BMW launches all-new 3 Series (F30) in India

Ever since it set shop in India, BMW has been dominating the luxury segment with no signs of threat from its fellow German competitors Mercedes-Benz and Audi. But, it all changed last month when Audi overtook BMW for the top spot with the tiniest of margins. With Audi snapping at its heels now, BMW couldn’t have found a better time to launch the all-new 3 Series, it's most popular model on sale in India. Following a series of aggressive promotional campaigns across various Indian cities, the new 3 Series was officially launched in Mumbai today with none other than Sachin Tendulkar himself gracing the occasion. Yes, the ultimate cricket star would be endorsing the ultimate driving machines henceforth. Priced between INR 28.9 Lacs for the base 320d diesel variant to INR 37.9 Lacs for the range-topping 328i petrol variant, the new 3 Series comes with a choice of 5 variants for the customers to pick from.
To perfectly utilize the seemingly never-ending demand for diesel-powered cars in India, four variants of 320d are being offered – Base, Sport Line, Luxury Line and Luxury Plus while the 328i comes in just one trim level. Both the engines are turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder units with the diesel churning out 181 bhp of power and 38.74 kgm of torque and the petrol pumping out 241 bhp of power and 35.69 kgm of torque. While both the engines are mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission and are known to be pretty quick, it is the diesel that is going to create an impact in India with the fast and free-revving petrol catering to the rich and creamy enthusiasts. As with all other cars wearing the BMW badge, we are sure that the new 3 Series would be second to none when it comes to handling and cornering. That is one area where neither the C-Class nor the A4 have been able to beat or even match the 3 ever.

We feel that none of the previous generations of the 3 Series, with the lone exception of the 1998 model designed by the legendary Chris Bangle, has looked as stunning as the 2012 model. As a matter of fact, the new 3 Series is endowed with such clean and sharp lines giving it a very aggressive look. Yet, more importantly, the car hasn't lost even a wee bit of it's elegance. Highlights of the F30 model, as this generation is referred to internally, includes headlights with squared off corona rings that extend into the kidney-shaped grille and the high-set rear end that gives the car a menacing stance. The rear end is reminiscent of the 5 Series in more ways than one thus incorporating a clean family look. The interiors are vastly improved as well and are more spacious than ever before, especially at the rear, the additional 50 mm wheelbase helping matters here.

All the variants of the new 3 Series gets BMW's iDrive technology and the full complement of safety features including driver, front passenger, side and curtain airbags, Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control. The 328i variant comes fully loaded with quite a lot of exclusive features like front parking sensors, paddle shifters, electric sunroof, stunning 18-inch alloy wheels and BMW's brilliant Head-Up Display that flashes critical information on the windshield, thus negating the need for the driver to take his eyes off the road. While a total of 7 colors are offered, the Melbourne Red stands out from the rest. The Sport Line can be identified by gloss black finish in the grille and tailpipe in place of the chrome accents that Luxury Line comes with. Auto Start Stop and Brake Energy Regeneration that are part of BMW's EfficientDynamics technology improves fuel-efficiency and emissions.

The 3 Series was first introduced in the year 1975 and since then has gone through a full 5 generations. This sixth generation 3 Series starts from where its predecessor left, which is right at the top of its segment. Just like the Mercedes-Benz S Class that always sets the benchmark in the high-end luxury segment, the 3 Series has always been the car to beat in the compact luxury segment. With this all-new model, BMW has just ensured that the benchmark moves a few notches higher. So, what's going to be your next move Audi?


Mercedes-Benz bets big on MFA Platform to return to the top of the luxury segment

So, haven’t you heard the latest and hottest development in the Indian automotive industry yet? Quite ironically, it is not specific to India alone as it is just a repeat of something that happened globally some time back. For those who are still guessing, Audi has narrowly beaten BMW to become the top-selling luxury brand in the month of June. All these days, Audi was not only trailing behind BMW, the best-selling luxury brand for quite some time now, but also behind Mercedes-Benz. With this recent development though, Mercedes-Benz has been left trailing behind its fellow German compatriots. This has come as a surprise even for those of us who knew Mercedes-Benz isn't what it was a couple of decades back.

