Mahindra's new LCV spotted testing in Chennai

Tata Ace might still be the most popular Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) in India but Mahindra put up a very strong fight with its Maxximo. As the Ace family then expanded to accommodate the Super Ace above and the Ace Zip below with payloads ranging from 0.6 to 1 tonne, Mahindra could no longer pose a threat to its long-time rival.

Spotted testing in Chennai a couple of days back, this new LCV, which we believe is from Mahindra, will change that scenario. Clicked after several minutes of hot pursuit, this LCV is visually smaller than the Tata Ace and Mahindra Maxximo. That means it would, most likely, end up challenging the Ace Zip which has a 600 kg pay load.

Despite the heavy camouflage, certain significant elements of this new LCV are easily noticeable. The most prominent of them all is the slightly protruding front end, not much dissimilar to those seen in Ashok Leyland Dost and Mahindra's own Gio. Apart from the big air dam that can clearly be seen in the frontal shot, the test truck had most other styling elements concealed. The cabin appeared to be reasonably spacious for a vehicle with such a small footprint. The flat loading bay at the rear exposes the chassis underneath that also houses the spare wheel. Plastic wheel arches cover up the space above rear wheels nicely and the taillights seem to be sporting tiny LEDs that glow when braking.

Powertrain details are still unknown and so is the branding to be adopted for this new model. We presume Mahindra would like to build on the success of Maxximo and adopt a strategy similar to what Tata did with its Ace range for this new LCV. Along with the all-new compact SUV that we spotted testing earlier this month, Mahindra is expected to manufacture this new LCV at its upcoming greenfiled plant in Cheyyar, Tamil Nadu.


Honda launches the Mobilio MPV in India

Honda is on a roll, of late. With the all-new City decimating the competition and the Amaze hot on the heels of Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai, Honda has seen its sales and market share grow tremendously over the past year. Keen to maintain the momentum and continue its growth trajectory, Honda launched the Mobilio in India earlier this week. Built on the same platform as the Brio and Amaze, Mobilio marks Honda’s entry into the MPV segment in India that’s currently dominated by Toyota Innova and Maruti-Suzuki Ertiga.

As these pictures reveal, the Mobilio shares its frontal design with the Brio and Amaze. The almond-shaped headlights seem to be carried over with little to no changes while the grille, bumper and air dam get noticeable changes. A unique front that’s not common with its siblings, like what Maruti-Suzuki did with the Ertiga, would have been nice. Moving on to the profile, a host of cuts and creases dominate the proceedings but the ones that really stand out are the kink in the window line and the treatment of D-Pillar. The sharp taillights that extend into the tailgate and the black inserts intended to break the mass of the bumper are the design highlights at the rear.

While the Brio and City makes do without one yet, the Mobilio, surprisingly, gets a sporty ‘RS’ variant. With projector headlamps, a more aggressive grille, sharper bumpers, side skirts, rear spoiler and flashy alloy wheels, the Mobilio RS does indeed look sporty. Unfortunately, powertrain and mechanicals remain unchanged from the other variants.

The Mobilio is powered by the same 1.5-liter i-VTEC petrol and i-DTEC diesel engines that powers the City. While the petrol engine produces a maximum power of 119 ps at 6600 rpm and a peak torque of 145 Nm at 4600 rpm, the “Earth Dreams” diesel engine delivers 100 ps at 3600 rpm and 200 Nm at 1750 rpm. Four variants are on offer – E, S, V and the sporty RS.

Following the famous ‘Man Maximum, Machine Minimum’ philosophy, Honda seems to have extracted every possible inch of space that this platform can eke out with the Mobilio offering three rows of seating that can accommodate seven passengers. The third row can be accessed by folding the second row forward. To aid practicality, both the second and third rows offer split function. The dual-tone interiors make the cabin feel bright and airy. Most of the interior appointments including the dashboard and switches are from the Brio and Amaze. Air-conditioning, front and rear power windows, central locking and tilt steering are standard across the range while Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) are standard on all diesel variants. Features exclusive to V and RS variants include fog lamps, rear wiper with washer, armrest in the second row and dual airbags.

