2016 New York - Lincoln Navigator Concept is treading on Continental's path

When Lincoln unveiled the Continental Concept at the New York Auto Show last year, it not just marked the return of an iconic nameplate but also ushered in a new era and a new look for future models of the brand. This year, Lincoln has again chosen New York for the unveiling of yet another erstwhile star of its range, the Navigator. Of course, its just a concept for now but expect the production version to not look much different.

While Lincoln's new design language made an instant impression when it debuted in the Continental Concept, it took some time for us to appreciate it in the Navigator Concept. And that's because of its size. The Navigator Concept is huge and the new Lincoln face has grown bigger to match the full-size SUV's proportions. Lincoln says its designers were inspired by luxury sailboats and yachts while designing this vehicle and it shows! The large trapezoidal grille housing a large Lincoln logo, the clean surfaces devoid of rash cuts and creases, sleek full-length taillights and the wide confident stance - everything that made us like the Continental is in the Navigator too.

The superb gull wing doors and the concertina steps that cascade out once the doors open are pure eye-candy that unfortunately won't make it to production. The turbine blade-like wheels and the ultra low profile tires could be chopped for a more road-friendly design and specification.

More than the exteriors, its the Navigator Concept's cabin that left us smacking out lips. The steering wheel and dashboard are elegant yet minimalist, just the way we like. Twin individual seats arranged in three rows and are adjustable thirty ways with Lincoln even holding a patent for these 'Perfect Position Seats'. Head restraint-mounted monitors ensures connectivity and entertainment for passengers seated at the second and third rows while a wardrobe management system can even hold a day's gear for the occupants. If the Continental is any indication, we expect the production version of Navigator to not lose much on the way and that would make this an awesome place to travel in.

A 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine sits under the hood, delivering greater than 400 horsepower to give the Navigator a real 'go anywhere' capability. Drivers can choose from several modes of steering, suspension and noise settings to get the driving experience that best suits them. The Navigator Concept features Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection that uses radar and camera to scan the road ahead and help reduce the severity or even eliminate frontal collisions.

Having debuted in 2007, the existing Navigator is the oldest vehicle in the Lincoln lineup and the new model can't come any sooner. By the looks of it, the wait is going to be worth it! 

2016 New York - Genesis Hybrid Sports Sedan Concept vows spectators, warns competitors

If Hyundai wants it's upstart luxury brand Genesis to go places and inch one step closer to be considered a genuine alternative to the German and Japanese luxury marques, all it has to do is free up some capacity and build the Hybrid Sedan Concept - just as it was displayed at the 2016 New York Auto Show without changing a damn thing!

Not every day do we see a concept that not just looks gorgeous but has fair chances of making it to production as it is. The rather unimaginatively named Hybrid Sports Sedan Concept is one such car that previews a compact sports sedan that's slated to join the Genesis lineup soon. Given that it has to take on stalwarts like the C-Class, 3-Series and A4 amongst others, Genesis can't afford to get it wrong. And if what we see us any indication, they seem to be doing everything right.

The aggressive fascia has a large hexagonal grille that has now become the face of the Genesis brand. On either sides of the grille lie a pair of sharp exquisitely-detailed headlights that are matched for shape, size and appeal by beautiful taillights. The muscular bumpers, the athletic beltline with that unique step up in the B-pillar and the sleek derriere with ultra-thin taillights and neatly tucked-in quad exhausts makes this concept a stunner. Particularly impressive are those chunky C-pillars and the way they merge with the rear deck and the muscular rear fenders.

Of course, there are some fussy elements, like the fender vents for instance, that we wish don't make it to production.

Interiors are futuristic and are likely to lose a lot of the fancy stuff when the car goes on sale eventually. Just look at that open-faced steering and the jazzy 21-inch display with 4k resolution. Gadget freaks would have a field day in the car's cabin. Space is likely to be limited, thanks to the sloping roofline and the restricted greenhouse.

