Sebastian Vettel wins inaugural Grand Prix of India

At last, the seemingly never-ending wait that quite a few of our countrymen endured for long, came to an exhilarating end. The inaugral Grand Prix of India, that has long been the stuff of dreams for racing aficionados in our country, just became a reality. As the 24 cars lined up on the Buddh International Circuit at Greater Noida near New Delhi and the five illuminated red lights went off signalling the start of the race, history was created as India stamped its authority on the glamorous world of Formula One. Agreed, there were a few niggles here and there but overall, it was a great show by India as a country on a stage that was visible to millions of people across the world. The event itself, having been attended by over 100,000 people, was a grand success and it is all the more commendable given the humiliation inflicted on our country in the recent Commonwealth Games.

With Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa topping the practice sessions on Friday, the gates for qualifying were left wide open on Saturday. Unsurprisingly, it was a Red bull again on pole, just like it was in all but one race this season. And, boy, it was Sebastian Vettel again, putting a blistering lap in the final moments to claim P1. Lewis Hamilton qualified second but was demoted to fifth on the grid for ignoring a double yellow flag during practice. Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa who broke the front suspension during his flying lap and Nico Rosberg came next on the grid. Much to the cheer of thousands of racing fans across India, Adrian Sutil in his Force India qualified eighth ahead of the two Toro Rossos of Jamie Algersuari and Sebastian Buemi. Michael Schumacher could qualify only twelfth fastest. 

Sebastian Vettel, starting from pole, led the race from start to finish and also took the fastest lap, thus capping a perfect weekend for him and Red Bull here in India. Jenson Button took the second place from Mark Webber on the opening lap with a brilliant move and never looked back. Ferrari's perfect timing of the pit stops also saw Alonso leapfrog Webber to the final place on the podium. Mark Webber followed closely in fourth position with Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg taking fifth and sixth respectively. Yet again, the seven time world champion drove a solid race for Mercedes starting from twelfth position. Another race, and yet another collision between Massa and Hamilton, the former at fault on this occasion. These two just can't seem to get enough of each other. While Hamilton recovered to finish seventh, Massa hit the kerbs and broke his suspension for the second time in two days, thus ending his race.

Algersuari took some important points for Toro Rosso finishing eighth ahead of Adrian Sutil's Force India and Sergio Perez's Sauber. Narain Karthikeyan, the home hero who started the race in 24th position for the Hispania Racing Team, finished an impressive 17th just ahead of his highly-regarded teammate Daniel Ricciardo. It was only fitting that Sachin Tendulkar, by far India's biggest sporting talent and an iconic cricketer considered as the God of Cricket, waved the checkered flag to mark Vettel's victory. And that also marked the end of a hugely successful inaugural Grand Prix of India with a rumored 110,000 fans watching the event live from the stands. In the end, all we can say is that it was a job extremely well done by the organizers and all others associated with it.

Images Source: www.espnf1.com & respective owners

Renault unveils Micra-based Pulse

Will this badge engineering, which the erstwhile General Motors with an array of brands in its portfolio popularized, ever stop spreading its wings? Just when we thought that Skoda's recently-unveiled and soon-to-be-launched Rapid sedan was an exact photocopy of the Volkswagen Vento, we now have Renault beating Skoda to the crown by unveiling its small car Pulse. Top officials from Renault India unveiled the Pulse in New Delhi today in the presence of Red Bull's Mark Webber and Lotus's test driver Karun Chandok, only the second Indian ever to have got into Formula 1. Renault has been having a great time in F1 with Red Bull claiming both the driver's and the constructor's championships in 2010 and also in 2011 with engines supplied by Renault. It is only fitting that they chose to unveil their all-important small car just before the start of the inaugral Grand Prix of India.

Though it was known earlier that the Pulse is going to be based on Nissan's V Platform that also underpinned the Micra, not even in the wildest of dreams did we expect the same car to be launched with only the badges, logos and, of course, the grille changed. That, in short, sums up the Renault Pulse for you. Look at it from any angle, step into it and check out the interiors from any angle, all you see is the Nissan Micra with the Nissan logo replaced by Renault's. Thankfully, the front end has been slightly redesigned with Renault adding its sporty design touches in the bumper and grille. But again, we can't help but notice the similarity of the front grille with Hyundai's fluidic hexagonal grille. With models like Twingo, Modus and Clio in their hands, it is slightly disappointing that Renault chose to bring the Pulse here instead.

