20180416

Tata's H5X Concept-based SUV spotted testing

Tata Motors hogged the limelight at the Auto Expo back in January with the superb H5X and 45X Concepts, previewing the brand's upcoming new SUV and a potential premium hatchback to rival the likes of the Baleno and i20. With both these segments showing massive growth, Tata’s bets are in line with the market trends which augurs well for them. And the Pune-based car-maker is wasting no time getting these models ready to hit the market. 


Spotted right outside Tata’s facility in the outskirts of Pune, the brand's upcoming flagship SUV seems to be taking shape nicely. Despite the thick layer of camouflage, it is clear the new SUV’s styling is inspired by the H5X Concept, albeit toned down significantly. The stance, helped in no small part by the tall hood, the bulged-out shoulders and those beefy tires shod on 17-inch wheels, screams SUV. The size seems to be just right too with Tata’s new SUV looking considerably bigger than the Jeep Compass, the latest SUV sensation in the country. Whilst we can’t make out much apart from these, the precious few design elements that are exposed by this test mule are done just right, like the smoked 5 twin-spoked alloy wheels for instance. 


The folks at Tata Motors are said to be developing two models – a 5-seater and a 7-seater – based on the H5X Concept and the vehicle on test seems to be the latter. The roofline that doesn’t slope down as dramatically as the concept’s did and the considerable space between the B- and C-pillars are definite giveaways of the car’s identity. These actions open up precious headroom and legroom for the passengers in the third row and are crucial if Tata has to market this as a proper 7-seater. Let’s not forget most vehicles in this segment are just 5+2-seaters with the third row best reserved for kids and unwelcome adults. 


The H5X Concept-based SUVs are being developed with inputs from Land Rover and, as a result, are expected to boast robust mechanicals and solid off-roading abilities. Fiat’s 2.0-liter MultiJet diesel engine would be the power unit of choice with Tata expected to differentiate the 7-seater with a higher state of tune. This is the same engine that does duty with aplomb under the hood of the Compass. Every new launch from Tata in the recent past have been accompanied by a considerable upswing in their quality levels and it’s safe to assume these upcoming flagships would continue the trend. 

After being nearly written off a few years back, Tata Motor’s remarkable product-led transformation has been a revelation. The upcoming SUVs then are going to be just a couple of more feathers added to a cap that’s getting heavier by the day!

20180331

2018 New York - Genesis steals the show with the Essentia Concept

It's that time of the year when the expensive and glamorous show-floors of the Big Apple deck up and host car-makers from around the world. Amidst a slew of cars that made their debuts at the 2018 New York Auto Show, Genesis has turned out to be a star. A flashy new Grand Tourer that goes fast and is powered by electric motors, the Essentia Concept is just what Hyundai's luxury brand needs to raise it's stakes in the upper echelons of the automotive industry.


Eschewing conservatism and embracing GT principles that are loved universally, the Essentia is a stunner any which way you look at it!


A light-weight carbon-fibre monocoque forms the crux on which the car is based. Classic GT cues - the long hood, the swept-back cabin and the fastback silhouette - combine with contemporary conceptual elements like the transparent hood, the bubble-shaped greenhouse, the exposed push-rod suspension and the formula car-style nose cone to create a strong visual impact. The butterfly doors and the parabolic character line running along the shoulders are the other highlights of this design that's expected to filter down to future Genesis models. The now-familiar Crest Grille and Quad LED illumination signature, like the ones we saw in the GV80 Concept previously, have been nicely incorporated as well.


Magnificent copper-coloured alloy wheels shod with thin Pirellis hint at the performance on store. Speaking of which, the car runs on multiple electric motors that store power in a high-density battery pack housed in the center tunnel in an I-shaped structure. Specifications aren't out yet but Genesis hints at sports car-like performance from this luxury Grand Tourer.

