300,000th G-Class rolls off the production line

When Mercedes-Benz introduced the G-Class in 1979, it was intended for hardcore off-roading in military services. Little did they know that the 'G' would become the cult classic it is today. 

Magna Steyr's plant in Graz, Austria that has been rolling out the G-Class on behalf of Mercedes-Benz since inception celebrated a production milestone of 300,000 vehicles yesterday.

Literally unchanged in its basic design and architecture since its introduction four decades back, the G-Class is kept going by popular demand from customers and loyalists who aren't ready to give up on the boxy, old-school design and robust mechanicals yet. Of course, the engines and the interiors have undergone multiple changes to keep up with the times.  

Amidst proposals to discontinue the G-Class every now and then, Mercedes-Benz were forced to keep the legendary off-roader going for various reasons. Rising sales was just one of those. Would you believe that sales of the G-Class has been going up every year since 2009 and hit an all-time high in 2016 with almost 20,000 units sold? Such is its popularity despite a flurry of plush, modern and more capable SUVs available for similar prices.

The 300,000th vehicle was a G500 painted in an unique 'Designo Mauritius Blue Metallic' colour wearing an Off-Road Package that included 16-inch black wheels shod with all-terrain tyres and a roof rack. Black leather seats with contrasting white stitching are the key highlights of the interiors. Selected by fans of the G-Class from all over the world who voted for this specification through the vehicle's official Facebook page, the 300,000th G-Class would be retained by Mercedes-Benz for display on social media networks over the next few months before possibly retiring to the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

The G-Class has also been the base for uber-exclusive limited-run models like the G63 AMG 6x6, G500 4×4² and Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet.

With Mercedes-Benz already working on the most significant refresh of the G-Class since 1979, the le'G'end will live on for another day and possibly yet another milestone!


Jaguar E-Pace debuts with a record-breaking barrel roll

Jaguar's first-ever SUV, the F-Pace, went on sale in 2016 and not just impressed the critics by winning the coveted 'World Car of the Year' title but also found favour with customers becoming the fastest-selling Jaguar ever. This, together with the XE entry luxury sedan that joined the lineup in 2014, has put the British brand on a clear growth trajectory. With all that momentum in its favour, Jaguar is on quite a roll. 

As if to symbolize that, the all-new E-Pace, Jag’s second-ever SUV, made its world debut in London performing a record-breaking roll. With professional stunt driver Terry Grand behind the wheel, the E-Pace completed a 15.3-meter long jump while doing a 270 degree barrel roll, thereby securing a Guinness World Record. Quite an entry, eh? But then, the F-Pace did something similar on its debut with a record-setting loop.

The E-Pace marks Jaguar's entry into the burgeoning compact SUV segment that currently has the likes of Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA vying for supremacy. Will the baby Jaguar, fondly referred to as 'The Cub' internally, create an impact in the segment? Let's see how 'The Good' and 'The Bad' stacks up, which would give us an idea.  

The Good

Jaguar coming up with an all-new model and we going gaga over its design has become a tradition now. Ian Callum, Jaguar's Design Director, and his team has been stroking one sensuous model after another and the gorgeous E-Pace is no exception. 

With minimal overhangs and long wheelbase, the stance is just perfect. The familiar fascia with the large trapezoidal grille and prominent air dams ensure you don't mistake the E-Pace for anything but a Jag. Viewed from the sides, Jaguar's smallest SUV shows off its most impressive curves. The muscular rear haunches, the intercepted shoulder line and the way in which the steeply-raked roof-line drops down to the taillight are beautiful and gel amazingly well. The rear, inspired by the stunning F-Type, deserves special mention as well.

Overall, the E-Pace just reaffirms the fact that Jaguar is in great form when it comes to design and styling. While we do not know how long this would last, all we can do is drool and relish as long as it lasts. 

The Bad

Powering the E-Pace are the 2.0-liter 'Ingenium' engines developed in-house by Jaguar Land Rover. The diesel is offered in three states of tune developing 148, 178 and 237 horsepower. The petrol engines offer two states of tune, a 246-horsepower base version and a 296-horsepower range-topper. Paired with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or the latest version of ZF's 9-speed automatic transmission, the E-Pace has enough grunt to match the big-selling, regular variants of its rivals.

But, the E-Pace does not have an answer to the performance variants - the Audi Q3 RS and the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, both of which offer in excess of 360 horsepower. Yes, this is serious nit-picking but the point is when you have gone so far, why not go the full distance and offer something for the power-craving crowd as well?

The Good

Jaguars have always been considered a step below the three German luxury brands when it comes to interior appointments. With the E-Pace, Jaguar seems to have turned a page on that aspect. 

Those who have stepped in and sat inside the E-Pace are all praises for the dynamic, F-Type-inspired design and the quality of the materials used. Why wouldn't they be? After all, with the wraparound cockpit that surrounds the driver, the sea of soft touch materials employed, the latest-generation Touch Pro infotainment system featuring a 10-inch customizable touchscreen offering swipe, pinch and pan functions, the 12.3-inch HD full colour instrument panel and the full colour Head-Up Display, we would only be surprised if someone isn't impressed with what they see in here.