As the name suggests, the car is likely to be a hybrid with some sort of electric assistance to the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine under the hood. With the rest of the specifications not released yet, it remains to be seen if the baby Genesis sedan can match or outrun it's turbocharged competition.

The Genesis brand might have come into existence only recently but it is making rapid strides already. With the erstwhile Equus and Genesis premium sedans transformed into G90 and G80 respectively to fit into the new brand nomenclature, the upcoming compact sports sedan is likely to be named G70. Having been smitten by the concept, we can't wait to see this car in its production avatar!


Bajaj Qute (RE60) spotted testing in Pune, Indian launch still a mystery

It was 2012 when Bajaj first unveiled the RE60 as a low-cost four-wheeler. It's unimpressive styling aside, we were looking forward for the RE60's launch especially since Bajaj announced this is an evolution of the brand's own three-wheeled auto-rickshaws. It also led to the creation of a new segment in the Indian automobile industry, the quadricycle. 

Soon enough, Bajaj started testing the RE60, at first with complete camouflage soon after its unveiling and then with partial camouflage later that year. While we waited eagerly for the launch, Bajaj continued testing the RE60, albeit with no camouflage, as late as last year.

Last September, Bajaj christened the RE60 as Qute and announced commencement of exports to countries in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Pending certification from Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and decision on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against the Qute are cited to be the reasons holding up the Qute's launch in India.

That doesn't stop Bajaj from testing the vehicle though, as evident from these vehicles spotted in Pune with test registration plates. Of the two, the red Qute is a left hand drive model that's intended for exports while the white vehicle is a regular right hand drive model. The Qute might not be an attractive vehicle but it does look practical and built-for-a-purpose. In fact, in these pictures, the Qute isn't half as bad as it looked during its unveiling. It is built to a cost no doubt, with the single wiper, black plastic bumpers and the cheap rear view mirrors and door handles hinting at its commercial aspirations. Like Bajaj's auto-rickshaws, the Qute has just fabric roll-down sheets in place of windows. The Qute isn't a car and it doesn't try to be one either. Its boxy proportions with wheels placed at the four corners liberates a lot of space though, despite its compact footprint. Trapezoidal headlights with black surrounds houses integrated indicators while a similar theme is applied to the taillights as well.

Powered by a 216 cc rear-mounted engine that's said to produce 20 horsepower, the Qute can seat four in reasonable comfort and safety relative to three-wheelers, reach a top speed of 70 km/h and return a real-world fuel efficiency of 35 km/l. LPG and CNG fuel options might be in the pipeline too. 

If auto-rickshaws can be manufactured and sold with no problems whatsoever, what's stopping the authorities from giving green signal to the Qute that promises better safety for its passengers with the hard top, seat belts and added stability of four wheels? Bajaj appears to be clueless trying to find that out, resulting in they creating a website www.savethequte.in seeking public support. We've done our part. Now, go ahead and do yours. Let's help the Qute see the light of the day!


Renault Kwid continues testing, SCe (1.0L variant) and RxT with alloy wheels spotted

The Kwid has been a game-changing car for Renault in India. With the Duster losing the plot, the Kwid single-handedly brought Renault back into the game with more than 100,000 bookings and waiting periods extending to more than six months in some cities. Importantly, the Kwid has so far managed to do what the Hyundai Eon and Tata Nano couldn't, that is challenge Maruti-Suzuki's supremacy with the Alto. That's a real confidence-booster not just for Renault but for every other brand that intend to take Maruti-Suzuki head-on in a segment it has ruled for decades.

But Renault wants more. Both the Alto and Eon, Kwid's direct competitors, come with two engine displacements - a basic 0.8-liter mill and a peppy 1.0-liter unit in the top variants. The Kwid currently has the base engine variants of its competitors covered with its 799 cc, 3-cylinder engine that produces 52 PS of power and 72 Nm of torque. Very soon, the 1.0-liter variants of the Alto and Eon would be facing the heat as well as Renault is readying an all-new 1.0-liter 'Smart Control efficiency' engine with DOHC and four valves per cylinder. Though the specifications aren't released yet, Renault showcased this variant at the 2016 Auto Expo in New Delhi earlier this year. 

