Suzuki's all-new Swift Sport looks yummy. Will we get to taste it in India?

India might be the biggest market in terms of volumes for the Suzuki Swift but there is one hot variant of the car we unfortunately can’t lay our hands on here. Yeah, Swift Sport is what we are talking about. 

Whilst we have all along been denied a chance to experience one here in our country, the Swift Sport has been enthralling enthusiasts in Europe and Japan without burning deep holes in their pockets. With the third-generation Swift going on sale recently in major global markets, it was time for the Sport variant to get its third iteration too. Suzuki did just that by unveiling the car at the recently-concluded 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Powering this ‘warm’ hatch is Suzuki’s 1.4-liter 'BOOSTERJET' engine that churns out 138 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and a good 230 Nm of torque from 2,500 to 3,500 rpm. The turbocharger is equipped with waste-gate valve control which remains closed under normal circumstances for a seamless throttle response. It opens when cruising to minimize fuel consumption. The direct injection system features seven hole injector nozzles enabling increased fuel pressure and highly atomized fuel injection. Paired with the engine is a 6-speed manual transmission, enhanced to deliver short strokes, better feedback and an improved shift feel.

Based on Suzuki's new-generation and light-weight 'HEARTECT' platform, the Swift Sport tips the scales at just 970 kg. That gives the car a torque-to-weight ratio of 4.2 kg/Nm, making it one of the most competitive hot hatches around. Swift Sport rose to fame through its sweet handling. Be it the usage of high-performance Monroe shocks at the front and rear, thicker stabilizer joint bars, increased camber and toe rigidity for better cornering capabilities or an exclusive trailing arm designed to minimize deformation, Suzuki's engineers have made sure the Swift Sport loses none of that in its latest iteration.  

Swift’s Mini-inspired styling was such a smash hit worldwide that Suzuki decided to settle with just evolutionary changes for the third-generation model. The Swift Sport, therefore, follows the same principle. That said, there are enough visual clues to differentiate it from the regular Swifts. 

First up is the exclusive ‘Champion Yellow’ paint job. Inspired by the colour scheme followed by Suzuki in the Junior World Rally Championship, the bright shade of yellow is an instant attention-grabber. The hexagonal grille at the front runs deeper down the front bumper, imparting an aggressive look. There are other usual add-ons we normally see on cars with sporty aspirations like under-spoilers at the front and rear, side skirts, rear roof spoiler and a muscular rear bumper complete with a diffuser and dual exhaust tips. Sexy 17-inch alloy wheels accentuate the sporty look. Being 40 mm wider and 15 mm lower than its predecessor, the new Swift Sport has an improved stance.

Equipped with a flat-bottom steering wheel, driver-oriented instrument panel with boost and oil temperature gauges, red accents, alloy pedals and semi-bucket seats, the interiors provide an adequately-sporty look and feel. Advanced safety features including Forward Detection System, Dual Sensor Brake Support and Lane Departure Warning, all of which uses a monocular camera and laser sensor to detect potential dangers and protect the occupants.

The more we know about it, the more we want to drive it! Question is, are we even getting the Swift Sport here in India? If the Baleno RS is any indication, Swift Sport should at least be in consideration for an Indian launch. Come on, Maruti-Suzuki, don't disappoint us. After all, no other country buys as many Swifts (and Dzires and Ertigas) as much as we do!


Genesis G70 expands the lineup, aims straight for the BMW 3-Series

Genesis, Hyundai's upstart luxury brand, has fired its third salvo in the form of G70. 

Following in the footsteps of Hyundai-derived G80 and G90, the smaller and sportier G70 completes Genesis' sedan lineup. In more ways than one, this is a crucial launch for the South Korean brand that has the German luxury triumvirate of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz in sight. Lest we forget, there is also Jaguar, Volvo, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Cadillac, Alfa-Romeo and Lincoln to contend with.

With such high hopes around it, will the G70 deliver the goods for Genesis? Let's see what stacks up for and against the G70 in its attempt for glory.