Jaguar has also paid excellent attention to details in the new E-Pace. How about a 'Jaguar and cub' imprint on the windshield to denote this is the baby Jag? Or a 'Chicane Line' that's an ode to the brand's racing heritage?

It's not just all show with the E-Pace, it's a practical family car as well. By pushing the wheels off to the four corners and increasing the distance between them, Jaguar has eked out more space inside despite the vehicle's small external footprint. Practicality is aided by nifty stowage compartments all around the cabin, a 577-litre boot, split-folding rear seats and as many as many as five USB ports and four 12-volt sockets.

The Good

When you pay as much as you would for an E-Pace, top notch safety is what you would expect. But when Jaguar claims the E-Pace gets the most advanced safety concept ever engineered by the brand, you got to take notice. 

The comprehensive restraint system aboard the E-Pace offers six airbags - driver, passenger, thorax and side curtain airbags in the cabin as well as a first-in-segment pedestrian airbag to cover the base of the windscreen. The safety suite on offer include Active Bonnet, Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Antilock Braking System (ABS), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Roll Stability Control (RSC), Electronic Traction Control (ETC), Trailer Stability Assist (TSA), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Corner Brake Control (CBC) among others.  

The Bad

The F-Pace might be the fastest-selling Jaguar ever and the reason behind the brand's tremendous growth in 2017 but it's all set to lose the crown to the smaller and therefore more affordable E-Pace. Whilst that's not a bad thing by any stretch of imagination, the fact that Jaguar and Land Rover plants are already running at capacity is. If you are a potential customer, you still don't have to bother as Jaguar has entered into a contract manufacturing deal with Magna Steyr whose plant in Graz, Austria would be manufacturing the E-Pace. Of course, China gets their own version that would be made at the joint-venture facility of Chery and Jaguar Land Rover at Changshu.     

With four all-new models joining the lineup in as many years and more to come, including the promising full-electric I-Pace SUV, should Jaguar be thinking of investing in capacity expansion?

The Good

With the exception of the entry-level 148-horsepower diesel variant that's powered by the front wheels, the rest of the E-Pace range gets standard All Wheel Drive system (AWD) that's capable of channeling almost all the engine torque to the rear wheels in extreme conditions. The intelligent system is said to monitor driving conditions and calculate optimal torque distribution to the wheels every 10 milliseconds.

Also on offer is Jaguar's All Surface Progress Control (ASPC) which is basically a low-speed cruise control that works between 1.8 km/h and 30 km/h and can be engaged on any terrain. The system recognizes the surface underneath and exploits the available grip by adjusting the engine and brake settings. Be it snow, wet grass or mud tracks, the ASPC even works from a standstill, enabling the vehicle to get going without using the pedals and then maintain a steady, pre-set speed.

A brake-based Torque Vectoring system, aiding cornering and enhancing traction by working with the AWD system, is part of the kit as well. The E-Pace is a vehicle in which you wouldn't think twice before venturing off-road.

As you would have noticed, there is nothing really negative about the product as such and its debuting in a segment that's headed up and up. So, when the E-Pace goes on sale later this year, expect sales to shoot through the roof. The United Kingdom and select markets in Europe would get the baby Jag first towards the end of the year. Production in China is expected to start a year later. 

Given the craze for SUVs in India and the fact that the F-Pace is on sale here, its a matter of when and not if we would get to lay our hands on the E-Pace. Come on Jaguar, bring 'The Cub' on already!


All-new Audi A8 makes its world debut at Barcelona

The inaugural Audi Summit that had select guests from media, finance, commerce and industry associations in attendance concluded at Barcelona, Spain last week. The one-of-a-kind exclusive brand event, apart from showcasing pioneering solutions from the German brand for the urban mobility of tomorrow, also hosted the global premiere of the new A8, Audi’s flagship luxury sedan.

Currently in its fourth generation, the new A8 is the most advanced and tech-laden car ever launched by the German brand. This S-Class and 7-Series rival is also the first commercial production car in the world with 'Level 3' autonomous capability. That's not all, the A8 previews the future design direction of the brand as well. To cut a long story short, the arrival if this car marks the beginning of a new era for Audi as well as the rest of the automotive industry.

In a car with such credentials, zeroing in on the good bits and the not so good stuff isn't all that easy. But, as always, here's our thoughts.

The Good:

Obviously, the headlines-grabbing stuff in the new A8 is the Audi AI 'Traffic Jam Pilot'. What's that, you wonder? Well, that's a feature you can engage using the AI button on the center console. Once engaged, the Traffic Jam Pilot will relieve you of driving duties up to 60 km/h on freeways where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways.