Back then, cars wearing the three-pointed star were literally built like tanks with rock-solid reliability and stellar quality levels, easily making them the best luxury brand by far. In fact, Mercedes-Benz cars in those days were always considered over-engineered, not just by customers and the general public but also by automotive experts and enthusiasts. Since the dawn of the new millennium however, complex electronics and relatively sub-par build quality enabled its competitors to surge past. As a direct consequence, sales figures also suffered as BMW and Audi raced ahead, relegating the once-invincible Mercedes-Benz to third spot in luxury car ranks. Again, the situation is no different in the Indian market too.

But, being who they are, Mercedes-Benz is working overtime to rewrite its fortunes, in India and elsewhere. Apart from next generation variants of mainstream models that form a part of the growth strategy, Mercedes-Benz is pinning all its hopes on a three letter acronym called 'MFA' to power its resurgence. The MFA, or the ‘Modular Front Architecture’, is the new front wheel drive platform of Mercedes-Benz that would span a host of all-new models and, in the process, make the brand affordable to a lot of first-time buyers. The company believes that the cost saved by moving to the new front wheel drive architecture would help make their entry-level models more affordable and therefore desirable. We have no reason to believe otherwise.

The B-Class compact sports-tourer (above) that debuted at the end of 2011 to a favorable response was the first model to come out of this platform. Though the new B-Class doesn't look as futuristic as the other recent models from Mercedes-Benz, it is a quantum leap over its predecessor. This was perfectly summed up by Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Group Research and Head of Development, Mercedes-Benz Cars, when he once stated "No model change in the history of Mercedes-Benz has ever seen so many new developments introduced in one fell swoop". It is this same game-changing model that will be leading the brand's challenge in India too, with launch slated to happen sometime this month.

Carrying the legacy forward is the A-Class hatchback (above) that was recently unveiled in the global markets. Unlike the previous generation model that didn’t quite set the sales chart on fire as expected, the new A-Class is a visual stunner and Mercedes-Benz has quite deservedly received a phenomenal response to its smallest and cheapest model. Next up is a four-door coupe, something that looks like a CLS but with a compact footprint. Trust us, when we first saw the concept version 'CSC (Concept Style Coupe)' that debuted in China a couple of months back, we thought this has to be the sexiest sedan ever (below). Just look at it and we swear you won't deny our claim. We will save more on this model for another day and another post. The MFA magic isn't going to stop with this trio.

A crossover that will take on the likes of Audi’s Q3 and BMW’s X1, the two big volume-churners for the respective brands and another yet to be declared model are touted to join the lineup soon. Oh yes, India is on the radar for all these models too. In short, with the MFA Platform and its derivatives, it looks like Mercedes-Benz is well and truly on its path to return to the top by 2020 as it has openly stated. We aren't betting against, but the competition isn't going to sit back and relax. Audi and BMW will obviously be hell-bent in making things difficult for Mercedes-Benz and this only means one thing. Not Mercedes-Benz, not BMW, not Audi, it's going to be the customers, automotive fans like you and enthusiasts like us, who are going to be the real winners of this battle.


AL Intercentury Luxura spotted in Chennai yet again

This is not the first time we are posting about the Intercentury Luxura, a bus conceived and developed by Ashok Leyland to compete with Volvo in the high-end intercity public transportation sector. We had a couple of posts earlier where we had mentioned that, for reasons unknown, this particular bus has never seen the light of the day except for a handful of models that were given to government and private operators for trials. But we received feedback from quite a few people stating that the Intercentury Luxura is indeed launched and is available in the market. To clarify the confusion, we spoke to no less than half a dozen people in the industry circles, a few of them even being employees of Ashok Leyland. While some replied that the bus is available and can be made to order, a few also said that they were only aware of trial runs done earlier (as we had originally posted) but nothing more.