The Good

Hyundai is aiming big with the Genesis. Big here means mega. How else would you explain the executive rostrum at Genesis carefully poached from European rivals? Brand chief Manfred Fitzgerald previously served as the director of Lamborghini. Former Bentley and Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke now heads the design team at Genesis. As if that's not enough, Albert Biermann, former head of BMW's M division, was also brought in to give the Genesis cars that near-perfect handling set-up. 

The idea, basically, is to outdo the Germans in their own game and, with the G70, the idea has started to take shape. As Genesis expands and evolves with the aforementioned executives at the helm of affairs, its time for us to get all excited.

So, the next time you see a Genesis, stop short of making statements like "The car looks like an Audi", "Isn't that an Aston-Martin front mated to a Mercedes CLA rear?". You now know why.

The Not So Good

The entry luxury segment is a crowded space. After all, competition here is so intense that Jaguar and Alfa-Romeo, with their storied legacies, have struggled to make inroads recently. Between the three of them, the 3-Series, C-Class and A4 guard their turf so fiercely, fending off threats with ruthlessness and regularity rarely seen in the automotive industry. Genesis is trying to upset this apple cart and the G70 had to 'look' different to give itself a fair shot of success. 

This is where the stunning Sports Sedan Concept that Genesis brought along for the 2016 New York Auto Show would have made the difference. It looked like nothing else in the market and featured distinct design elements that could have easily transformed into identities for the brand!

Did Genesis miss a chance to make an impact by not taking risks with the G70's styling then? It's too early to say that. What's clear, though, is they have chosen to tread the safer path.

The Good

Have no doubts, the designers at Genesis did exercise restrain when they penned the final lines for the G70. But that's not to say the car isn't good-looking. 

In fact, the G70 is quite a looker with a squat stance and measured proportions. The long hood, the swept-back upper half, the coupe-like roof-line and the short boot are classic 'Rear Wheel Drive' cues and the G70 carries them with aplomb. The hexagonal grille with large diamond meshes is a bit in-your-face but the split LED DRLs, a precursor to the quad headlights setup future Genesis models would sport, look great and so does the chiseled bumper. Sporting aggressive lines and multiple contours, the G70 looks taut and muscular when viewed from the sides and the rear.

Unlike the G80 and G90 that were just luxo barges with bland styling, the G70 is refined, modern and stylish. If this is an attempt to set the design direction for the brand, expect things to only get better.

The Good

As much as we say otherwise, fact is, car owners spend most of their time with the car seated inside. In that sense, getting the interior appointments, fit and finish right is more of a priority rather than getting the external styling spot-on. 

Genesis, it appears, has pretty much nailed this aspect. Be it the rich-looking quilted leather seats, the vast expanse of soft-touch materials, the classy brushed metallic inserts and the popular floating touchscreen that pops out of the dash, this cabin  wouldn't look out of place even with a three-pointed star or propeller badge adorning the steering wheel. With a feature list that could put mid-size luxury sedans to shame and top-notch safety equipment, the G70 is in no way a compromise to the established offerings in the segment. 

The Not So Good

What it scores in interior aesthetics and appointments, the G70 loses in rear seat space. Agreed, Genesis' target market here is the sporty entry-luxury segment and space at the rear isn't something potential buyers look out for often. 

But then, there are chances the G70 could be chauffeur-driven in some markets. That's when the sloping roof line and the resultant lack of kneeroom and headroom could come to haunt the G70's prospects. Yes, this is nit-picking, but when it comes to laying things bare, this is a key miss.

The Good

Say what you want but you just can't say the G70 is all show and no go. Staying true to its maker's intentions of pitching it as a sporty luxury sedan, the smallest Genesis on sale has a trio of potent and powerful force-fed engines under the hood. The top of the line is the 3.3-liter V6 petrol unit that develops 365 horsepower and a whopping 519 Nm of torque. With a claimed 0 to 100 km/h acceleration time of just 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 270 km/h, the G70 V6 is faster and more powerful than the 6-cylinder BMW 340i. Could you believe that?

