20141229

Mahindra Maxximo Mini Van facelift caught testing near Chennai

Tata might have been the trend-setter in Small Commercial Vehicles (SCV) in India with the Ace platform and its many derivatives but Mahindra managed to leave a mark in this popular segment with the 'Maxximo' pick-up and mini van. Launched in 2011, both the single-cab cargo truck and the hard-top people-mover met with success, establishing Mahindra as a strong threat to Tata Motors.


Three years later, it looks like the Maxximo mini van is due for a facelift. Spotted testing last evening in the busy NH45 on the outskirts of Chennai, the highway that houses the Mahindra Research Valley, the Maxximo facelift seems to be getting just minor changes. Going by the partial camouflage on the body, this possibly is just a frontal nip and tuck. So, the headlights, grille and bumper could see some changes, while the profile and the rear of the vehicle are seemingly unchanged, let alone the location of the badge . Codenamed P108, the Maxximo facelift sports the same prominent, upward-sloping character line, rather largish 'C2 CRDe' badge and the vertical taillights from the current model.


The sliding rear door on the left side and the sliding rear windows hint that this is the top-end VX variant on test. Currently, the range has two variants, a base variant with frameless rear door and canvas top and the VX variant with sliding rear door and windows. We presume Mahindra will continue offering both the variants with the facelift too. The current Maxximo mini van has a monocoque chassis, a 909 cc, twin cylinder, common-rail diesel engine with 25 horsepower and 55 Nm of torque, an independent front suspension, a cable-operated gear shift, brakes with Load Sensing Proportioning Valve (LSPV), butterfly rear windows and seating capacity for up to eight passengers. We don't expect these to change in the upcoming facelift.

Albeit minimal, these cosmetic changes in the Maxximo facelift puts it in good stead to take the Tata Ace Magic head-on.

20141227

Hyundai i20 Cross spotted testing in Chennai

Compact crossovers are getting increasingly popular in India, with their wannabe SUV looks and ruggedness finding favour with a lot of buyers. Currently led by Ford's Ecosport, this segment has seen a lot of churn over the past year, with Volkswagen Cross Polo, Toyota Etios Cross and Fiat Avventura joining the fray. While the Ecosport was developed from scratch as a crossover, the rest of the clan are essentially pimped-up versions of their hatchback siblings.

Very soon, this buzzing segment is likely to witness a big-ticket entry from the Korean car-maker Hyundai, which is readying a cross variant of its i20. Surprised? We were, too! While we were expecting the ix25 to be launched here to take the Renault Duster head-on, Hyundai managed to pull this out of nowhere. Spotted testing in Chennai earlier today, the i20 Cross, assuming that's how Hyundai would call it, seems set for a launch shortly.


Like most of its competitors, the i20 Cross is just a beefed-up variant of Hyundai's premium hatchback that was launched recently in India. Cosmetic changes on the outside of the car include projector headlights, plastic cladding on the doors and over the wheel arches, roof rails and newly-designed alloy wheels, all of which can be seen in the pictures that we have shot. Additionally, LED Daytime Running Lights, skid plates in the front and rear and an increased ground clearance could be part of the kit too. The engines, interiors and rest of the mechanicals are likely to be carried over from the regular i20. Though Hyundai hasn't confirmed this yet, both the 1.2-liter petrol and 1.4-liter diesel engines could be offered in the i20 Cross, making it a strong contender in the sub-4m crossover segment.


Ever since it's launch, the all-new i20 has been a smash hit in India and, in fact, is the largest selling model in Hyundai India's lineup now. It's hardly surprising, as the i20 is an excellent all-rounder, as we found out during our recent test drive. The addition of the Cross variant is only going to widen the appeal of the car further!

20141218

2015 ICOTY & IMOTY Awards announced

With just a little more than a week to go to bid goodbye to 2014, it is time to look back at the spate of cars and motorcycles launched in the Indian market this year and crown the best of them all. The annual Indian Car of the Year (ICOTY) and Indian Motorcycle of the Year (IMOTY) awards do just that. Modelled on the lines of similar titles awarded in North America, Europe and Japan, the jury for ICOTY and IMOTY consists of experienced automotive journalists from reputed publications like Top Gear, Motoring World, Car India, Overdrive, Auto Bild, AutoX, Evo and Hindu Business Line. 

Getting together and deciding on this year's winners would sure have been a tough act for those involved, given that 2014 witnessed the launch of several key models in India with top brands like Maruti-Suzuki, Hyundai and Honda launching more than one model each. While the Celerio, Ciaz and Alto K10 kept Maruti-Suzuki's flag flying, Hyundai had the Xcent and i20 vying for honours. The all-new City and Mobilio were Honda's hopes for the title. Giving them tough competition were the new Mahindra Scorpio, Tata Zest and Toyota Corolla Altis. 