Renault will officially launch the Pulse in the Indian market and announce the prices during the 2012 Auto Expo. The Pulse would be manufactured at Renault-Nissan's Joint-Venture plant near Chennai and exports are also on the cards. Since most of the exterior and interior components are shared with the Nissan Micra, costs can be kept in check due to the huge economies of scale. The Pulse is expected to come initially with the reliable, powerful and fuel-efficient 1.5 liter dCi engine that powers the Nissan Micra. It makes sense in India, as the demand for diesel cars are at an all-time high. A petrol engined variant is expected to be launched a little later. It is also expected that Renault will position the Pulse at a price that is slightly higher than the Micra and project itself as a premium brand. Also present at the event was a sportier-looking Pulse tuned by the company's tuning arm 'Renault Sport'.

With the Nissan Micra already selling only in modest numbers and with the same disadvantages of sparse dealerships and service stations, will the Renault Pulse succeed in India as much as Renault would want it to? Wait a little longer to see for yourselves. 

Image Source: www.zigwheels.com


Driven #7: Mercedes-Benz GL-Class & G55 AMG

The heart and mind of an average Indian is a tough nut to crack. What else could explain the fetish that we Indians have for Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) and the aversion that we show for taking them off-road? It might sound weird but, unlike our pals in Middle East or USA, we Indians hardly take our SUVs off-road and limit their usage to highways and expressways. But, that doesn't stop manufacturers from launching highly competent off-roaders in our country. What better place in India than Leh, with its beautiful mountains and challenging roads, to prove the off-roading prowess of these models? Mercedes-Benz knows this only too well and so, they had organized an “Offroad Driving Experience” there of the two new Sports Utility Vehicles in their lineup, the G55 AMG and the GL-Class.

When Mercedes-Benz launched the G55 AMG, the most expensive and the least practical variant of the G-Class in India, they just wanted to prove a point. With classic looks that could rival a Porsche 911 for its timelessness, power and acceleration figures that would not look out of place in a Ferrari and off-roading capabilities that could match, if not beat, that of a Jeep, the G55 AMG is what most enthusiast’s dream car would be made up of. With such a pedigree behind it, bring the GL-Class into the picture and together, they make a deadly off-roading duo. So, how did these two models fare on the tough terrain that the mighty Himalayas had on offer? Read on, to know.


There are very few cars on earth that look, feel and drive the same way as they did decades back. Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the name of which is derived from Geländewagen (German for ‘overland vehicle’), belongs to that rarefied category. It is square, it is boxy, it is old, yet it is mind-blowingly attractive. It has been around and has looked almost the same since its introduction in the year 1979, yet its mass appeal is timeless. It was, and still is, so popular that Mercedes-Benz was forced to continue production of the G-Class even as it intended to stop the model around a decade back. The G-Class was originally designed to be used in the military services and there are lots of countries which still swear by it. Kitted out in the top-end AMG trim, the G55 with the special 'AMG' touches like the star-shaped alloys and the brilliant twin exhausts that are placed on both sides just before the rear wheels make sure that the G55 AMG turns heads wherever you go.

As much as I tried, I was just not able to take my eyes off the G55 AMG and concentrate on the GL-Class that accompanied me for the ride. Do not mistake me, the GL-Class is no slouch either when it comes to looks, with its humongous size and the subtle yet classy chrome bits seeking the attraction of the onlookers. The GL-Class fits in as a large SUV in Mercedes’ lineup with full-sized third row seats, a rarity in India. The GL-Class is so big that the G55 AMG looks so small when parked next to it. Get over its size and you can see some interesting bits like the dual projector headlamps, the attractive Daytime Running Lamps, a big, chunky D-Pillar and the chrome inserts in the rear bumper and number plate garnish. Both the models have a few common ‘typical-Mercedes’ design elements like the horizontal chrome-slatted grille with the huge ‘three pointed star’ logo in the middle, the side indicators in the rear view mirrors and the subtle chrome inserts here and there that adds to the classy looks but, thankfully, does not look overboard.

The interiors in both the models are typically Mercedes with a bland design but a terrific build quality. The GL-Class especially impresses with its layout and the way things are put together. From the driver's seat, the instrument console with the circular scooped-out speedometer and tachometer looks and feels sporty. The theme extends to the center console as well with the air-conditioning vents and other buttons and knobs shaped in concentric circles. One thing that the GL offers you in abundance is 'space'. All three rows can comfortably take in adults unlike most of the other seven-seat SUVs in India. The beige leather seats, the dark wood veneer in the dashboard, the two-tone interiors and the chrome add-ons here and there lend the interiors a classy look and feel.

