20180720

Mahindra's new MPV (U321) spotted testing yet again

Mahindra has been testing it's upcoming Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV), code-named U321 internally, in and around Chennai for almost two years now. On two separate occasions - once last August and once in February this year - we caught a test mule up close and revealed details that were not known until then. Earlier this week, Mahindra's new MPV - expected to slot in between the TUV3OO Plus and the XUV5OO as a premium offering in the brand's lineup - was caught testing again in the heart of Chennai city. 


With the expected launch date getting closer, the test vehicle has started shedding its camouflage. The fascia is now completely visible right from the detailing on the mesh grille with Mahindra's trademark 'toothy' inserts to the wraparound headlights with inbuilt projectors and the shape of the LED Daytime Running Lights that outline the fog lamp enclosures. The cab-forward design, the heavily-raked hood, positioning of the wheels at the four corners and absence of ungainly overhangs on either end give Mahindra's newest people-mover proportions that are just right. None of Mahindra's usual craziness in terms of cuts and creases seem to be present on this MPV but let's reserve our judgement until we see the car uncovered. At the rear, the vertically-stacked taillights make their presence felt.


Though the interiors have not been seen or revealed yet, Mahindra's recent launches - the TUV3OO specifically - have had decent interiors with acceptable levels of fit and finish. That gives us hope this upcoming MPV would raise the brand's standard even higher. Mahindra has always loaded their models to the hilt with features and gizmos and this MPV would be no different when it goes on sale later this year.

Mahindra has been tight-lipped on the powertrain options until now. Reports elsewhere on the World Wide Web indicate the Nashik-based car-maker is working on all-new gasoline and diesel engines to power the vehicle along with a 6-speed manual transmission. That would explain the extremely long testing cycle this new MPV has been put through by Mahindra. 


When it launches later this year, expect the new Mahindra to challenge Tata's Hexa head-on and occupy the space vacated by the earlier Toyota Innova. In addition to these direct rivals, Maruti-Suzuki's Ertiga at the lower end and an army of similar-priced SUVs and crossovers are not going to make it easy for this upcoming MPV to settle down.

Will Mahindra break the shackles, make people look beyond 'the SUV look' and succeed in this attempt? Let's wait and watch.

20180719

Bentley steps into its centenary with a Special Edition Mulsanne


Bentley, the iconic British luxury brand, is stepping into its centenary year. As part of the celebrations, the car-maker has announced a limited edition of the Mulsanne, dubbed the W.O.Edition. Inspired by founder Walter Owen Bentley's own creation - the Bentley 8 Litre - and crafted by Mulliner, Bentley's renowned commissioning service, the Mulsanne W.O.Edition is a connoisseur's delight.


If you are one of those lucky 100 with pockets deep enough to afford one and contacts influential enough to secure one, Bentley and Mulliner would custom-make this special Mulsanne to suit your tastes and preferences. For its press release though, Bentley had drenched the limited edition Mulsanne in Onyx Black accessorized by Beluga Black wheels, a chrome hood strip and optional chrome grille and surround. The Mulsanne has always had tremendous road presence and the W.O.Edition has just enhanced its appeal several notches.


The interiors, as one would expect, is exquisitely hand-crafted with carefully chosen mix of hides, veneers and materials. The classic Fireglow hide is an ode to the 1930s, complemented by Beluga hide detailing and blind stitching. The rear seats are fit for a King and houses a party trick between them - an illuminated cocktail cabinet. If that's not special enough, the cabinet houses a display window inside which a piece of the crankshaft from W.O.Bentley's own car is showcased. Just below the artefact is an inscription detailing it's significance. 


The W.O.Edition Mulsanne can be ordered in any of the three regular versions that are available - Standard, Long Wheelbase and Speed. Irrespective of the version chosen, a 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine - hand-made and signed by an engineer at Bentley's factory in Crewe, England - powers the Mulsanne generating an impressive 530 horsepower and a whopping 1100 Nm of torque. 