At the end of their evaluation, it was the i20 that came out on top with Hyundai handsomely taking home yet another Indian Car of the Year award. This is the third time in ten years and the second consecutive year a Hyundai car has won the title. The original i10 won the award in 2008 while its successor Grand i10 romped home with the same last year. We just spent considerable time with the new i20 and couldn't praise enough its impressive style quotient, feature-packed interiors and the powerful yet frugal diesel engine. In short, the i20 is an excellent all-rounder and that's what has sealed the fate of its competitors this year.


2015 ICOTY RESULTS:

   Winner - Hyundai i20

PREVIOUS ICOTY WINNERS:

   * 2014 - Hyundai Grand i10
   * 2013 - Renault Duster
   * 2012 – Maruti-Suzuki Swift
   * 2011 – Ford Figo
   * 2010 – Tata Nano

When it comes to motorcycles, Harley-Davidson's efforts in developing an all-new platform specifically for emerging markets like India didn't go unnoticed with the popular Street 750 cruiser bagging the Indian Motorcycle of the Year title. Despite brand connoisseurs pointing out some rough edges, the Street 750 embodies all things that made Harleys popular and, at around INR 5 Lakhs, increases the reach of this iconic brand tremendously. KTM's RC 200 and 390 twins, Kawasaki's ER-6N and Z250, Triumph's impressive lineup of Thruxton, Daytona 675R, Bonneville and Street Triple, Suzuki Gixxer and Bajaj's Discover 150 were the other contenders for the award.


2015 IMOTY RESULTS:

   Winner – Harley-Davidson Street 750

PREVIOUS IMOTY WINNERS:

   * 2014 - Royal Enfield Continental GT
   * 2013 - KTM Duke 200
   * 2012 – Honda CBR 250R
   * 2011 – Honda CB Twister
   * 2010 – Kawasaki Ninja 250R

Both the award-winners are off to a flying start in India and would, most likely, end up making the respective manufacturers expand to hitherto unseen levels.

20141214

Driven #27: 2014 Hyundai i20 CRDi

When the i20 was first launched in India, there weren't many who thought it would succeed. Back then in 2008, Hyundai had burnt its fingers trying to open up the premium hatchback space with the Getz, no other car in that segment apart from the Swift succeeded and people just weren't used to the concept of hatchbacks being more expensive than sedans. But, the i20 exceeded all expectations and ended up beating Hyundai's own initial sales estimates too by quite some margin.

Six years and a face-lift later, Hyundai has now launched the second-generation i20.

Armed with sleek styling, feature-loaded interiors, impeccable fit and finish and a peppy yet frugal engine lineup, the new i20 builds on the strengths of the old model while at the same time trying to rectify it's flaws. We drive the range-topping i20 Asta CRDi to find out how good it is and if it's really worthy of the 'Elite' prefix that Hyundai's marketing team have bestowed the car with.

TO LOOK AT:


Riding high on the success of its 'Fluidic Sculpture' design language, Hyundai has gone through a beautiful transformation in the last few years. In line with that, our expectations from the Korean automaker have evolved too. The new i20, then, didn't disappoint and more than met our expectations. Though Hyundai's designers have consciously toned down the flashiness of the outgoing model, the new i20 impresses with solid European lines and a minimalist approach. Given that the car was designed in Hyundai's studio in Frankfurt and would be spearheading the brand's challenge in the hotly-contested super-mini segment in Europe, the inspiration is understandable.


When viewed up front, the i20 is instantly recognizable as a Hyundai, thanks to a modified version of the hexagonal air dam that we are now familiar with. Giving it company is a slim grille above proudly holding the italicized 'H' logo and a secondary air dam below that runs the full length of the bumper. The thin chrome strip surrounding the air dam and the unique diamond mesh pattern adopted increases the appeal by a few notches. While the fog lights are neatly positioned, the headlights appear to have been stretched a bit too far on either sides. Unlike many recent Hyundai models, the new i20's profile is devoid of cuts and creases. The strong shoulder line that gains muscle towards the rear look taut. Adding a touch of funkiness are the blackened C-pillars and the diamond-cut alloy wheels. The awesome taillights that look not much different from the LED units used in more expensive cars steal the show at the rear.


What could have changed though is the placement of camera for the rear parking sensors. It looks awful in an otherwise clean rear and seems like an after thought. And, don't let those shiny reflector strips outlining the headlights fool you. They might look like LED DRLs but actually aren't, which is surprising as the outgoing i20 flaunted them in all their glory. We would have also preferred a glossy finish for the C-pillars in place of the existing matte-finish plastic inserts.

