BMW and Audi drive in their convertibles

Not content with competing head-on in the luxury segment with their mainstream models, the popular German trio of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are also joining the party of the super-rich populace with their range of ultra luxury models. If you remember, Daimler launched the facelifted Maybach and Audi took the wraps off the R8 V10 supercar in the not too distant past.

So, when both BMW and Audi launched their top-end roadsters in India on exactly the same date, the 25th of March 2011, they were just trying to spoil each other's party and divert the attention of the media and the public. Now, that's competition at its absolute best. 

BMW launched the 6 Series convertible in a snazzy event held in Udaipur, the City of Palaces. Powered by a V8 engine that churns out over 400 HP, the 6 Series is both fast and seductive. Being a brand-new model in BMW's line-up and coming here close on the heels of its international launch, the 6 Series convertible is priced at 95 Lakh Rupees. I guess its only a matter of time before BMW expands the 6 Series lineup with the Coupe and the 'M' variants.

Audi, on the other hand, launched the R8 Spyder in Mumbai with an ex-showroom price of Rs 1.45 Crore. This is already the third variant of the car to be offered in India after the R8 V8 and the R8 V10 hardtops. Powered by a V10 engine sourced from Lamborghini, the R8 Spyder churns out over 500 HP to literally bowl us off our feet with its acceleration and speed.

Both these cars, with their gorgeous looks, monstrous power, insane speed, ultra luxurious interiors, open-top fun and a hefty price tag have just added to the miseries of the super-rich, who are already spoilt for choices.

Pics Source: Team-BHP (www.team-bhp.com)


2011 F1 season all set to go

The typical lazy Sunday evenings are not going to be the same anymore. It’s time to fasten the seatbelts and get ready for some adrenaline-pumping action. Yes, after the cancellation of Bahrain Grand Prix, the 2011 Formula 1 season is all set to begin in Melbourne this weekend, with all the happiness and disappointments of the previous season still lingering fresh in the minds of F1 fans across the world. 

Whats more, with the inaugural Indian Grand Prix scheduled on Oct-30-2011, we could even get to catch some action live from Delhi. With Force India among the competing teams and Narain Karthikeyan back in F1 with Hispania Racing, we Indians have all the more reasons to cheer.

An unprecedented 5 World Champions would be lining up on the grid this year in the form of Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and the defending champion Sebastian Vettel. Between them, these drivers have won 12 titles, an amazing 7 of them going to Schumacher, 2 to Alonso and 1 each to the other three. Add to them front-runners like Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg and you know that this is going to be no ordinary season.

The 2010 season was so extraordinary with so many twists and turns in the course of the championship that ended with a dramatic climax which stunned and shocked the audience in equal measure. An amazing comeback in the final few races of the season, especially in the season-ending Abu Dhabi saw Sebastian Vettel become the sport’s youngest ever world champion, while an extremely rare flawed strategy by the Ferrari team made sure that Fernando Alonso lost the championship by a whisker.

If this season is even half as dramatic as the last one, we are in for a treat. And, it promises to be more than that. While all the drivers would make sure that intra-team and inter-team rivalry is at its highest, the new-for-2011 quickly-degrading Pirelli tires, the adjustable rear wings and the return of KERS are sure to make things more interesting for us and a bit messy for the drivers. I just can't wait for it all to begin.

Not to forget that Robert Kubica, the highly rated Renault driver who was involved in a horrific crash at a rally event a couple of months back, is recovering quicker than expected. Once back, he is sure to spice things up even more.


BMW 3 Series without badges spotted in Chennai

The onslaught from Bavaria is showing no signs of slowing down. Seemingly not content with taking over the leadership of the Indian luxury segment, BMW is wasting no time in getting it's latest models and versions to India.

I happened to see this 3 Series sedan in Chennai last week, where I guess it was being tested by BMW. Though the car looks perfectly stock and like any other 3 Series out on the road, the absence of badges anywhere in the car coupled with the test number plates make it look a little suspicious.

It could be an already existing variant in India in which case this post goes totally invalid. But, it could also very well be a new variant being tested with badges removed to avoid early flutters. If so, what could it be? In India, the 3 Series sedan is currently being offered with 3 engine options - 2 petrols (320i, 330i) and 1 diesel (320d).

Scanning through BMW's international lineup which includes many engine variants with different power outputs, I would place my bet on the 330d. India being a predominantly diesel market, launching a more powerful diesel variant would be the most logical thing for BMW, if it decides to launch a new variant of the 3 Series.