This intelligent tech can manage starting, accelerating, steering and braking, Audi claims. Unlike Tesla's Auto Pilot that requires the driver to be ready to take control at all times, the A8 would let the driver and the occupants do what they want to. As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on the driver to take back the controls. In case of no response, the car steers and comes to a stop at a safe spot. To accomplish this, there are twelve ultrasonic sensors, four 360 degree cameras, one front camera, four mid-range radars, one long-range radar, an infra-red camera and a laser scanner. A central driver assistance controller computes an image of the car's surroundings by merging data collected from these different devices.

Paired with the Audi AI Remote Parking Pilot and Remote Garage Pilot that autonomously steer the car into and out of a parking lot or garage with the comfort of a smartphone and as much as 41 driver assist systems, the A8 is a car like no other. Showing off has never been this classy!

The Bad:

The new A8 is a car ahead of its times. Yes, Audi's new flagship might be capable of highly automated driving but the fact is, this car is way smarter than us humans and our legislations. In other words, Audi's engineers might have their hands tied behind when it comes to enabling the autonomous functions on public roads. The prevailing statutory framework in each market followed by market-specific testing and approvals are going to take a lot of time. So the A8 that goes on sale later this year might not have the AI Traffic Jam Pilot enabled after all. That's a shame, considering all that we said it could do in our previous section.

Moreover, complex technology and reliability don't go hand in hand and the models rolling off the lines in the first year or so might have teething issues before the engineers at Audi crack them down.

The Good:

So much is expected from a car in this segment and price range that being ‘good’ is just not good enough. A lavish, well-designed cabin, like the gorgeous one in the A8, won’t make the cut on its own. How does the car differentiate itself from its competitors? Does it have that one ‘pampering’ feature that could pull in potential customers and convince them to part with their hard-earned money? Things like these influence the decision-making process and that’s where the new A8 has a few tricks up its sleeve. 

First up, the cabin is completely devoid of buttons and switches, thanks to the ‘touch operating concept’ employed by Audi. Between the pair of them, the 10.1-inch primary touchscreen in the dashboard and the 8.6-inch secondary touchscreen in the center tunnel console control the wide range of settings and options, including air-conditioning, infotainment, multimedia and navigation. The screens provide haptic feedback just so you don’t miss the solid and tactile feedback from physical buttons or dials. If that’s not enough, the rear seat passengers get cool removable touch pads of their own. 

Then, there is this optional piece of luxurious brilliance exclusive to the A8 L. Aptly called the ‘relaxation seat’, the seat behind the front passenger comes with four different adjustment options and is pretty much a first class lounge of your own. Heck, in this seat, the passenger can even warm and massage the soles of their feet! Massaging your backs are so passé, you see. 

The Bad:

Understated elegance with inherent sportiness have defined the current generation Audis and the new A8 doesn’t stray away much from the theme. While that’s good in a way, there is also this element of not moving the bar higher when it comes to design and styling. 

For a car that’s all-new, for an automobile that has taken a giant leap forward in autonomous tech, for a flagship that's supposedly previewing the very future of the brand, the new A8 is, dare we say, a bit underwhelming. It's not like the car isn't good looking. It's quite the opposite, in fact. The new A8 looks sharp, exudes a sense of elegance and debuts key visual elements - the 'single frame' grille, the LED strip that connects the taillights and the coupe-like silhouette, all of which might trickle down to other models down the chain. 

Problem is, replace the four rings with a VW logo and the car might pass off as a next-gen Passat or an Arteon. You can’t say that to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the BMW 7-Series, can you?

The Good:

When the new A8 is introduced to the market later this year, it starts out with just two V6 engines on offer - a 3.0-liter, 286-horsepower TDI and a 3.0-liter, 340-horsepower TFSI. Two V8 engines - a 4.0-liter, 435-horsepower TDI and a 4.0-liter, 460-horsepower TFSI will follow as will a range-topping 6.0-liter W12 that’s exclusive to the A8 L and churns out 585 horsepower. Much later, the A8 L e-tron quattro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) with a 3.0-liter TFSI engine and electric motor, will join the range.

While the engines themselves offer a good mix of power, technology, refinement and fuel efficiency, helping their cause is the standard Mild Hybrid (MHEV) technology. A new 48-volt electrical system takes over from the standard 12-volt setup as the primary source of electrical power and is fed by a Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) connected to the crankshaft. Storage duties are handled by a Lithium-Ion battery positioned beneath the boot floor. Audi claims the mild hybrid tech reduces fuel consumption by as much as 0.7 liters per 100 kilometers in real world driving conditions by enabling the vehicle to coast with the engine off for up to 40 seconds when traveling between 55 to 160 km/h. The 8- and 12-cylinder engines also have the Audi Valvelift System (AVS) that deactivates cylinders by rendering the valves non-operational. Paired to all these engines is a 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission tuned to deliver slick and seamless shifts.

