pressure? Nope, not at current levels at least. Fortuner’s reign at the top looks all set to continue!

Fiat's all-new Argo revealed, will replace Punto in the lineup

Right from its launch in 1993, the Punto has been a big-seller for Fiat in quite a few markets including Italy, Brazil and parts of Europe. The third-generation model debuted in 2005 and between then and now, there was just a minor facelift bestowed on the car. That was way back in 2012 and the Punto was admittedly getting long in the tooth. Fiat couldn't unveil its replacement soon enough and that's where the Argo steps in. 

Yes, expected to be formally unveiled in Brazil in a few weeks from now, the Argo will replace the aging Punto in Fiat's lineup.

All we have right now are a couple of official images of what is likely to be Argo's sporty, range-topping trim level. And the car is quite a looker. The Punto, in its current form, looked a million bucks, with its Italian flair and clean lines making it stand out. The Argo is quite the opposite in terms of its design approach. In trying to keep up with the trend, the Argo has ditched the terms 'clean and European' for 'aggressive and contemporary'. 

Up front, the heavily sculpted hood and Fiat's new family grille imparts a sense of aggression to the Argo we don't generally associate with European hatchbacks. Large sweptback headlamps with LED DRLs on either sides appear to be seamless extensions of the grille. The profile of the bumper and lower air dam mimics the shape and size of the upper grille and headlights while the bright red accent indicates this is a sporty variant we are looking at. In profile, the prominent character line that runs the full length of the car, the flared wheel arches and the upward-sloping window profile imparts the same aggressive theme as the fascia. Potentially exclusive to this sporty trim level are the plastic cladding in the wheel arches and those snazzy-looking alloys shod with low profile Bridgestone Potenzas. The bootlid, again, is heavily sculpted and feature split wraparound taillamps and large 'FIAT' lettering at the center. Red accents in the bumper and the roof spoiler are possibly add-ons the regular variants won't get. The low-hanging exhaust is an eyesore, just as it is in the Linea T-Jet here, and has to go.

Fiat hasn't released official images of the interiors yet while Argo's powertrain options are still under wraps as well. 

Together with the Tipo sedan (which vowed us as the Aegea Concept), the Argo would be an excellent addition to Fiat India's lineup. Cars as appealing as these, powered by punchy T-Jet and frugal MultiJet engines, boasting the solid build and near-perfect ride and handling that Fiats are known for - who in their right minds would say no to such a combination? 

If priced and marketed well, these two cars could bring Fiat back in the fight and ensure the brand is not just dependent on revenue from selling engines to Maruti-Suzuki and Tata. Its highly unlikely though with FCA choosing to focus on the 'Jeep' brand for India. Still, miracles do happen and we are hoping for one to see these new-age Fiats on Indian roads.