Honda J(g)etting closer to reality

Thirteen years after the initial sketches were released, eight years after a slew of technical papers on its innovations were published, seven years after its first flight, four years after garnering an astounding 100 orders within three days of going on sale, the Honda Jet program is rapidly moving towards its final phase of development. Honda Aircraft Company, Inc. released an update of its Honda Jet program, the auto major's first venture into aviation, at the recent 2010 National Business Aviation Association convention.

Honda has just confirmed that Ground Function testing and Static Stress testing is in progress in the first two conforming air crafts while the assembly of the third conforming aircraft has commenced. Also released in the gathering were the final white on gray production paint scheme, cockpit controls and cabin design. Under Mr.Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft Company's President and CEO, who also apparently penned the initial sketches of the Honda Jet, the aircraft is undergoing all sorts of tests to meet and beat the laws of physics.

The stand-out feature of the Honda Jet is obviously the first-of-its-kind, never-before-used "Over-the-wing" engine mount configuration. Honda claims that this design has already been validated and that it dramatically improves aircraft performance and fuel efficiency by reducing the aerodynamic drag significantly. Powering the Honda Jet are two highly fuel-efficient GE Honda HF120 turbofan jet engines. The cream and beige interiors are plush, comfy, spacious and exudes a sense of class.

Honda will start delivering the $4.5 million Jets to its 100 plus customers beginning from third quarter of 2012. The stylish and sporty looking Jet is also expected to combine dynamic performance together with superior fuel efficiency, a traditional Honda trait which the company seems to have lost going by its recent launches in automobiles. So, the next time you wish to have fun in a Honda, don't just take to the roads, try taking to the skies too.


Hyundai drives in the Santa Fe to India

Another day, and yet another crossover (SUV for many) has been launched in the Indian market. Following the launch of Tata Aria on October-11, Hyundai launched its much-awaited and much-delayed Santa Fe on October-13. While Tata is venturing into that price segment for the first time with a brand-new model in a brand-new platform with no heritage to speak of, Hyundai in India has already tried and burnt their fingers, not once, but twice and is hoping to be third time lucky with the Santa Fe, a model which can boast of a 10 year history and 2 million customers across the globe. To say that the Santa Fe is one of Hyundai’s most successful nameplates ever would be an understatement.

So, unlike the Terracan and Tucson, what is new in the Santa Fe that makes Hyundai so confident of success in the crowded SUV space where Toyota Fortuner reigns supreme and other models like Honda CR-V, Ford Endeavour, Chevrolet Captiva, Mitsubishi Pajero and Outlander are also doing modest numbers? The Santa Fe’s trump card undoubtedly would be the ‘popularized-by-Hyundai’ term - CRDi. The 2.2L common rail engine, with a maximum power of 194 bhp @ 4000 rpm and a torque of 42.9 kgm @ 1800~2500 rpm is the most powerful amongst all its rivals, the Fortuner included. It has also managed a surprising 14.66 kmpl in ARAI trials, though how much of it will be delivered on road still remains to be seen.

The Santa Fe also has the show to match its go. The clean, rounded lines are a hit the world over and the Santa Fe comes across as a stylish yet subtle vehicle, similar to the CR-V and Captiva. Those who prefer the aggressive, in-your-face looks of the Fortuner and Endeavour would not like the Santa Fe, though. The massive 18-inch alloys, twin exhausts and rear spoiler adds to the sporty nature of the vehicle.

When it comes to occupant’s safety, the Santa Fe simply crushes the competition. Armed with Electronic Stability Control, which combines the functions of ABS, EBD and TCS, six airbags (driver, passenger, side and curtain) and roll-over sensors, the Santa Fe has been awarded a 5 star safety rating by NCAP, quite unmatched by many of its rivals. All the other regular goodies to be found on a vehicle at this price point and some more are available as standard in the Santa Fe. The two versions, 2WD and 4WD are priced at approximately Rs 21 and 23 lakhs, making it even more expensive than the Fortuner. Let’s see if Hyundai, with its small car maker image manages to hit the jackpot this time around.