TO SIT IN:

A major highlight of the previous-generation i20 was its feature-packed interiors with superior fit and finish. Hyundai hasn't changed the formula much with the new car. In fact, the cabin appears bigger, better and the careful application of beige makes it look bright and airy. As a result, the 'claustrophobia' that plagues some other premium hatchbacks isn't a factor in the new i20.


As we step in, the first thing that comes to our notice is the driver-centric nature of the cabin. The center console itself is angled slightly towards the driver and, as a result, every button, knob and switch falls nicely on to our hands. The quality, fit and finish of each of them is impeccable too and leaves nothing to complain about. In fact, the i20 can put cars a segment or two above to shame when it comes to sheer build quality.

Though the steering wheel's layout is similar to that of the cheaper Grand i10, it is embellished with a thin metallic strip and a host of buttons. Behind the wheel, the white-on-black instrument cluster is simple, classy and easy to decipher on the move. The speedometer and tachometer are housed in two large, circular dials that also has digital readouts for engine temperature and fuel level. Between them is a useful Multi Information Display screen that throws out a host of information including service reminders, twin trip meters and average speed apart from outside temperature and odo reading. It also displays customizable options and even warns the driver when the front wheels aren't in the straight-ahead position at idle. It is Hyundai's attention to detail in nifty things like these that creates a lasting 'feel-good' impression amongst customers. Having said that, it is unacceptable that distance to empty and average and instantaneous fuel efficiency figures aren't being offered yet.


The layered design of the dashboard is unique and appealing, featuring beige and black in almost equal proportions. Metallic silver bits and glossy black touches are applied here and there too. While the buttons and knobs in the center console might appear a bit cluttered and small at first, they are extremely practical and easy-to-use once we get accustomed. What's impressive though is the quality of stuff used. The buttons and knobs are built to last and seem capable to withstand years of abuse. Two power sockets, one each for the driver and the front passenger, USB and Aux inputs are conveniently placed below the climate control system. All the buttons and switches, including those in the door pads, are backlit in blue, making the i20's cabin a nice place to spend time in the dark.


The doors open wide and getting in and out through them is an easy affair. But, do remember to crouch yourself in, especially at the rear. Thanks to it's healthy travel range, settling down in the driver's seat is pretty simple. Though the seat itself is comfortable, we would have been happier if it offered a bit more support for the thighs. And that applies to the rear bench as well. As with most Hyundai cars, the bench is placed a bit low but is wide enough to accommodate three average-sized adults abreast. The middle passenger has to contend with the raised floor though.

A major attribute of the previous-generation i20 was its extra long list of features. The new i20 is no exception. The Asta variant that we drove had ABS, driver and passenger airbags, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, cluster ionizer, automatic climate control, rear washer and wiper, tilt and telescopic steering, rear air-conditioning vents, 1 GB internal memory in the audio system, split rear seats with adjustable head restraints, automatic headlamps, rear parking sensors with a dynamic display in the rear view mirror and much more. 

But, we still came out disappointed. Guess why? The previous i20 was a trend-setter of sorts offering six airbags and features like rain-sensing wipers which aren't part of the equipment list anymore. Why Hyundai, why? Bring them back and make the i20 stand out, please!

ON THE ROAD:

Despite being a full generation change, the all-new i20 carries over the engine options from the older model. That means the familiar 1.2-liter VTVT Kappa petrol and the 1.4-liter CRDi U2 diesel engines power Hyundai's latest hatchback. Our test car had the latter under its hood.


We are big fans of this CRDi engine from Hyundai and we have always been vocal about it. In the new i20, it has become even better. Press the clutch, push the engine start button and all you hear is a mild clitter-clatter. Inspite of having an oil-burner under the hood, refinement is terrific and the i20 puts some cars two segments higher to shame in this department. Would you believe us then there is no insulation under the hood?


Once we get going, it becomes obvious that Hyundai's engineers have tuned the engine for a more linear power delivery. Thanks to the ample torque on offer, all it takes is a gentle dab on the throttle pedal to gain serious momentum. The turbocharger kicks in at a little less than 2000 rpm, but the surge in power delivered after that isn't as wild or sudden as it was in, say, a Getz CRDi or even the old i20. The wide usable power-band and the tractable nature of the engine makes the i20 feel at home, be it inside the city or out on a highway. If cruising at triple-digit speeds all day long is what you are looking for, the i20 is tailor-made for that. With specifications that read 89 bhp, 220 Nm of torque, a 45-liter fuel tank and an ARAI-certified fuel efficiency of 21.76 km/l, you know what car to choose the next time you are planning for that elusive long drive! It has got to be the new i20 - its powerful, fuel-efficient and has an incredible range. 

