20191002

Driven - 2019 Hyundai Venue

Variant Driven: SX CRDi


Compact crossovers have been hot properties in the country ever since Ford's EcoSport burst into the scene in 2013. Over the years, Maruti-Suzuki, Honda, Tata and Mahindra joined the party, grabbing a slice of the ever-growing pie along the way. One biggie conspicuous by its absence in this space was Hyundai. Of course, the Korean car-maker was busy minting money and decimating rivals with the bigger Creta but that doesn't erase the fact that they missed being a part of this crucial segment all along.

In comes the new Venue, trying to make up for lost time with bold looks, plethora of features, a host of engine and transmission options and par-for-the-course pricing. Should the Brezzas and EcoSports out there be worried?

We tell you after driving a SX diesel variant for the better part of a day.

Venue gets Hyundai’s latest and boldest face


Walk up to the car and it’s tough (we mean it!) to focus on anything other than that cheese-grater of a grille. Hyundai’s trademark ‘Cascading Grille’ has become bigger, bolder and - with those ‘in-your-face’ chrome-lined horizontal and vertical slats - screams for attention. That said, it wasn't as intimidating in person as it was when we first looked at the launch images. The rest of the fascia adopts the Korean brand's latest global SUV design language with split lighting clusters that debuted in the current-generation Santa Fe before making its way onto the Kona and Palisade. Venue is the latest to get it with the Tucson next in line.


The thin lenses on top are actually the turn indicators and not Daytime Running Lights as you would've thought. The DRLs are actually positioned below with the headlights and cornering lamps while the fog lamps are placed further down in the bumper. Some might find the LED DRL signature to be too simple, but we think it gives the Venue a distinct identity when it comes up in your rear view mirror. In profile, the Venue is just a mini-Creta. Just like it's bigger sibling, the Venue gets a floating roof effect courtesy blackened A- and B-pillars with the chunky C-pillar and sharply-cut rear doors giving it an aggressive, tipped-forward stance. A strong waist line that runs the full length of the car and mildly-flared sheet metal around the wheel arches look balanced and attractive. The rear, in comparison, is too plain and gives the Venue a hatchback look and feel. The taillights, though, are wonderfully-detailed and look terrific.


Crossovers these days masquerade as SUVs and the Venue is no different. From dual-tone front and rear bumpers with silver inserts and fake skid plates to plastic cladding running the full length of the car, Hyundai's tiny crossover gets everything you look for in SUVs. Roof rails and smartly-designed diamond-cut alloys complete the show.

Hyundai's mastery inside continues

If there is one thing the folks in Hyundai have been consistently at their best over the years, it's in the way they design and put together a new model's interiors. The Venue does no harm to that legacy. 


With a layout that's smart and functional and fit and finish that's second to none in the segment (and even one above) in most places, Hyundai's Brezza-slayer scores a big impression straight away. Sat in the driver's seat, the nicely-contoured steering wheel and the well-designed center console housing those snazzy (but a tad too big) climate control buttons draw your attention. The large air-con vents exude quality and are surrounded by classy brushed silver inserts. The door pads are designed to look like a continuation of the dashboard on either side with the door handles also featuring the same brushed silver effect. The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, though, could have been integrated better.


The Venue, just like any new Hyundai, comes with an extensive feature list including driver and passenger airbag, Anti-lock Braking System with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, reverse parking sensors with dynamic guidelines, cruise control, ISOFIX mounts, speed alert, automatic headlamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob, adjustable front and rear head-rests, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, climate control and the much-loved electric sunroof. But, it does lose out on goodies like side and curtain airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Hill Assist Control (HAC), supervision cluster, rear wiper, keyless entry with push button start, wireless phone charger and the Blue Link party trick that are reserved for the top-end SX(O) and SX DCT variants. 

Instrument Cluster:


The SX variant tested loses out on the advanced supervision cluster, yes, but the dials in this car aren't what you would call boring. Featuring a large circular speedometer in the center with the tachometer on the left and LCD display screen on the right, the cluster looks quite interesting with checkered graphics and a pod-like surround. The screen displays all essential information including two trip meters, average fuel efficiency, instantaneous fuel efficiency, distance to empty, average speed and engine running time.