With just 100 units planned, we are sure each of the W.O.Edition Mulsanne is either already paid for or spoken for. After all, this is not just a luxury automobile. It comes with a piece of Bentley's rich heritage! What more could you ask for?

20180718

Hyundai's upcoming hatchback (New Santro?) caught testing in Chennai

It's been almost 20 years since Hyundai, an unknown South Korean brand then, made its debut in India with the odd-looking Santro. The rest, as they say, is history with the Santro becoming a phenomenal success and paving the way for the Korean car-maker's rise in the market. It appears Hyundai is planning big for its twentieth anniversary by launching an all-new small car. And you know what, it might be called - you guessed it right - the 'Santro'.


Caught testing in one of the busy thoroughfares in the heart of Chennai last evening, Hyundai's upcoming hatchback has started shedding some of its camouflage. Though not visible in these images, the car sports a new version of Hyundai's now-popular cascading grille up front with prominent chrome slats. While the rest of the sheet metal still lie hidden beneath the camouflage, the glasshouse makes it pretty clear that the car is designed to be a 'Tall Boy' - just like Wagon-R, Celerio and the old Santro. In profile, the sharp cut in the rear quarter glass and the plastic wheel caps can be clearly seen.


When launched later this year, Hyundai's new hatchback - said to be code-named AH2 internally - is expected to challenge arch-rival Maruti-Suzuki's big-selling Celerio. That would mean the new Santro (or whatever it's called) would slot in between the Eon and the Grand i10 in Hyundai's lineup. Whilst not aesthetically pleasing, the trump card of Tall Boys like this test car are the abundant space and practicality they offer in a compact footprint. Expect this new hatchback from Hyundai to offer all of that with an added dose of style and quality that the Korean brand is known for. 


Hyundai has not revealed the specifications of the car yet. So, it is not clear what's under the hood. Will a reworked version of the popular 1.1-liter 4-cylinder Epsilon unit that powered the old Santro and the i10 make a comeback under the hood of this car? Or, will Hyundai plonk in the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder mill from the Eon to keep costs in check? Take a wild guess, we don't know that yet! Irrespective of the engine powering the car, reports indicate that an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) will be on offer in addition to the standard 5-speed manual gearbox to cater to the growing demand of automatic cars in India.

From what we know, Hyundai seems to be betting on the right cards with this new hatchback. Will the Koreans hit jackpot like they did with the original Santro in 1998? Let's wait and watch!

20180622

Mahindra's upcoming Compact SUV seen testing near Chennai

The folks at Mahindra seem to be having their hands full at the moment. The refreshed XUV5OO out on the streets is only a few months old while the TUV3OO Plus was officially launched just earlier this week. In addition, two all-new models - a Tata Hexa-rivaling Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) code-named U321 and a compact Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) code-named S201 that could rival the Vitara Brezza at one end and the Creta at the other - are on their way as well. 

With Mahindra's R&D Center located on the outskirts of Chennai, test mules of these models are a frequent sight in and around the city. While our prying eyes caught the upcoming MPV (U321) last time around, it's the soon-to-be-launched compact SUV (S201) that was caught testing today. Sent in this morning by an Anything-On-Wheels reader, these spy-shots reveal a bit more than what we know and has been seen so far.


Ever since Mahindra acquired Ssangyong, the Indian car-maker has been trying to utilize the South Korean brand's lineup of Utility Vehicles by adapting them to Indian tastes and conditions. The Tivoli, Ssangyong's smallest SUV, is one such vehicle that's being readied for launch in our country. 


Despite being based on the Tivoli, Mahindra's compact SUV appears to be getting its own distinct design elements inspired by the brand's current flagship, the XUV5OO. Up front, the chrome-embezzled grille that many liked on the XUV5OO, is seen flanked on either sides by smart projector headlights. The profile, understandably, resembles the Tivoli with the upward-sloping windows, the sloping roof line and the thick C-pillar giving the vehicle an aggressive stance. At the rear, this little Mahindra gets split-taillight clusters that are similar in shape and size to those in the XUV5OO. Unlike the Tivoli, Mahindra has moved the license plate holder to the tailgate in this model. The alloy wheels in this particular test mule are painted black and look sporty.