Let's keep our fingers crossed. By the way, don't miss out the all-new BMW 6 Series, which is scheduled for launch in India later this month.


Maruti-Suzuki rolls out 10 Millionth Car

Dominating a market when there are no real competitors to boast of is one thing. But to do that amidst mounting pressure and challenges from competitors breathing down the neck is a completely different thing altogether. Yes, come what may, Maruti-Suzuki has proved wrong all the naysayers, who predicted the decline of the company when all the global majors started setting up their shops in India.

Armed with a lineup of 15 models, Maruti-Suzuki still holds a market share of more than 50% in the burgeoning Indian car market. To put things in perspective, the Alto alone sells more every month than all the models of Hyundai, Maruti’s closest competitor in India, combined together. Now, that is dominance at its absolute best. Maruti’s dominance is not restricted to volumes alone, as the company has been voted No.1 in Customer Satisfaction for years and years together.

In its journey riddled with milestones all the way, Maruti-Suzuki has crossed yet another landmark. The company, on 15-March-2011, rolled out its 10 Millionth Car, becoming the first ever Indian company, if you can call it so, to achieve this feat. A blue colored Wagon-R did the honors for the company. With this, Maruti-Suzuki joins an elite few globally who have achieved this feat earlier including Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors.

With Japan reeling in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, Maruti-Suzuki has rightly chosen not to celebrate this event. Any which way it is, hats off to Maruti-Suzuki! They have really come a long, long way from launching the diminutive 800 in India more than 25 years back. There is a saying “As the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. Going ahead is definitely getting tougher for Maruti. Let’s see how tough Maruti gets to get going.


Driven #4: Hyundai i10 Blue

When the i10 made its global debut in 2007, it quickly managed to establish Hyundai as a mainstream competitor in the mini-car segment, becoming one of Hyundai’s largest selling models in India, Europe and elsewhere. After 3 years and approximately more than 750000 cars on road, Hyundai decided it’s time to give the i10 a mid-cycle face-lift, with few minor tweaks to its powertrain as well. Recently, I got to drive the i10 Blue, which went on sale recently in UK and select European markets. If you don’t know already, ‘Blue Drive’ denotes the greener variants of all Hyundai models. Though it’s made in Chennai, this particular variant of i10 is not destined for India anytime soon.

Internationally, Hyundai has successfully launched its latest design language, tastefully named ‘Fluidic Sculpture’. As part of it, the i10 now comes with an all-new front end, with the hexagonal corporate grille lending a touch of aggression to the car. There are minimal changes to the profile with body colored rub-strips and mirrors with integrated indicators being the only changes. The rear gets a revised bumper with built-in reflectors and new lenses for the taillights. Overall, Hyundai has managed to make the i10 look a bit more upmarket by incorporating its ‘family’ look. If you liked the cute and rounded looks of the previous i10, you will be disappointed with this redesign though.

One of the i10’s major selling points, be it in Europe or in India, was the quality of its interiors and the long list of standard features. Gladly, those virtues still remain, with the overall quality, fit and finish and features on offer absolutely unmatchable for the price you pay. Unlike in India, the i10 is very competitively priced in Europe as Hyundai still doesn’t have the brand image of a Ford, Volkswagen or Fiat there.

While the i10 simply crushes the competition in India equipped with features not available on cars a segment or two higher, the case in Europe is not hugely dissimilar. Depending on the market and variant, the i10 comes with features like ABS, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), dual air bags, Bluetooth connectivity, gearshift indicator, steering mounted audio controls, USB/Aux input, heated front seats and mirrors, height and tilt adjustable steering, sunroof, parking sensors, etc. many of which are payable extras in other models. Also, unlike India, where the car comes with dark grey and beige interiors, the European models get an all-black treatment with an alloy silver finish in the center console.

The biggest change in the new i10 is actually under the hood. In India, the face-lifted i10 comes with upgraded 1.1L and 1.2L engines, with the latter even coming with a segment-first Variable Timing Valve Train (VTVT) technology. In Europe though, depending on the market, this new 1.0L 3 cylinder engine either replaces the 1.1L or is offered as a third engine option. Developed as part of the ‘Blue Drive’ family, this engine, apart from getting the stop-start system (Intelligent Stop & Go in Hyundai’s terms), has a host of other features like an Alternator Management System, low rolling resistance tires and a gearshift indicator, all aimed at improving the fuel efficiency and reducing the emissions.