Interiors are pure concept stuff and are brilliant for the role they're supposed to play. Featuring Cognac leather seats with chevron quilting, center console finished in Oxford Blue leather, seat belt slots made of glass pearl-finished aluminium and layered carbon fiber decor, the Essentia Concept's cabin is a rich play of imagination at work. Ahead of the driver is a 8.0-inch widescreen display that looks fantastic and is operated by a central controller. The entire cockpit wraps itself around the occupants with an arc that connects the dashboard and the doors. 


As you would expect from a luxury brand playing catch-up, a lot of technological innovations are promised with Genesis claiming the Essentia surpasses the industry standard, focusing on the connection between the vehicle and its environment. There is so much happening on this space these days and its better we don't talk about any of it until it actually happens and the car launches. 

Having killed the Genesis Coupe that was sold with a Hyundai badge, Genesis needs a luxury GT coupe in its portfolio and the Essential fit the bill perfectly. Now, can you make it as it is, please? 

20180330

Toyota and Suzuki inks deal for sharing cars in India


Toyota and Suzuki concluded an agreement yesterday to mutually supply hybrid and other vehicle models in India, a move that could decimate the competition if executed properly.

From signing a memorandum to explore business partnership early 2017 to announcing their co-operation for introduction of battery electric vehicles late last year to this agreement, Toyota and Suzuki have come a long way in a short time, aiming to play to their strenghts and bolster their respective positions in the Indian market.

Per the deal inked yesterday, Maruti-Suzuki would supply it's popular Baleno and Vitara Brezza to Toyota for sale through the latter's dealerships while Toyota would supply it's Corolla to be sold through Maruti-Suzuki's premium Nexa network. Let's not forget each of these three cars are top-sellers in their segments already and a deal like this is only going to increase their dominance further.

What makes this agreement even more significant is the sheer dominance of these two players in the Indian automotive industry. Maruti-Suzuki has been decimating competition in the A- and B-segments forever while Toyota has been competition's envy in the premium segments. Coming together of these two biggies, from exchanging popular models to introducing battery electric vehicles, promises to make things even better.

The competition should be scared, really scared!

20180328

2018 New York - Lincoln previews the Aviator, it's next luxury SUV salvo


Lincoln is back doing what it does best in New York. Back in 2015, Ford's luxury division announced its intentions in style by stealing the limelight with the Continental Concept before following it up an year later with the superb Navigator Concept. Sure enough, production versions of both cars followed with hardly any changes from the concepts displayed. The 2018 edition of the New York Auto Show was declared open yesterday and Lincoln is back creating a splutter, this time with the preview of its next model, the Aviator. 


The Aviator nameplate was first used in the year 2002 for a mid-size 3-row luxury SUV that was based on the then Ford Explorer. With Lincoln's alphabetic naming convention taking over, it became the MKT. While both those models never became popular among luxury car buyers, the times have changed. Lincolns today aren't being looked down as just dolled-up Fords and rightfully so. Don't believe us? Just look at the all-new Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator side-by-side and you'll see for yourself.

  
The Aviator Concept you see here, then, continues the brand's resurgence. Wearing Lincoln's classy new design language, the Aviator takes the style quotient several notches higher compared to the lousy MKT it would be replacing. Sharp, angular headlights sit on either side of Lincoln's now-familiar grille with staggered chrome ingots inside. Dense towards the center and gradually spaced out as we move outwards, the grille looks fantastic. The sculpted hood and the elegant bumper complete the fascia. True to its name, the Aviator has a tapered-down profile with the roof dropping dramatically as we move towards the rear. Wraparound windshield and Lincoln's trademark full-width taillights characterize the derriere with the quad taillights being the other attention-grabber.


The interiors are fabulous borrowing a whole lot from the bigger and plusher Navigator. While the layout and design is similar, the Aviator also gets those "Perfect Position" seats that the Continental debuted with 30-way electrical adjustments. Of course, there's lots and lots of soft touch leather and brushed metal inserts in the well decked-out cabin that has three spacious rows of seating. The third row can seat 6-footers in total comfort, Lincoln claims. Also debuting with the Aviator would be a feature called "Phone as a Key" that lets us lock, unlock and start the vehicle with our phone.  