The Bad:

Audi has been making rapid progress in electrification with its e-tron range of concepts showcased over the past few years. In fact, two all-electric SUVs are slated to go into production as early as 2018, offering Tesla Model X-rivaling range. Why not shoehorn those motors into the A8 and lock horns with the seemingly-all-conquering Model S? May be there is a reason why Audi isn't doing that but, until we get to know, the lack of an A8 e-tron will remain a glaring omission from the range.

The A8 goes on sale in Germany later this year followed by a staggered debut around the globe. India launch is expected to happen in 2018. So, start digging your pockets deeper!


Hyundai i30 N debuts, to go on sale end 2017

Think ‘hot hatches’ and cars like the Focus RS, Golf GTI, Civic Type-R and Megane RS are the ones that come to mind. Now, a bunch of enthusiasts masquerading as employees of an Asian car-maker wants their creation to be included in the aforementioned consideration list. Guess who? It’s Hyundai. And the creation we are talking about is the i30 N.

Revealed in Germany yesterday, the i30 N is the first-ever high-performance model developed under the car-maker’s “N” sub-division. Quite honestly, this is the beginning of a new era for the South Korean brand. Not before has Hyundai launched a new car with an intent to deliver maximum driving fun. With the “N” sub-division though, that’s precisely what they intend to do going forward.

While the ‘N’ suffix might appear to be a cheeky rip-off inspired by BMW’s M division, in Hyundai’s case, the alphabet is an ode to Namyang, the South Korean city home to the car-maker’s global R&D center, and Nürburgring, the notoriously tough circuit that’s known to reward drivers with skills and punish those without. Hyundai made it to the headlines a few years back, first with their venture into the World Rally Championship (WRC) and then with the setting up of a tech center right opposite Nürburgring. With the hiring of Albert Biermann, former executive of BMW’s M division, Hyundai N’s armory was complete. A collective result of all of that is the car you see here.

Under the hood of the i30 N is a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder T-GDI engine that delivers 247 horsepower and 353 Nm of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission delivers all that power and torque to the front wheels, enabling the i30 N to sprint to 100 km/h from standstill in just 6.4 seconds. An optional performance pack is on offer too that increases the power output to 271 horsepower and cuts the 0-100 km/h acceleration time to 6.1 seconds. That not just makes the i30 N Hyundai’s quickest car ever but also stacks it up nicely against its well-endowed rivals.

The i30 N also gets performance-oriented features you wouldn’t normally expect on a hatchback with the slanting ‘H’ badge. Electronic Limited Slip Differential (E-LSD), Electronic Controlled Suspension (ECS), Rev Matching, Launch Control, Lap Timer, G-Force Meter, 18-inch Michelins or optional 19-inch Pirellis - you name it and the car has it, some of which are exclusive to the performance pack. To satisfy the real enthusiast who like sliding their way through the race track, the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) can be switched off. There are five drive modes to choose from - Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom, that can be selected using dedicated buttons on the steering wheel. Depending on the mode chosen, the performance parameters of the engine, the dampers, ESC, E-LSD, sound and steering are adjusted.

Shod with an exclusive “Performance Blue” paint job, the i30 N looks the part. While the basic design and styling are similar to the regular i30 hatch, the N gets a host of subtle-yet-sporty add-ons that clearly reveal the car’s intentions. Blacked-out headlights, grille and air dams, aggressive front and rear bumpers with red accents, lowered body, rear spoiler with F1-inspired triangular brake light, dual exhausts and diffuser differentiate the i30 N from the regular variants. The interiors get a similar treatment of sporty add-ons on what is essentially the regular i30’s cabin. Part of the kit on offer is an exclusive N steering wheel with drive mode selectors, a dedicated rev button, sport seats and standard 5-inch or optional 8-inch touchscreen that displays the drive modes and all the performance parameters. 

Oh yes, you wouldn't miss those "N" badges and imprints positioned in critical points outside and inside the car.

Top notch safety kit including Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Driver Attention Alert (DAA), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), Speed Limit Information Function (SLIF) and High Beam Assist (HBA) is standard in addition to front, side and curtain airbags. 

The i30 N goes on sale later this year with Hyundai’s plant in Czech Republic handling the production duties. 

If we were Ford, Volkswagen, Honda or Renault, we would be watching this space closely. After all, successful run in WRC and those grueling hours of testing at the Nürburgring aren’t to be taken lightly!


New Hyundai Verna spotted testing near Chennai

Hyundai’s mid-size challenger, the Verna, is a bit long in the tooth. In a segment that it once dominated competing against the invincible City, the Verna is now a laggard, clearly beaten by the Honda as well as the Maruti-Suzuki Ciaz. With the two Japanese sedans running away with the sales charts, the six-year-old Verna’s successor couldn’t come any sooner. And here it is, in all its camouflaged glory, hoping to regain its position in the highly competitive C-segment.

Caught testing near the South Korean car-maker’s manufacturing facility in the outskirts of Chennai by one of our followers, these spy shots hint at what to expect from the new Verna when it launches later this quarter. 