For all the strengths that it possessed, the previous-gen i20 was not what we would call a driver's car. The super-light steering and nervous handling meant that the i20 was never a match to the accomplished benchmarks in the segment like Swift, Polo, Figo or Punto. If that's what we are measuring the new i20 against, it has indeed come a long way.  Measured against that, the new i20 has indeed come a long way. With each successive model launch, Hyundai has progressively improved the dynamics of their cars and the new i20 is further proof of that.


Ride quality at slow and medium speeds, like all Hyundai cars, is good and the i20 cushions its occupants from irregularities on the road. Though bigger potholes did filter into the cabin during our test drive, we were impressed with the suspension that went about its job in a silent and fuss-free manner. The loud thuds of the old i20 are a thing of the past now. When it comes to handling, it is a similar story with the new i20 displaying a sense of maturity that was missing in the old model. The light steering at city speeds, a Hyundai trait that the mass market loves, is standard fare but it weighs up significantly as speeds build up. No, the steering isn't as precise as that of the Swift or isn't as beautifully-weighted as that of the Punto, but the new i20 is a huge step in the right direction as far as road manners are concerned. 

We know a few that stayed away from the i20 solely because of its nervous handling. With the much-improved new model, we bet that would no longer be the case.

With 170 mm of ground clearance and a firmer suspension setup, the new i20 shouldn't scrape its bottom anymore when fully loaded. Braking is adequate and the i20 shed speeds remarkably during a panic braking scenario. Yet again, Hyundai's decision to remove the rear disc brakes from the top-end variant and replace it with the cheaper drum setup perplexes us.

SPECIFICATIONS:


| Engine Type: U2 CRDi |
| No of Cylinders: 4 |
| Displacement: 1396 cc |
| Maximum Power: 89 bhp @ 4000 rpm |
| Maximum Torque: 220 Nm @ 1500 - 2750 rpm |
| Transmission Type: 6-speed Manual |
| Tires: 195/55 R16 |
| Brakes: Disc (Front), Drum (Rear) |


WE VOTE FOR:

* Appealing design inside and out
* Spacious and feature-loaded interiors
* Powerful yet frugal diesel engine
* Improved road manners

WE VOTE AGAINST:

* Deletion of trend-setting features
  (Six airbags, rear disc brakes, DRLs, Rain-sensing wipers)
* Still not to enthusiast's tastes

VERDICT:


Since its launch three months back, the new i20 has been a stellar success in India and, as a matter of fact, emerged as the best-selling car in Hyundai's portfolio in November. Yes, it sold more than cheaper cars like the Grand i10 and Eon. After spending half a day with the car, we know why. The i20 is amongst the best all-rounders this side of 10 Lakh rupees and you just won't go wrong if you decide to put your money on one. It is stylish inside and out, boasts impressive build quality, fit and finish, is loaded to the hilt with features and Hyundai's widespread dealer network and good after-sales service makes the deal sweeter. Bring the powerful yet frugal diesel engine and mature road manners into the mix and the equation gets all the more stronger.

In short, be prepared to see a lot of these on road over the next few months. Well done, Hyundai.

| Photography: Bharath Rengaraj |

20141213

2015 Ward's 10 Best Engines announced

Of all the awards handed out in the automotive industry year after year, Ward's annual list of 10 Best Engines rank on top of our list. Not only is this different from the other run-of-the-mill titles, it also honours the efforts taken by car manufacturers to come out with better engines with each passing year. To be eligible for the award, an engine or a propulsion system must be all-new or significantly re-engineered and retail in the U.S market less than $60,000. 

A total of 37 engines made it to the list of nominations this year, with the vehicles powered by them then being evaluated by the editors at WardsAuto. Scoring was based on each of those engine's power, torque, technology, fuel economy, competitiveness and noise, vibration and harshness characteristics, making it a complete, all-round evaluation. 

If there still were doubts that "forced induction" is the way forward in automobiles, the list of ten best engines of 2015 would put them to rest. Seven out of the ten engines chosen for the award either had a turbocharger or supercharger to increase power output without increasing displacement. BMW and Fiat-Chrysler are the big winners this time, with both of them bagging two awards each. GM, Ford, Hyundai, Subaru, Volkswagen and Volvo had one each in the list. The 3.0-liter DOHC V6 engine powering the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the only oil-burner in the list, while the BMW i3's 127-kW Electric Motor and Hyundai Tucson FCV's 100-kW Fuel Cell would keep the alternate fuel gang happy.