With the Mobilio, Honda’s recent run of success is all set to continue, the strong brand image and the positive vibes of the City and Amaze notwithstanding. That’s not all, the all-new Jazz is heading towards our shores too. Bring it on, Honda!

Mercedes-Benz launches the CLA 45 AMG in India

If the sight and sound of an AMG makes you go ‘Ah My God!’ but you don’t have more than a crore to shell out, fret not. Mercedes-Benz launched the CLA 45 AMG in India earlier this week just for people like you. Continuing its product onslaught that shows no signs of slowing down, Mercedes-Benz has priced the CLA 45 AMG at INR 68.5 Lakhs ex-showroom New Delhi, making it the most affordable AMG model in the Indian market.

Based on the Modular Front Architecture that also underpins the A-Class, B-Class and the soon-to-be-launched GLA crossover, the CLA completes Merc’s compact front-wheel drive lineup globally.

The CLA is a visual stunner. Up front, it borrows heavily from the A-Class as evident from the profile of the headlights and grille. The detailing in the lights are slightly different though and, atleast in the AMG variant, the grille is devoid of those diamond pins that created quite an impact in the A-Class. From the profile and the rear, the CLA takes a completely different approach and looks like a scaled-down version of the CLS, which is a good thing. The swoopy curves, the frameless doors, the arched roofline and the sexy taillights combine together and makes the CLA look brilliant. Being an AMG, visual embellishments are aplenty in the form of an aggressive front bumper with bigger air dams, twin-slatted grille, 18-inch wheels, side skirts, quad exhausts and a racy diffuser in the rear bumper.

The interiors are heavily inspired by the A-Class too, which is understandable as this car is based on the popular hatchback. AMG touches inside include an Alcantara-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminium pedals, sporty Recaro bucket seats with contrasting red stitching, bright red seat belts, brushed silver inserts in the dashboard and a stubby gear-selector in the center console. As expected from a Mercedes-Benz, safety is accorded top priority and the CLA 45 AMG is loaded with an array of safety features and electronic driving aids that the German brand is renowned for, including seven airbags, PRE-SAFE system and a 3-stage Electronic Stability Program with Curve Dynamic Assist.

Under the hood, the CLA 45 AMG comes fitted with the most powerful, series-produced four cylinder engine in the planet. This 2.0-liter, direct injection, turbocharged petrol engine produces a whopping 355 bhp of power at 6000 rpm and a staggering 450 Nm of torque between 2250 to 5000 rpm. Coupled with the SPEEDSHIFT 7-speed AMG automatic transmission and the 4MATIC All-Wheel Drive system, the CLA 45 AMG boasts an electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h and can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds. That’s some serious performance from a four-cylinder inline engine!

With this launch, the Mercedes-Benz AMG portfolio in India now include the CLA 45 and E 63 sedans, the SLK 55 roadster and the ML 63, GL 63 and G 63 offroaders.


Why does cars of the same brand look similar these days?

Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, once said “The only thing that is constant is change”. More than anything else, automobiles have always stayed true to this adage. Over the course of time, they have evolved significantly to become what they are today. While the industry has grown leaps and bounds since the invention of automobile more than a century ago and the automobiles themselves have become sleeker, faster and incredibly safer, their design and styling doesn't seem to be heading where it should be.

No, we aren't treading to the big debate that all cars look the same these days. Apart from some standout exceptions that were few and far in between, cars of the same era have always looked similar to our eyes. The thing that’s troubling us though is the so-called ‘family design language’ that automotive manufacturers seem to have adopted en masse. What’s driving this change? Is it a rapid change in consumers' tastes or a deliberate attempt by manufacturers or, worse, a complete shortage of ideas from designers? We might never know the real reason but all we can say is this is getting difficult to digest. Why does all cars of a particular brand have to look the same? Can't the individual models be given identities of their own?

