Force Motors SUV spotted testing in Pune

What you see in these spy shots would probably carry the entire hopes and future of  Force Motors in the passenger car segment. Though the company is doing moderately well in the commercial vehicle space, their passenger car lineup is in total shambles. But, this vehicle may change the scenario completely.

This all-important model is believed to be closely based on the Chinese Guangdong Foday Explorer III. But if you are already writing it off, better don’t. The powertrain and drivetrain of the vehicle is touted to be from Daimler and the world-renowned Lotus has worked in getting the handling of the vehicle right. Will Force Motors get the act of mix and match right this time?

At first glance, the vehicle looks like it could indeed carry the burden of the entire company on it's shoulders. It’s so big and massive that it commands an imposing road presence. But if it ends up looking similar to the Chinese SUV that it is based on, the inoffensive but dated design would ensure that it isn't a head-turner on road. Compared to modern rivals, the design sure lacks flair and some curves.

The interiors are sure to be extremely spacious with enough room to accommodate three rows of passengers and their luggage as well. Quality and durability of the interiors would be a big question though. Hopefully, the mechanicals with inputs from stalwarts like Daimler and Lotus should be one positive aspect of this vehicle. But, if Force Motors wants to project this as a luxury SUV as they claim it to be, they really need to spruce up the interiors and the exteriors.


Toyota Etios Liva seen testing in Chennai

Of the many things that makes Toyota special, the most important is their policy of committing less and delivering more. Time and again, they have thrived by following this policy and this recent episode in India is a classic example of that. When the Etios sedan made its debut, there were a flurry of bookings which Toyota was obviously not able to meet. Immediately, the company announced that the scheduled launch of the Etios Liva hatchback would be postponed until the pending orders for the sedan are fulfilled.

Now, that is not something which every company would do. Most of them would just be willing to increase the sales and hence their profits irrespective of the plight of the waiting customers. But that is Toyota for you. Now that the flutter created by the Etios sedan has settled down, it is expected that the Liva would finally be launched by June 2011. As we are nearing the launch dates, it seems that the car is undergoing some final test runs before being put into the market.

A couple of Liva hatchbacks accompanied by an Etios sedan were spotted waiting at a toll gate in the Chennai-Bangalore Highway with their badges masked. It is clear that these are the same cars that have been spotted over the past few months by the automotive media. Indians are traditionally known for their strong penchant towards the Japanese automotive brands, especially Toyota. This coupled with an already strong demand for the Etios sedan could well make the Liva a smash hit in India.

If you can get over the conservative looks of the car and some glaring cost-cutting efforts in the interiors, you just can’t go wrong with the Liva. Just like every other Toyota, its bulletproof reliability, powerful yet fuel-efficient engine and good fit and finish will make the Liva an enticing buy. And just like the sedan, the Liva will be terrific value for money too!


Travelogue #3 - Chennai to Trichy

Tiruchirapalli or 'Trichy' as it is often referred to, is the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu. Located slap bang in the center of the state, Trichy is easily accessible and frequented by travelers all-round the year. If a calm, peaceful place with lots of temples and loads of cultural heritage is what you are looking at for your next weekend trip, then this is the place for you. The city has two prominent landmarks, both of which are extremely popular ancient architectural wonders.

For long, Trichy has been the most conservative and traditional amongst all cities in Tamil Nadu. Just visit the city once and you know why. Almost all the tourist spots in and around Trichy are places of religious interest. Having refused to open up to modern commercialism until a few years back, Trichy has now slowly started accepting modern lifestyle, but without losing an iota of its rich heritage.

Undoubtedly, the pride of Trichy is the Rockfort Temple which has been carved atop an ancient rock. Standing majestically in the heart of the city, this 83m high rock is considered to be one of the oldest in the world dating back to almost 3 billion years ago. The view of Rockfort from the bridge across the river Cauvery is classic vintage beauty. From the top of the temple, you get to enjoy an excellent view of the city.