Infotainment System:


Venue's rise to fame has been the much-hyped and super-cool BlueLink platform that comes with an in-built SIM card and a host of connected features. The SX variant loses out on this but the infotainment system on-board has all the features you'll ever need. 

Equipped with four speakers and two tweeters with Arkamys Sound, the system has BlueTooth connectivity, is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and is even equipped with Voice Recognition. The 8.0-inch touchscreen is simple to use, fluid to the touch and offers an array of options to customize the car's interiors. The screen doubles up as rear parking display with adaptive guidelines when the reverse gear is engaged. The presence of physical buttons below the touchscreen for all key infotainment functions means you don't have to take your eyes off the road everytime, a thoughtful approach not all manufacturers think of.

Interior quality is top-notch, but not everywhere

As surprised as you may be reading that sub-title, Hyundai's interiors have started showing explicit signs of cost-cutting of late. We highlighted a few in the Santro but that can be excused, considering the car competes in a price-sensitive segment where every Rupee counts. Surprisingly, the Venue's cabin have a few goof-ups too! 

Look at those barren door pads. Made of plastic from top to bottom with nary a soft surface or contrasting element to lay our hands or eyes on, they felt cheap. We may be wrong but even the Santro's door pads felt better. Thank goodness, the SX(O) has a leather-padded armrest. Similarly, the levers to push the backrest and adjust the seat height don't feel sturdy and long-lasting. Come on Hyundai, you have pampered us so much for so long. Why cut corners now when the image is built? 


It's a crossover alright, albeit a diminutive one

Thanks to the huge success of Creta, Hyundai had a tight rope to walk while developing the Venue. Making it as big as some of it's rivals from the segment would eat into Creta's volumes big-time and the Korean car-maker, it seems, wanted a clear visual differentiation of the hierarchy. The result is a crossover that's not as big or as spacious as one would expect.

Forget the car's diminutive dimensions and negligible road presence, the cabin is where things get really congested. The front seats are wide enough and reasonably comfortable for even plus-sized adults. The rear seat, though, is a different story. The legroom is just about sufficient and not what one would call spacious. Forget the spacious Nexon and XUV3OO, the Venue is not even as spacious as an EcoSport. The seat's limited width means making three average-sized adults sit in there is difficult. Add to that the rising window-line and the all-black interiors, the cabin isn't inviting.

Bigger engine and tighter handling would have helped

The trio of engines doing duty under Venue's hood include the familiar 1.2-liter petrol and 1.4-liter diesel with the new entrant in the form of an all-new 1.0-liter turbo petrol. The car we drove was diesel-powered with an engine that's shared with the i20 and lower variants of the Verna and Creta. 


The 4-cylinder mill from the U2 family churns out 89 horsepower and 220 Nm of torque. While those numbers are far from being the best in the segment, Venue doesn't create much of a fuss to keep up with the clan. Thank the car's lesser kerb weight and the engine's minimal turbo-lag for that, with the end result being seamless power delivery in the low- and mid-range. Those are exactly what you need during those long and slow commutes within the city. The Venue doesn't disappoint out on the highway either, if you keep it in the power band. It does struggle at higher revs but then you don't buy a compact diesel crossover to rev high, do you? Mated to a 6-speed manual transmission with a light clutch and short throws, cruising is effortless and the car is quite relaxed and frugal while doing so.


If bragging rights are what you are after, wait for a few months when Hyundai is expected to plonk in a 1.5-liter diesel in the Venue. That should make this little crossover far quicker.


The Venue uses McPherson struts up front and a coupled torsion beam at the rear for suspension duties. Low speed ride quality, like all Hyundais, is compliant with the Venue making light work of the irregularities in the road. There is an underlying firmness to the ride though which makes bigger potholes and manhole covers felt sharply inside the cabin. But, that's never to the point of making the occupants uncomfortable. Handling is well-sorted too with the Venue being composed and mature all the time. Sudden lane changes are done with remarkable poise but remember, this is no EcoSport when it comes to handling. Steering feedback is just so-so despite the fact it weighs up well as speeds increase. Brakes are effective and the Venue sheds speed in a straight line without much drama upon hard braking.