While complete details of what's under the hood of the Aviator Concept isn't known, Lincoln has been generous enough in saying it'll get a twin turbocharged EcoBoost engine under the hood with an available Plug-in Hybrid option (PHEV). Ford's 10-speed automatic is likely to be the transmission of choice. The other big news is the Aviator shifting to a rear wheel drive platform (RWD) that's also likely to underpin the upcoming next-generation Explorer, Ford's popular midsize SUV. 

Recent history says the Aviator should make it to production pretty much unchanged in a year or so. And once that happens, expect this smart luxury offering to keep Lincoln's cash registers ringing along with the hot-selling Navigator!

20180325

Driven #34: 2018 Ford EcoSport

Variant Tested: 1.5L Petrol AT (Titanium +) 


When the EcoSport was launched in 2013, it's funky styling, feature-loaded interiors and a host of powertrain options (including the pint-sized, award-winning 1.0-liter ‘EcoBoost’ engine) made it a hot property in the market. Waiting periods stretching for 6 to 9 months wasn’t uncommon. But with rivals Maruti-Suzuki, Honda and recently Tata catching up, Ford’s big-seller started feeling long in the tooth.

Not wanting to bow without a fight in a segment it pioneered, Ford gave the EcoSport a fairly comprehensive facelift recently. The fascia is revised, the feature list has been spruced up and there's an all-new petrol engine under the hood paired with a new 6-speed automatic transmission. Are these changes enough to keep the EcoSport going amidst an onslaught from newer rivals? With the diesel engine remaining unchanged, we take the top-end petrol automatic variant (Yes, there’s one!) for a spin to find out.

Looks & Styling

That the EcoSport created quite a stir when it was first seen on Indian roads would be an understatement. Fiddling with a formula that worked so well would be a crime and Ford has rightly decided against it. Yet, this is more than what most facelifts offer these days.


For starters, the fascia is all-new. A larger one-piece trapezoidal grille takes center stage with a liberal dosage of chrome that Indians have fallen in love with. The headlights have grown in size too and now get inbuilt projectors for better illumination. New LED Daytime Running Lights replace the functional-but-boring foglamp-mounted halogen bulbs from the pre-facelift models. The foglamps and indicators, both a tad too big for our liking, are housed in more prominent enclosures. The bumper gets more body-coloured elements than before, suiting the urban crossover role the EcoSport and its rivals have become synonymous with. With all these changes, Ford's smallest crossover has now gained the 'family look', in line with the brand's bigger global SUVs like the Escape and Edge.

With such extensive changes up front, one would obviously expect a similar treatment to the rest of the vehicle. Sadly, that’s not the case. In fact, the only change in profile are the alloy wheels that wear a new design with the top-end Titanium + variant shod with 17-inch wheels. Yes, they look fabulous with those thin side-walls but their longevity on our pothole-ridden roads is a big question mark.

Nothing has changed at the rear, not even the design of the taillight lenses which are the first ones to go under the knife during a facelift. The tailgate, like before, is hinged on its left and opens the wrong way for a right-hand drive market like ours. Unlike the international models, Ford has retained the tailgate-mounted spare wheel for the domestic market. So, the butch SUV look that the mass market craves for is still intact!


The only other noteworthy change we could spot were the new request sensors on the front doors. The cheap black plastic buttons are now gone, replaced by classy inbuilt sensors that unlock automatically when you get close to the door with the key in your pocket and lock with a gentle touch on the three ribs on the door handle.

Interiors

When the EcoSport went on sale five years back, it was easily the most feature-loaded and tech-laden car you could buy this side of 10 Lakh Rupees. But the dashboard, with a plethora of buttons inspired by old Nokia mobile phones, was a hit or a miss. Some liked it while some - like us - found the design and layout dated. The new EcoSport have folks like us covered.


