Iconic Italian scooter brand Vespa relaunched in India

The 'Vespa' name isn't new to India. With a partnership with Bajaj first and then with LML, Vespa is a household name in India with a lot of fond memories associated with it. Now, after more than a decade since it left India, Vespa is trying to recreate the old magic. Piaggio Vehicles Pvt. Ltd., the wholly owned subsidiary of Piaggio Group of Italy has launched the Vespa LX125 recently to compete with other automatic scooters like Honda Activa, Aviator and TVS Wego. As the suffix suggests, the LX125 is powered by an all-new single cylinder, 125cc, 4-stroke engine that was specifically developed for the Indian market. This 3-valve, air-cooled engine that comes with a Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT), produces a maximum power of 9.92 bhp @ 7500 rpm and a maximum torque of 10.6 Nm at 6000 rpm.

But, just look at it and the Vespa makes you forget all the statistics and specifications. Who needs power and speed when there is so much style and substance on offer? The classic, timeless design of the original Vespa that vowed people across the world many decades back continues to do the same, thanks to the LX125 following a sincerely retro theme. Starting with the round headlamp up front to the stubby rear, everything on the Vespa LX125 shouts 'retro'. Thankfully, the design stays true and pays tribute to the original Vespa of yore. The vintage 'Vespa' fonts and badges all around and the overdose of chrome will ensure that you get envious stares wherever you go. While Piaggio has got the Vespa's design spot-on, the same can't be said about its standard features.

The absence of disc brake and telescopic suspension at the front is a blunder, given that every other worthy competitor offers them as standard. With production only recently flagged off at a spanking new manufacturing facility at Baramati in Maharashtra, the build quality and reliability of the Indian Vespas are still suspects. Though the classy styling may make you forget all these, the price wouldn't let you do that. At INR 66,661 ex-showroom Maharashtra, the Vespa LX125 will prick and hurt you where it matters the most. Scooters like Honda Activa and TVS Wego offer much more for much less money and the Vespa might have a tough time convincing buyers once the initial hype around its fantastic design subsides. Now, that's really bad, as we wish to see more of these 66 year-old Italian beauties roaming our roads.


Maruti 800 all set to become history by end April, 2012

"And it is my desire that this motor car will serve the ordinary people of India and they will have no complaint about it. I hope it will contribute in every aspect of the nation building", said the late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi at the launch of Maruti 800 on December 14, 1983. The launch of the car marked the fulfillment of her late son's dream of a "people's car" for India. Suzuki came into the picture after Maruti's earlier attempts of forging a partnership with Volkswagen and Daihatsu for making an affordable car for the Indian masses failed. Looking back at it, we are pretty sure Volkswagen and Toyota (parent of Daihatsu) would be regretting that decision now. That is because the production run of the car that was born as a result of that partnership, the 800, is going to come to an end by the end of this month.

Yes, April 2012 will go on record as the car that revolutionized the Indian automotive industry finally retires after a 29-year long production run. In an industry where a 5 year old product is seen as outdated, that's quite an achievement. When it was launched, the only other cars in India were the Hindustan Ambassador and Premier Padmini, that were not only expensive and long in the tooth but also came with huge waiting lists. The 800 came and massacred those two relegating them to history slowly but steadily. We strongly believe that the ascent of the Maruti 800 sort of fueled the descent of the Ambassador and Padmini. Since the very first year of its launch, Maruti 800 has been the best selling car in India, a title that it held until 2004 when its own sibling, the Alto took over the top spot after Maruti slashed prices massively.

With over 2.7 million families having spent their hard-earned money to own one, we know that it is going to be one emotional farewell to the 800 from each one of them. For its price, the 800 was as complete a car as it can get. Compared to the competition, it was quick, luxurious, contemporary, nimble, reliable and the best of all cheap. It is those qualities that has endeared the 800 to its owners till date. Most of the men and women who grew up in 80's and 90's would have, by default, learnt driving in this car. Stop someone by the roadside and they will definitely have a story to share with the iconic 800. It really was the car that put India on wheels and something that we can call our own like what Fiat 500 is to Italy and Volkswagen Beetle is to Germany. The 800 is a legend, for sure!

As a tribute to the iconic little car, we drove a 1984 Maruti 800 earlier this year, one of the initial lot that came with imported components. And we have to admit that it was massive fun piloting the car around. Read about that drive experience here. And, last but not the least, just like thousands of fellow Indians out there, I also learnt driving in a Maruti 800, the one in the picture to the right.  I can't really wind this post up without saying that, can I?


