All-new Hyundai Elantra caught testing near Chennai

None of the Hyundai models that have been launched in India in the last few years have managed to escape our prying eyes before launch. As if to keep that tradition alive, here comes the all-new Elantra sedan snapped testing near Sriperumbudur on the Chennai-Bangalore National Highway. Though there are a few spy-shots of the Elantra doing rounds in the internet, these could be the closest and clearest shots yet of the upcoming premium mid-size sedan that would be competing with the likes of Chevrolet Cruze, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, Skoda Laura and Honda Civic. Apart from the lack of spy-shots though, we have been regularly posting about the all-new Elantra in our blog ever since it debuted at the 2010 Busan Motor Show and made our jaws drop. Most of you might even remember that the Elantra recently won the 2012 North American Car of the Year title and almost beat Toyota Corolla to become the world's largest selling car in 2011.

With so many credentials under its belt, it's a pity that the Elantra has took so long to come, depriving us Indians of another worthy choice in the premium mid-size segment. Better late than never, we say. Hyundai displayed the all-new Elantra at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi and also confirmed that the car would be launched in India before the end of this year. For the records, 2012 is already turning out to be an important year in Hyundai India's history as the company has already launched the new Sonata and i20 Facelift this year and the all-new Elantra would increase the number of launches to three. After the Verna, Eon and Sonata, the Elantra would be the fourth Hyundai model to be launched with the aggressive and striking 'Fluidic Design' philosophy that has captivated the Indian car-buying public and media, us included. Just look at the car and you will understand that we aren't exaggerating one bit. The car looks stunning. Period.

Though the term 'fluidic' has become wildly popular in India since the launch of Verna last year, we strongly feel that the Elantra is the best model to come out of Hyundai wearing the 'fluidic sculpture' design theme. The intricately-detailed headlamp clusters combined with the hexagonal family grille creates a familiar face that is not so different from the Verna. Chunky wheel arches and the sculpted creases in the hood and profile that merges beautifully into the front and rear bumpers respectively, creates a 'flowing' impression that is hard to beat. The curvy taillight clusters, steeply upswept windowline and a coupe-like, tapering roofline completes the strong detailing that the Elantra is bestowed with. We do have a couple of gripes though. The lower portion of the rear bumper where the reflectors are placed could have been painted black to give a diffuser-like appearance and the exhaust pipes could have been chrome-tipped and left visible like in Verna, both of which would have made the car all the more sportier.

Though this generation of Elantra does not come with a diesel engine globally, considering the market situations, Hyundai might plonk in the 1.6-liter CRDi engine from the Verna into the Indian Elantra. This would perfectly complement the 1.8-liter petrol engine that is expected to do duty under the hood. Just like every other Hyundai model on sale, we expect the Elantra to also be loaded to the hilt with all sorts of features, easily making it the segment benchmark for comfort and safety. Again, just like other Hyundais, ride would be plush and handling won't be as sporty as some of it's competitors. Overall, we will finally have a premium midsize car that can compete on looks against the still-futuristic Honda Civic and the classy Volkswagen Jetta, on power against the 'diesel rocket' Chevrolet Cruze and on frugality with the diesel-powered Toyota Corolla and Skoda Laura. Add to that Hyundai's wide dealership network and good after-sales support, the Elantra is all set to become a smash hit.

Ladies and Gentlemen, get ready to be flooded by the 'fluidic' Elantra!

Chevrolet Sail Hatchback seen testing in Pune again

After sending us a not-so-clear picture of the Chevrolet Sail Hatchback doing its test runs in Pune early this month, our spy-shot specialist Guru is at it again. This time though, we have clear snaps of the rear of the model in which GM's future in India rests. With only the Beat Diesel and Cruze selling in consistently good numbers, Chevrolet is in a spot of bother in India and the Sail twins are expected to bring them back on track. The buzz in the market is that the Sail Hatchback would be launched first, probably within the next month or two, followed shortly by the Sail sedan. Once launched, they will replace the Aveo U-VA and Aveo sedan respectively, both of which have been sales disasters in our market. Apart from the two body styles, the Sail is expected to be launched with petrol and diesel engine options spanning many variants.