The dashboard gets a new design and layout that's far superior to the outgoing model. The all-black cabin replaces the grey and black theme adopted earlier, albeit with silver and piano black bits used here and there to liven things up. The steering wheel, control stalks and instrument cluster are all-new, the center console has been redesigned with a funky 8.0-inch ‘floating’ touchscreen stuck on to it and the climate control buttons and knobs are now shared with the Figo and Figo Aspire. Build quality, though not outstanding, is not bad while fit and finish has improved quite a bit over its predecessor. That said, certain ungainly bits could still be seen here and there.

The tilt and telescopic steering wheel has a healthy adjustment range to suit your driving position. The seats themselves offer good support unless you are someone with a heavy build. Lumbar adjustment, a very useful feature for those with a delicate back, has been inexplicably given a miss in the facelift. Headroom is excellent while legroom and shoulder room are more than adequate. At the rear, things are comfortable as long as the bench is occupied by two passengers. Bring in a third occupant and the seat's narrow width and tall central tunnel make things tough.


Boot space is comparable to rivals and the EcoSport offers split-folding rear seats for those occasions when you need additional space to stuff things in. There's also an unique height-adjustable boot floor which, when placed in its highest position, forms a perfectly flat loading bay with the rear seat folded.
    
Steering Wheel & Instrument Cluster

The all-new steering wheel not just looks good but feels great to hold as well with perfectly-shaped thumb recesses. Wrapped in soft leather that feels premium to the touch, the steering wheel has buttons for audio controls, voice commands and BlueTooth telephony on the right and toggle buttons for the MID (Multi Information Display) to its left. Switches for the cruise control are located below the left spoke while paddle shifters for moving up and down the gears are placed right behind. Classy Euro-inspired control stalks are chunky to hold and solid to operate.


If there is one aspect of the facelifted EcoSport that we wish Ford hadn't changed, it has got to be the instrument cluster. With a plain black screen housing a tachometer to its left and speedometer to its right, the design lacks flair and any sort of ornamentation. The tiny MID screen - one of the smallest we have seen in recent times - and the big empty space around it look awful and the display font is outdated. What it lacks in visual flair, the screen gains with its content. Apart from the regular odo, trip, fuel efficiency and distance to empty readouts, the cluster also has a cheeky digital speedo, an useful tire pressure monitor and the ability to control a host of vehicle settings including cruise control, driver assist features and headlamp and wiper settings. 

Infotainment System

Tablet-like floating touch screens are in vogue these days and Ford is one of the many car-makers that have adopted this across the range. Occupying prime real estate in the center console is an 8.0-inch touchscreen that controls the infotainment system as well as other vehicle functions. 


Fluid to the touch with almost zero lag and a crystal clear display, the EcoSport's SYNC 3.0 infotainment system is terrific and easily the best in the segment. In fact, one of us found the touchscreen to be as responsive and intuitive to use as a modern mid-range smartphone. Connectivity is through BlueTooth and USB with Aux-in no longer an option. Featuring voice commands and Wi-Fi connectivity, the system also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with navigation. Sound quality is above average with 5 speakers and 2 tweeters doing their job pretty well. 


In addition to the usual audio settings and controls for BlueTooth telephony, the SYNC 3.0 system lets us fiddle with a host of other settings including that of Emergency Assistance that dials 108 automatically in case of an accident and Valet Mode which lets us lock the system through a 4-digit pin when handing over the car to a valet. Its also compatible with Ford's AppLink that allows the system to access certain apps from the connected smartphone like Spotify, Inshorts, AccuWeather and Map My India. A thoughtful feature is the presence of physical buttons for frequently used functions thereby eliminating the need for taking your eyes off the road.  

Engine & Transmission

Not often in mid-cycle facelifts like these do you see the powertrain lineup changing. Ford throws that perception out of the window by debuting its brand new "Dragon" engine under the hood of the EcoSport facelift. This new 3-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine replaces the 1.0-liter EcoBoost turbo petrol and the 1.5-liter Sigma TiVCT petrol engines that powered the outgoing model. The 1.5-liter diesel engine continues without any change.