The award-winning engines and the automobiles that they power are listed below in no particular order:

* 127-kW Electric Motor (BMW i3)
* 6.2L OHV V8 (Chevrolet Corvette Stingray)
* 6.2L Supercharged OHV V8 (Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat)
* 1.0L Turbocharged DOHC 3-cyl. (Ford Fiesta)
* 100-kW Fuel Cell (Hyundai Tucson FCV)
* 1.5L Turbocharged DOHC 3-cyl. (Mini Cooper)
* 3.0L Turbodiesel DOHC V6 (Ram 1500 EcoDiesel)
* 2.0L Turbocharged DOHC H4 (Subaru WRX)
* 1.8L Turbocharged DOHC 4-cyl. (Volkswagen Jetta)
* 2.0L Turbocharged DOHC 4-cyl. (Volvo S60)

"We spend a lot of time reading the powertrain tea leaves throughout the auto industry, and we're proud that this year's list is a microcosm of all the latest innovation coming from automakers," says Drew Winter, WardsAuto World Editor-in-Chief. "It's not just a list for enthusiasts or for environmentalists," he says.

Top executives from winning automakers would be presented with the awards at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detorit. Stay on high alert, folks! The award season has just begun and we have lots to report.

20141129

Sales of Maruti-Suzuki Wagon-R crosses 15 Lakh units in India

It was 1998. The conventional mindset of prospective car-buyers in India was shattered by a tall-boy from Korea called Santro which, in the process, started nibbling at big chunks of Maruti's market share. The top honchos at Maruti Udyog Limited, which is how Maruti-Suzuki was called then, had to bring in something to challenge the Korean upstart Hyundai. The prevailing 'kei' car regulations in Japan meant that they had a whole lot of Suzuki models to choose from for the job. That's probably how the Wagon-R found its way to India, with Maruti launching it in the country in 2000.


It wasn't exactly an electrifying launch so to say, with Maruti's 800 and Zen proving to be way more popular than the new Wagon-R in the initial days and weeks. Gradually, visitors to Maruti showrooms started realizing the practicality of Wagon-R's tall-boy styling and the space and comfort it offered in such a small footprint. Popularity rose, sales soared and soon the Wagon-R was a regular fixture at the top of the sales charts. Sales zoomed past 1 Lakh units in financial year 2003-04, followed by 5 Lakh and 10 Lakh milestones in 2007-08 and 2011-12 respectively. Earlier this week, cumulative sales of the car crossed 15 Lakh units, a milestone that puts the Wagon-R amongst the all-time best-selling cars in India.


Almost 15 years after launch, the Wagon-R is still a best-seller and is close on the heels of Maruti-Suzuki's other top-sellers, the Alto, Swift and Dzire. With still a full month to go, Wagon-R's sales has already exceeded 93,000 units in 2014. For it's part, Maruti-Suzuki has ensured that the car stays fresh and relevant, by doling out facelifts, new variants and limited editions at regular intervals. The second-generation model was launched in 2010-11 and the upmarket 'Stingray' variant was launched last year.


The 998 cc K-series engine under the hood of the current Wagon-R generates a maximum power of 68 PS @ 6200 rpm and a peak torque of 90 Nm @ 3500 rpm. CNG and LPG fuel options are also available, making the Wagon-R a versatile option in the fuel-conscious small car segment. With sales showing no signs of slowing down, we are sure this tall-boy from Japan is set for more milestones in India.

20141127

Lotus F1 Team and EMC pull off an epic truck jump

How do you put a season full of miseries behind you and yet look forward to the next with enthusiasm? Lotus F1 Team and its partner EMC might have just answered that question in style. Hot on the heels of a disastrous outing in 2014 that culminated with Pastor Maldonado’s car going up in flames in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the classic ‘black and gold’ Lotus wanted something to cheer about. So, it embarked on an epic stunt that involved a Renault F1 transporter (with the full trailer in tow) jumping over the team’s Renault-powered F1 car.


The stunt goes like this. The truck and the F1 car are seen going side by side for some distance before the truck is driven up a ramp for the actual ‘jump’. The F1 car utilizes the truck’s resulting moments in air to switch sides by driving underneath, which is pretty cool! Yeah, it does look like a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie but given that the drivers involved, Mike Ryan and Martin Ivanov, are experienced stunt men that have worked in many Bond, Fast and Furious and Bourne franchisees, it isn't surprising.

Go ahead and watch the awesome video yourself!

video

In this whole episode, Lotus and EMC have ended up creating a Guinness World Record for the longest ever truck jump in history at 83 feet and 7 inches. That’s a rather unusual record for a F1 team but given the season they have had, we don’t see anyone complaining. Now that it is done, let the men and women at Lotus focus on 2015 F1 season please!