With the confusion still running in the air, this spanking new milky-white Intercentury Luxura was seen parked in one of the suburbs of Chennai, sparking fresh rumors and speculations. Whether it is launched or not, what is more important is that Ashok Leyland is still testing some upgrades to its flagship and it is evident from the pictures. This is the closest Intercentury Luxura model that we have seen till date to a road-worthy model. While the earlier buses had bits and pieces hastily put together hinting that they could be proto models, this looked as if it can enter into service right from the word go. The design, fit and finish was good, albeit not in the league of Volvos. But then the price isn't going to be in the range of Volvos either. With its rear-engine configuration and standard air-conditioning, the Luxura has the basics covered and the globally-popular 'Intercentury' body doesn't look that bad in flesh either.

Whatever it is, it's our duty to bring this to the notice of our readers and we would extend a warm welcome to any good soul who might be able to clear the air on the Intercentury Luxura. With all due credits, Volvo has revolutionized and monopolized the high-end bus segment but competition is certainly a good thing to have, atleast from the perspective of passengers. And if it is going to be from Ashok Leyland, we would be more than happy. You might have noticed that we at Anything On Wheels share an almost super-natural relationship with the Chennai-based commercial vehicle manufacturer. Quite a few of their models like the U 4936 Tractor Trailer, the New-Gen Cab, a rear-engined bus and the Dost LCV were spotted testing by us every now and then, some of them being exclusive spy-shots. This, and the previous two posts on the Intercentury Luxura is only continuing that trend.


Kia Picanto (Morning) seen testing in Chennai again

If you have been a regular reader of our blog, you would be knowing the fact that Anything On Wheels stood on the podium in bringing out images of the Kia Picanto doing its test runs in India. Back then, the snap of the Kia Picanto that you see in this post was the closest and clearest shot of the car brought by any automotive media and the interest and response that it generated was incredible. It could well be that Hyundai was caught off-guard on seeing the huge response to the Picanto and thought it wise to camouflage the car unlike the initial days when it roamed around freely with just the logo and badges masked.  Almost everybody was of the opinion that the Kia Picanto looked much better than its sibling Hyundai i10 that is available on sale in India.

Now that Hyundai has categorically denied the entry of Kia in India atleast for the next few years, the only thing they could be doing with this car in India is to test the underpinnings of the next generation i10 that is due for launch in 2013. Who knows, this green Picanto could even be testing the 1.1L CRDi engine that is expected in the next i10. We can't deny that possibility, can we? Just like Volkswagen and Skoda do, Hyundai and Kia share platforms and power-train with each brand bringing out their exclusivity in the form of exterior and interior design. As such, the Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10 are basically the same car underneath with only the external shell matching the design theme of the respective brands.

With the current i10's sales coming down month on month owing to its age and the absence of diesel variant, Hyundai knows that it has to get it absolutely spot on with the next generation model to regain the leadership in the hatchback segment. And the secret weapon that Hyundai is using to accomplish this task at the moment is the Picanto.

We still have a piece of advice for Hyundai though. With the kind of fan-base that the Picanto has generated, Hyundai should definitely consider launching this car in India. It could be a massive success and we just don't see any problem for the Picanto peacefully co-existing with Santros, i10s and i20s of this world. Are they listening?


Renault launches Duster compact SUV in India

04th of July, 2012 will go down in Renault's history books as the one in which the French car manufacturer really kick-started its innings in India. They might have entered our market long back with the Logan partnering Mahindra, but it did more harm than good for them. After the subsequent break-up, Renault went solo with three all-new launches in the form of Koleos, Fluence and Pulse in the last one year and has gained a decent foothold here. But, that one big blockbuster success have eluded Renault till now. This model launched yesterday has the potential to change that. In fact, this model is speculated to jump start a whole new segment in the Indian automotive industry that is expected to boom over the next few years. Yes, BMW and Audi already have their Compact Sports Utility Vehicles X1 and Q3, but they aren't for the mass market. The one that started it all and is affordable has bombed miserably - that's the Premier Rio we are talking about. It is in this virgin segment the Renault Duster is invading.