If you do not know already, GM India is partly owned by its Chinese subsidiary Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and the Sail would be the first model to be born out of this relationship. We guess that the influence of SAIC was instrumental in bringing the Sail twins to India instead of the stylish and modern Sonic twins. No, we aren't saying that the Sail is no good but only highlighting the fact that the Sonic is better in every respect except pricing, going by the praises showered upon them by the global media fraternity. Whatever it is, if GM India's management has decided, we are nobody to comment on it. Is the Sail armored enough to compete against the segment stalwarts like Maruti-Suzuki Swift, Hyundai i20, Ford Figo, Toyota Etios Liva and Volkswagen Polo? The answer would be out in a couple of months.


Audi India is catching up fast on BMW, relegates Mercedes-Benz to third spot

The search really begins and ends with Germany if you are in the market looking out for a luxury car. Though marques like Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Jaguar and Volvo are trying their best to topple the German trio, it is still BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz that are ruling the roost across continents in the upper end of the automotive spectrum. The situation is no different in India as well. While Mercedes-Benz has been the front-runner in the Indian market enjoying a monopoly for more than a decade and half, the arrival of arch rivals BMW and Audi changed the Indian luxury-car landscape once and for all. In just its second year in India, BMW toppled Mercedes-Benz from the top with a sort of determination and aggression that we rarely get to witness. It looked as if BMW could do no wrong and every model that the company launched met with a tremendous response in the market.

The transformation was too quick for Mercedes-Benz to react and, all of a sudden, BMW became the 'in thing' for the affluent youth, sort of 'iPhone equivalent' in cars. While all these were happening in 2009, folks from Ingolstadt silently entered the fray. They were far behind in the number game at that point of time that nobody realized the threat brewing up from Audi. Sitting in 2012, it is now Audi which is having the last laugh as it threatens to displace BMW as the top-selling luxury brand in India that the latter started enjoying just 3 years back. For both these brands, it is their compact Sports Utility Vehicles (or should we call them 'crossovers') that is doing the trick. If X1 worked wonders for BMW, the Q3 is now doing the same trick for Audi. Buoyed by the market reaction, Audi has now openly stated that it will become 'numero uno' in India in 2014 itself against it's initial target of 2015.

Again, just like Mercedes-Benz then, BMW wouldn't have realized that Audi could play catch up so quickly and will now be determined to fend them off. And their arsenal is all fired up and ready. The new 3 Series, proclaimed by many international automotive journalists as 'the best driver's car in the world', is coming very soon to make life tougher for the A4 and C-Class. Audi will be hoping that the initial euphoria and success of the Q3 will sustain for long and help them sail through until the high-volume A3 sedan is up and ready by 2014. So, with Audi and BMW slugging it out for the top spot, where does this leave Mercedes-Benz? As the company rightly pointed out, it is really the absence of a compact SUV to go against X1 and Q3 that is hurting their sales. It isn't surprising then that they are pinning all their hopes on the upcoming B-Class Sports Tourer and the A-Class hatchback to move into the lead again.

While this battle is interesting to watch, it is not Audi or BMW or Mercedes-Benz that has won or lost. It is you and me, the existing and prospective customers and the people of India who have really won big-time. Just as we predicted the course of this German battle a couple of years ago, we will be here again to tell you whats hot and whats not as this inter-German rivalry reaches a supersonic phase in the next couple of years. Stay tuned to Anything On Wheels!

Maruti-Suzuki Alto crosses 2 Million units in sales

For the kind of volumes that India's largest car manufacturer Maruti-Suzuki churns out month on month with amazing regularity, milestones are bound to be crossed often. Don't believe us? Take this, the company crossed a domestic sales landmark of a whooping 10 million units this February and followed it up with it's 1 millionth export milestone in April. But this is a special milestone belonging to a particular model and one that no other car in India has achieved before. Smashing existing records and creating new ones isn't new for Maruti-Suzuki in general and Alto in particular. After all, this was the car that broke the two-decade old dominance of 800 and took over the mantle as India's largest selling car in 2004. And there has been no looking back ever since.