20141126

2014 Los Angeles - Mazda CX-3 is a reminder of what we miss in India


If you think that we Indians are alone when it comes to preferring crossovers, think again. These wannabe Sport Utility Vehicles are the in-trend bodystyle globally and automakers are scrambling over each other trying to fill up gaps in their crossover portfolio. Mazda had one such vacuum in the compact end of the segment that's seeing a spate of action in the form of Fiat 500 X, Honda H-RV, Hyundai ix25 and Ford Ecosport. The new CX-3, that made its global debut at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show last week, fills that space rather nicely.


The CX-3 is the fifth all-new model launched by Mazda in the recent past, featuring a full suite of SKYACTIV technology covering everything from the engine and transmission to the body and chassis. Of late, all Mazda models have featured strong design elements based on the Japanese brand's 'KODO - Soul of Motion' design language and the CX-3 is no exception. The bold front end is dominated by the seven-slat radiator grille underscored by the signature wing that extends into the headlights. The long nose paves way for a steeply-raked greenhouse that gently curves upwards before ending flush with the rear windscreen. The blackened C-pillars and the mish-mash of character lines stand out on either sides. The rear is a lot humbler and quite similar to the Mazda 2 but that doesn't mean it's not good.


If the exteriors impressed us, the interiors, atleast from what we see in the images released by Mazda, floored us. Uncluttered and classy, the CX-3's interiors look refreshingly clean unlike the busy interiors that most new cars come with these days. The contrast provided by the dark red accents in the doorpads and floor console kneepads is a tasteful touch as are the three circular air-conditioner vents. Under the hood, Mazda's SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter gasoline engine mated to the SKYACTIV-DRIVE six-speed automatic transmission powers all four wheels through the company's new-generation AWD system that employs a claimed world's first front wheel slip warning detection system. All that tech talk just means one thing to us - the CX-3 has the go to match its show.


Given that pseudo-crossovers like the Fiat Avventura and Toyota Etios Cross are finding favour in our country, imagine the potential that this sexy little crossover from Mazda has. Combining stylish looks with Japanese reliability, the CX-3 can give the Ecosports and Dusters a good fight. If nothing, the CX-3 is a harsh reminder of what we are missing from Mazda's potent stable in India. Let the sighs begin!

20141125

Mercedes-Benz launches the new C-Class in India

Merely weeks after making its debut globally, Mercedes-Benz officially launched its all-new C-Class in India today. Initially, only the C 200 petrol variant would be on sale, priced at INR 40.90 Lakhs, ex-showroom Delhi. As it did with other new models in the recent past, Mercedes-Benz India would be importing the first lots of C-Class sedans from Germany with local production expected to start sometime next year.


Based on the new, light-weight Modular Rear Architecture (MRA) platform, the all-new C-Class adopts the styling direction pioneered by the latest S-Class. Up front, the twin-slat radiator grille adorned with the three-pointed star and the muscular hood with well-defined creases sets the tone for an athletic stance. The long hood, the coupe-like 'sloping' roofline and the short overhangs, together with those prominent character lines, carries the stance forward in profile while the short and stubby rear is an exact replica of the S-Class. The headlights and the taillights are both beautifully-shaped and exquisitely-detailed. Its just that the new C looks a lot like the S-Class, which isn't bad at all.


The interiors are completely revamped too and looks to be a quantum leap over the previous-gen C-Class. The sporty, 3-spoke steering wheel, the circular air-conditioner vents and the tablet-like multimedia screen jutting out of the dashboard are things that we have seen in other Mercedes-Benz models too. The layout is minimalist and clean, which is sure to be a hit amongst consumers. As expected, feature-list is exhaustive too. Satellite navigation, three-zone automatic climate control, LED ambient cabin lighting, panoramic sunroof, a high-resolution 8.4-inch screen controlled by a click wheel and a touch pad, powered front seats and a 13-speaker Burmster audio system are all part of the standard kit.


As usual, safety is top-notch with the original 'Baby Benz' now boasting seven airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS), Adaptive Brake with Hill Start Assist, Attention Assist, Electronic Stability Program, Curve Dynamic Assist, PRE-SAFE system for preventive occupant protection and LED Intelligent Lighting system as standard. Powering the C 200 is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine that generates 181 bhp and 30.5 kgm of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through the 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission. Other engine variants, including those powered by diesel, are expected to be launched going forward.

With the arrival of the new C-Class, Mercedes-Benz has what could probably be the youngest model line-up in the luxury segment. The new C is expected to take the fight to BMW's 3-Series and Audi's A4 and bring back volumes and market share to Mercedes-Benz. Will it do that? We are sure it'll, but let's see.