Tata launches Aria, finally

After taking what seemed to be an infinite time after its public unveiling at the 2010 Delhi Auto Expo in January, Tata Motors finally launched the much awaited Aria in the Indian market on October-11-2010. This launch holds more significance as the Aria is not only the costliest Tata yet, but also the most expensive and most technologically advanced car ever launched by an Indian manufacturer. Naturally, apart from the top honchos at Tata Motors, both the media and the public are going gaga over the Aria.
What strikes you first when you see the Aria is its size. Simply put, the Aria is huge and the pictures dont do enough justice to the actual dimensions of the vehicle. The front end with its stacked double barreled crystal headlamps and chrome-lined signature Tata grille endows the Aria with terrific street presence. The profile, with chrome side strips and huge 17 inch alloy wheels give you some hints about the size of the vehicle while the D-Pillar, with more than a passing resemblance to the Honda CR-V, is a cheeky design element. Tata's increasingly repetitive but still not boring christmas-tree taillamps and chrome-tipped dual exhausts along with the chrome license plate garnish with 'Tata' embossed in it looks classy.

Step into the Aria and therein lies the biggest surprise. When I had a close brush with one of the pre-launch Arias being tested in Pune a few months back, I mentioned that the interiors would, by far, be the best from Tata and the initial media reviews and test drives proves the point. Glance through the feature list and you will be shocked and surprised with a kind of "Is this a Tata?" feeling. The All Wheel Drive crossover comes with a host of features like Anti lock Braking System with Electronic Brake force Distribution, Traction Control System with Electronic Stability Program, six Airbags (driver, passenger, side and curtain), all four disc brakes, in-built navigation system with preloaded maps of most Indian cities, rain-sensing automatic wipers, darkness-sensing automatic headlamps, puddle lamps, individual ac vents for all three rows, power mirrors, dual HVAC with climate control, rear wipers that automatically switches on when reversing in rain and reverse parking sensors. Phew, and the list doesn't end there.

If that's not surprising enough for you, the next statement surely will. The Aria is priced between 13 and 16 lac rupees, making it much more expensive than the Toyota Innova and pitting it directly with cars like Skoda Laura. Overall, the Aria has no reason to not succeed with the only unanswered question being Tata's reliability and initial glitches like they faced with the Indica and Nano. Here's wishing Tata for the Aria's success because it literally, has taken Indian Cars to the next level!


Aston Martin Cygnet confirmed for production

The living conditions on Earth are getting worse with each passing day, the two prime reasons being Pollution and Congestion. No country is left behind in the race to fight against these and no major city is an exception for the atrocities that result from them. In this scenario, the mere existence of some of the insanely expensive automobiles, which cater to the needs of the super-rich and super-fast, ala the Bugattis, Rolls-Royces and the like is being questioned and threatened.
How about a cool solution to escape from all these unwanted attention with a tiny luxo mobile to be used within the confines of the city? Aston-Martin seems to have done just that with its Cygnet, which is derived from, hold your breath, ‘Toyota iQ’. With it’s tiny footprint, low emissions, high fuel economy and ultra luxurious interiors, the Cygnet, when launched, will try to woo clientele even in the most congested of cities without the fear of any threat from environmentalists, all this without inflicting any damage to the brand’s cachet.

When the Cygnet was shown in concept form, it evoked contrasting reception from the audience. While some were stunned with the idea of an ultra-luxury city car from Aston, pure brand loyalists shunned away from the model calling it a disgrace to the brand which is traditionally known for exhilarating performance in its models. Any which way it is, Aston-Martin has just confirmed that the production of Cygnet will commence next year at the company’s Gaydon headquarters.

In its press release, Aston-Martin aptly stated “Cygnet expresses a simple but fundamental idea: in the modern city, scale equates to speed and freedom. At just three metres long, the Cygnet gives the driver a new dimension of freedom, able to slot into gaps in traffic, exploit the smallest parking spaces, consume the least fuel and emit the lowest emissions, all while delivering exceptional levels of quality and comfort.”