Amongst other feats, the Alto was also the fastest car to reach the 1 million sales landmark, a record that is now comprehensively beaten by itself. While it took 8 years and 3 months to reach the first million, the next came in just 3 years and 6 months. Oh yes, don't be so surprised, as the last couple of years have seen the Alto break every conceivable sales landmark in India. It became the only car to cross 300,000 units in sales in one calendar year, a feat that it first achieved in 2010 and then again in 2011. Consistent performances like these have now put Alto firmly in the global map as one of the best selling cars in the world. That the Alto still ended up losing out to Swift since April inspite of this phenomenal run is another story altogether.

Talking about this historic performance, Mayank Pareek, COO, Marketing and Sales at Maruti-Suzuki India said, "The Alto’s superior fuel efficiency, compact sleek design, good maneuverability and overall low cost of ownership are the attributes that make it the best car for first time buyers. The Alto as a complete package continues to win customer's hearts and surprise everyone with its performance". As neatly summed-up, the Alto is still 'the' perfect choice for many first-time car buyers. With the 800-cc variants catering to the value-conscious and the 1000-cc K10 variants targeted towards the power-conscious, the Alto fields two interesting games in its ploy to massacre the competition. Buckle up Tata Nano and Hyundai Eon, the King still reigns supreme!


Experienced: Mercedes-Benz Stardrive 2012

Being a luxury car-maker is tough. They are not only supposed to produce and sell cars with very high levels of quality and finesse, but also expected to keep their high-profile customers happy and content. The Stardrive Experience organized by Mercedes-Benz is one such event aimed mainly at its customers with the media also thrown in. Started in 2010 and currently in its third year, the Stardrive Experience has been conceptualized to show the engineering, safety and technical prowess of the cars wearing the three pointed star on their hoods. We participated in the Chennai leg of the event that was held on 19-May-2012 and here is how the two-hour event unwinded.

With the Madras Motor Sports Club's Irrungattukottai race-track being the backdrop and powerful sleeper cars like the C63 AMG and G55 AMG being a part of the show, we knew there would be no dearth of excitement. And we were proven right. Any Mercedes-Benz event these days is incomplete without the SLS AMG and the organizers know this very well. There it was, the gorgeous SLS AMG in red, basking in the hot Chennai sun, with its legendary 'gullwing' doors attracting many an eyeballs. The G55 AMG, though poles apart, gave the SLS good company and the duo served their purpose well as eye-candies of the event.

The event was split into three sections - Technical Briefing, Pre-Safe Demonstration and SUV Demonstration.


Mercedes-Benz has a rich legacy to showcase that just can't be compiled into a 10-minute video but that's precisely what they tried to do in this session. The short video drove home a few important facts about Mercedes-Benz, the company:

* Being the inventor of automobile 126 years ago, Mercedes-Benz till date owns about three-fourths of the global automotive patents.

* ABS, that has almost become a standard feature even in small cars these days, was first introduced by Mercedes-Benz.

* Safety of the occupants is of paramount importance to the company and every Mercedes-Benz car comes with a host of life-saving features.

* There are a whole lot of off-roading technologies that gives the ML, GL and G-Wagon SUVs unparalleled abilities both on and off the road.

The subsequent sessions were to demonstrate the last two points stated above.


All the participants were taken to the track in either the C63 AMG or the E350 CDI piloted by expert drivers. The course was designed with cones arranged in such a way that we could experience what ABS, EBD and ESP can do in emergency situations and bring the car back on course. Collectively, Mercedes-Benz refers to these features as 'Pre-Safe'.

ABS (Antilock Braking System) - Hard braking usually tend to lock the wheels thus making the car skid and slide while coming to a stop. ABS prevents the locking of wheels even when we slam the brakes hard, thus ensuring that the car comes to a stop in a straight line irrespective of the road surface.

EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) – In panic-braking situations, it is generally impossible to maneuver the cars. EBD comes to the rescue in these cases by working in parallel with ABS. It distributes the brake force individually to each wheels depending on the situation, thus allowing us to control the car’s direction even while braking.