One good look at these images is all it takes to find out that the Verna now looks like a mini Elantra. The rear, especially, mimics Hyundai's D-segment sedan with the split taillights and the way in which the C-pillar slopes down leading to the boot. Also visible is a prominent boot lip and Hyundai's popular 'LED-lookalike' glow pattern in the taillights. The profile is similar to the outgoing Verna with the camouflage on but expect the new generation model to lose a few creases as part of Hyundai's migration to 'Fluidic Sculpture 2.0' design philosophy. 

Globally, there are two variants of the new Verna on sale with each sporting a slightly different exterior design. While Hyundai has not officially revealed the car to the Indian public, the teaser image released put an end to all speculations and pointed towards the Russia-based Solaris. At the front, Hyundai's now-familiar 'cascading grille' and sweptback projector headlights with integrated L-shaped DRLs complete the show. The car on test appears to be a lower-spec model as evident by the steel wheels and plastic wheel covers.

The new Verna appears to have grown in size as well. The car certainly looks bigger and wider, indicating a more spacious cabin and a relatively generous boot. While that's a welcome change compared to the cramped rear of the existing model, let's not forget that the Ciaz and the City have taken the game forward so much that the Verna is still no match to either of them in this aspect.

Like all recent Hyundai launches, interiors are likely to be less flashy with a simple and elegant design that's loaded with more creature comforts. The kit on offer in the top end variant could include six airbags, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), disc brakes on all four wheels, touchscreen infotainment system with integrated reverse camera, parking sensors, diamond cut alloys, automatic headlamps and wipers, cluster ionizer and full leather upholstery.  

Engine lineup from the current Verna is expected to be carried over and that means the 1.4-liter and 1.6-liter petrol and diesel engines would continue under the hood of the new model. What’s likely to change though is the transmission lineup. While the manual gearboxes might continue unchanged, the outdated 4-speed automatic transmission doing duty in the current Verna could be shown the door in favour of the 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission that's offered in the Elantra.

If the new Elantra and Tucson are any indication, expect the new Verna to sport better ride, handling and steering feel compared to its predecessor.

Despite its strengths, the present Verna has gone out of favour with the buyers, selling just a fraction of what the Ciaz and City do month on month. Will this bigger, better and stylish new Verna take the fight to Maruti-Suzuki and Honda? Or has Hyundai nudged the barrier of 'too little too late' here? 

Let's wait and watch.


Volkswagen unveils the all-new Polo in Berlin

Volkswagen Polo is the type of car that’s not easy to replace. It debuted way back in 2009, yet the Polo ended 2016 as the world’s best-selling sub-compact car. Volkswagen’s super-mini was so competent at launch that it was crowned the 2010 World Car of the Year. Eight years later, the Polo still wins comparison tests with much-newer rivals and considered amongst the best in the segment. How many cars you know can claim doing these at the fag end of their life cycles? 

Having said that, the Polo can’t go on forever in its current form. Volkswagen knows this well and the result is the all-new Polo that was unveiled in Berlin today.

As with every new car launch, there are good things and bad things to report about the new Polo. Let’s alternate between them to see how the car stacks up. 

The Good:

The biggest disadvantage of the current Polo is the rear seat space, or the lack of it to be precise. That should be history now as the new Polo is longer, wider and boasts increased wheelbase vis-à-vis the current model. With spec sheets that read 4,053 mm long, 1,751 mm wide and 1,446 mm tall, the Polo is now all grown up. Crucially, the wheelbase has gone up to 2,564 mm from the current model’s 2,470 mm, so expect better knee room, shoulder room and boot space in the new car. Potential buyers will no longer have to strike the Polo off the list if space is a key consideration. 

The Bad:

If you thought your eyes deceived you for a moment when you looked at the new Polo, worry not. It might be an all-new car built on a brand-new platform but the sixth-generation Polo is, at best, a mild evolution of its predecessor. We aren’t complaining, the current Polo is still one of the better-looking hatchbacks out there. But, casual onlookers would be having a tough time telling the new model from the existing Polo. It’s clean, it’s timeless, the detailing in the headlights and taillights look terrific and the mini-Golf looks create quite an impression but we all expected more, didn’t we?

The Good:

Built on Volkswagen’s latest MQB-based modular platform that’s shared with the newly-launched Seat Ibiza and the upcoming next-generation Skoda Fabia, the new Polo benefits with a lighter kerb weight than the outgoing model. Apart from the obvious gains in fuel efficiency, the new Polo is claimed to be stiffer and safer than ever before, designed to meet the stringent European crash test norms. 

The Bad:

While the new platform is undoubtedly beneficial in some aspects, folks who have driven the previous-generation Volkswagens will vouch for their tough build and indestructible feel. Those traits are still there in the new-generation model, albeit not to the same level. Just drive the Skoda Laura and the current Octavia back-to-back and you’ll know what we mean. Sadly, the new Polo would be no exception to this. 