With close to 200 mm ground clearance (Hyundai hasn't published the exact figure), the Venue is tailor-made for our less-than-perfect road conditions. While it can handle those large speed-breakers at ease and that occasional off-road jaunt with some effort, don't forget this ain't an off-roader.

Specifications at a glance


Dimensions

> Length x Width x Height – 3,995 x 1,770 x 1,605 mm
> Wheelbase – 2,500 mm
> Ground Clearance – Not Available
> Fuel Tank Capacity – 45 l

Powertrain

> Configuration – I4
> Displacement – 1,396 cc
> Max. Power – 89 BHP @ 4,000 RPM
> Max. Torque – 220 Nm @ 1,500-2,750 RPM
> Transmission – 6-Speed MT
> Fuel Efficiency – 23.7 km/l 

Other Hardware

> Front Suspension – McPherson Struts
> Rear Suspension – Coupled Torsion Beam Axle
> Front Brake – Disc
> Rear Brake – Drum
> Tyre Size – 215/60 R16

To sum up


At the end of its stint, the Hyundai Venue left us with a lasting impression. That's not because it was the best in one or a few aspects but because it did most things right. Hyundai's baby Creta is not as good as the EcoSport in road manners but it's not bad either. It's not as powerful or as spacious as an XUV3OO but the Venue isn't slow or cramped. The car's price tag isn't as competitive as the Nexon's but it doesn't create an impression of being overpriced. It might not have Brand Honda's pull that's helping the WR-V but Brand Hyundai is as strong, if not more. The car-buying public out there have felt the same too and that's probably why the Venue has become so successful in such a short time frame. So much so, Maruti-Suzuki's runaway best-seller Vitara Brezza is now relegated to the second spot in the sales charts. 

Hyundai, then, has clearly succeeded in making up for the time lost in compact crossover space!


Text & Editing: Aravind Ramesh
Photography: Bharath Rengaraj

20190922

Driving Destinations - Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Detroit - Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive - Detroit

What do you do when you're in the midst of a 2-week business trip to Detroit (Yes, THE Motor City) with a day to spare in-between? Of course, being the nuts we are, long drive in a fun-to-drive car is the default proposition. That the destination happens to be a short but scenic stretch of road voted by the public as "The most beautiful place in America" not so long ago is an added bonus. That's where we were, exactly one year back on this day! 

Michigan, the beautiful Midwestern state in the United States of America has one of the longest freshwater coastlines of any political sub-division in the world. Sharing boundary with four of the five aptly-called Great Lakes, northern Michigan is home to the gorgeous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Considering the time to drive to and from Detroit and what's left after that (which isn't much), it was decided to just do the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Nice name, uh?


This scenic 7.4-mile stretch of tarmac, located within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and operated by the United States National Park Service, is a closed circuit that can be driven, bicycled or even hiked. Comprising 12 stops, each of which offer magnificent views and contrasting topographies, this circuit is a must-do if you're in Michigan with time to spare!

The Roads to the Destination

For us Indians, a road trip in America immediately brings big, wide roads and sparse, fast-moving traffic to mind. But the roads in Michigan are quite a mix. Just like the state's infamous weather, they change from narrow, potholed two-laned suburban sections to wide, smooth Interstate highways in a flash.


The route from Detroit to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is pretty straightforward with most of the distance covered in two major highways. Starting from Detroit, follow signs for Interstate 75 North, a major North-South highway that runs from Miami, Florida all the way up to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan bordering Canada. A few miles after Saginaw, follow signs for US 10 West, an East-West highway that connects Bay City, Michigan and West Fargo, North Dakota. Watch out for M-115 West exit just after Clare. Beyond that, GPS takes us through M-22 N and M-109 N before the signage for "Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive" welcomes you. 


