20170720

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!

20170719

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!

20170717

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!

20170714

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!

20170711

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.