Here's proof this variant could soon see the light of the day. Caught testing on the busy GST Road near the Chennai airport, this silver-coloured Kwid caught our attention due to the additional 'SCe' badge on the right side of its hatch. No other change could be observed externally and the car looked exactly like a stock Kwid in RxT trim. 

Not far behind the Kwid SCe were a couple of red Kwids with test registration plates. One of them was bone stock but the other had an interesting change. Haven't you noticed the smart-looking alloy wheels that one of the red Kwids was shod with? We know that all current trim levels of the Kwid come with steel wheels. While the base variants have exposed wheels, the RxT gets plastic wheel covers. Though no other visual add-ons could be identified, this spotting makes us believe Renault is planning more features for the Kwid already.

Since we know Renault is also planning to launch an Automated Manual Transmission variant of the car with an 'Easy-R' badge, we kept our eyes wide open to see if an AMT-equipped variant was also part of the test fleet. Sadly, it wasn't. 

We are glad Renault isn't getting complacent with the Kwid's success and is putting in a lot of efforts to widen the car's appeal. Once the production constraints are resolved and the third shift starts at the Renault-Nissan Alliance plant in Chennai, the Kwid's sales numbers are bound to go up. With these powerful and feature-loaded variants in pipeline, expect it to grow further. All we can say is 'Alto, beware!'


BMW turns 100, predicts the next 100 years with the 'Vision Next 100' Concept

The BMW Group has turned 100 this year and, as part of the centenary celebrations, each brand in the group has decided to set out pulses racing with a concept of its own. BMW did it earlier this month while Rolls-Royce, Mini and BMW Motorcycles will follow over the year.

Ever since its unveiling earlier this month, this snazzy BMW has been setting the World Wide Web on fire. Why not? Aptly named 'Vision Next 100', the car is BMW's vision of a vehicle of the future - 100 years from now to be precise.

To start with, BMW's idea of the car of the future looks not quite unlike any car on the road now and thankfully so. Call us conservative, but we aren't fans of wacky concepts that look like spaceships roaming around aimlessly on earth. That way, we are pleased with BMW's Vision Next 100 Concept as it retains the same basic form that we have come to know and identify as cars. BMW's trademark kidney grille sits proudly at the front and so does the propeller logo at prominent spots all around. If you've been wondering about those shrouded wheel wells, know that the fenders are movable and would stretch to let the wheels turn. And what do we say about those suicide-style scissor doors? A show-stopper for sure, this BMW is!

Interiors are expectedly high-tech offering more comfort, more assistance and more intense experience for the driver as well as the occupants. Yes, we did say 'driver'! At a time when driverless cars are gaining traction threatening to challenge the very existence of human drivers, we are glad BMW thinks otherwise. Terms like Digital Companion, Alive Geometry and 4D Printing feature in BMW's press release. The purpose those terms and technologies exist is to assist the driver in a subtle and intuitive way depending on the situation. For instance, an advanced version of Heads-Up Display transforms every damn thing in the vicinity of the car into digital objects on the windshield.

Then comes the two driving modes - Boost and Ease. In the former, the driver is an integral part of the vehicle which for its part does its best to deliver an ultimate driving experience. Offering complete control in Boost mode is a joystick-like steering yoke that smartly collapses out of the way when the car is switched to Ease mode. True to its name, Ease transforms the car's cabin into a moving comfort zone with the Companion taking over the driving responsibilities. You know what, Alive Geometry can even warn the occupants before braking or turning. That's pretty cool and exciting, isn't it? Is there a time machine anywhere that would take us to 2116 right away?