The G55 AMG in contrast shows its age in the interiors. Everything is square and boxy with the steering wheel, the drilled aluminum pedals, the shiny black inserts in the steering wheel and dashboard and the chrome-ringed dials and buttons doing their best to liven up the interiors. The light cream colored leather seats are another eye-catching element in the G. A casual glance at the interiors of the G is enough to make out that it is designed for some serious off-roading with the chunky grab-handle for the front passenger and the three buttons for locking differentials at the top of the center console. Unlike the GL-Class, the G is not as spacious and wide and it shows with limited space for the occupants.


The G55 AMG turns you on the moment you turn its ignition on. The growl from the V8 engine is addictive and is sheer music to an enthusiast's ears. It breaks all the pre-conceived notions that you will be having about a boxy SUV. With 507 bhp from its super-charged 5450 cc engine, it is extremely powerful and insanely quick. The handling is also crisp and inspires confidence but the real deal-breaker is the harsh ride, which is, to put it lightly, uncomfortable for the Indian road conditions. It can chew up miles on smooth expressways all day long and can take the occasional off-roading exercises. Be it rocky mountains, muddy patches or slippery snow, the G55 AMG managed to find its way out aided by its short wheelbase and small front and rear overhangs. The weight distribution is an impressive 50:50 in the front and back and, along with the three locking differentials, the G55 AMG is more than capable off-road than any of its owners in India will ever take it to.

Drive the GL-Class immediately afterwards and there is a world of difference not only with the quality of interiors and space, but also with its 'magic carpet' ride, that most models of Mercedes are famous for. There are two driving modes to choose from - the Sport mode and the Comfort mode with the latter tuned for better ride and the former for sporty handling. In Comfort mode, the GL absorbs most bumps and comes across as a supremely comfortable cruiser. Surprisingly for its size, the GL-Class is as capable as the G55 AMG off-road with its dedicated 'Off-Road pro package' that improves its climb angle, wading depth and ground clearance. The ground clearance can be adjusted to three levels at the touch of a button. There is also a Downhill Speed Regulator (DSR) that allows us to set a speed and take our feet off the pedals while climbing down a hill. With the car automatically controlling its speed at the set level, the manual inputs are needed only for steering the vehicle in the right path.


GL 350 CDI:
* Engine Type: V6
* No of Cylinders: 6
* Displacement: 2987 cc
* Max Power: 224 bhp @ 3800 rpm
* Max Torque: 510 Nm @ 1600 - 2800 rpm
* Transmission Type: 4 MATIC
* Tyres: 275/55 R19 (Front) / 275/55 R19 (Rear)

G 55 AMG:
* Engine Type: V8
* No of Cylinders: 8
* Displacement: 5439 cc
* Max Power: 507 bhp @ 6100 rpm
* Max Torque: 700 Nm @ 2750 - 4000 rpm
* Transmission Type: 5 Speed AT
* Tyres: 275/55 R19 (Front) / 275/55 R19 (Rear)


I am sure these wonderful shots that have been captured and posted here in this post would have said more than I could ever describe. At the end of the drive, it was a revelation of sorts with what these high-end SUVs are capable of both on and off the road. It is a pity though that most of the customers who buy these models in India would not be venturing off-road at all. Nevertheless, with around 20 bookings already for the G55 AMG that is priced at a stratospheric 1.25 crores on road and the GL-Class continuing with its considerable success since its launch last year, Mercedes-Benz has all the reasons to smile.


Hyundai Eon launched in India

11 long years after its launch, 5 years after it became India's largest selling car, 1 year since it became the largest selling nameplate in the world, Maruti-Suzuki's Alto finally has a competitor that it needs to worry about. Unsurprisingly, it is Hyundai Motor India, the same company which successfully ended Maruti-Suzuki's stronghold in India in the B segment 13 years back, which is at it again, this time in the A segment. The all-new Eon, Hyundai's smallest and cheapest car yet globally, made its world premiere in India on Oct-13-2011 amidst soaring expectations.

The Eon was designed and developed at Hyundai's Namyang R&D Center in Korea with a lot of inputs from the Indian R&D center in Hyderabad. The Eon follows the company's famous 'Fluidic Sculpture' design philosophy with swooping headlamps, hexagonal grille, lots of character lines in the profile and upswept rear windows. From the front, the Eon looks so similar to the i10, Verna and other new Hyundai models across the globe. The profile looks a wee bit over-designed with a lot of curves while the car looks terrific from the rear with huge comma shaped taillamps lending a touch of character. Overall, the Eon is beautifully designed and makes the Alto look very old.