The interiors are expected to borrow heavily from the Tivoli, so expect the design, build quality, fit and finish to be better than what Mahindra has been churning out all these days. Given the current market trend, we're sure this would be feature-loaded too.


Mahindra is said to be developing all-new powertrains for this new compact SUV. A petrol and a diesel engine are being developed, both with displacements of 1.5 liters, if our sources are to be believed. Wait for more details to come up as we inch closer towards the vehicle's launch date.

Speculations are rife that Mahindra might give this compact SUV a XUV3OO moniker. That sounds good, doesn't it? And it fits in rather well in Mahindra's alphanumeric nomenclature. Whatever it's called, this compact SUV's prospects in India appear brighter than ever.

20180513

Driven #35: 2018 Bajaj Avenger 180

Variant Tested: 180 Street


Did you know that the Bajaj Avenger, in it's current form, has been around since 1985? Yes, that's when this cruiser made it's debut originally as the Kawasaki Eliminator. Bajaj's tie-up with the Japanese brand saw this classic cruiser being launched in 2001 as the first-of-its-kind in India. When the two brands parted ways, Bajaj decided to go on its own, replaced the 175cc Kawasaki engine with the 180cc engine from the Pulsar, decided on a new name and voila, the Avenger was born in 2005!


Since then, Bajaj kept fiddling with the Avenger series - often changing the engine capacities - to keep it relevant in the market. The latest one, though, is the most comprehensive update the Avenger ever received. The erstwhile base variant, the 150 Street, has been discontinued and in its place comes the 180 Street with the - you guessed it right - engine borrowed from the Pulsar 180. 

Priced at INR 95,050 on-road Chennai, the Avenger 180 Street is the most affordable cruiser you can lay your hands on in India. We really had to take it out for a spin then and that's exactly what we did!

Design & Styling

Cruisers are an unique breed of motorcycles where retro styling cues are still respected and evolution, rather than revolution, is the norm. That explains why the Avenger, despite being designed way back in the eighties, still looks pretty good. With the recent update, Bajaj has given the Avenger series a new lease of life.


For starters, the Avenger gets a bold new insignia that sits proudly on either side of the teardrop-shaped fuel tank. The 'skull-shaped' headlight is new as well and incorporates an LED Daytime Running Light. While the 220 Street also shares the same headlight, the 220 Cruise gets a different one with an additional DRL. A redesigned cowl and a pair of big, circular clear lens indicators complete the changes in front. The classic silhouette, with it's pushed-forward front forks, hunkered down stance and the 1,480 mm long wheelbase, gives the Avenger a bonafide cruiser look that's instantly likeable. Changes at the rear are restricted to the taillight and the pillion back rest. It's true that Suzuki's Intruder 150 has a new take on how a modern cruiser should look like but you really can't go wrong with the Avenger's design, can you? 


Unlike traditional cruisers that get dollops of chrome all around, the Avenger 180 Street (and it's bigger 220 sibling) gets an all-black theme. While at it, Bajaj could have gone a step ahead and painted the fasteners and the brushed silver bits like the clutch and brake levers, brake pedal and rear fender inserts black as well. That would have ensured uniformity whilst also giving the bike a more stealthy appearance.


Another unique thing that the two Street siblings share is a flatter handlebar that isn't pushed as far back as a traditional cruiser, giving these bikes a sporty touch for the urban environs they're intended to do duty in.

Instrument Cluster & Switch Gear

This variant of the Avenger, as mentioned earlier, is the cheapest cruiser on sale in the country and nowhere is it more evident than the bike's instrument console. At a time when even some mundane scooters and commuter motorcycles get comprehensive digital consoles, the Avenger 180 makes do without one. At least, the 220 variants get a better digital console, it seems.


