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 Hyundai Creta-rivaling compact Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) code-named S201 - 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, the license plate holder has now moved up to the tailgate!


The interiors are expected to borrow heavily from the Tivoli, so expect the build quality, fit and finish to be better than what Mahindra has been churning out all these days. Given the current market trend, expect it to 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. 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

20180510

Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the brand's first SUV, breaks cover

Rolls-Royce, the ultimate definition of luxury on wheels, turned a page in its storied history with the unveiling of the all-new Cullinan today. For you, me and the rest of the world that can't afford one, the Cullinan is a ultra-luxury SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle). For Rolls-Royce and it's well-heeled clientele, this is a high-sided vehicle. However you choose to call it, there is no escaping the fact that even the mighty Rolls-Royce has finally succumbed to the SUV fever that has gripped the automotive industry.

Mixing ultra-luxury and off-roading ability isn't a concept unheard of before. Land Rover has been doing that for decades with the Range Rover. Bentley, Rolls-Royce's arch-rival, did it a couple of years back with the Bentayga. And it's the latter the Cullinan is aimed at. 


The Phantom - Rolls-Royce’s flagship limousine in the current era - plays an influential role in every new model from the British car-maker and the Cullinan is no different. In fact, the fascia is near identical with a large, classy, stainless steel grille dominating the proceedings. Flanked by a pair of thin headlamps with LED Daytime Running Lights in the form of ‘eyebrows’, the Cullinan - just like the Phantom - announces your arrival like no other. The boxy design in profile stands out mainly for a couple of reasons – those huge 22-inch wheels (Yes, you read that right!) and the rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors! Don’t miss the strong shoulder line and the dropping roof line. At the rear, the protruding boot lid is said to be inspired by the D-Back Rolls-Royces of the 1930s while the D-shaped taillights, whilst resembling those in the Phantom, feature stunning attention to detail. 


The Cullinan is built on the same aluminium space-frame platform, named the 'Architect of Luxury', that also underpins the current Phantom. Also borrowed from Rolls-Royce's flagship limousine is the 6.8-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine, albeit with enough modifications and developments to deliver what's required under the hood of this SUV. With figures that read 571 horsepower and a massive 850 Nm of torque - most of it delivered from as low as 1,600 rpm, the Cullinan should be one real quick SUV on road. Top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h.  


Engineered to feel equally at home off the beaten track as it does parked at the porch of a luxury hotel, the Cullinan offers All-Wheel-Drive as standard, a first for Rolls-Royce. Mud slinging, dune bashing, river crossing and traversing through snow-topped roads - the Cullinan did all of that and much more as part of its pre-launch development testing. The party trick includes a self-levelling air suspension that helps the Cullinan deliver the famed ‘Magic Carpet’ ride Rolls-Royces are famous for across every terrain and road surface. The shock absorber is electronically controlled and uses an air compression system to actively push down any wheel it detects losing traction.


The Cullian's interiors, as you would expect, looks absolutely fabulous and is said to have been made from some of the finest quality materials available. Needless to say, the motive is to pamper the occupants like no other. And pamper it would, we're sure. In what’s a first for the brand, the Phantom-inspired dashboard gets a touchscreen for the infotainment system. Two configurations can be ordered - a 5-seater that comes with a rear bench and a 4-seater that gets ‘Individual Seats’ at the rear. In between them is a drinks cabinet that accommodates a refrigerator and champagne flutes. Another feature that’s likely to be appreciated is the Viewing Suite that magically gets you two leather seats and a cocktail table from a stowage partition in the Cullinan’s boot at the touch of a button. Of course, that’s not to be used when the car is in motion!


Top-notch safety suite is a given with Rolls-Royce equipping the Cullinan with features including night vision, vision assist including wildlife and pedestrian detection, a four-camera surround system with panoramic view and helicopter view, active cruise control and collision warning.  
  
You never thought you would live to see this day, did you? But then, nothing happened when Bentley launched the Bentayga nor did we lose our minds when Lamborghini launched the Urus recently. So, we will live to see another day.


Named after the largest diamond ever discovered, the Cullinan is sure to expand the BMW-owned brand's reach and profitability. The mere prospect of owning an ultra-luxury automobile that could be driven to the nicest mansion in Manhattan as well as cross-continental drives would make potential owners salivate. And that's just what Rolls-Royce wants.  

As they proudly say, luxury travel is now Effortless, Everywhere!

20180501

Honda is coming back with a bang; onslaught begins with the new Amaze

When Honda took the wraps off the New Small Vehicle Concept at the 2010 Auto Expo in New Delhi, a lot was expected of them from their much-awaited foray into the affordable segments of the market. A slew of models they brought in - the Brio in 2011, the Amaze in 2013, the Mobilio in 2014 and the BR-V in 2016 - is proof Honda expected a lot from this platform as well. Unfortunately, with the exception of Amaze which tasted success in its first few years, the rest have turned out to be damp squibs in India.

But, Honda isn't giving up on them! They're coming back strongly and it is time the competition sits up and takes notice. Want proof? Just rewind your thoughts to the 2018 Auto Expo in New Delhi and google Honda's debut at the 2018 Jakarta Motor Show in Indonesia. 


