Comparo #1: Tata Marcopolo vs AL Viking

Automobiles are a constantly evolving species. In no other species of machines are the technological advancements so constantly viewed by the public as in case of automobiles. India is no exception in the above statement and though it took a little while to catch up with the rest of the world, the Indian passenger car industry is now up there, offering the best money and technology can offer. While this has been the case of cars, the case of Commercial Vehicles in India has nothing to write home about. It has simply not kept pace with the international standards in this very price-sensitive market, more so in this segment. Volvo changed it all in the Public Transport segment making people realize the advancements and creature comforts that the modern day buses have in other countries. Since then, the buses in our country have been trying hard to match the standards set by Volvo and in the process, the entire industry has seen a remarkable turnaround. Even the Government run public transport organizations are not left alone in this business with the fear of being smoked by the private competitors.

Thanks to all these, the buses in Indian cities, especially metros now present a much better picture and not the same old sad story as, say a decade back. The fleet is being regularly revamped, new buses are being introduced in much higher frequencies, they are no longer being confined to only metros and big cities and above all, a healthy competition is brewing up between the largest local manufacturers, Tata and Ashok Leyland. Both the manufacturers are going all out in modernizing their existing models and platforms and hurrying up new launches like never before. In addition to that, both are making inroads into what has been traditionally the other manufacturer's stronghold. The increasing number of Ashok Leylands in Delhi and the ever-multiplying number of Marcopolos criss-crossing Chennai bear testimony to that. While every new launch in passenger cars or bikes catch the attention of the general public, especially today's young brigade, they tend to turn a blind eye when it comes to public transport buses, the latest misses being the Viking series and the Maropolo series from Ashok Leyland and Tata respectively. Being the ever-enthusiastic auto-freak that I am, these new buses never missed my eyes or my lenses.

Exterior Design:
The Tata Marcopolo is built in a spanking new facility in Karnataka while the Viking series has been built by many coach builders like Prakash, Veera, Irizar-TVS and the like with Ashok Leyland providing them the bare chassis and the design factors. Seeing them on atleast a couple of dozens of instances everyday, Tata Marcopolo stands out with the most modern design of the two. When viewed head-on, the Viking tends to pose some threat to the Marcopolo with it's modern multifocal headlamps lending a touch of class and modernness to an otherwise traditional design. The Marcopolo is also quite a looker with it's Volvo-inspired headlamp design. Where the Tata trounces the Viking is in the safety aspect with it's two huge wiper blades covering the entire windshield compared to the paltry single blade in the Viking, hardly enough to cover the driver's side of the huge windshield. The story from the rear is a sloppy one-sided affair with the Viking coming with a decade-old but trustworthy design. The Marcopolo exudes a level of modernness and follows the same design theme like the front with circular-themed tailights, plastic shrouds for the lights and body-colored plastic bumpers.

The Marcopolo scores in the interior design department as well with well-appointed, spacious seats and good level of standard features, the most notable among them being the "Emergency Stop" button in each of the vertical rods that supports standing passengers. The ergonomics around the driver's seat is also impeccable with everything falling nicely to hand and easy to operate. The only noticeable grudge is the lever for holding the windows open, which is very old-school and could have been easily replaced with something much better. The Viking though comes in a tried and tested, less-modern, interior design that does not disappoint both the drivers and the common public. The only grouse is the uneven height of the seats directly above the rear wheels thus reducing the space available for the passengers in the next seats. There is a lost of weight reduction in the Marcopolo with Tata preferring plastic over sheet-metal in many places. Though it serves as a great advantage in the mileage aspect, the long-term reliability of those parts are still unknown.

The Ride:
From what I experienced, the Viking seems to have a better pick-up both when starting from a standstill and while climbing inclines, though this may also be completely because of the driving skills of the respective drivers involved. But, I have noticed it on more than a couple of occasions. Also, the Viking's engine  seems to burn fuel and combust more efficiently than the Marcopolo as it does not spew smoke out of it's exhausts like Marcopolos do. I have seen old Marcopolos emitting a plume of black smoke in Delhi and Bangalore but I was shocked to see barely weeks-old new Marcopolos doing the same in Chennai. It definitely needs to be given a thought by Tata. The Viking also seems to have better riding comfort as it sails over road undulations with minimum fuss unlike the Marcopolo which strains itself in situations like this, with it's modern frame and construction designed for truly modern roads. The Marcopolo, though is extremely refined and vibration-free unlike the Viking. Particularly impressive was it's refinement at idle, to such an extent that it was difficult for passengers at the rear to make out whether the engine was switched on or not.

As such, the Tata Marcopolo seems to have just edged out the Viking in the initial race going by the feedback of the general public, but only time will tell whether the new Tata will hold it's own against the rock-solid reliability that has endeared the Ashok Leyland Vikings to the traveling public. On a last note, the drivers I spoke to seem to prefer the older and traditional Vikings to the Marcopolos. As they say, it takes time to change perceptions.


Hyundai premieres next-gen Avante/ Elantra in Korea

If you had been following my posts regularly, it would have struck you by now that this is the third consecutive post about the Korean juggernaut Hyundai. And before accusing me of giving undue advantage to this particular manufacturer, tell me one automaker who has had Global Premieres of two of it's bread and butter models in less than a week. Yes, merely days after global unveiling of the next-gen Verna/Accent in China, here comes Hyundai with the global premiere of it's next-gen Avante/Elantra at the Busan Motor Show in Korea. It's as if Hyundai has answered to my question in the previous post.
The current Elantra and it's predecessors achieved global sales successes and raked in the money and volumes for Hyundai but none of them can even be remotely called good-lookers. But I am sure, this new model will shatter that perception to pieces once launched in the market. I would even go far ahead and tell that this new Elantra is the best looking car in it's segment and by far the best looking Hyundai to date. None of the company's models in the past 43 years of it's existence can even come close to this beauty, except maybe the Genesis Coupe. This Elantra takes the company's now-famous Fluidic Sculpture design theme and comes out as the best of the lot wearing it.

The flowing headlamps and taillamps, the hexagonal grille, the character lines in the sides, the bulging wheel arches, the way in which the V-shaped creases in the bonnet merges with the top of the grille, the strong-yet-subtle touches of chrome in the split grille, the coupe-like roofline, the slingshot mirrors with integrated repeaters, all gel so wonderfully together to make this one stunning looking car. I would say that this is the only car which can hold it's own design-wise to the superb Honda Civic which still looks fresh and great, years after it's launch. The one aspect of the new Elantra which seems to be inspired is the way in which the A-Pillar merges with the bonnet - a straight lift from the Civic. Not a bad thing at all.

The interior shots and the engine and transmission specifications are not yet released, but it's expected to come with Hyundai's latest Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) engines and if Hyundai permits, the Turbo too. But do you  really care? I won't, if I were in the market for this type of car. These looks are enough to entice me into buying this one. Already waiting for the next launch from you, Hyundai. Hope, you are listening!