Though the car is quite peppy and responsive inside city, when compared to the 4 cylinder 1.2L engine variant, the i10 Blue is less powerful, a little less refined, emits less harmful gases and consumes less fuel. In fact, with CO2 emissions of just 99 g/km, the i10 is now the cheapest 5 seater on sale in UK to be exempted from paying the London Congestion Charges. Add to it the good mileage figures and the i10 Blue makes excellent sense as a city car.

As it has always been, the i10 is extremely good to drive in traffic, the nimble handling, the nicely spaced gear ratios and small dimensions helping it to easily navigate the city landscape. Also aiding this is the stop-start system which worked seamlessly and turned the engine off when you come to a stop and engage neutral. A green light glows in the instrument cluster denoting this. Press the clutch and the engine rumbles back to life again.

Once we get used to this stop-start system, I swear that most of us just can’t stop thinking about its huge potential and benefits in India, the crowded and polluted cities perfectly suited for this technology. And, before you start cursing Hyundai for not introducing this in India, just look at its prices. Despite being less powerful, the i10 Blue is now costlier than the 1.2L version with similar features. Frankly, very few people in a cost-conscious market like ours would pay more and get less, even if that means making our planet earth a little cleaner.

* Engine Type: SOHC 12 Valve
* No of Cylinders: 3
* Displacement: 998 cc
* Max Power: 68 BHP @ 6200 rpm
* Max Torque: 95 Nm @ 3500 rpm
* Transmission Type: 5 Speed MT
* Tyres: 155/70 R13
* Brakes: Ventilated Disc (Front) / Drum (Rear)

There is no denying the fact that the i10 Blue would be an excellent addition to an already exhaustive line-up that straddles two segments with prices ranging from 3.75 Lacs to well over 6 Lacs. But at its current retail prices, the car would venture dangerously deep into the mid-size sedan segment in India. The i10 Blue would thus end up as a hugely practical car at a slightly impractical price.


Hyundai i45 spotted testing in NH4

Thanks to a friend of mine, what you see here is Hyundai’s yet-to-be-launched car in the D segment. Badged as Sonata in most international markets and strategically renamed i45 in certain markets including India, the model has been a runaway success for Hyundai world-wide. With sales of over 200,000 units in North America last year, this sixth-generation Sonata is giving the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sleepless nights with its combination of superb styling, feature-rich interiors, advanced technology and multiple variants (Inline 4, Hybrid and Turbo).

In India, the i45 will be competing with models like Honda Accord, Skoda Superb, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat, the former two being the most successful. But, unlike USA and rest of the world, where the Sonata is comfortably cruising ahead of its rivals, the case in India is a little different. Due to Hyundai’s relative lack of brand image in the luxury segment, none of its models above 10 Lac Rupees, except the initial Sonata and the most recent Santa Fe, have succeeded in our country.

Having said that, if one model could change that perception and build up the image of Hyundai in India, it has to be this. Just look at the pictures to know why. The i45 has one of the finest forms yet of ‘Fluidic Sculpture’, Hyundai’s new design philosophy. Though the front end with its big chrome grille and large wraparound headlights looks a bit overdone, the profile and the rear of the car are superbly designed. Undoubtedly, when launched, the i45 would be the best-looking car in its segment with terrific road presence.

Knowing Hyundai, we can safely assume the interiors to be feature-packed and made of very high quality. Like other markets, the car is expected to come with a 2.4 litre direct injected gasoline engine (GDI) producing around 200 PS, which would make it powerful yet fuel-efficient. The absence of a diesel engine may be a disadvantage in India, given the number of Hyundai CRDi loyalists here. Overall, the i45 has all the ingredients to succeed in India purely on its merit. And if it doesn’t, it would not be Hyundai’s fault at all, but very much ours.