2014 Los Angeles - Mercedes-Maybach S 600 debuts as the brand's new flagship

When the all-new S-Class made its sensational debut last year, the bosses at Mercedes-Benz were already nursing plans to use their flagship luxury sedan to take on multiple roles within the family. One of them included a potential competitor to uber-luxury offerings from Rolls-Royce and Bentley to fill in the vacuum left by the then-defunct 'Maybach'. In simultaneous events held at the Los Angeles Auto Show and Auto Guangzhou earlier this week, that particular box was checked, as the German manufacturer pulled the wraps off the Mercedes-Maybach S 600. Yes, the Maybach nameplate makes a comeback, but not as an individual brand. Instead, Mercedes-Maybach would tread on the lines of Mercedes-AMG as a sub-brand within Mercedes-Benz. While the latter would focus on performance-oriented models, the former is all about prestige and exclusivity.


The Mercedes-Maybach S 600 might be based on the regular S-Class, but the designers and engineers seem to have brought in quite a bit of differentiation between the standard S-Class and the Maybach S 600. At 5453 mm long, the Maybach S is over 200 mm longer than the S-Class in its Long Wheel Base configuration. All that additional length has gone into the rear of the car, making the two 'executive' seats one of the most sought-after ones for the uber-rich. Of course, the ENERGIZING massage function based on hot-stone principle, that we all love in the S-Class, is one of the highlights in the cabin. An exclusive standard fitment in the Mercedes-Maybach S 600 is the AIR-BALANCE package including ionization, enhanced air filtration and fragrancing with AGARWOOD, the exclusive Maybach perfume. Mercedes-Benz claims that the Maybach S 600 would be the quietest sedan in the planet, the new aeroacoustic wind tunnel at the brand's technology center in Sindelfingen playing a crucial part here.


Externally, the Mercedes-Maybach S 600 has a slew of subtle yet noticeable changes. The radiator grille, for instance, is different with three twin chrome louvers. While the additional length makes its presence felt in the profile, what's also noticeable is the shortened rear doors that ends before the C-pillars to give that much additional privacy to those seated at the rear. The forged light-alloy wheels have large surfaces instead of spokes that we usually get. The Maybach logo proudly adorns the mighty C-pillars while the word Maybach etched in the bootlid brings with it tons of exclusivity and legacy. Powering the range-topping Mercedes-Maybach S 600 is a 6.0-litre V12 bi-turbo engine that produces 530 bhp of power and 830 Nm of torque.


The Mercedes-Maybach S 600 goes on sale early 2015, with China and USA being its main target markets. 

Poor big fella, the S-Class. Having performed its role diligently as a BMW and Audi-beater for decades, the luxo barge from Mercedes-Benz, now slapped with a "Maybach" badge, has even bigger shoes to fill in. Will Rolls-Royce and Bentley be worried? We'll see, very soon!

20141113

Hurray! At last, 'safety' is being spoken about in India.

It was a casual conversation over dinner last week. A friend's friend, who had approached us a few months back to help him zero in on his new car was downbeat about the choice he made. While he did get himself a spanking new Grand i10, a car that we recommended based on his requirements, he decided to save a few ten thousands by going for a variant sans ABS and airbags, much to our disappointment. That was it. Before he could complete, the entire group was talking about "safety" or, to be precise, the lack of it in cars manufactured and sold in India. It soon became one big collective rant against the car manufacturers and the law-makers in our country. 

So, what made this group of gentlemen and several others pan India suddenly realize the importance of safety in automobiles? Aren't we the ones who choose to flaunt diamond-cut alloy wheels and spoilers over airbags and ESP? Aren't we the ones who wouldn't hesitate to open our wallets for a high-end audio install but think twice to tick the optional ABS in the feature list? Isn't lack of strong demand one of the reasons why Hyundai, that once offered 6 airbags in the i20, to pull the variant out of the market? Aren't we Indians and our car-buying preferences pretty much the reason why our market is in a dire state like this? 

And that brings us back to the conversation over dinner.

Global NCAP's decision to test base variants of popular cars sold in India was just the fillip that we Indians needed to change. One after the other, Tata Nano, Maruti-Suzuki Alto 800, Hyundai i10, Ford Figo and Volkswagen Polo failed to secure a star rating from the agency in the standard frontal offset crash test conducted earlier this year. A few weeks back, the agency crash-tested the ever-popular Swift and the new Datsun Go as well but the results, unsurprisingly, were similar. Though the absence of ABS and airbags was the primary reason behind all these cars failing to secure even one star, let's also not forget that only the Polo and Figo had stable structures that could withstand the impact. The structures of other cars collapsed at varying levels during the test that equipping them with ABS and airbags would have made no difference to the results. It is this fact and the social media that spread the word that has finally brought about the change that we automotive enthusiasts, journalists and bloggers always wanted.