The other two engines - a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder petrol with 252 horsepower and a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder common rail diesel with 202 horsepower - aren't half as interesting but the performance kit on offer surely is. Launch Control, Multi-link rear suspension, Dynamic Torque Vectoring System, Mechanical Limited Slip Differential (M-LSD) - you name it and Genesis has bestowed the G70 with it. With all these in place combined with ex-BMW M chief's inputs on handling, the G70 could well be the perfect driver's car this side of the BMW 3-Series. 

In short, the G70 is everything Genesis wanted it to be. Will the baby Genesis dethrone the 3-Series, C-Class and A4 from the entry luxury podium? Not a chance. Will it snatch sales off the XE, Giulia, IS and the likes? Hell yeah. And that's possibly what Genesis wants!


Skoda Kodiaq launched in India at ₹34.49 Lakhs

Hot on the heels of launching the powerful and sporty Octavia vRS, Czech car-maker Skoda is back with yet another all-new model for India, the Kodiaq. Unveiled late last year, the Kodiaq is the brand’s latest flagship, aiming to take advantage of the craze for high-riding SUVs and crossovers globally.

In India, Skoda has launched the Kodiaq in just one trim level - Style, priced at INR 34.49 Lakhs across the country. That puts it well above the Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan, two similar-sized monocoque 5-seater SUVs and the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Endeavour, two big-selling body-on-frame 7-seater SUVs. 

Powering the Kodiaq is the popular 2.0-liter TDI diesel engine that also does duty in a host of other cars in the Volkswagen Group. In this application, the engine churns out 148 horsepower and a substantial 340 Nm of torque delivered from as low as 1,750 rpm. Paired to the mill is a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. With five driving modes to choose from and standard All Wheel Drive system, the Kodiaq can take those occasional off-road jaunts in its stride.

Clean, crisp styling has now become a Skoda trait and the Kodiaq is no exception. A bigger and bolder butterfly grille up front is flanked by twin lights on either sides, a design trait Skoda has used in the Octavia as well. The tall hood with prominent central ridges give the Kodiaq an imposing stance which is carried on to the profile through the recessed shoulder line and flared, squared-off wheel arches adequately filled with 18-inch wheels. The rear is pleasing to the eye with the contoured tailgate and Skoda’s signature crystalline taillight clusters particularly impressive.

In typical Skoda fashion, the Kodiaq’s cabin eschews flashy styling for a simple yet functional layout with top-notch fit and finish. The dual-tone beige and grey cabin feature fake wood-like inserts, which adds a bit of flair and proves to be a nice contrast. Three rows of seats mean the Kodiaq is a 7-seater, albeit with restricted legroom and headroom for the two occupants in the third row.

Skoda has equipped the Kodiaq with a full suite of safety features that include Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control, ‘IBUZZ’ Fatigue Detection System, ‘PARKTRONIC’ hands-free parking assist, all-round parking sensors with rear view camera and a total of nine airbags. Kudos Skoda, that's as comprehensive as it could get!

Befitting its status as the brand’s flagship, the Kodiaq gets features like three-zone climate control, panoramic sunroof, electrically-controlled hands-free tailgate, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 10-speaker Canton sound system, Ambient Lighting offering 10 colour options, powered front seats with memory function, roller blinds for the rear windows and ‘Power Nap Package’ for the rear passengers. 

That's not all, there's more. 

What’s a Skoda without those nifty ‘Simply Clever’ features? The Kodiaq has a few up its sleeve like the umbrella holders in front doors with in-built drain function, the door edge protectors that pop out to protect the doors from damage when opening in congested parking lots and the magnetized LED torchlight that can come in handy while changing tyres in the dark and recharge automatically while the engine is running.

With such an extensive equipment list, space for seven and proven ride and handling Skodas are known for, the Kodiaq could be that one car that serves all the needs of a typical, well-heeled Indian family. But, has Skoda positioned the Kodiaq optimistically, thus hurting its chances? They have, we're afraid! Let's see if the market decides otherwise.