The Good:

A key strength of the existing Polo is its interior quality, fit and finish. The new Polo, in addition to gaining an all-new cabin with richer materials and nicer features, is likely to carry forward the traits that have made the current Polo’s cabin a much-revered place to be in. 

Certainly, the new Polo has gone premium in terms of kit offered. Amongst the features on board are full LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging for smartphones and the fully-digital Active Info Display. Safety is top notch too with advanced tech like Adaptive Cruise Control, Front Assist area monitoring system including City Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Monitoring, Blind Spot Detection with Rear Traffic Alert and semi-automated Park Assist system with a ‘maneuvering function’ doing all they can to protect the occupants in the event of a crash.

The Bad:

The ‘dieselgate’ scandal might not have significantly affected Volkswagen’s sales numbers but the resulting cost-cutting initiatives put in place to cut the losses short means the new Polo loses a few variants, engines and transmissions vis-à-vis the current model. For instance, the Polo 3-door is no more and the power-train lineup is consolidated.

Having said that, the engine and transmission lineup is no slouch.

Base variants get a 1.0-liter MPI engine in two states of tune (64 HP & 74 HP) while the mid variants get a 1.0-liter TSI engine in two states of tune (94 HP & 113 HP). At the top of the petrol range is a 1.5-liter TSI mill generating 148 HP. Diesel options are confined to a sole 1.6-liter TDI engine in two states of tune (79 HP & 94 HP). In select markets, a Natural Gas-propelled 1.0-liter TGI variant would also be on offer. Depending on the engine chosen, a 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic transmission is paired with it.

The Good:

Since its debut in 1975, the Polo has been a strong-seller for Volkswagen with over 14 million units sold till date. The new model is likely to take off from where its predecessor left - right at the top of the segment. In 2015, 2016 and so far in 2017, the Polo has been the best-selling sub-compact car globally. Expect this to continue in 2018 and beyond. 

The Bad:

Despite being a popular Volkswagen in India, the new Polo’s launch here is uncertain. The Polo has always been an expensive proposition in its segment and the new model is said to be increasingly so. In a cost-conscious market like ours, that’s going to be a tough sell. Moreover, the new Polo has breached the all-important 4-meter mark, losing the excise benefits.

Will the current Polo soldier on with more facelifts and feature additions? Will Volkswagen Group’s association with Tata to use the latter’s AMP platform spin off a replacement for the current Polo? We do not know yet. All we know is the new global Polo isn’t headed here, which is a shame.

And, finally, the Best:

The good old GTI goes on sale alongside the regular variants with hot looks and a stonking 2.0-liter TSI generating 197 HP under the hood.  Obviously, we won’t be getting behind the wheel anytime soon but who stops us from drooling at it over and over?

The new Polo will make its public debut at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show before going on sale in select markets later this year. Stay tuned for more!


Hyundai unveils Kona, its all-new compact SUV

Hyundai Motor took the wraps off the Kona, its all-new compact SUV, today. The Kona is the South Korean car-maker's first global B-segment SUV and joins the likes of the Tucson, Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe in the growing SUV lineup. 

What strikes immediately on looking at the Kona is its aggressive, impactful design. Trying hard not to be the regular 'hatchback-on-steroids' kind of crossover, the Kona is bold, daring and distinct. Whether it looks good or not is completely up to one's tastes though.

Up front, the now-familiar 'Cascading Grille' sits right at the center with a thin slat above and a prominent air dam right below. Surrounding the grille are three separate pairs of lights. The slim unit at the top houses the LED Daytime Running Lights and the turn signals while the bigger ones below has LED headlights. The third pair placed further towards the center, we presume, are the fog lights. The aggressive profile features prominent character lines, contrasting roof and thick plastic cladding for that rugged look and feel. The cladding extensions that encompass the lighting clusters at the front and the back look busy and rather unusual. The stacked lighting configuration continues at the rear, with the brake lights on top and the turn indicators and reverse lamp housed in separate units below.

Sporty and vibrant colour combinations are likely to be offered for those who would want their Konas customized.

The Kona's dimensions read 4,165 mm long, 1,800 mm wide and 1,550 mm tall with a wheelbase that measures 2,600 mm. The long wheelbase and minimal overhangs give the Kona a planted stance.

While the Kona's interiors have not been seen yet, Hyundai claims best-in-class passenger and luggage space in its newest compact SUV. Apparently, this has been made possible by optimizing the underfloor layout including the 4WD drive-train, exhaust system and suspension layout. Depending on the market, the Kona is equipped with a 5-, 7- or 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with advanced connectivity options that include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A new Head-Up Display (HUD) is on offer too, projecting vital information like speed, navigation instructions, audio information and Lane Departure Warning messages. There's more, the Kona even offers first-in-segment wireless smartphone charging.

Advanced safety suite on board include Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, High Beam Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Blind Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning.

Three petrol engines - a turbocharged 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder mill with 118 horsepower, a turbocharged 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder mill with 174 horsepower and a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder unit with 147 horsepower, are on offer while select markets will also have the option of a 1.6-liter diesel engine under the sculpted hood. Transmission options include 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic and 7-speed DCT (Dual-Clutch Transmission) gearboxes.