The Eon is powered by a 3 cylinder, 0.8 liter iRDE engine that churns out 56 PS of maximum power and 76.5 Nm of maximum torque. Hyundai claims that the ARAI approved fuel efficiency figure for the Eon is 21.1 kmpl. The car is being offered in six colors with six variants priced between 2.69 Lacs INR and 3.71 Lacs INR. The base D-Lite variant is just a bare-bones automobile with not even AC and power steering being offered while the top-end Sportz variant comes loaed with tilt steering, driver airbag, central locking and audio system with USB and iPod connectivity, many of them segment-firsts, apart from the regular features like AC, power steering and front power windows.

While the Hyundai Eon has all the right ingredients to become a big success, the only factor is its price, that is slightly more expensive than the Alto. Though it looks every bit worth the extra money that it asks, the customers in this segment of the market are extremely price sensitive. Will they find the Eon attractive enough to overcome the premium that they need to shell out to own one or will they continue to patronize the Alto owing to its cheaper price and better service network? The answer remains to be seen.


Tata Xenon based Commercial Pickup spotted testing near Pune

Unlike many other countries, pickup trucks hardly sell in India as private vehicles. That is why the Xenon XT, an impressive lifestyle pickup made by Tata Motors in India and exported to many other countries, is rarely seen on our roads. Pickup trucks here are all about utility and commercial usage for which the Xenon, with its premium features, good-quality interiors and high price, hardly makes sense. The Mahindra Genio, for example, is what most Indians want and view as a pickup – a modern yet basic workhorse that can withstand the abuses hurled at it by the tough conditions prevailing here. While Tata has its 207Di based pickup in that segment, compared to the relatively new Genio, it looks and feels pretty old.

Tata, being Tata, can easily strip the Xenon off its unnecessary features, cut costs left, right and center and come up with a commercial pickup truck based on the Xenon platform that can well and truly take the game to the competitors like Mahindra’s Genio, Bolero Pikup and the like. And that is exactly what Tata Motors seems to be doing, going by these shots that shows a barebones pickup based on the Xenon platform being tested near Pune. There were two trucks being tested, the one shown in the pictures and the other, a slightly more upmarket version with full wheel caps and body-colored bumpers. Who knows, it might well be equipped with air-conditioning and power windows too, like the top-end Genio DC VX version.

The front end is lifted straight from the Xenon and retains its mean and macho looks with those high-mounted headlights and the massive bumper. There are obvious signs of cost-cutting and commercialization like the black bumpers, grille and door handles and a single black rear-view mirror on the driver’s side. If you are a fan of the clean and rounded profile of the Xenon XT with its integrated cabin and loading bay, you will not like this truck as the loading bay, like all its other competitors, is separate and disjointed from the cabin. The wraparound taillights of the original Xenon are replaced with the trademark rectangular lights. There is no blaming Tata though as the customers in this segment does not look for style but only value utility and ruggedness.
Being apparently targeted at the commercial segment, it is highly unlikely that Tata Motors will launch this truck with the same 2.2L DiCOR engine that powers the original Xenon XT. But, if it does, this new truck will be a hoot to drive with class-leading power and torque figures. So, the Mahindra Genio is not going to have the party all for itself for too long as this Tata truck seems to be directly heading against it. God bless competition!

Sebastian Vettel is 2012 F1 World Champion

It is a known fact that the current Formula1 grid is one of the most competitive ever to have graced the sport. When the 2011 season started, the lineup had no less than five world champions in Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel who, amongst them, held a mind-boggling 12 titles. Then, there were Felipe Massa and Mark Webber both of whom came agonizingly close to becoming a world champion in the previous years and Nico Rosberg who has all the makings of a champion, if given the right car and the right circumstances. As the season progressed, the much-hyped rookies Paul Di Resta and Sergio Perez also proved that they are up there with the very best through their skillful driving.

To make such a mighty competitive grid look highly uncompetitive needs some really special skills combined with a car that can complement those skills. And, that is exactly what Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull RB7 had, the latter courtesy master-designer Adrian Newey. And for most of the races this season, they did make the entire field look highly uncompetitive. Now, digest these facts. With 15 of the 19 races over this season, a Red Bull car has started on pole in every single race with Sebastian Vettel being the wingman in 12 of them. Excepting 6 races in which Jenson won 3, Lewis won 2 and Fernando won 1, Vettel has won the remaining 9 of them. With such figures, its hardly surprising that Vettel has officially sealed his second consecutive world title with 4 races remaining.