2017 Frankfurt - Mercedes-AMG brings F1 technology to the roads with the Project ONE

If you have been following Formula One, you don't have to be told who the reigning constructor's world champions are. For those who don't, know that Team Mercedes-AMG has been ruling the roost of what's being called the 'Turbo V6' era, helping Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg drive away to their world championship victories. With such levels of dominance at the top tier of motor racing, it was just a question of when and not if Mercedes-Benz would be coming up with a hyper car of their own. 

That question was answered when the curtains went up for the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show when Lewis Hamilton drove in the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE on stage!

First up, let's get our heads around the stagerring F1-derived technology associated with this automobile. 

Mounted between the front and rear wheels is a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 hybrid engine, the very same unit that powers the team's Formula 1 race cars. Spinning at 11,000 rpm with a claimed 40% thermal efficiency, the tiny unit produces an incredible 1,000 horsepower. When all those horses are unleashed, the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE can rocket from 0 to 200 km/h in just six seconds. That's faster than the Bugatti Chiron, widely regarded as the world's fastest production car! The car can reach speeds beyond 350 km/h, says Mercedes-Benz.

Paired with the internal combustion engine are a total of four electric motors, one integrated into the turbocharger and another directly installed on the engine with a link to the crankcase. The two remaining 120 kW motors, where rotor revolutions can go up to a staggering 50,000 rpm, drive the front wheels. Its no wonder then that Mercedes-AMG wants these cars to come back to the factory after 31,000 miles for an engine overhaul.  

The battery cells are stacked on the floor right behind the front axle while their arrangement and the cooling system are the same as the ones used in Formula 1 race cars. The EQ Power+ drive system operates at 800 volts instead of the usual 400 volts. With that, the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE can be your zero emission vehicle with a pure electric driving range of 25 km!

The light-weight, high-strength carbon-fibre monocoque body, the multi-link suspension with innovative pushrod design, the 10-spoke forged aluminium wheels with carbon-fibre semi-cover, the weight-optimized ceramic compound braking system and the 8-speed manual transmission with hydraulic actuation and shift paddles are all exclusively developed by Mercedes-AMG for the Project ONE. 

With such performance and tech credentials, who cares how the car looks? Clearly, its a case of function over form as a slew of air inlets, wings, splitters and fins illustrate the wind-cheating capabilities of this hyper car. That said, the car does seem to evoke memories of a certain McLaren F1, a legend in its own right.

Now that we know the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE is stuff our wet dreams are made of, there are two choices ahead of us. Take the next flight to Frankfurt and catch a glimpse before the curtains come down on the 2017 edition of the Motor Show or rob a bank or two and have $2.5 million or thereabouts ready. Which of these are you upto?


Tata Nexon launched in India from ₹5.85 Lakhs

Thanks to the Tiago, Hexa and Tigor, Tata Motors is on a growth trajectory now after struggling for years with falling sales and dwindling market share. That trajectory is all set to receive a huge fillip with the launch of the Nexon, the brand's first compact crossover, today.

Available in four variants – XE, XM, XT and XZ+, the Nexon is priced between 5.85 Lakhs and 8.45 Lakhs for the petrol variants and 6.85 Lakhs and 9.30 Lakhs for the diesel variants. The top-end XZ+ variant also gets the option of a dual tone exterior paint job for a 15,000 premium over the regular variants. 

Powering the Nexon are a pair of engines developed in-house by Tata Motors. Both the 1.2-liter REVOTRON petrol and the 1.5-liter REVOTORQ diesel mills are turbocharged and generate class-leading 108 horsepower. While the 3-cylinder petrol engine generates 170 Nm of maximum torque, the 4-cylinder diesel generates 260 Nm of torque, the best figures in segment. A 6-speed manual transmission is paired to these engines at launch but we hear an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) is on the cards and would be launched a few months down the line.

First shown in concept form at the 2014 Auto Expo in New Delhi, the Nexon wooed show-goers with its funky and futuristic design. Whilst there were doubts how much of those striking design elements would make it to production, Tata returned to the 2016 edition of the Auto Expo with the production version that looked barely different to the concept. Since then, the vehicle has taken its own sweet time to hit the market but, interestingly, the hype around the Nexon remained unabated.