The Kona is available in 2WD and 4WD configurations. Front suspension features McPherson struts while the rear gets either a high-stiffness torsion beam or a dual-arm multi-link system for the 2WD and 4WD variants respectively.

The Kona will go on sale in Korea later this month, followed by North America and Europe. We believe India doesn't feature in the list of probable markets for the Kona in the near future. That makes sense as the Creta, developed specifically for emerging markets like ours, sits in the same segment and price band as the Kona.


BMW unveils 8-Series Concept, sends the internet into a dizzy!

Every year, the grounds of Grand Hotel Villa d’Este bordering the waters of Lake Como in Italy plays host to one of world’s most exclusive gathering of historic automobiles and motorcycles. Called “Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este”, the event is quite popular amongst automotive historians and enthusiasts. The 2017 edition is ongoing and BMW has used it to unveil the 8-Series Concept, the brand’s take on a luxury coupe of the not-so-distant future. 

Expected to make it to production as early as 2018 with minimal changes, the concept previews the future design direction of the brand. And boy, does it look exciting!

With the 8-Series Concept, the designers at BMW have done a commendable job of mixing the iconic design cues of the past with an eye on the future. 

Up front, the large kidney grille is placed lower and wider, flanked on either sides by laser-lit slim headlights with hexagonal detailing. Further emphasizing the car’s width are the large side air intakes in the bumper. The silhouette looks brilliant, with the long hood and the flowing roofline giving the car a fast and dynamic look. BMW’s expertise in surfacing comes to the fore on that scooped-out portion in the door that appears to have been formed by air gushing out of the side intakes. The massively-flared rear wheel arches take over seamlessly from there and lead to a dynamic rear that’s dominated by thin L-blade taillights stretching out to the flanks. How can we not drool over those gorgeous 21-inch light-alloy wheels that feature functional aero elements as well? 

Giving not-so-subtle hints at the speed and power in store are the carbon-fiber diffuser, the twin trapezoidal tailpipes and the integrated lip spoiler. The front bumper also gets a carbon-fiber element between the two side air intakes. 

The interiors in the 8-Series Concept are clearly amongst the best we have seen in a BMW. The flat-bottomed steering wheel looks fabulous with aluminium spokes that gravitate forward and the red-anodised shift paddles. The instrument cluster gets a TFT display with an all-new user interface and revised graphics. The cabin is tastefully appointed in Merino leather in Dark Brown and Fjord White accentuated by contrasting elements made of carbon-fiber and hand-polished aluminium. Further adding to the luxury quotient are the faceted ground gearshift lever and the iDrive Controller made from Swarovski glass with a smoky quartz finish! The slim sports seats are wrapped around a carbon-fiber shell and aimed at providing the driver and the passenger a snug and cossetting fit and feel.

Details of what’s under the hood aren’t known yet but the 8-Series is expected to share engines and transmissions with the brand’s current flagship, the 7-Series sedan. A faster and more powerful M8 is also in the works, some say, as is a roadster based on this. When the production version debuts sometime next year, the 8-Series will proudly sit atop BMW’s lineup, rivaling the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe.

If you can't have enough of the pictures, we suggest you fly to Italy right away. If you can't make it there before this Sunday, wait for the next movie in the Mission Impossible franchise. Tom Cruise might just be driving one of these!


3 Best-selling cars in India that have destroyed the competition...

Success in the automotive industry doesn’t come easy. That’s all the more truer these days with cut-throat competition being the norm and customer loyalty almost non-existent. But, there are some exceptions that have not just swung the success barrier wide open but have also completely decimated their opponents while doing so.

Here are three such examples in the Indian passenger car industry. 

All three are in the midst of an incredibly successful spell right now. What’s incredible, you wonder? Well, each of these three models sell more than all their competitors combined, month after month, year after year! This, despite their rivals trying every trick in the trade to usurp them. If that isn’t incredible, what else is?

Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire

The first in the list is the car that’s been in the news these past few days. It’s the Maruti-Suzuki Dzire we’re referring to, the third generation of which was launched last week. Tata might have pioneered the segment with the Indigo CS but it was the arrival of the Swift Dzire (the first and second-generation Dzires carried the ‘Swift’ prefix) and the stupendous success it achieved that really gave compact sedans a fillip. Honda, Hyundai, Tata (again, with an all-new model), Ford and Volkswagen would follow but the level of success and popularity the Swift Dzire enjoyed remained exclusive to Maruti-Suzuki. 

The Amaze had a more powerful diesel engine and Honda’s strong brand pull to boot. The Xcent had better rear seat space and comfort in addition to Hyundai’s trusted sales and service network. The Zest was supremely spacious and offered incredible value for money. The Figo Aspire came with a stonker of a diesel engine and came kitted with safety features unheard of in the segment. The Ameo had everything we love in a German automobile. 