Altius Scimitar 670 Diesel Motorcycle spotted in Chennai

Altius Automotive Technologies, a new company spearheaded by Mr. B.V.R.Subbu, the former President of Hyundai Motor India Ltd. made it to headlines last year announcing plans to launch a muti-fuel motorcycle that also runs on diesel, in the Indian market in collaboration with Hayes Diversified Technologies (HDT) of USA. After the initial splash however, nothing really materialized and the 2012 Auto Expo, where Altius was expected to showcase the Scimitar 670 to the public, also came and went by without any news. Enthusiasts across the country were disappointed as the Scimitar 670, with its on/off-road capabilities and ability to run on diesel, promised so much fun and frugality on our roads. Powered by a 670cc indirect-injection diesel engine with a maximum power output of 33 bhp and a maximum torque of 53 Nm, the Scimitar 670 has the potential to become the best tourer bike in our country.

When we received these images taken at a Honda car dealership in Chennai, we first couldn't figure out what it was. Internet provided the answers and helped us identify that it was indeed the Altius Scimitar 670, which obviously had us elated. Is Altius suddenly springing into life and the Scimitar is back on track for launch in 2012? Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case and even the company's website is showing no signs of life. Meanwhile, browsing through Altius' website revealed that one of the promoters of KUN Auto Group is also a partner in the company. With this said dealership being a part of KUN network, we see the reason for the Scimitar 670 resting in their premises. Whatever it is, will we get to lay our hands on the strong, sturdy, powerful and frugal Scimitar 670 that looks like it can tackle anything that our roads can throw at? Only Altius knows the answer and, by the looks of it at the moment, we think it is 'No'.

Altius, please surprise us by proving us wrong.


Lamborghini's next model could be an SUV called Urus

These days, if an automotive manufacturer has to be profitable, they need to have a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) in their line-up. Its as simple as that. Manufacturers started realizing this trend a decade and a half back and there has been no looking back ever since. So much so that even Porsche, known for world's best handling sports cars until then, was forced to branch out into the SUV segment for survival. Much to the disappointment of its die-hard fans, the Cayenne was introduced in the year 2001. That it is Porsche's largest selling and most profitable model line now is an entirely different thing. The next model of Bentley, a brand known for some of the finest high-end luxury cars, is an SUV too and the EXP 9F Concept unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show previews it.

But, why Lamborghini? Yes, you read that right. Lamborghini is most likely going to make and sell an SUV and it is going to be called Urus if the reports circulating in the media are to be believed. With drop-dead gorgeous sports-cars like the Gallardo and Aventador in its portfolio, we least expected this Italian sports-car maker to jump into the SUV fray. But, it has and here are the first images leaked on to the internet. To describe its styling in a nutshell, the Urus incorporates all the trademark muscle that Lamborghinis are famous for, in a taller and wider profile. With its sharply-cut headlamps, massive wheels, raked-up and diminishing glasshouse in the profile and quad exhausts, the Urus looks the part. Die-hard fans of Lambo though might be disappointed with their iconic brand diluting its image with an SUV.

With Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini and even Audi coming under the ownership of Volkswagen, the Touareg's platform and underpinnings would obviously be shared by Cayenne, EXP 9 F-based SUV, Urus and the Q7, resulting in massive cost saving and unprecedented economies of scale. The investment and development cost spent on a single platform would spring so many profitable models under different brands, which makes perfect business case for the already cash-rich German giant. Just like it happened to Cayenne, every existing Lamborghini owner could lap up the Urus as their present Italian Bulls can't take them anywhere apart from expressways and autobahns. What more? It could even bring in potential new customers to the brand. Talk about changing times.


Maruti-Suzuki launches Ertiga MPV priced between 5.89 to 8.54 Lacs

Forget its weird name, forgive its conservative looks and pardon the interiors that have been lifted straight out of the Swift. As Maruti-Suzuki pulled the wraps off the Ertiga yesterday, not many would have realized that this is yet another giant step taken by the company towards stamping its authority in the Indian market. As much as the company dominates the hatchback and entry midsize segments, it has not tasted success in premium segments and Multi Utility Vehicles (MPV). Especially in the latter, competition came and went but the Toyota Innova literally blew them away. All that could change with the Ertiga, Maruti-Suzuki's first proper MPV which the company strangely calls a Life Utility Vehicle (LUV).