Pitching against the trend-setting Ford EcoSport and the big-selling Maruti-Suzuki Vitara Brezza, the Nexon had to make an impact at first glance. Boy, does it do that with aplomb! Up front, Tata's familiar smiling grille with the 'Humanity Line' establishes the family connection. Merging seamlessly with the grille on either sides are stretched-back projector headlights. Fog lamps are placed on separate trapezoidal housings in the bumper. In profile, the flared wheel arches, the dual-tone paint job with the distinct, swoosh-shaped 'Ivory White' ceramic element underlining the windows and the steeply-rising beltline combine together to create a strong visual impression. The rear, with the tall bumper, high-set signature LED taillights and the thick ceramic element, is a bit too funky and is likely to polarize opinions. 

That said, the Nexon is a sure shot head-turner! Look no further if attracting stares is what you want.

All their recent launches have had much-improved interiors but, with the Nexon, Tata has taken an even bigger step forward. This is easily the best interiors yet in a Tata vehicle. We fancied our chances sitting inside one and the Nexon impressed with a spacious, well-designed and nicely put-together cabin. The familiar three-spoke steering wheel, the dashboard-mounted floating touchscreen and the flowing center console with a chunky 'Drive Mode Selector' knob are the visual highlights in the three-tone cabin that gets a liberal dose of classy 'brushed metal' inserts. Cleverly-designed storage spaces abound including an umbrella holder for each of the front doors, a feature hitherto found in luxury cars. 

Standard across the Nexon range are dual airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Corner Stability Control, ISOFIX mounts, Multi Drive modes with Eco, City and Sport, a comprehensive Driver Information System, front power windows and umbrella holder in the front doors. 

The list expands gradually as we move up the range. 

The top-end XZ+, as one would expect, is loaded to the hilt with features including Smart Key with Push Button Start, height-adjustable front seats, Park Assist with camera, front fog lamps with cornering function, Voice Alerts, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system from Harman with 8 speakers tuned for surround sound, advanced connectivity options with Android Auto and Voice Commands, 16-inch machine-cut alloy wheels, Feline Eye-shaped Daytime Running Lamps (DRL), climate control, fast USB charger, remote central locking, chilled glove box and power-adjustable and power-folding mirrors.

The Nexon boasts a segment-best 209 mm ground clearance and 350 liters of boot space. With the rear seat folded, it expands to a whopping 690 liters. 

Overall, a capable product like the Nexon at prices that currently undercuts its chief competitors, the EcoSport and Vitara Brezza, should mean brisk business for Tata Motors. Yes, Tata’s image amongst private car buyers isn’t all that great but the 7,000 odd Tiagos sold last month show that the perception is changing. Come on, Tata, you are on for a biggie with the Nexon!


Mercedes-Benz rolls out 50,000th Citaro city bus

Ever since its debut in 1997, the Citaro range of city buses from Mercedes-Benz have revolutionized public transportation in major cities across the world. The German manufacturer recently celebrated the roll-out of 50,000th Citaro, making it one of the largest-selling city buses in the world. The landmark bus is a Citaro-based CapaCity, a 20-metre long four-axle bus finished in red and white, that's headed for service in Vienna. The Austrian capital has been a big market for the Citaro range of buses.

When the first-generation Citaro was launched, it made quite an impression with sleek exteriors and comfortable interiors with cantilever seats and curved grab-rails. Over the years, the Citaro underwent numerous changes to remain relevant to the changing tastes and requirements across cities.

A crucial element that plays to Citaro’s advantage is its wide model range designed to suit multiple needs and requirements. The current-generation, for instance, includes the rigid Citaro, the articulated Citaro G, the compact Citaro K, the low-entry Citaro LE, the rural-service Citaro Ü/GÜ and the Citaro-based CapaCity and CapaCtiy L large-capacity articulated buses. In addition, there have been several customized versions and special purpose vehicles based on the Citaro, highlighting its flexibility. 