BMW has not revealed what's under the hood or underneath the body of the car. That's okay for we do not know if fossil fuel would still exist 100 years from now to power automobiles. 

Well, thanks BMW, for giving a sneak peek of what's in store from Munich!


Royal Enfield launches Himalayan, it's first adventure tourer

Royal Enfield, it seems, has hit a purple patch these last few years. Be it the opening of a new plant in Chennai, the demand for its motorcycles shooting up, the strides made in build quality, successful launches of a host of mainstream and niche models, it's been a very happening few years for Royal Enfield. With the launch of Himalayan today, the Chennai-based manufacturer has opened yet another chapter in its history.

Not too long back, adventure tourers were not exactly popular in India. But with growing demand for medium and high-end motorcycles and improving maturity levels of riders in the market, this is a segment that's poised to make an impact. Royal Enfield knows that and the Himalayan is their answer.

Created specifically for the adventure-seeking and off-roading blokes who expect their motorcycles to go on and on irrespective of the conditions underneath, the Himalyan is a no-nonsense offering that doesn't try hard to please onlookers. That doesn't mean it isn't impressive to look at. The Himalayan's appeal lies in its basic yet purpose-built form that screams rough-road friendly. 

Targeted at a specific clientele looking for some adventure through long-distance touring and off-roading, the Himalayan gets provisions to mount fuel-canisters at the front and panniers at the rear. The instrument cluster is a mix of analog dials for the speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauge and a digital compass with Multi Information Display (MID).

The Himalyan is powered by a new 411 cc, oil-cooled engine that churns our 24.5 horsepower at 6500 rpm and a peak torque of 32 Nm between 4000 and 4500 rpm. Dubbed LS 410, this long-stroke engine is mated to a 5-speed transmission and is said to be tuned for a punchy low and mid-range. Sadly, the engine isn't fuel injected and fuel continues to be fed through a carburetor. 

Harris Performance has helped Royal Enfield with the chassis design of the Himalayan that uses a split cradle frame. Suspension duties are handled by a set of front forks with 200 mm of travel and a rear mono-shock with 180 mm of travel, the latter a first for Royal Enfield. Shod with grippy Ceat tires are 21-inch and 17-inch spoke wheels at the front and rear respectively. Dual disc brakes, a 300 mm up front and a 240 mm at the rear, provide stopping power. ABS isn't even available as an option, which is a shame.

Available in two colours - Granite and Snow, the Himalayan is priced at INR 155,545 ex-showroom Maharashtra. That's quite a fair bit less than what we expected and we have to admit that the Himalayan is an incredible value-for-money proposition. In fact, this does make a couple of other Royal Enfield motorcycles look overpriced!

After the Continental GT, the Himalayan is yet another fine attempt by Royal Enfield to identify a market niche and fill it with a compelling offering. So, what are you waiting for? Go get a Himalayan and explore the country on two wheels!


Maruti-Suzuki launches the Vitara Brezza in India, prices start at INR 6.99 Lakhs

One of the stars of the 2016 Auto Expo that was held in New Delhi earlier this year was the Maruti-Suzuki Vitara Brezza. Ever since its unveiling at the biennial event, this compact SUV has been an eagerly awaited launch in more ways than one. It heralds Maruti-Suzuki's entry into the booming compact crossover segment, one that the car-maker was conspicuous by its absence until now. It is also the first model from Maruti-Suzuki to have been conceptualized, designed and developed by Maruti's Indian engineers, a key fact that aids its 98% local content. With most of its details already known, Maruti-Suzuki officially launched the car in the Indian market today.

Designed and developed in India it might be but the Vitara Brezza is based on the global Suzuki small car platform and wears familiar design cues seen on international Suzuki SUVs. In fact, the Vitara Brezza looks like a mini Vitara from certain angles, a similarity that many would like and appreciate. Like the Ford Ecosport, the Vitara Brezza has compact dimensions and measures less than 4 meters in length. But Maruti's designers have worked around the footprint restrictions by smartly incorporating several key SUV characteristics to the Vitara Brezza. With a flat hood, short overhangs, squarish wheel arches, plastic cladding all around, fake skid plates and the raked-forward rear, the Vitara Brezza doesn't fail to impress. It's not as funky or futuristic as the Ecosport but then, it also wont split opinions like the Ford did.