Remember that the Duster isn't actually a Renault by heart. Built for the low-cost Dacia brand which also underpinned the Logan, Renault was smart enough to identify a niche in the market and played its cards very well to bring out the Duster under its own badge. Quite understandably then, the Duster is square and boxy. But its high ground clearance and an overall tall stance does make the Duster look macho and muscular. Renault has also ensured that the car looks rich with a generous splashing of chrome and clever usage of black and silver-colored plastic. There are 5 variants on offer - RxE, RxL, RxL Option Pack, RxZ and RxZ Option Pack. The 1.6-liter petrol engine with 104 PS of maximum power is available only in RxE and RxL variants while the rest of the line-up comes with the popular 1.5-liter K9K diesel engine in two states of tune. The 85 PS variant is available in the first 3 trim level whereas the top-of-the-line 110 PS variant comes with RxL, RxZ and RxZ Option Pack.

While the two petrol variants are priced at INR 7.19 Lakhs and 8.19 Lakhs respectively, the diesel variant extends from INR 7.99 Lakhs for the base 85 PS RxE variant and goes up to INR 11.29 Lakhs for the top-end 110 PS RxZ Option Pack variant. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi. That's quite a big space that the Duster is trying to cover up. The top-end variant comes fully loaded with features such as 8 way adjustable driver seat, power mirrors, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, Dual front Airbags, steering-mounted audio and phone controls and a rear AC with independent controls. Given Renault's stellar reputation for safety in the European market, it is disappointing that the company has not taken the same approach here in India by making ABS and Airbags standard across variants. The Duster is available in a palette of six colors and is expected to compete with the likes of Tata Safari and Mahindra Scorpio until the Ford Ecosport comes along and joins the fray. The Duster will also be exported out of Renault's Chennai facility to all RHD markets in the world, including UK.

We expected the Pulse to make it big in India but it hasn't exactly set the sales chart on fire, Renault's image not withstanding. The Duster though, with its muscular looks, wide range of variants, 3 engine options and adequately loaded interiors, has all the right ingredients for success. Will the Duster finally do what the Pulse couldn't and establish Renault as a mainstream player in India? With more than 3500 pre-launch bookings, Duster's prospects look very bright forcing us to say 'yes'.


All-new Hyundai Elantra spotted testing again

It's been just more than a week since we spotted the all-new Hyundai Elantra on its test run near Sriperumbudur on the Chennai-Bangalore National Highway (NH4). Along with a whole lot of images, we also had a fairly detailed write-up giving our readers a honest opinion of what we felt about the car. We are sure that most of the enthusiasts around would agree to our thoughts. Now, thanks to a pal, here is another snap of the car taken sometime last week. Looking at the car, its registration plate and the background, we think that this snap might have also been taken at exactly the same location as one of our spy-shots and on the same day too. But, being someone with no particular inclination towards cars, here is what he said over the phone: "I have just sent you a picture of a Hyundai test car. It looked very similar to the 'fluidic' Verna and I think it's a new variant of the Verna".

As we already stated in our earlier post, the new Elantra looks stunning, is expected to be powered by a powerful petrol and a stonker of a diesel engine, might be fully loaded with many segment-first features, topping these off with a plush ride and not-so-sporty handling. But, will the 'Fluidic Sculpture' that has been a major factor of growth for Hyundai in recent years, be its nemesis too? Obviously, people buying an Elantra (or a Sonata) would not like their rides being referred to as a Verna. Will Hyundai be able to overcome the dual challenge of its not-so-high brand image and the similarity to the Verna and make the Elantra a success in India? We really hope it does. Hyundai should probably take a cue from companies like Volkswagen or Audi that have multiple models looking exactly similar to each other but still are individually successful in their own right.