As usual, Maruti has played the pricing game pretty well with the Ertiga too. The petrol variants starts from 5.89 Lacs and goes up to 7.30 Lacs while the diesel variants are priced between 7.30 Lacs and 8.54 Lacs, all prices being ex-showroom Delhi. That puts the Ertiga just below the Mahindra Xylo in terms of positioning and the top-end Ertiga is a whooping 5 to 6 Lacs cheaper than the top-end Innova. Maruti-Suzuki would be hoping that the looks, space and features of a MPV at the price and footprint of a midsize sedan would make the Ertiga a big success. And it has every reason to believe so. The Ertiga is just about bigger than a premium hatchback which makes it immensely practical inside the city. That's not all. It can also seat 7 if necessary, or can pack in the entire family's luggage on a vacation.

Though the Ertiga isn't revolutionary in terms of design, it doesn't offend too. The family resemblance to the Ritz and Swift is clearly evident when viewed head-on while the profile makes it look like an elongated Honda Jazz. The interiors are lifted straight out of the all-new Swift and are adequately equipped with good quality, fit and finish. What is particularly commendable is the presence of ABS in all but the base petrol variant. Apart from the regular 1.3 liter Multijet diesel engine that produces 90 PS pf maximum power at 4000 rpm, the Ertiga also has an all-new K14B petrol engine with a maximum power output of 95 PS at 6000 rpm. This is third in the series of Maruti's highly-acclaimed K-Series engines after the K10B and K12M.

With its conservative looks, adequate space, feature-loaded interiors and compact dimensions, the Ertiga is a sure-shot best-seller and, just like most other Maruti-Suzuki models, we foresee a waiting list to own one very soon. There's no stopping the Maruti juggernaut!


BMW launches 'Mini' brand in India

The BMW Group, which owns the Mini nameplate, launched the legendary brand in India on April 05, 2012. To be made available to Indian consumers as Completely Built-Up Units (CBU), the entire Mini range will be on offer starting from the Cooper to the Countryman. The base Cooper variant is priced at INR 25.5 Lakh while the Cooper S and Cooper Convertible are priced at INR 28.6 and INR 30.7 Lakh respectively. The 4-door Cooper S Countryman retails for INR 32.8 Lakh while the range-topping Cooper S Countryman High comes with a price tag of INR 35.9 Lakh. All prices are ex-showroom Mumbai, where Mini opened its first dealership in India. The company is planning to open a few more dealerships in the country before the end of 2012. A 1.6-liter petrol engine with 172 bhp of peak power is standard on the 'S' variants while the base variant comes with a restricted power output of 122 bhp.

Speaking at the launch in Mumbai, Dr. Andreas Schaaf, President, BMW Group India, said: “We have brought the world’s most exciting premium small car brand to India. The Mini is more than just a car - it is a personality on wheels - a fashion statement - and a way of life. The Mini expresses a whole generation’s approach to life - it is extrovert, open and full of zest in life. No other brand exhibits the attributes and essence of a modern urban lifestyle like MINI and there is no doubt that it is one of the world’s most emotional auto brands”. BMW relaunched the Mini brand as a premium small car almost a decade back and there has been no looking back ever since. For the records, India is the 100th country in the world where Mini is sold. While the prices are definitely on the higher side even though they are completely imported, BMW would be banking on the Mini's legacy to pull in the customers.

There are reports circulating in the media that, since its unveiling in the 2012 Auto Expo in January, the Mini range already has 100 buyers in the country. Thousands of modified Swifts that have their pillars and roofs painted in black to mock the Mini Cooper, proves that Indians love the Mini's design theme. Add to it the nimble and sporty handling that Minis are famous for throughout the world, Indians can finally look forward to a 'hot hatch' experience driving the Mini. Apart from the iconic and legendary Volkswagen Beetle, the Mini Cooper has absolutely no  competition. While the Beetle has not met with success in India, Mini, with the backing of the mighty BMW, can be expected to put up a better show. Volkswagen India now badly needs the vastly-improved all-new Beetle here to stage a comeback. Until then, Mini is all set to rule the roost as the 'de facto choice' in premium small cars.