Be it the S-Cross or the Baleno, all recent launches from Maruti-Suzuki have placed function over form when it comes to the design and layout of the cabin. The Vitara Brezza is no different. The cabin is neither flashy nor does it look classy. But what it has is a plethora of features. The top-end ZDi+, for instance, gets projector headlamps, optional contrasting shades for the roof and D-pillar to create a "floating roof" effect, Smartplay touchscreen infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay, cruise control, push button start, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding mirrors, dual airbags and Antilock Braking System (ABS). On the base variants, a driver airbag will be standard while an optional safety pack with passenger airbag and ABS is also being offered. Looking at the pictures, the Vitara Brezza doesn't look short on passenger space and boot space too, which is good.

The tried and tested, Fiat-sourced, 1.3-liter diesel engine - the DDiS 200 mill, powers the Vitara Brezza too. With 89 horsepower and 200 Nm of torque, there is decent grunt under the hood to propel the Vitara Brezza forward. A 5-speed manual transmission is what's being offered now while an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) might be added to the lineup later. Similarly, a petrol engine might be offered at a later stage too. The Vitara Brezza gets the standard suspension layout with McPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. Ground clearance is an impressive 198 mm, a good thing considering our pothole-ridden roads. Like most crossovers out there that call themselves compact SUVs, the Vitara Brezza is a front wheel-driven model and doesn't get All Wheel Drive option on any variant.

Yet again, Maruti-Suzuki is bang-on in its pricing strategy. Starting at INR 6.99 Lakhs for the base LDi variant, the range tops out at INR 9.68 Lakhs for the ZDi+ variant with all bells and whistles and the snazzy dual-tone paint job. That makes the Vitara Brezza incredible value for money, considering Ford's Ecosport is approximately INR 1 - 1.5 Lakhs higher variant-to-variant. Expect this smart-looking crossover to fly off the shelves and command waiting periods running into several months.

The Vitara Brezza is yet another blockbuster-in-the-making from the market leader. Period! Ford (Ecosport), Mahindra (TUV 3OO) and Tata (upcoming Nexon) should be a worried lot.


2016 Geneva - Hyundai's Ioniq trio makes its debut

For all the strides it made over the past two decades, Hyundai has been admittedly lagging behind its Japanese rivals, Toyota specifically, on hybrid and electric vehicles. Yes, there was the Sonata Hybrid in the lineup but Hyundai didn't have a car to rival the popular Toyota Prius. At the ongoing 2016 Geneva Motor Show, the South Korean brand is making up for the time lost with not one, not two, but a trio of electrified cars under the ‘Ioniq’ nameplate. It’s an aggressive move, given that the Ioniq would be the first production car in the world to offer a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric drivetrains in a single model.

Under the hood of the Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-in models is a direct-injection, four-cylinder, 1.6 liter petrol engine from the Kappa family. Tailored for hybrid applications, this engine is mated to a six-speed double clutch automatic transmission and delivers 105 PS and 147 Nm of torque on a standalone basis.

With a 32 kW electric motor powered by a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery, the Ioniq Hybrid offers a combined output of 141 PS and 265 Nm of torque. With a targeted 79 g/km CO2 emissions, the Hybrid has a top speed of 185 km/h.  The Ioniq Plug-in has a bigger 45 kW electric motor powered by a battery with a significantly higher rating of 8.9 kWh. Hyundai claims an estimated 50 km of pure electric driving range and CO2 emissions as low as 32 g/km in the Plug-in. 