Be it the ahead-of-norms emission standards or the large-scale trials with fuel-cell and hybrid technology, the Citaro has always been at the forefront when it comes to power-train tech too. Add to that state-of-the-art safety equipment like all-round disc brakes, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), front-end crash element, Articulation Turntable Controller (ATC), bi-xenon and LED headlamps, it’s not hard to understand why the Citaro has been a favourite, be it in Vienna, Frankfurt, Dubai or Singapore!

Whilst celebrating its past, Mercedes-Benz is already prepping the Citaro up for the future. Last year, the brand previewed a self-driving city bus of the future, dubbed ‘Future Bus’, equipped with City Pilot. An all-electric Citaro is due in 2018, aiming to do a Tesla in city buses. All that means just one thing; there are more milestones in store for the Citaro!


2017 Frankfurt - Honda's 'Urban EV Concept' previews a full-electric city car of the future

When was the last time you were excited on seeing a car as small as this? Not in the recent past, I presume, given the fact cars have only been getting bigger and bigger with every new iteration. Bucking the trend at the ongoing 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show is this cute little car from Honda, dubbed the Urban EV Concept.

Based on an all-new platform, the Urban EV Concept, Honda says, previews the design and technology that will appear on a future battery electric production model from the Japanese brand that could debut in Europe as early as 2019.

Have a look at the car and you'll agree its hard not to like it, inside out. 

Externally, the chic retro lines are a throwback to the wonderful compact cars Honda produced in the seventies and eighties. Those were the days when the Civic was as big as today’s Fiat 500! 

Replacing the grille up front is a display panel that connects the circular LED headlights and capable of flashing interactive messages like greetings, advice to road users and charging status updates. Cool, no? A ‘backlit-in-blue’ Honda logo sits right in the middle of the panel, a design element that the brand’s future EVs would sport. The windshield and the side windows appear to wrap themselves around the car. The rear gets a matching display panel like the front, only here the lights are perfect little squares. The wide and low stance, together with the flared wheel arches adds a bit of muscularity to this little city runabout. 

Access to the interiors are through rear-hinged coach doors, like the ones you see in Rolls-Royce. Two bench seats inside have been designed to accommodate four occupants. The minimalist cabin is dominated by a super-wide display screen that possibly presents the entire gamut of information for the driver's disposal. The screens even extend on the doors on either sides where they function as rear-view mirrors by feeding inputs from digital cameras. Notably, the whole cabin is devoid of knobs and buttons. Even the steering wheel, which these days houses a plethora of buttons, is delightfully clean. If this cabin makes it to production, we would be really surprised. 

Advanced technologies on board the car include 'Honda Automated Network Assistant' - a personal concierge that can learn to make recommendations by observing driver's past judgements and 'Honda Power Manager' - a system that can store and release energy back to the grid.

Though Honda did not divulge details on what powers the Urban EV concept, they did announce their 'Electric Vision' strategy that includes the development of a dedicated electric vehicle platform featuring fully-electric technology.

Overall, the Urban EV Concept is small, fashionable, non-polluting and futuristic. This is just what we need in our cities!

The folks at Honda have been caught napping by their rivals in the race for electrification, no doubt, but if the Urban EV Concept is any indication, they are making up big time for the time lost so far. Watch out!


Hyundai launches the all-new Verna in India

Honda City has been ruling the roost in the mid-size segment since the late nineties. While competitors came in every shape and form, none but the Hyundai Verna (in its popular ‘fluidic’ avatar) managed to usurp the Japanese sedan. While the battle for supremacy is back with Japanese protagonists with the fourth-generation City and Maruti-Suzuki’s Ciaz vying for honours, Hyundai is not ready to cede further ground yet.  The all-new Verna, launched in India today, is the slingshot Hyundai hopes will bring it back into the hotly-contested battle.

With introductory prices ranging between INR 8.00 to INR 12.24 Lakhs for the petrol variants and INR 9.20 to INR 12.62 Lakhs for the diesel variants, Hyundai has played it smart by positioning the Verna bang in between the Ciaz and the City. Clearly, this is an attempt at pulling in buyers from both of them. 

At first glance, the new Verna appears no more than a facelift of the outgoing model, albeit a significant one at that. That's not true. Based on the K2 platform that also underpins the Elantra, this is an all-new generation of the car that made its global debut last year.