Both I 75 and US 10 are typical American multi-lane highways with speed limits enforced. It's prudent to exercise caution even if other vehicles around appear to ignore rules. Make sure you escape traffic by starting early in the day. The traffic gets quite dense as time passes and as we approach cities and towns. 


As the nomenclature indicates, the M-series roads are Michigan state highways that are mostly two-laned and much shorter between cities. But, these are the stretches that would make you stop and take in the beautiful sight every now and then.

The Destination Itself

A 7.4-mile stretch is not an awful lot by any stretch of imagination. But, Pierce Stocking, the person who built and maintained this road before National Park Service bought it over, has done a tremendous job of opening up the area's natural beauty for others to explore and enjoy. The guide below lists all the view points and what's on offer in each of them.


Pay the 25 US Dollar fee for getting in (includes access to all of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore) and, within a few meters, the drive becomes a two-laned, one-way stretch.

The first stop, called the 'Covered Bridge', is just that - a wooden covered bridge that would be a perfect photo spot for you and your vehicle. As luck would have it, a classic car owner's group had decided to make the drive that day with known and unknown cars of various vintage showing up. As you can see in the picture below, with those cars rolling one by one to be photographed next to the bridge with their owners, we had to move on.


A steep climb atop a hill takes us to the second stop. This is a view point that offers a brilliant view of the Glen Lake. The clear skies, together with the various hues of green that the water takes depending on it's depth and the mountain range in the background, is a pretty sight.


After that, stops 3, 4, 5 and 6 are all about the sand dunes that give this park it's name, their ecology and the way they have evolved over centuries. There is even a 1.5-mile long hiking trail that takes you right into the dunes over stretches that were originally part of the Scenic Drive but later modified to conserve nature. 


In what's the best example of diversity the whole place is blessed with, the short distance between the sixth and seventh stops presents a complete change in topography. From hot sand dunes, you're in a lush, green forest with Beech and Maple trees in just a few hundred meters.


Next up is the incredible Lake Michigan Overlook. As you park the vehicle and climb the sandy passage to the top of a hill imagining yet another view point of a random lake, you are in for a shock. Nothing - absolutely nothing - prepares you for the breathtaking panoramic view that unfolds in front of you. Your eyes marvel at the magnificent blue waters of the lake seemingly stretching as far as the light blue sky. Your body takes solace from the wind blowing past standing atop the 400-feet tall wooden pedestal. And you just don't want to get out of this place!


If you think these pictures are gorgeous, let me tell you they just don't do justice to what's in store in reality!

Pull yourself away from the mesmerizing Lake Michigan and you're greeted by a view of the bushes in the dunes that once resembled a sleeping bear. That it no longer looks like that is due to the evolution that has happened over time.


Next up is one more view point, this time of the North Bar Lake. It's a pretty sight alright, but you're still not out of the sheer masterstroke of nature that Lake Michigan Overlook is.


The final stop takes you through Maple and Pine Forests before descending down to the entry point. 

On the Way Back


Michigan's state highways, as previously mentioned, are absolute hoots to drive on. In addition to the numerous photo stops on the way back, a shot of caffeine sat by the pristine waters of Lake Mitchell and Cadillac would go a long way in ensuring you reach Detroit safe and sound.  

The Automobile

It might not have made it to India, but globally, Focus has been one of Ford's best-sellers, challenging arch-rival Volkswagen Golf in several key markets across the globe. Drive the car and you'll know why. 


Our Focus, rented from Budget, exhibited superb handling and precise steering feel, attributes that have made Ford in general and Focus in particular so very popular. While the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine was frugal and had enough juice, it was let down by the hesitant Dual Clutch Auto Transmission that pauses momentarily before slotting in to the right gear. The car looks neat too, in that nice shade of black shod with those sexy alloy wheels. 


It's a pity Ford is getting away from cars like these.   