Generating 121 horsepower and a peak torque of 150 Nm, the EcoSport petrol looks good on paper. Compared to the outgoing 4-cylinder engine, Ford claims a 10% increase in power and a 7% increase in torque while consuming 7% less fuel and emitting 7% less emissions. Press the Power button on and the initial signs are positive. Apart from a shaky start and a mild clatter at idle, there is none of those tantrums on the move you would normally associate with a small 3-cylinder mill. Ford's engineers have used balancer shafts supported by hydrodynamic bearings as well as a timing belt that's dipped in oil to reduce friction and harshness. There's also a full-on acoustic isolation system to keep vibrations in check. Get going and the Dragon's linear power delivery and superb bottom-end makes the EcoSport a joy to drive in the city. Show the car an open road and the engine is happy to keep revving and deliver the power you ask from it. 


Mated to the engine is either a 5-speed manual or the 6-speed automatic transmission that we drove. The latter is a new torque converter unit that replaces the advanced but less reliable dual clutch automatic gearbox. Put the stick in 'D' mode and the shifts are smooth, seamless and almost unnoticeable. Move it to 'S' and the gearbox puts on its boost mode, holding gears that much longer before shifting up. For the enthusiasts amongst us, paddle shifters are available. With the stick in S and the manual mode enables, the EcoSport is quite a fun machine. In fact, in the picture below, you could see the engine screaming at 5,000 rpm in second gear with the car doing a brisk 80 km/h!


Thanks to such enthusiastic driving, the car returned a modest 12.0 km/l during our drive that consisted of a mix of stop-start driving and occasional bursts on open roads. 

Ride & Handling

One of the biggest downers of the outgoing EcoSport, especially in the top-end Titanium + trim level that were equipped with 16-inch wheels, is its bumpy ride quality. Ford has responded to it and the result is a slightly better ride quality despite being shod with skinny 17-inch tires. The lower variants - fitted with 15-inch wheels - show a remarkable improvement in ride quality with an underlying softness that was missing all this while. That said, the McPherson struts up front and the semi-independent twist beam at the rear still let bumps and potholes filter into the cabin at slow speeds. Though the ride improves as you gather speed, the EcoSport is still not a car you would drive over a broken piece of tarmac without slowing down. 


The best part is the EcoSport has lost none of its dynamic prowess in pursuit of ride quality. The 205/50 R17 tires are sufficiently grippy and the car maintains poise and composure irrespective of the conditions. Straight line stability is superb and the car does not get jittery at the twist of your finger. Speaking of which, the Electric Power Steering in the EcoSport is super light to use at parking speeds but weighs up as speeds build up. Be it sudden direction changes or late lane switches, turn the wheel and the EcoSport darts in confidently and makes you smile. The EcoSport remains the top choice if 'fun behind the wheel' is what you are looking for.

Safety

Ford has been a pioneer when it comes to offering safety features in the mass-market segments. Equipped to the gills with Antilock Braking System, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Traction Control System, Emergency Assistance and as much as six airbags, the EcoSport is the flag-bearer for safety in its segment.


Moreover, the car is 4-star certified in the Euro NCAP crash tests, albeit in its previous avatar. Other cars in the price range, including its rivals Vitara Brezza and Nexon, have not been crash tested yet and offer a maximum of two airbags. 

Verdict


The EcoSport was a strong competitor even before the facelift, fending off much-newer rivals like Maruti-Suzuki's Vitara Brezza, Honda's WR-V and Tata's Nexon. At best, all it needed was a nip and tuck externally and a touch-screen inside. By virtue of bringing in such a comprehensive facelift complete with an all-new engine and transmission, Ford has not just responded to what the market demanded but also ensured the EcoSport remains the best compact SUV on sale. The Vitara Brezza might be the top-seller in this space but you know who leads the race when it comes to all round capability.

Photography: Bharath Rengaraj
Content & Editing: Aravind Ramesh