Volkswagen Up! is 2012 World Car of the Year

As always, the winners of the grand-daddy of all automotive awards were announced on the glitzy floors of the New York Auto Show. We are referring to nothing but the World Car of the Year program, which aims to combine the attributes and functionality of all the regional and national Car of the Year titles. The awards, that were inaugurated in 2003 have slowly gained in popularity and are now considered one of the most prestigious, credible and significant in the automotive industry. And this year, it is the pint-sized Volkswagen Up! city car that has won big. What makes the Up!'s victory more significant is the other two finalists that it beat, the all-new BMW 3 Series and Porsche 911, both considered to be amongst the finest automobiles in production.

“The little Volkswagen Up! has altered what we have come to expect from the city car segment. Of note are the responsive steering, sophisticated suspension setup, new efficient engines and the quality of materials and finish. Never before in this economy segment have owners felt so premium. Look for every builder of city cars to up its game just to compete with the new VW”, commented the jurors of WCOTY title. Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG remarked, “This award shows once again that in the Up! our designers and engineers have created a vehicle that has been thought through in minute detail. A vehicle that sets standards in its class for efficient use of space, safety, motoring fun and environmental compatibility,”.

Despite being a finalist for all but one year, this is the first time Porsche has won the World Performance Car of the Year title. That the recipient was the all-new 911 that is considered to be a hair's width away from perfection and the finalists included earth-shattering super-cars like Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 and McLaren MP4-12C makes it all the more credible.

Mercedes-Benz continues to impress by taking home the World Green Car of the Year title for its S 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY, the first 4-cylinder engine in the model's 60-year life span. The clear conscience that they aren't burning a big hole in the ozone layer despite owning what is arguably the world's best luxury sedan is sure to keep its owners smiling.

And the World Design of the Year was just another in the long list of awards won by the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, that has been universally praised for its stunning design and appeal. 

2012 WCOTY Program Winners:

* World Car of the Year - Volkswagen Up! (BMW 3 Series, Porsche 911)

* World Performance Car of the Year - Porsche 911 (Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4, McLaren MP4-12C)

* World Green Car of the Year - Mercedes-Benz S 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY (Ford Focus Electric, Peugeot 3008 Hybrid)

* World Design of the Year - Land Rover Range Rover Evoque (Citroen DS5, Volkswagen Up!)

Previous WCOTY Winners:

* 2011 Nissan Leaf
* 2010 Volkswagen Polo
* 2009 Volkswagen Golf
* 2008 Mazda 2 / Demio
* 2007 Lexus LS460
* 2006 BMW 3 Series
* 2005 Audi A6


Tata Safari Storme still undergoing testing in Pune

The Tata Safari Storme that is in the making for a long time now is showing no signs of entering the market. This vehicle spotted testing in Pune by our reader Biswajit today raises suspicions that this hugely anticipated model isn't going to be launched anytime soon. The Safari, which was launched by Tata Motors in 1998, has been continuing with the same basic design with just a few nips and tucks over the years. We aren’t complaining at all, as the original design was so clean and such a smash hit that it gave the ‘Safari’ brand an unbelievable fan following in India. Throughout its life span, it was only mechanical and power-train upgrades that kept the Safari going. But all good things has to come to an end and Tata Motors decided that it is time for the Safari to bow out.

While it was widely anticipated that Tata would be coming out with an all-new next generation version of the Safari, Tata surprised one and all by announcing that the model will only be face-lifted and it would be christened Safari Storme. The facelift was finally unveiled to the Indian public at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi and was showcased to the international audience at the recently concluded Geneva Motor Show. Point to be noted is that the Safari Storme was initially slated for launch late last year and the launch was postponed for reasons best known to the company. While we understand that the Storme is a significantly upgraded version and Tata doesn't want to take chances with this model, delaying the launch is only going to cost Tata dearly.

The Mahindra XUV500 has taken the market by storm and the pre-launch buzz generated by the Renault Duster and Ford Ecosport are second to none. If Tata doesn't want to lose further market share in the Sport Utility Vehicle segment, the time to act is now and fast.


Driven #13: Hero Impulse

The relationship between Hero and Honda that lasted for 26 long years and made the joint-venture a global leader in two-wheelers came to an end in 2010 when the companies mutually decided to part ways. To get it going in the short-term, Hero has apparently salvaged a few models and power-train from Honda and the recently-launched Impulse is one such model derived straight out of the Japanese major’s global lineup. On a long-term though, Hero has recently entered into a strategic partnership with Erik Buell Racing of USA that will give the company the technical and design inputs for launching next-gen high-end bikes.