Travelogue Statistics

> Destination: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
> Route Driven: Detroit - Flint - Midland - Clare - Cadillac - Empire - Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive - Detroit
> Total Distance Covered: 571 mi
> Toll, Entry & Parking Charges: $25
> Number of Days: 1

> Car Driven: 2018 Ford Focus
> Odometer Start: 32,425 mi
> Odometer End: 32,996 mi
> Average Fuel Efficiency: 37.9 MPG (16.1 km/l)

> Fun Tip: When you're in America, you live life king size! Wanna experience that? Rent a full-size pick-up truck for the drive. 

> Health Tip: Ambient temperature rose from 4°C early in the day to as high as 32°C by noon. Be prepared with your jackets and don't forget your sunscreens too!

20190815

2020 Mahindra Thar spotted testing in Chennai

| Mahindra's lifestyle off-roader is all set for a complete makeover |

| 2020 Thar gets evolutionary styling, thoroughly-updated interiors and a powerful, new engine to go with it's legendary off-roading prowess |

| Factory-fitted hard-top and forward-facing rear seats are finally on offer |

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end. And the end is what the current-generation Mahindra Thar is staring at! Despite its total dominance on the niche it is currently occupying and the relentless love showered on it by its small yet loyal group of followers, the upcoming emission and crash safety norms meant the Nashik-based car-maker had no choice but to upgrade their lifestyle offering. And the smart folks at Mahindra did that in style by retiring the current-generation model with the limited edition Thar 700 that's on sale right now.

Work on the next-generation model is in full swing already, as is evident from these shots that capture a test mule parked by the roadside. Spotted on the busy GST Road in Chennai that also houses the Mahindra Research Valley, the test vehicle was quite an attention grabber. And therein lies Thar's charm! 


With straight lines and boxy proportions that draw more than a passing resemblance to the Jeeps of yore, the all-new Thar is a stunner even with all the camouflage it wears. Up front, the trademark 7-slot grille and round headlights seem to be carried over with little changes. What has changed though are the external hood hinges. The plastic hinges look pleasing in place of those rudimentary metallic ones on the current model. Both the bumpers are all-new as are the fender flares and - wait for it - the factory-fitted hard top (Soft top would be available as an option too). Some old bits, like the front indicators, taillights, rear view mirrors and flap-type door handles, remain but we're guessing Mahindra would be prudent enough to replace them with sleeker units that take up the style quotient by a few notches. 


A quick peep into the cabin revealed that the interiors are getting a much-needed revamp as well. The dashboard and center console were new but unfinished with provision for fitting a touchscreen infotainment system. We can also confirm the presence of a multi-function steering wheel, power windows for the front doors and forward-facing rear seats with seatbelts! Yes, you read that right! It sounds crazy but the Thar on sale in 2019 does not have any of these. Apart from these basic creature comforts, the new Thar would also come with dual front airbags, Anti-lock Braking System with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, seat-belt reminders and a speed-alert system as mandated by the new safety laws. Overall, the new Thar would be a far more comfortable place to be in for the occupants.


The all-new Thar is said to be built on Mahindra's third-gen platform that also underpins models like the Scorpio and TUV3OO. That explains why it appears longer and wider than the current model. Thanks to the upgraded chassis, the suspension setup is changing for the better too with the current Thar's leaf springs making way for an independent suspension. Expect the new Thar to ride plusher, handle tighter and cruise better on highways than the outgoing model. But cruising on highways is not what Thars are made for. Mahindra would not disturb the Thar's legendary off-roading credentials which means the manually-operated four-wheel-drive system with low-range selector and differential locks are likely to be retained.

Under the hood, Mahindra is expected to plonk in a new BS-VI compliant 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine that churns out 140 horsepower. That's substantially more powerful than the outgoing model's 2.5-liter CRDe diesel engine and should help the Thar's cause both on- and off-road. A 6-speed manual transmission is likely to be offered. If rumour mills are to be believed, a petrol engine and an automatic transmission could also make their way into the Thar at a later date. 

Mahindra is expected to unveil the all-new Thar at the 2020 Auto Expo with the vehicle going on sale a few months later. If the current Thar with all it's limitations can be as successful as it did, the new Thar - in all likelihood - is going to be a smash hit! Don't expect it to come cheap though.