Towering tall on the other side of the Cauvery is yet another architectural marvel of Trichy, the Srirangam Temple. Nestled in an island between two rivers and dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the main temple tower of Srirangam is touted to be the tallest in South Asia. The temple complex is huge and a whole day is required to explore and enjoy it's beauty. These apart, there are a whole lot of religious places in and around the city to totally engulf you in spirituality.

The city as such is quite small and cheerful, with an old-world charm to it. On most weekends, the narrow yet neatly laid roads there will be deserted inviting you to take out your car or bike and enjoy the drive and the beauty of the city. On weekdays though, the roads in the city get really chaotic and messy.



* Total No of Days: 3 (22.04.2011 - 24.04.2011)
* Vehicle Make & Model: Hyundai Santro Xing

* Odometer Start Reading: 59414 km
* Odometer End Reading: 60166 km 

* Total Distance travelled: 752 km
* Total Quantity of Fuel filled: 52.15 l
* Average Fuel Consumption: 14.42 km/l
* Net Worth of Fuel filled: Rs 3226.44

* Destinations Covered: Trichy
* Route Followed: Chennai-Villupuram-Trichy



Having driven across Tamil Nadu over the past year, I can vouch that the NH45 (Chennai-Trichy Highway) is undoubtedly the best road in the state. Its a pure motoring heaven and you need to experience it to understand what I say. Happy traveling!


All-new Ford Fiesta undergoing final rounds of testing

Though Ford has already unveiled the all-new Fiesta in India, the fact that the car is still not on sale to the public makes this as significant as the spy-shots of other yet-to-be-launched models. Just like they did for the Figo, Ford seems to be doing some final testing in a fleet of all-new Fiestas before putting it in the market. Here is a group of Fiestas spotted in the NH45 (Chennai-Trichy Highway).

The new Fiesta is a head turner no doubt, more so in the unique-to-Ford 'Turquoise Blue' color that was loved so much in the previous Fiesta 1.6S. The trademark trapezoidal grille, the chrome-ringed foglamps, the sweeping headlights that extends well into the front fenders and the tipped-forward profile makes the car look aggressive and sporty. The rear though looks a bit bulbous and heavy because of the way in which the boot is integrated and the small taillights.

The Hyundai Verna has taken this segment by storm with many standard features on offer and Ford seems to be well-prepared with its own set of first-in-segment features for the Fiesta. The cruise control and voice-activated commands are touted to be the highlights of this car. Going by the reviews in the press, the rear passenger space seems to be the only negative aspect of this car compared to the competitors. Like all Fords, the ride and handling is said to be amongst the best in the segment. 

Whatever it is, Ford should bring the Fiesta at the earliest to stop Hyundai from running away with the initial popularity and sales. Wake up Honda! After the Vento and the Verna, the all-new Fiesta will be out soon to spoil your 'City' party further.


EDIT: New Tata Safari spotted testing in Pune (or) Is it Force Motors SUV?

For us auto-enthusiasts, every visit to Pune turns out to be a blessing as we get to see many yet-to-be-launched automobiles doing rounds there. Apart from being an automotive manufacturing hub, the fact that Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), that approves every automobile launched in the country, is located in Pune only helps matters. And I was not disappointed during my recent visit too. On the way back to airport yesterday, I happened to see this fully-masked SUV parked on the roadside in the Kirkee area of the city.

Since our car went past the test-vehicle in a flash, I was not able to observe the minute details. Though the full camouflage and design of the alloys makes its identity a little suspicious, there are reasons why I claim this to be the all-new Safari. The Global SUV (W201) by Mahindra has been steadily losing camouflage of late revealing many of its details while the new SUV by Force Motors looks much bigger and different in the spy shots released. More than everything else, the rear-view mirrors that look very similar to those in the existing Safari gives the strongest hint about its identity.

So, it is safe to assume that this is the all-new Safari, which the media claims would be renamed as Merlin when its finally launched. If it is so, then Tata has got the proportions of the vehicle absolutely perfect and spot-on. I really don’t know whether it’s the angle in which the snap was taken or the car really is so well-proportioned. The existing Safari, with its classic styling and legendary rear seat comfort has attained an iconic status in India and I just hope and wish that Tata would let the legacy continue with the all-new Safari. Oops, the new Merlin or whatever Tata likes to call it.