The idea and concept is all cool but how about the execution? Going by the looks of it, the Cygnet is not a patch on the stunners that Aston has crafted like Vantage and Rapide. The signature grille and boomerang taillights seem force-fitted in the Cygnet but lend it an unmistakable Aston-Martin look. There are no standout design features as you would expect in an Aston and from certain angles it looks a little disproportioned too. The pricing and other specifications are yet to be released. Nonetheless, the Cygnet is sure to be a trend-setter and only time will tell whether it sets a precedent for ‘How to’ or ‘How not to’.


The ill-F(I)ATed Company

It hurts and quite badly too, when something that you have painstakingly developed and perfected over the years is not fetching you the desired benefits. It kills, when your followers are reaping the benefits for the same. Case in point being Fiat, the Italian automaker, whose streak of bad luck in India seems to be never-ending. How else on earth then, can a company, with two brilliant class-leading models in the form of Grande Punto and Linea and an engine which saved two other companies, post a decline in sales in a booming market?

Widely nicknamed as “India’s National Engine” by the auto enthusiasts, Fiat’s now-famous 1.3L Multi-Jet Diesel (MJD) was actually designed to power the above two cars, among other models in the international Fiat stable. While Tata, with it’s Indica Vista and Indigo Manza and Maruti-Suzuki, with it’s Swift, Dzire and Ritz are laughing all the way to the bank because of this very engine doing excellent duty under the hood of those vehicles, Fiat is just trundling along in India posting modest numbers. Having developed the engine, Fiat doesn’t deserve to fare so poorly in our country, given the fact that the 1.3L MJD engine has now attained a cult status. Worse even, sales are declining month-on-month even with newer variants like Punto 90HP and Linea T-Jet being added to the market.

If two brand-new models, a gem of a diesel engine and even partnership with Tata, who knows the hearts and minds of Indians, cannot do the trick for Fiat, I seriously doubt what else will. I am not even mentioning about the “Design” as both the Punto and the Linea are undoubtedly the best-looking cars in their respective segments and deserve to sell more just for their stunning looks. Though the interiors are not on par with the segment leaders and the service still sucks, even with Tata taking them into their fold, Fiat has still done enough to command more respect and sales.

But, the point is, is anyone even ready to listen to Fiat? I am afraid time is running out for Fiat in India and they don’t seem to have many tricks up their sleeve to bounce back. Even Fiat’s top honchos would now be scratching their heads as to what needs to be done to be back on track in India. Seriously, they can hardly afford to loose the already almost non-existent market share. On the contrary, it would be a sin for us Indians to loose a brilliant brand like 'Fiat' from the market either.


Toyota Etios spotted testing in Chennai

If there is ever a brand in India for which people would pay money upfront with closed eyes, then Toyota would surely be in the top of that list. With it's no-nonsense design, superb quality and bullet-proof reliability, Toyota has earned quite a reputation for itself which, even other established brands find tough to compete with. Ask none other than Honda, the brand which enjoys an equally good image in India, about it's Civic and CR-V. Both these models, though extremely competent in their respective segments, have been massacred by Toyota's Corolla and Fortuner respectively. Here is proof that Toyota is inching closer towards it's next target in India.

With barely a couple of months left for it's commercial launch, the Toyota Etios sedan has been spotted undergoing tests in Chennai city. After it's global premiere at the 2010 Auto Expo, the test mules of Etios twins, the hatchback and sedan, were quite frenquently spotted in Bangalore and it's suburbs. But this may be the first time it's seen here, thanks to a friend who spotted, snapped and promptly mailed me the picture with a tag-line 'Am not sure what car this is, but I guess it may be the Etios'. Now I know how it helps to have friends who are also auto-freaks.