No, we aren't questioning the realization that has finally dawned on us. In fact, we are so grateful that this happened. An estimated 231,027 deaths last year due to road accidents in our country didn't make us realize this. That's about 26 lives lost every hour of every day of 2013 and it had no effect on the rest of the clan. Rash driving is still the norm, rules and regulations exists only on paper and we continue to show scant respect to our fellow road users. Safety isn't a priority. Money is and creature comforts are!

Now that the awareness amongst the car-buying public is at an all-time high, the onus is on the law-makers and the manufacturers to capitalize. On it's part, the Government of India has joined hands with the automotive industry to create the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP). As part of its efforts to make Indian roads and automobiles safer, a Bharat New Car Assessment Program would be rolled out sometime next year in the lines of Euro NCAP, Austalia NCAP and ASEAN NCAP. There are even unconfirmed reports that the law-makers are considering making safety features such as ABS and airbags standard on all new cars. Phew, finally!

It is about time for car-manufacturers to join the safety bandwagon too. Instead of making stupid comments for not offering safety features in their bread and butter models, the who's who of the industry should join hands in making safety a necessity and not just an optional luxury. It's a pity that, almost an year since the Global NCAP results were out, it is only Volkswagen that has reacted by making ABS and airbags standard on all its variants sold in India. If we were Volkswagen's marketing team, we would have cashed in on the opportunity and splashed full page adverts on leading newspapers boasting this! Sadly, other manufacturers are yet to follow suit.

It may take time, but we are sure that the safety siren has just started blowing in India. We are glad that it is being spoken about and hope that this trend continues.

20141105

Renault Lodgy MPV spied inside out in Chennai

Renault's portfolio in India might consist of 5 models ranging from the Pulse hatchback to the Koleos SUV, but it is the Dacia-based Duster that's keeping the French manufacturer afloat in India. For various reasons, the other Renault models have not struck the right chord amongst the Indian car-buying public. But, another Dacia-based model, the Lodgy MPV, might come to the rescue of Renault again. Spied inside out a few hours back while on its pre-launch testing phase, the Lodgy seems to have the potential to take Renault to the next league.


What strikes us first when we get close to the Lodgy is its proportions. This is a proper Multi Purpose Vehicle with three rows of seating and, understandably, boasts an extremely long wheelbase that can be seen in these spy-shots. Beneath the attractive layer of camouflage, it is clear that the Lodgy retains most of the design and styling elements of it's Dacia counterpart. The sweptback headlights, the circular fog lamps, the slab-sided profile with minimal lines and curves, the beefy C-pillar and the sleek taillights with the characteristic bulge in the center are all clearly seen. Like they did with the Duster, Renault might spruce up some bits of the exteriors like the radiator grille and rear license plate garnish with chrome to suit Indian tastes and preferences.


The spy-shots also gives us a glimpse of the Lodgy's interiors. Beneath the partial camouflage inside, the chrome-ringed instrument cluster with three circular dials, the three-spoke steering wheel with integrated buttons, the circular air-conditioner vents and the two-tone dashboard in black and beige are clearly seen. The images also give us a good perspective to assess the space on offer in the front and the middle rows. On first sight, the Lodgy appears to be more spacious than its potential rivals in India that include Toyota Innova, Honda Mobilio, Maruti-Suzuki Ertiga and Mahindra Xylo. Closer inspection also reveals a center armrest in the middle row with inbuilt cup holders and adjustable head restraints in the front and middle rows. We aren't sure about them on the third row though.


If you wish to see this MPV uncovered and can't wait until Renault launches it in India sometime next year, take a look at this collage of Dacia Lodgy from the brand's European website. The Renault-badged Indian version wouldn't look much different.


Though Renault hasn't disclosed anything yet, we expect the Lodgy to carryover power-train options from the Duster. That would mean the 1.5-liter K9K diesel engine in two states of tune, one with 85 PS and another with 110 PS, is likely to be the mainstay of this MPV. With the market for petrol MPVs almost non-existent, we aren't sure of the prospects of a petrol-engined Lodgy in India. Based on the same platform as the accomplished Logan and Duster, the Lodgy will have robust mechanicals that can withstand all the abuse that the Indian roads can throw at it.  

So, will the Lodgy finally bolster Renault from its current position of being a one-hit wonder? If that's the question that you are asking us, we would nod our heads on the positive side. Its conservative styling aside, the Lodgy appears to be a well-rounded package offering oodles of space and practicality, which should work in India.