Incorporating Hyundai's newest corporate design trait - the 'cascading' grille, Verna's fascia looks more grown up and mature. On either sides are stretched headlamps with inbuilt projectors and LED Daytime Running Lights. The projector fog lamps, a segment first, are placed in separate housings on the bumper. The grille surround, the horizontal slats and the fog lamp surrounds are all dipped in chrome to satiate the never-ending craze for the shiny metal. In profile, the Verna retains the tipped-forward stance as before but the multiple cuts and creases are gone, now replaced by a prominent shoulder line. At the rear, Elantra-esque split taillights with LED elements look brilliant and gives the Verna a sort of 'mini Elantra' demeanor. 

As we have seen with newer Hyundai cars, the interiors aren’t what one would term aesthetically pleasing. Having said that, the build quality, fit and finish appear top notch as usual. The dual tone dashboard features a wing-shaped center console that houses a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the top variants. Interestingly, the seats are given the dual tone treatment as well with beige and black applied in equal measure. The new Verna is longer and wider than its predecessor, thereby liberating more headroom and legroom for the occupants. Despite that, the Hyundai is no match for the humongous space on offer in the rear seats of the Honda and Suzuki-badged rivals.

As is the norm these days, the new Verna is loaded to the hilt with features. Standard features across the lineup include dual airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), central locking, ISOFIX mounts, power windows, cooled glove-box, tilt steering and rear center armrest with cup holders. The kit in the top-end SX(O) variant include electric sunroof, side and curtain airbags, ventilated seats, projector headlamps, cornering lamps, leather upholstery, smart hands-free trunk, push button start/stop, Auto Link and rear curtain, a few of which are firsts for the mid-size segment.

Powertrain options in the new Verna are now restricted to the 1.6-liter engines. While the 'Gamma' petrol engine churns out 121 horsepower and 151 Nm of torque, the 'U2' CRDi mill generates 126 horsepower and 260 Nm of torque. Mated to these engines are a 6-speed manual gearbox carried over from the outgoing Verna or a new 6-speed automatic transmission shared with the Creta and the Elantra. The 1.4-liter engines and the dated 4-speed automatic box have been shown the door.

With the new Verna, Hyundai has carefully retained the old Verna's strengths while simultaneously rectifying the car's weaknesses. But, is that enough to pull in customers from the City and the Ciaz that are running away in the sales charts? For sure, an interesting battle is brewing up and we will have to wait and watch for the results.


Stretched variant of Mahindra TUV3OO spotted testing near Chennai

Head out of Chennai on a working day and the chances of spotting an upcoming Mahindra vehicle on test are quite high. Last week, we caught the KUV1OO facelift and the all-new Innova-rivaling MPV while they were being tested in the outskirts of the city, not far from Mahindra's Research Valley. This time around, its the extended variant of the TUV3OO that was spotted testing in the automotive hub of Oragadam.

Rumored to be christened the TUV5OO, this is essentially the TUV3OO that's stretched from the rear to accommodate a full-fledged third row of seats. The vehicle being tested had a front-facing third row in which the head restraints were conspicuous by their absence. With that in place, the TUV5OO (or whatever Mahindra decides to call it) would be a proper 8-seater like the Xylo. Let's not forget the TUV3OO itself has a third row, albeit with side-facing jump seats that provide limited space, comfort and functionality. 

Though it was completely camouflaged, that the test vehicle was based on the TUV3OO was quite obvious. The bold, upright fascia with the tall hood and the 5-slat grille is carried over from the smaller sibling. The shape of the headlights are the same too though the test mule appears to be wearing a pair of LED Daytime Running Lights that are not currently available in the TUV3OO. The profile remains unchanged up until the B-pillar after which the added length makes its presence felt. The additional few centimeters seem to have all been added after the rear wheels which means the wheelbase could be the same as the smaller TUV3OO. That explains why the test vehicle's rear end looks a bit bulky with unusually long rear overhangs. The D-pillar's rake angle is slightly more than the TUV3OO but the rest of the derriere appears to be carried over as well. In one of these spy shots, you can clearly see the glowing taillights that look very similar to the ones in the TUV3OO. 