Coming back to the 180 variant featured here, the single pod chrome unit gets an analogue speedometer with a digital readout for the odo and trip readings. Sadly, there's no tachometer. In what's clearly inspired by popular global cruisers, a separate unit on the fuel tank features tell-tale lights and the fuel gauge. It looks good, yes, but you'll have to take your eyes off the road to look at them. So, in that sense, they aren't a practical solution.

The switch gear is another disappointment. Their quality, fit and finish are acceptable, no doubt, but to think my 2006 Pulsar 150 had the same switches on it is not pleasing. They're not even back-lit like the ones on the Pulsar. Thankfully, they do their job well and leave no room to complain.

Engine & Transmission

The biggest change in the Avenger 180 is it's change of heart. Powered by the 178.6 cc air-cooled 'DTS-i' engine from the Pulsar 180, the entry-level Avenger variant delivers 15.3 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and a peak torque of 13.7 Nm at 6,500 rpm. While that's a welcome increase from the outgoing 150 Street, the engine is clearly detuned compared to the Pulsar to ensure it suits the Avenger's role as a relaxed cruiser.


It's evident the moment you turn the engine on. Refinement is significantly better than the Pulsar 180 on which it's based on and vibrations are kept in check as well. The Avenger 180 Street gains speed in a linear fashion with no drop or surge in power delivery as you move through the rev band. Top end is not its strong point and the engine loses steam after you hit it's sweet spot between 85 - 95 km/h. At those speeds, the Avenger 180 would cruise all day long without complaining. Stretching it beyond that and the bike struggles to gain momentum with vibrations getting a bit harsh too.


The 5-speed gearbox is effortless to use on most occasions and follows the universal 1-down, 4-up pattern. Together with the light clutch, the Avenger 180 Street is tailor-made for a stress-free ride, be it within the city or out on the highway. At times though, it was a pain shifting down to first from second and to engage neutral with the unit getting suddenly clunky in trying to do what it was asked to do. 

Ride & Handling

One of the best aspects of riding a cruiser is the comfy saddle you're perched on and the Avenger 180 Street didn't disappoint. The seat is wide, curvy and can accommodate even a plus-sized adult in reasonable comfort. Combined with the flat handlebar, the 180 Street lets you settle down in a comfortable riding posture that isn't as relaxed as you would expect in a proper cruiser but, crucially, isn't as tiring as a commuter too. It's somewhere in between.


Equipped with telescopic forks up front and twin shock absorbers at the rear, the Avenger 180 Street is devoid of advanced mono-shocks that the Suzuki Intruder 150 has or Bajaj's own tried-and-tested 'Nitrox' gas-filled shocks. But don't let that fool you. Despite an underlying firmness, the bike rides well and soaks up road irregularities with ease. Impressively, the ride quality stays supple even when speeds build up.


Cruisers are meant to munch miles on open roads and, as such, nobody buys them for corner-craving. Still, the Avenger is a good handler that feels quite at home cutting corners and zipping through traffic as it does cruising. Keep it within it's limits and the bike is a joy to ride. Shod with 17-inch tires at the front and 15-inch at the rear - both Eurogrips from TVS - the Avenger is stable and grippy enough for the daily urban grind and the occasional highway jaunts.  


Braking is adequate with the Avenger 180's 260 mm disc at the front endowing it with good stopping abilities. The rear wheel is aided by a 130 mm drum to shed speed. Unlike it's rival from Suzuki, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) is not even an option. It's a shame as that would have made the Avenger a more complete cruiser even if it costs a few thousands more.

Verdict


All said and done, the Avenger is based on a platform that's more than two decades old. While the age is clearly evident in many areas, the fact that the base 180 Street variant is still competent enough to handle contemporary rivals is to Bajaj's credit. At the price in which it retails, the Avenger is terrific value for money. Until an all-new version comes up in a few years, this updated entry-level cruiser should keep the bean counters ringing for Bajaj.

Photography: Bharath Rengaraj
Content & Editing: Aravind Ramesh