Though Toyota entered India more than a decade back with the Qualis, the Japanese auto-maker has, quite unusually, taken a very long time to get into the crux of the Indian automotive market - the Small Cars. But, as they say, it's better late than never. Just like all other Toyota models launched in India, the Etios doesn't break any new grounds in design department. Both the hatchback and the sedan variants have been so conventionally designed that it hardly manages to stun the onlookers. But again, just like all it's other models, Toyota will be hoping that the best-in-class interior quality and rock-solid reliability will pull in customers in hordes. Remember the Qualis, which was heavily criticized initially for it's dull design, but later went on to become the benchmark in it's segment for both sales and quality.

With the Corolla, Innova and Fortuner leading their respective segment in sales, will the Etios twins repeat the magic for Toyota? Will it make the Swift, Dzire, City, Polo and Vento run for cover? Will Toyota, at last become a volume player in India? Wait for a couple of months to know the answers.


Mahindra storms into bikes with 300cc Mojo and 110cc Stallio

At last, here comes a bike, which is truly Indian, is powerful, is sporty and above all, to an extent, is sensibly priced. What the Bajaj's and TVS’s were not able to do is done by the relatively new-entrant in the two-wheeler market, the Mahindra's. Mahindra scripts a new chapter in the history of Indian motorcycling with it’s new launch, the “Mojo”. The wraps were officially taken off the bike by the Vice-Chairman of Mahindra Group, Mr. Anand Mahindra.

What immediately strikes you on seeing the bike are the retro twin circular headlamps and the "shiny yellow" coated twin frame tubes. Except for these two completely controversial 'love-it or hate-it' design themes, the rest of the bike looks to be good but the final verdict on design can be given only if a few more shots from different angles are released or if it's seen in the flesh. Details like 320mm petal discs up front, dual exhausts, inverted front shocks, gas charged mono shocks at the rear and the huge 17 inch wheels with 150/60 tires at the rear will make sure that the Mojo turns heads when being driven on road.

More impressive are the technical specifications of the bike – 292 cc, four-stroke, four-valve, double overhead cam, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder engine controlled by electronic fuel injection, churning out 25.8 bhp of power and 24 Nm of torque. I guess, with the above specs, the Mojo will take the title of "The Fastest Indian" from the erstwhile Bajaj Pulsar 220 DTS-i. Less impressive is the price, though. At Rs 1.75 lakh, it’s priced a wee-bit higher than what was expected and you would be able to lay your hands on the gorgeous Royal-Enfield Classic 500 for a lot less money.

But what Mahindra has done is just set the precedent, which will make Bajaj and TVS come out with their own higher capacity sports bikes. And if they manage to do in the 300cc segment what they did with the Pulsar and Apache in the 150cc segment, then its we the customer who wins the battle and this could end up being the next big thing for the Indian motorcycle industry.

And let's not forget, Mahindra also launched a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of 110cc commuter bike, the 'Stallio' at the event, which would make Mahindra a volume player in the bike segment and for which Aamir Khan would be the brand ambassador.


Hyundai tunes the i20 with 'Brabus'

“Brabus”, the German firm eternally known for tuning high-performance, luxurious models from Mercedes-Benz has just did the unexpected. The tuning house has teamed up with, hold your breath, “Hyundai” to come out with this  at the 2010 Paris Motor Show - The i20 Sport. The i20, launched at the 2008 Paris Motor Show is one of Hyundai’s most successful models in Europe ever.

The i20 Sport is all set to be produced in the first half of 2011 as a limited edition model in both 3-door and 5-door versions. The engine and other technical specifications of the car have not been released yet. But the pictures are out for all of us to enjoy.

The car looks stunning with its subtle yet sporty design theme in the form of smoked head and taillights, mesh grille, LED running lights, skirts, spoilers and wide, low-pro Yokohama tires. The rear, especially the dual exhausts look classy yet understated. The interiors though, scream louder with bright orange and black colored theme while the bits like drilled aluminium pedals, LCD screen on center console, leather stitched upholstery and sporty Recaro seats are welcome additions.

Let's hope that Hyundai gives this car enough power and great handling to do justice to the killer looks imparted to it by Brabus. And oh, how I wish this model is launched in India, with our country being one of the two locations where this car will be produced.