The interiors, in all likelihood, would be the same as the TUV3OO. That isn't a bad thing at all, given the TUV3OO's interior fit, finish and aesthetics are amongst the better ones from Mahindra. A few features might be added to the kit to justify the increased price tag that this bigger sibling is likely to carry.

Extensive test runs indicate something new is brewing under the hood of this extended TUV3OO. Is it a more powerful tune of the TUV3OO's mHawk 100 3-cylinder mill? Or is Mahindra planning to shoehorn the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine from the same mHawk family that currently does duty in the Scorpio? The latter would be a good fit considering this vehicle is likely to be used for lugging seven people and their luggage occasionally, if not often. Whatever it is, we will never know until the specifications are released by the folks at Mahindra.

When this stretched TUV3OO goes on sale, expect Mahindra to slot it above the standard sub-4 meter TUV3OO and below the Scorpio in its lineup. For reference, the former starts at 7.58 Lakhs while the Scorpio's base variant retails at 9.58 Lakhs, both ex-showroom Delhi. 

While it does seem now as if Mahindra is crowding its lineup with too many models at similar prices, it would make sense in the end if the overall sales go up. And that's probably what Mahindra would be hoping for.


Ford EcoSport facelift seen testing in Chennai

Compact crossovers might be a rage in India these days but it was Ford that kick-started the segment, way back in 2013, with the EcoSport. Be it the days leading up to its unveiling at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi to months after its launch, the EcoSport has been hugely popular. In fact, four years down the line, the EcoSport is still the best-selling model in Ford India's lineup despite the presence of newer and more affordable cars in the lineup.

Ford has been constantly updating the EcoSport with mild tweaks now and then to keep it relevant and up to date. But, with Maruti-Suzuki making merry at the top of the sales charts with the Vitara Brezza and Tata threatening to crash-land into the segment with the Nexon, its high time the EcoSport gets a full-fledged facelift. That’s exactly what Ford has in store.

We caught up with a group of face-lifted EcoSports sans camouflage on a test run not far off Ford’s manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Chennai.

As evident from the pictures, the EcoSport’s fascia is all set for a significant makeover. Gone is the funky 'love-it or hate-it' split grille that characterized the current EcoSport. In its place is a more conventional grille that’s in line with global Ford SUVs like the Kuga. The thick chrome-lined grille is flanked on either sides by bigger headlights that now houses inbuilt projectors and Daytime Running Lights. The fog lamps have also grown in size while the bumper has been restyled to give an appearance of a skid plate. The profile is unchanged except for the newly-designed alloy wheels (Titanium) and wheel caps (Trend and lower variants). The rear gets a blink-and-you-miss change in the form of addition of variant badges in the mid-spec Trend variant. Let's not forget the current EcoSport has variant badges only for the top-spec Titanium trim level. Don't miss the subtle change in the spare wheel cover's design too!

The interiors are getting a substantial makeover as well, the biggest being the addition of a 8-inch floating touchscreen infotainment system that pops out of the dashboard. Ford is also likely to bring in the advanced SYNC 3 system to the EcoSport facelift's kitty in addition to a few other creature comforts and cosmetic add-ons. The EcoSport already leads the segment in terms of safety kit on offer and that's unlikely to change.

While most of us believed the 1.5-liter TiVCT petrol, the 1.5-liter TDCi diesel and the award-winning 1.0-liter EcoBoost engines that power the current EcoSport would carryover into the facelift, recent reports indicate otherwise. An all-new 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder petrol engine from the new 'Dragon' family might replace the current 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder mill. The absence of TDCi badges on any of the test cars indicate its the Dragon engine that's probably being tested under the hood of the face-lifted EcoSports. While Ford hasn't disclosed anything yet, expect higher power, torque and fuel efficiency figures from the new engine.

The EcoSport facelift is expected to be launched around the festive season, a time frame in which is Tata is also planning to launch the Nexon. We could sense a tough but interesting duel in the making. Let's wait and watch the fun!