ESP (Electronic Stability Program) - Cars tend to skid when wheels lose traction with the road surface. In cars fitted with ESP, sensors detect loss of traction and starts acting immediately by applying counteracting forces to the other wheels. As a result, the car is steered back in its intended direction corresponding to driver’s inputs.


Climbing a 30 degree ramp with utmost ease and conviction, navigating through a set of ramps placed on alternative sides and dismissing a set-up with steep climb and descent angles convincingly - the ML and GL did all these, much to the excitement of many participants. It's not surprising, considering that 99 out of 100 customers who own these SUVs confine them to highways and expressways only. At the end of the session, usage of technologies like Airmatic, 4 Matic, Hill Climb Assist and Downhill Speed Regulator were effectively demonstrated. 

As for us, since we have experienced the off-roading capabilities of the G-Wagon, GL and ML in the mighty Himalayas before, this was just a recap (in a smaller scale) of what these trio were capable of.

Gauging the reactions of few of the customers who participated in the event, we have to say that Mercedes-Benz has really succeeded in their attempt of proving the might and worth of their models. After losing the leadership in luxury segment to BMW and now Audi, Mercedes-Benz is trying to regain its lost glory in India. Events like these will only help build the image and spread the awareness of the brand. As its tagline states, Mercedes-Benz made us 'Feel it'. And the best part is that the Stardrive Experience is open to public and those who are interested to participate can do so by clicking on the following link - Mercedes-Benz Stardrive.


Audi Q3 compact SUV launched in India

After months of testing the model's suitability in the Indian conditions, Volkswagen AG's luxury marque Audi launched its Q3 compact SUV in India recently. The initial bookings are limited to just 500 numbers which will be imported as Completely Built Units (CBU) until the company starts assembling the Q3 locally at its Aurangabad facility later this year. Given the soaring demand of diesel powered vehicles in India at the moment, Audi has took the right decision by launching only the 2.0-liter TDI variant that is good for a peak power output of 177 bhp at 4200 rpm and a maximum torque of 380 Nm between 1750 to 2500 rpm. Despite being the smallest SUV in Audi's line-up, the Q3 is well equipped with the company's legendary 'Quattro' 4-wheel drive system and the 7-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission.

Available in two variants - Base Grade and High Grade that are priced at INR 26.21 Lakhs and INR 31.49 Lakhs respectively (ex-showroom Maharashtra), the Q3 is targeted directly at BMW X1 that has been a huge success in our market. With its bigger cousins Q7 and Q5 proving to be very popular already, Audi's dominance in the SUV segment is only going to grow further with the Q3. Instantly recognizable with family design cues and distinguishable only by its size, the Q3 comes fully loaded with even the base variant getting goodies like halogen headlights, ESP, 6 Airbags, Hill Start Assist and Cruise Control. The top-end variant adds a few exclusive features like Xenon headlights, LED rear lights, Audi parking system plus, tire pressure monitoring system and Driver Infotainment system.

Speaking at the launch, Michael Perschke, Head of Audi India said, "The Q3 is immediately recognizable as the youngest member of the Audi Q family. Now we are starting the next chapter of our success story. We are confident that Audi Q3 will repeat the success of Audi Q5 and Audi Q7 and further consolidate our leadership position in the luxury SUV segment. The Audi Q3 positioning of 'start young' clearly defines the category and segment that we are targeting". We can't quite deny what he says. The Q3 has just brought the 'Audi' brand closer to a whole lot of potential first-time buyers who might end up staying with the brand as and when they upgrade. Before we wind up, here is a not-so-good news to Bavaria - 'The Q3 might just propel Audi to the top slot, pushing BMW behind'. Watch this space!


Hyundai Universe Bus spotted in Chennai; Is it a missed opportunity?