Let's start with 'Hamara Dilli' first. The second-generation Amaze that made its world premiere at the Auto Expo this year was a star of the show and going by the response it garnered at the unveiling, expect the all-new model to fly off the showroom floors as soon as the cars reach there. And why not? Slated for launch later this month, the new Amaze appears to have improved considerably in pretty much every aspect over the outgoing model. Gone is the quirky design the Amaze is known for. Instead, the upcoming model gets a clean, almost-mini-City-like styling that not just looks better but far more proportionate too. Yes, we have said that for a sub 4-meter sedan! Going by the pictures floating around, the new Amaze's interiors are a quantum leap over its predecessor, ditching the low-rent Brio-based cabin for an upmarket one complete with segment-first features like cruise control and paddle shifts! Honda has even paired it's 1.5-liter i-DTEC diesel engine to a Continuously Variable Auto Transmission (CVT), a marriage that's likely to be exclusive to India. 

While Maruti-Suzuki's Dzire is on a different planet, we could already feel the rest of the compact sedans scratching their heads!


A couple of weeks back at Jakarta, Honda dropped the next big hint in the form of the New Small RS Concept. While the model on display was a racy little hatch, strip it off the sporty elements and what you see is pretty much the second-generation Brio. Interestingly, the fascia is not a carbon copy of the new Amaze, quite unlike the present Brio family of cars that look the same up until the B-pillars. The hatch looks bigger and more mature now, thanks to the horizontal headlights and the muscular front bumper with the large air dams. While the profile still has the tipped-forward stance and the two sloping character lines like the existing Brio, the rear has been completely revamped. The all-glass rear hatch has been ditched in favour of a conventional unit with sheet metal at the lower half. The loud taillamps are gone too, replaced by sleeker units with regular lenses. Ignore the superb sporty bits though. The chin spoiler, those side skirts, the huge rear roof spoiler, the bumper inserts, the darkened lights and the gloss black touches would not make it to the regular Brio. Still, this is something to look forward to. 

If the interiors are improved as much as they have in the new Amaze and the car remains a hoot to drive like the present one, the new Brio will do a lot better. They just have to bring this here.

That's not all. Recent reports indicate Honda is working on two new compact SUVs based on the same platform and aimed at the Maruti-Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Hyundai Creta, two best-sellers in the market right now. While the BR-V might be replaced with the bigger of the two, what happens to the WR-V when the other one debuts remains to be seen. 

Clearly, Honda wants to compensate for the lack of success of the first-gen Brio-based models in India with this new model onslaught. And if they do what they've seemingly done on the new Amaze with each of these models, they certainly deserve to succeed this time around. 

Bring them on, Honda, but please price them sensibly!

The new Ertiga is bigger, looks sleeker and goes quicker. Are we looking at Maruti-Suzuki's next big-seller?

Would you believe if we tell you that Maruti-Suzuki, a force to reckon with in the Indian automotive industry, was a fringe player in MPVs and Utility Vehicles as recent as 2012? Yes, that's right and it was the Ertiga that changed the status quo. Based on the R3 Concept that debuted as a design study at the 2010 Auto Expo, Maruti-Suzuki launched the Ertiga in 2012 to a fantastic response in the market. As many as 11,000 of these were booked in India within the first five days of launch.

After a successful 6-year run that saw the Ertiga being the only successful MPV in India apart from the all-conquering Toyota Innova, it's time for an all-new model to take over. The second-generation Ertiga recently made its debut at the 2018 Jakarta Motor Show in Indonesia, another country where Suzuki's monocoque MPV is quite popular. While Maruti-Suzuki has not unveiled the new Ertiga in India yet, it is expected to be launched here before the end of the year. 


Unlike the current Ertiga whose sweptback headlamps and sloping hood are clear references to its origins from the Swift, the new Ertiga takes a distinct approach and looks mature. The more upright hood, the horizontal headlights that connect to the slender grille and the wide contours in the bumper are a clear departure from what we have seen in the new Swift and makes the Ertiga look more upmarket. The profile is characterized by a prominent shoulder line that runs fender to fender housing the door handles and the floating roof design effect aft of the C-pillar. At the rear, Suzuki's designers seem to have drawn inspiration from Volvo while sketching the taillights. It looks so close that it could make the Swedish car-maker's fans frown. That said, the new Ertiga's derriere looks far more appealing than the existing model.

Based on the 'Heartect' platform that also underpins the Baleno, Dzire and the new Swift, the Ertiga benefits from the safer and lighter monocoque. Measuring 99 mm longer, 40 mm wider and 5 mm taller, the new Ertiga is bigger in every dimension compared to the current model. While the wheelbase remains same at 2,740 mm, interior passenger space and luggage space appear to have improved considerably. Expect the third row to be more usable in the upcoming Ertiga! 

The interiors have been completely revamped with a dashboard that mixes retro styling touches with modern-day amenities and conveniences. The wooden pattern running across the width of the dashboard in the higher variants are from an era gone by while the flat-bottom steering wheel and tablet-like touchscreen in the center console are popular trends these days. Feature list is expected to be strengthened as well, given how well-kitted the new launches from Maruti-Suzuki are.

A scan of the new Ertiga's brochure detailing the complete specifications and feature list for the Indonesian market is shown below. 


Considering the all-round improvement, it would be great if Maruti-Suzuki refrains from carrying over the existing 1.4-liter K-series petrol and the 1.3-liter MultiJet-derived diesel engines in the new Ertiga. The car deserves and needs (with all three rows occupied and the boot loaded to the hilt!) more power. This is where the K15B 1.5-liter petrol engine under the hood of the Indonesian Ertiga could help. Developing 103 horsepower and 138 Nmof torque, this mill could suit Ertiga's requirements better. 

So, all said and done, the upcoming new Ertiga is bigger, looks sleeker and possibly goes quicker. Are we looking at Maruti-Suzuki's next big-seller? We've no doubts on that given Toyota has positioned the Innova Crysta far higher in the chain and the competition is pretty much dead.