As the pictures might suggest, the Impulse isn’t any other motorcycle. It is the first time a two-wheeler manufacturer in India has launched an, hold your breath, off-roading motorcycle. Who said off-roading is confined to four wheels? With the Impulse, Hero is out to prove that a good set of two wheels is equally good for having fun off-road. Does Hero succeed in this one-of-a-kind attempt? This post tries to answer that question.


Let’s be honest here. The Impulse grabs eyeballs instantly wherever it goes but we aren’t too sure that it attracts people at first sight. It has too many weird design elements to do so. Things like the gaping front mud-guard, the long front forks and the high-set exhaust aren’t something that we are used to seeing in motorcycles. Combine that with the short wheelbase and the high ground clearance and the Impulse’s proportions doesn’t look perfect. But there is a reason for these imperfections and you get a first hint of that with those broad, deep-treaded Ceat tires. The front-end with its V-shaped headlight and fairing looks cool while the spoke wheels are refreshing to the eyes. The LED taillight cluster could have been shaped better though. The brushed aluminum grab-rails, scoops in the side fairing and the bright colors adds to the visual appeal of the Impulse.

The build quality is good for most parts and the bike feels robust. But certain bits like the rubber beading behind the pillion seat, the messy routing of the wires and the downright cheap ‘Mode’ and ‘Reset’ switches in the instrument console leaves a lot to be desired. The console itself isn’t eye-catchy except when lit at night. But the analog tachometer and digital speedometer works flawlessly and the presence of twin trip meters and service due indicator in the console adds to the practicality. Given its off-roading intentions, Hero should have definitely given a ‘distance to empty’ indicator in the Impulse which would have been a great help during those off-road excursions. Overall, the Impulse drew positive feedback and the fact that Hero has managed to attract so much attention with its 150-cc motorcycle that isn’t priced astronomically is a victory in itself for the company.


Turn the bike on and the silky smooth engine that we have experienced and loved in the Honda Unicorn beckons us. As it has always been, this 150-cc, 4-stroke Honda-derived engine is supremely refined and silent. Though 13.2 PS of maximum power and 13.4 Nm of maximum torque doesn't look like figures to boast of for a 'transroader' as Hero Moto calls it, the way in which the power was delivered made all the difference. Though we would have liked a more powerful engine, the Impulse never really left us wanting for more even in the brief off-roading stint that we subjected it to. The muted rumble of the engine didn't go well with the macho looks of the bike though. A deep and throaty groan would have suited it better. Shifting gears is a breezy job thanks to the super soft clutch that the bike comes with.

Step on the Impulse and the first thing that you notice is the high seating position. In fact, you sit so tall that it takes some time getting used to. But once you are accustomed, the commanding view of the road ahead and the upright posture makes you feel very comfortable. Coupled with a superb ride quality courtesy the off-road oriented shocks up front and the Nitrox mono-shocks at the rear, the Impulse has to be among the best in India, when it comes to rider comfort. Bumps, potholes and small speed-breakers don't bother the Impulse and it just glides past with even the bigger road undulations being handled with minimal fuss. Be it sand, stone, rock or water, the Impulse greets the terrain with elan and comes out of conditions that will leave most other motorcycles grounded. Tires are grippy and makes their presence felt off the road. Handling is satisfactory and the Impulse doesn't give you much surprises.

These days when ABS has started to feature in quite a few motorcycles, the absence of a disc brake at the rear is a glaring omission by Hero.


* Engine Type: 4-stroke, Air Cooled
* No of Cylinders: 1
* Displacement: 149.2 cc
* Maximum Power: 13.2 PS @ 7500 RPM
* Maximum Torque: 13.4 Nm @ 5000 RPM
* Transmission Type: 5-speed, 1Down 4Up
* Tires: 90/90 R19 (Front), 110/90 R17 (Rear)
* Brakes: 240mm Disc (Front), 110mm Internal Expanding Drum (Rear)


* Value for Money
* Very practical on our roads
* Off-roading capabilities
* A trend-setting motorcycle


* Weird styling elements
* Limited power output for an off-roader
* Lack of rear disc brake


Kudos to Hero for opening up a new segment of motorcycling in India, one that promises to be practical and fun at the same time. On our far from perfect roads, the Impulse will leave the competition dead while off the road, it just doesn't have any competition at all. That makes the Impulse the perfect steed for our weekly routine of 5 days of hard work and 2 days of unlimited fun. Yes, the Impulse does have its own set of limitations but with an on-road Chennai price of INR 76,086, it is a superb value offering that can't be beaten.