Unlike the passenger car segment which has just grown beyond imagination resulting in the presence of very best of brands in the Indian market, the commercial vehicle sector is still in the nascent stages of development. It is more so when it comes to buses, which, by the way, forms an arterial mode of transport for people across the country. If not for the entry of Volvo, we would probably still be traveling in poorly-maintained and rickety buses operated by our State Transport Undertakings. The Swedish bus-maker entered the scene all of a sudden and changed the landscape of high-end public transport in India once and for all. In fact, it took almost a decade for another global player, this time the world's largest bus-maker Mercedes-Benz, to even try and challenge the monopoly of Volvo in our country.

While the Indian giants Tata and Ashok Leyland didn't had the expertise and experience in making high-end buses to compete with Volvo, other well established global brands like Scania and MAN neither had the presence nor the image to join the fray. But, we had always felt that one particular manufacturer which had all the above and some more just did not leverage its strengths. It has been manufacturing and selling high-end buses in its home country and elsewhere for many years, it had the presence (a huge one at that) in India and its brand image and awareness is amongst the best in the country. If you are lost wondering, we are talking about none other than the South Korean manufacturer Hyundai. The recent spotting of this Universe Express Noble coach of Hyundai in Chennai reignited this thought to us.

Chennai being the hub of Hyundai, it is quite normal to see unique vehicles that are not sold in India roaming around the city roads for transporting the company executives. We have seen models as varied as the previous generation Avante (Elantra), the H800 van and the premium Azera sedan doing official duty. Another such vehicle is the Hyundai Universe bus that you see in this post. Primarily used for transporting the delegates visiting the company, the Universe bus is catching the attention of the public like no other. As is evident from the pictures, the Universe is quite a 'looker' with a sleek and stylish design that can comfortably hold its own against Volvo and Mercedes-Benz. With even the base variants getting Hyundai's 11-liter Powertec engine and feature-loaded, ultra-luxurious interiors, the Universe is no slouch in power and comfort either.

So, with all things looking just right, what stopped Hyundai from making a splash in the bus segment with this model? Agreed, there is this failed joint-venture with Caparo for manufacturing previous generation Aero buses that didn't go beyond the announcement stage, but that has got more to do with Caparo's instability rather than something related to Hyundai itself. With all the primary infrastructure in place, it wouldn't have cost Hyundai much time and money in setting up a new facility for making these buses. This then is definitely an opportunity lost by the South Korean giant. With roads getting better day by day and more and more people preferring to travel by road, the demand in the luxury intercity transport sector is only going to grow further. And the Universe fits the bill perfectly for being a strong contender in that segment.

Will Hyundai make up it's mind on time to be a part of this segment when it matters? Will we get to see the aggressive 2012 Universe that has just been face-lifted on our roads? Only Seoul would have the answers.


Chevrolet Sail Hatchback seen testing in Pune

Chevrolet, the flag-bearer of General Motors in India, continues to have mixed fortunes in our market. At one end, the Beat Diesel and Cruze have been major success stories in their respective segments while other models like Spark, Optra and Tavera are having a mediocre run. At the other end though, the Aveo sedan and the U-VA hatchback have been such sales laggards that the least we write about them, the better. Seriously, the Aveo twins have been struggling to such an extent that it makes us wonder what made GM retain them in its portfolio this long. But, there is some respite finally. The car you see in this post, the Sail hatchback that was caught testing in Pune by our reader Guru, will replace the Aveo U-VA in our market. That’s not all. There is a sedan version of the Sail too that will subsequently replace the Aveo sedan.

If you do not know already, GM’s Indian subsidiary is partly owned by its Chinese partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and the Sail would be the first product of this Indo-Chinese joint-venture. The Sail is expected to be launched with petrol and diesel engine variants in hatchback and sedan body styles, thus giving General Motors a fresh shot at cracking the premium hatchback and entry mid-size segments. The design of the Sail is not as striking as a Cruze or a Beat and this is where we totally miss the Sonic twins that look butch, mean and aggressive. There has been numerous spy-shots of the Sail twins testing at diverse locations across India over the past year and half and the online media is literally littered with images of the car. It is high time GM launches this model officially which, at the moment, is slated to happen within the next couple of months.

Set them sailing, General!