EDIT: There are quite a lot of claims that this is Force Motor's new SUV and not Tata Safari Merlin. I still have doubts about this being the new SUV from Force Motors. I have already posted some shots of the Force Motors SUV being tested in Pune and it looks quite different and bulky than this one. Anyway, it would be nice if someone can clear this confusion. Thanks!

Hyundai launches all-new Verna in India

It’s not news anymore that Hyundai, along with its sister brand Kia, is on a roll globally. With every new model launch, both the companies are churning out success after success with amazing regularity. But, India has been missing all these high-voltage action since late 2008 when the i20 was launched. Not any more, as here comes the first of a spate of models planned by Hyundai.

With so much pre-launch hype surrounding the car, the all-new Verna ought to be the next most significant launch of Hyundai in India. With consistent top-sellers like i10, i20 and Santro in the hatchback segment doing wonders for the brand, the mid-size sedan segment is the next natural progression for the company to establish its dominance.

What you see here is the weapon that will launch their assault. The new Verna brings the highly-publicized and super-successful ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design theme of Hyundai to India. It’s these two magical words that have transformed the company’s models from being dull and sober to stunning and swanky. And the Verna is no exception - it looks absolutely smashing.

The Verna not only entices you with its looks, but also with its wide range of powertrain options. With engine capacities of 1.4L and 1.6L in both gasoline and diesel variants and the option of choosing from a 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic in gasoline variants and a 6 speed manual or 4 speed automatic in diesel variants, the car has a huge customer base covered.

Just like the i20 and i10 face-lift, Hyundai has loaded the Verna to the brim with a few segment-first features like reverse parking sensors with display in the rear-view mirror and six airbags, along with a host of other comfort and safety features. Priced between 6.99 and 10.75 Lacs, the car is sure to stir the segment and shake-up the leaders. Watch out Vento and City!


Ashok Leyland rear-engined bus spotted testing in Chennai

Not a week passes by without spotting something interesting in Chennai roads to ramble about. Just a fortnight ago, I had posted some snaps of an old Ashok Leyland bus being tested and speculated that the company may be testing the Neptune engine in that body. A couple of days back, I saw the iBus on test but could not manage to take snaps.

Not surprisingly, here is something interesting yet again. But surprisingly, it comes from the same company. Late yesterday night, I saw yet another Ashok Leyland bus with 'On Test' stickers and 'Test' registration plates on it. It was rear-engined this time and just like the previous ones, the body was far from perfect and showed signs of having taken quite a beating.

Spotting three models being tested in public roads by the same company in three weeks has left me completely baffled and clueless except for the fact that the Indian Commercial Vehicle segment should get ready for an extensive onslaught from the Chennai-based company once it completes its testing and launches these models for sale.


Nissan Sunny sedan spotted in Chennai

Nissan is slowly and steadily making inroads as a mainstream automotive manufacturer in India. With just a handful of dealers in major cities, the company is constantly selling around 2000 units of its Micra hatchback every month. And here is proof that Nissan is not planning to stop with that and is getting ready for an assault in the mid-size sedan segment.

On a casual drive off the GST Road in Chennai yesterday evening, I spotted this all-new Nissan Sunny/Versa sedan parked with minimum camouflage. Fresh on the heels of global premiere at the New York Auto Show last week, Nissan is expected to launch this sedan in India by end of this year or early next with the 'Sunny' badge.

Though the taillights and boot lip look similar to those on Swift Dzire, Nissan has managed to do a much better job with the integration of boot unlike the former. The other attractive elements include alloy wheels and the chrome surround over the front grille. Overall, there is nothing catchy nor offensive about the car's design. But, compared to competitors like Fiat Linea and Hyundai Verna, the Sunny definitely has to play catch-up.

The interiors too were very similar to the American version with the slab-like center console taking prime place. Having equipped the Micra with a slew of segment-first features, we can expect Nissan to do the same with the Sunny too. But, will it be enough for Nissan to shake up the segment? Let's wait and see.