But, it was quite an anti-climax for Vettel in the recently-concluded Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, as the RB7 that was untouchable in his hands for most part of the season, was beaten fair and square by the McLaren of Jenson Button and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. The latter two along with Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber, are fighting for the second place in the world championship, which is proving to be more interesting and is where the real action is with four top drivers vying for the spot. It was clearly apparent long back that Vettel was running away with the 2011 championship as he, in that RB7, was a class apart and flying above the rest of the field.

In a sport where your teammate is considered to be your fiercest rival, Mark Webber has had a tough year as Sebastian Vettel has literally crushed him and, in all probability, his confidence too. To be fair to Webber though, it was his Red Bull that always seemed to have all the problems early on in the season. In doing so, Vettel has become the youngest ever multiple world champion in Formula1’s history, a record held by Fernando Alonso until now. For Sebastian Vettel though, this is just another record in an impressively long list that constitutes youngest ever world champion, points scorer, podium finisher, race winner, race leader, pole sitter and what not.

But, for the sake of racing fans across the world and for the overall benefit of the sport, I sincerely hope and wish that the 2012 world championship would be a close battle like what we saw in 2010, an epic 5 way fight that went until the last lap of the last race. But, one thing is for sure. If the Vettel-RB7 duo continue to be even half as deadly as they are right now, my wish is going to remain just that as the Vettel train would continue chugging along. Let us, for the moment, assume that we are not witnessing the beginning of an era of Vettel dominance, one that has the potential to become as ruthless and boring as the Michael Schumacher era. Don’t mistake me, that would be great for Vettel and a showcase for his talent but a total disaster for the sport.

Images Source: www.redbull.com


VFM is the current flavour of the industry

I am pleasantly surprised with what’s happening in the Indian automotive industry of late. It seems as if the car-makers have all suddenly figured out the formula to crack open our market and are hell-bent on succeeding in their attempts. If you are still guessing on what the magic formula is, think no more. It is nothing but ‘Value For Money’ (VFM), something that we Indians love. What else would explain the killer prices at which the car makers are launching their all-new models one by one that is proving to be a shock not only for those in the industry circles but also to the general public? By doing so, they not only attract attention and increase the footfalls in their showrooms but also manage to successfully convert them into bookings and are laughing all the way to the bank. Case in point being the most recent launches from Mahindra and Honda, the XUV 500 and the Brio.

Being an Indian company, Mahindra knows the hearts and minds of Indian customers like the back of their hand. And, they proved it with their all-new global SUV, the XUV 500. Being the first ever model from Mahindra that was designed and developed to international standards with features and technology found only on cars a segment or two higher, the base variant of the XUV 500 was expected to retail atleast for around 13 lacs, going upto 15 lac rupees for the top-end version. But, when Mr. Anand Mahindra announced the ex-showroom prices that undercut the estimates by atleast a couple of lacs, the media and the public went into a frenzy. Quite deservingly, the XUV 500 has garnered a staggering 5000 bookings within the first few days of its launch in only 5 cities and the company is already quoting a waiting list of 3 months for delivery. Busy times ahead for Mahindra then, until they fulfill these initial orders!

Even Honda, the Japanese manufacturer hitherto known for charging a premium in all its models and getting away with it due to its superior brand-image, has jumped onto the ‘VFM’ bandwagon. Agreed, they learnt their lessons the hard way and were forced to shave off a significant amount from the ex-showroom prices after the debacle of Jazz, arguably the best premium hatchback in India that failed only due to Honda’s insane pricing. Then came the price cuts for the City, Honda’s perennial best-seller that lost its leadership to newer competitors that offered more value for money. Apparently, those were only the beginning. When Honda announced that the Brio’s prices starts from 3.95 lac onwards, cheaper than its chief challenger the Hyundai i10 1.2, they proved that they mean serious business and are not ready to repeat their mistakes. Expect people to flock to Honda showrooms like there is no tomorrow.

All these only spell good times for us, the car-buying public. The cut-throat competition amongst the car-makers in gaining a bigger share of the ever-growing pie that is the Indian market is proving to be a blessing in disguise for all of us. The expectations are steadily going up and the car-makers in turn are slugging it out and trying to beat each other in living upto those expectations. Features that were once found only in entry-luxury cars are now standard fare in small cars. The companies have finally understood that Indians appreciate ‘value’ more than anything else and are wary of getting punished for their premium pricing strategies. Let these good times roll and the festive season for the automotive industry continue forever!