The Ioniq Electric offers pure electric mobility backed up by a 28 kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery with a maximum output of 88 kW. Delivering the instantly available 295 Nm of torque through a single-speed reducer transmission, the Ioniq Electric has a healthy estimated driving range of over 250 km and a decent 165 km/h top speed.

Electrified powertrains aside, another strong point of the Ioniq is its nearly conventional styling. None of the quirkiness we have come to associate when we hear hybrids and electrics are to be found in the Ioniq. The Hybrid, Plug-in and Electric Ioniqs share the same basic design and sheet metal but get subtle differentiation in their detailing. The grille, for instance, is different for the Electric compared to the black slats of the Hybrid and the Plug-in. Similarly, the Electric gets copper-coloured accents externally compared to the blue accents doting the other two.

What attracts our attention in the all-black cabin of the Ioniq are the blue highlights with matching stitching in the seats and the sporty flat-bottom steering wheel. While a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster provides the driver with a fully digital driving experience, the latest in connectivity features like Android Auto, Apple Cap Play, Tom Tom live services and wireless smartphone charging should keep the tech geeks busy. Safety features include Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Keep Assist System, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Smart Cruise Control apart from the regular ABS, EBD and Airbags. 

Offering multiple drivetrain options to the buyer, the Ioniq is impressive as an overall package. This puts it in a very strong position to grab sales from hybrids like the Toyota Prius as well as pure electrics like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. Let's see if the market responds favourably to this electrified Ioniq trio!


2016 Geneva - Bugatti Chiron is a 'real quick' successor to the Veyron

Bugatti is stealing all the limelight at the ongoing 2016 Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland doing what it does best, that is, debuting a crazy super car that sets our pulses racing. The French sports car manufacturer, owned by Volkswagen, made a name for itself with the record-breaking Veyron and the Chiron promises to take the legacy forward.

Once launched, the Chiron is expected to take on the mantle of the fastest, the most powerful and one of the most exclusive production sports cars in the world, adjectives that the Veyron held with aplomb until its demise.

Powered by a quad-turbo, 8.0-liter, W16 engine, the Chiron produces an unprecedented 1500 horsepower and 1600 Nm of torque! And no, those aren't specs stolen from a light aircraft's brochure. With such statistics, the Chiron should have no problems in beating the current world speed record held by the Veyron Super Sport. For use on public roads though, the Chiron's top speed is limited to 420 km/h. Yes, you read that right! The engine is quite a complex and high-tech unit with two-stage turbocharging amongst others. Of the four turbochargers, the Chiron uses two to move off the line while the other two are activated above 3800 rpm, resulting in an absolutely linear power curve and no turbo lag. There’s also a duplex fuel injection system with 32 injectors, improved charge air cooling system capable of pumping 60,000 liters of air per minute and a high-performance cooling system that can circulate 800 liters of water through the engine per minute.

Visually, the Chiron looks inspired by the Veyron and is every bit a Bugatti. But, unlike the Veyron that looked a bit odd from certain angles, the Chiron looks much more appealing to the eyes. Given that the Veyron then and the Chiron now could reach insane speeds and shatter world speed records, we do realize the design intent was not to aesthetically please onlookers but more to withstand the sheer forces that would be exerted on the car’s external surfaces. That said, the trademark horseshoe grille, a pair of thin headlights lined with jewel-effect LEDs, the classic dual-tone livery with the large semi-circular air intakes on the sides and the unique rear with a large central exhaust system and a hardcore diffuser combine together to awe and frighten us, a sort of ‘the beauty and the beast’. Made out of leather, carbon fiber and brushed aluminium, the interiors are unlike what we have seen in passenger cars before. See it to believe it.

Like the Veyron, the Chiron’s production is also limited to 500 samples. Priced at $2.6 million each, Bugatti says 150 Chirons have already been spoken for. If you are one of those fortunate few with so much to spare, go ahead and book one now. The Chiron might just be the craziest and most insane car to have ever graced the planet!