The result? Not one of these cars could snatch a share of the pie the Swift Dzire enjoys all to itself. Instead, the segment grew accommodating all these new entrants and saving their makers from further embarrassment.

Let’s look at the numbers. Out of the 344,474 compact sedans sold in 2016, a whopping 202,076 were Swift Dzires. That’s a staggering 59% of the segment’s share. The remaining 41% was what the Amaze, Xcent, Zest, Figo Aspire and Ameo fought for with the Honda and Hyundai faring better than the rest. 

With the new Dzire ironing out all the shortcomings of its predecessors, the future looks bleak for every other competitor. It would take extraordinary circumstances for any other compact sedan to challenge the new Dzire.

Maruti-Suzuki Alto

Next up is yet another Maruti-Suzuki, this time the car that carries the tag of “India’s largest-selling car” with aplomb. Yes, the Alto it is! Unlike the Swift Dzire, Alto’s rise to the top wasn’t easy. In fact, the Alto just did not take off when it was first launched in 2001. Maruti-Suzuki had to resort to price cuts and discounts to keep the cars moving off the showrooms before the changeover to Euro-III norms meant the 800 died a premature death in the metros. The baton was thus forcefully handed over to the Alto and, since then, the diminutive hatchback has ruled the roost at the top, fending off competition above and below.

From the cheaper Tata Nano to the relatively expensive Hyundai Eon, both of which debuted with much hype and hoopla, competition in the A-segment has always been tough. In fact, both the Nano and the Eon were labelled Alto-killers at launch. With due respect to those two cars, neither of them could even come close to threatening Alto’s position for various reasons. Renault’s recent foray in this segment with the Kwid has met with a stellar response though, proving the Alto isn’t invincible after all. But then, Kwid’s sales are still just about half of Alto’s every month. Datsun tried it’s luck too but sales are only a fraction of what Maruti-Suzuki’s best-seller manages every month.

Maruti-Suzuki is said to be pursuing SUV-like design cues (like the Kwid) and feature-rich interiors for the next-generation Alto. If that becomes a reality, expect all hell to break loose in the A-segment!

A grand total of 451,010 entry-level hatchbacks were sold in India in 2016 out of which the Alto accounted for 245,094 units. That’s an incredible 54% of the segment in Maruti-Suzuki’s pocket. Though nowhere close to the Alto, Kwid and Eon have fared reasonably well too. The same can’t be said of the Nano and the Datsun twins - Go and redi-Go.

Toyota Fortuner

The next on the list isn’t a Maruti-Suzuki. It isn’t a Hyundai, Mahindra, Honda or Tata either, the second, third, fourth and fifth-largest car-manufacturers in India last year. It’s the Toyota Fortuner, the premium SUV that has smashed sales records for any car priced above INR 20 Lakhs in India. To give you a perspective, Toyota consistently sells 1500 to 2000 Fortuners every month. With an average asking price close to INR 30 Lakhs, that’s a cool INR 6,000 Crores in revenue for Toyota India in 30 days, massive by any standards.

For a country that’s obsessed with high-riding Utility Vehicles, it’s surprising no other global car-maker apart from Toyota got it right until recently. The two biggies, Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai, otherwise known for plugging gaps in their lineups with amazing regularity, were hardly present in the SUV space until the Creta and the Vitara Brezza came along in the last two years. Even Ford, known for its big and brawny SUVs and pickups, hardly gave Toyota a fight until the new Endeavour started threatening Fortuner’s supremacy last year. But, things were back to square one when Toyota unleashed the all-new Fortuner in response.

From the monocoque CR-V and Santa Fe, both of which are globally successful models, to the body-on-frame Pajero Sport, a hardcore SUV with a rich legacy to boot, competitors have come in all types and forms. All they managed to do is sink without a trace. Such is Toyota’s brand pull and reliability that many potential premium SUV buyers aren’t even willing to walk into other brand’s showrooms, let alone look at their offerings and take a test drive. The current Ford Endeavour, an arguably better product than the Fortuner in most aspects, sells one third of the latter and that’s on a good month. That says a lot about the sheer dominance of Toyota in this segment.

Strong brand recognition, bold and muscular styling, high ground clearance, ability to outlive their owners, legendary reliability, incredible resale value and low cost of maintenance - the Toyota Fortuner ticked every box in the list and some more. In its latest form, add feature-loaded interiors to the repertoire and you know why the Fortuner will continue to be a best-seller.

Of the 18,242 premium SUVs Indians bought in 2016, 9,524 were Fortuners. That’s a 52% share of the lucrative premium SUV segment that’s known for fat profit margins. This is despite Toyota running out of vehicles for a few weeks when the model change was happening in November, a period that coincided with Endeavour hitting an all-time high on the back of the launch of the new-generation model.

Yes, Ford has finally managed to end Toyota’s monopoly in the segment but is it enough to put Toyota under pressure? Nope, not at current levels at least. Fortuner’s reign at the top looks all set to continue!