2011 Geneva - Italia stordisce pubblico

There are some things in life which are beyond superlatives. For instance, Ferrari and Lamborghini are such things when it comes to cars. When you set out to describe them, you tend to run out of words very soon. Only in this case, I have run out of words even before I have started. Be it in a rough open road or a polished showroom floor, these brands have traditionally left onlookers spellbound. So, when both Ferrari and Lamborghini stunned the audience at the recent 2011 Geneva Motor Show, it was just a case of history repeating itself.
The countdown for the global premiere of Lamborghini’s latest V12 supercar – the Aventador, started way back. Slated to replace the super-successful Murcielago and follow in the footsteps of iconic models like Miura, Countach and Diablo, the Aventador soon became the car to watch out for, both for the critics and the super-rich enthusiasts. While the pre-launch spy shots gave some hints about the aggressive design of the car, no one would have expected it to be this aggressive. At least, I didn’t. The Aventador seems to have been inspired by the stunning looking Reventon. The classic wedge shaped profile, the sharp muscular cuts and the stunningly beautiful taillight clusters make the Aventador look jaw-droppingly gorgeous. To say that it is one of the best looking cars in the world right now would not be an exaggeration at all. With 700 horsepower driving its 4 wheels, the Aventador also has the go to match its freaking awesome show.

With the Raging Bull doing what it did, can the Prancing Horse, it’s neighbor and nemesis be far behind? Like Lamborghini, Ferrari too shocked the audience, but unlike Lamborghini, it was not all too rosy at the Ferrari stand. While the two most recent Ferraris - the California and 458 Italia were pleasing to most eyes, the FF, which was unveiled in the show, would surely go down as the only Ferrari in recent history to have split opinions to such an extent. While some loved the FF, there surely were some who hated to call it a Ferrari. The front end of the FF is typical Ferrari with cues from both its previous models lending it a menacing look. It’s the rear end where the designers have lost the plot. Come on, who on earth can digest a shooting brake style rear end on a Ferrari? Having said that, the design starts growing on you after some time. Being a Ferrari, the 4 wheel drive FF grand tourer is sure to sell extremely well in the market with the added practicality of a 4 seater.

Check out the pictures of both the latest supercars and feast your eyes for all its worth. There are fewer things in life which are more pleasing to do than sitting and staring at brand-new Italian supercars, even if they are in a small LCD screen on your desk.


2011 Geneva - Tata unveils Pixel Concept

Sharing floor space and hogging the limelight amidst global premieres from brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche at the 81st International Auto Show in Geneva, was India’s largest automaker Tata, which unveiled its vision of a future city car in Europe, the Pixel Concept. Speaking on the occasion, Carl-Peter Forster, MD and CEO of Tata Motors, said “Tata Motors holds true to its belief that there is an opportunity in Europe for a city car, which is optimal in space, maneuverability and environment-friendliness. The Tata Pixel is a reflection of Tata Motor's idea of what such a car should be.”

Though it has been derived from the Nano, the cheapest car in the world, the Pixel looks nothing like it. Compared with its probable competitors like Smart Fortwo and Toyota iQ, the Pixel looks better and would surely turn more heads than either of them. The fact that Pixel can accommodate four adults in comfort unlike any of its competitors is an added bonus.

From the front, the similarity in design cues with the Nano is clearly evident. The headlamps in particular looks remarkably similar but the LED clusters and the huge windscreen make sure that the car looks much more upmarket than it actually is. In profile, the unusually large glasshouse and the uniquely shaped scissor doors look elegant. From the rear though, the Pixel looks stunning with those beautifully shaped taillight clusters with integrated LEDs. If this car makes it to production as such, Tata can undoubtedly claim to be having one of the best looking compact cars in the world.

The Pixel also has some advanced technology beneath its alluring looks. The Zero-Turn toroidal traction drive Infinitely Variable Transmission (IVT) assists rotation of the outer rear wheel forwards and the inner rear wheel backwards while the front wheels turn at acute angles. As a result, the car has a turning radius of just 2.6 meters, thus enabling easy maneuverability and parking inside the city. The scissor doors have been designed to open skywards allowing easy entry and exit for passengers of both rows even in the tightest of places. Moreover, key functions of the car would be controlled by the driver’s smart phone through ‘My Tata Connect’, the first-ever integrated human-machine interface concept from Tata.

With a 1.2L three cylinder turbocharged diesel engine powering the rear wheels, low rolling resistance tires, stop start technology and regenerative braking, we can safely assume the Pixel to bring in lively performance, good fuel efficiency and lesser CO2 emissions to meet the strict European standards.

Hats off, Tata! Just like you did with the Nano, you have again made the Indian flag fly high at Geneva. Please don’t let the Pixel go into the drain just like the Magna, Aria, Prima and many of your other earlier concepts. Give it a shot at the Indian market too and I am sure you will be rewarded for it!