Take Volkswagen, for instance. From Polo to Passat, there is hardly a differentiating factor when it comes to their looks. There might be an additional chrome strip here, a slat there and the profile of the DRLs might look different, but that’s about it. Sadly, Audi and Porsche mimic this trend higher up the group’s hierarchy too. Unless you possess a keen eye for detail, identifying an A3 or A4 from an A6 or a Cayenne from a Macan might prove to be difficult. Volkswagen Automotive Group isn't alone in this fast-spreading stigma. The situation elsewhere is no different either.

Ever since ‘flame surfacing’ was ditched, all BMWs look like mirror images of each other when parked side by side. Ultimate driving machines they may be, but unique looking machines they aren't. Not far away in Stuttgart, Mercedes-Benz is joining the fray too. Differentiating between the C-Class and S-Class has never been this challenging. Even Jaguar and Land Rover, with just a handful of models in their portfolio, are no longer finding it worthwhile to bring out individual styling cues for their models. Fords slapped with the Aston Martin-inspired grille, Kias penned by Peter Schreyer, the strikingly-similar rear ends of the Maruti-Suzuki Alto 800 and Celerio – the list would go on.

While these family styling cues are often painstakingly-designed to impart oodles of class and grace to the brand, they lack the all-important uniqueness. If you think that’s an impossible combination to achieve, Jeep shows us it's not. Despite a very strong family lineage and a legacy to live up to with every new launch, Jeep designs models that are instantly recognizable as one but still unique in their own ways. Be it the Renegade, Cherokee or Grand Cherokee, there is no mistaking them for anything else. Hyundai’s much-hyped ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ is a case in point too. It shares the same design elements with the entire lineup and yet manages to dish out models that look similar yet convincingly unique.

Agreed, adopting a common design language brings with it a host of benefits. Brand awareness goes up significantly, the chances of success are higher and the company’s designers need not toil for long as all they have to do is take an existing design, tweak it a bit, give it a nip here and a tuck there and, voila, a new model is born. But, don’t the customers, the actual car-buying public who part with their money to own one, deserve variety? They aren't out shopping for apparel to be greeted by the same designs in different sizes when they enter the showrooms. Please, get us back to those days when individual models had identities of their own and didn't have to piggyback with one carried over from the brand.


Mahindra's all-new Compact SUV (S101) caught testing near Chennai

With space, practicality and added ground clearance as their trump cards, Utility Vehicles are increasingly getting popular in India. Mirroring this trend, compact crossovers and sports utility vehicles are widely believed to be the next big thing in the Indian automotive industry. It's not surprising then that every manufacturer wants to grab a share of this pie before it gets too crowded.

This camouflaged vehicle, caught testing in the outskirts of Chennai, is Mahindra's first proper attempt at cracking the compact SUV space. Of course, we have discounted the Quanto when we made that statement as it was nothing but a chopped-off Xylo. Codenamed S101, this compact SUV from Mahindra will be positioned below Scorpio in the company's line-up and compete heads-on with the Ford Ecosport that's a hot property in the market.

As evident from the pictures, this is an early prototype with a lot of unfinished parts and panels which makes it tough for us to debate on its looks and styling. The unique mesh pattern in the radiator grille seems to be a fresh take on the historic seven-slat grille that adorns all Mahindras. The headlights and taillights, with three individual circular elements each, will most probably not make it to the production model. The vehicle looks reasonably wide and it's overall stance isn't disproportionate like the Quanto. The arched roof, visible in one of the pictures, looks weird though. We will reserve our final judgement until we see the production model.

Like the Ecosport, this compact SUV from Mahindra will measure less than 4 meters in length. The company is said to be working on equipping this SUV with petrol and diesel engines of displacements less than 1.2 and 1.5 liters respectively to ensure that it qualifies for the excise duty concession offered by the government. With the Bolero, Scorpio, XUV 500 and Thar doing extremely well in the market, Mahindra is already well-established in the utility vehicle segment. Once launched, this new model is only going to raise their stakes further.