Travelogue #8 - Pune to Lonavala/Khandala

Its that time of the year when the monsoon casts its magical spell over the western part of India, ushering the mountains a heavenly 'green carpet' look. It is also the time in which people residing in the vicinity of Mumbai and Pune head out for their customary drive to the twin hill-stations of Lonavala and Khandala, nestled in the Sahyadhri ranges. Just type those names in google and you will know why we are relating the monsoon season with them. The search engine will throw up loads of pictures with the 'lush green' and 'wet' look that both these destinations are famous for. Very rarely do you get to see an image of these hill-stations when they are dry. We being who we are set out to do just that. We ventured out of Pune on a hot and sunny afternoon last December just to find out what Lonavala and Khandala have on offer when its not raining. And we waited until the next rains to bring out this travelogue. We are crazy, we know!

Though there are quite a few specific tourist spots and view points around, we chose not to do run-of-the-mill stuff and stopped at will wherever we wanted to. And, to our surprise, each of those places offered us magnificent views of the valley in-between. Yes, we have seen them wet and green virtually, but it was a visual treat to see them hot and dry as well. Apart from the magnificent natural beauty, it is also astonishing to see the engineering marvels in the form of expressway and railway lines, that kind of symbolizes the giant leap taken by man-kind. We are told that traveling through them would be a truly cherishable experience but we haven't done that yet and are saving it for a later day. Remember, we spent only an evening there and just couldn't do all these this time. It has to be said that the views from certain points in the Khandala ghat section on the old Mumbai-Pune highway are nothing short of exceptional.

Our next stop after Khandala was Lonavala. The main town is actually a bit of a mess with long traffic jams spoiling the ambiance. But, once you are past the center of the town, Lonavala proves why it is so popular. The atmosphere is serene, the climate is relatively cool (even on a hot and sunny day) and the views on offer are again excellent. If you have been stressing out with work and badly need a break, there isn't a more ideal destination to think of. Go take a break, munch a chikki for which Lonavala is very famous for, do a bit of shopping in any of the numerous shops along the road and just admire the view of the valleys deep below from the top. For those who seek a bit of an adventure, Lonavala and its surroundings are a paradise for trekking and rock-climbing. So, buckle up and start your ascent.

Whatever you do, do not forget to drive up to Aamby Valley from Lonavala and back. We have observed that the automotive media loves to test the super-cars in this stretch and used to wonder what gets them all heading towards this particular stretch. Its only after driving through this road and experiencing the fun in a humble Alto K10 that we realize how much fun it would be piloting the Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris here. If your pockets are as deep as the Pacific Ocean, we have an even better suggestion than just driving through the road. Just go ahead and invest in a property in the posh Aamby Valley City, a megapolis being developed by Sahara India Parivar. Life wouldn't get any better than that.



* Total No of Days: 1 (04.12.2011)
* Vehicle Make & Model: Maruti-Suzuki Alto K10

* Odometer Start Reading: 11065 km
* Odometer End Reading: 11233 km
* Total Distance traveled: 168 km
* No of Toll Booths: 2
* Money spent on Toll: Rs. 42

* Total Quantity of Fuel filled: 11.85 l
* Average Fuel Consumption: 14.18 km/l
* Money spent on Fuel: Rs. 841.11

* Destinations Covered: Lonavala / Khandala
* Route Followed: Pune-Lonavala-Khandala-Lonavala-Aamby Valley



Forget the monsoons, Lonavala and Khandala make for great weekend getaways even without the clouds bursting. But, we admit that a fresh spell of rain does make both these places exponentially more beautiful than what they are. Based out of Chennai, we wish that there was something similar and as fun to drive this close, making for an ideal weekend drive. Trust us, we are already on the job of finding some great destinations in and around Chennai for a good drive over the weekend. Stay glued to Anything On Wheels, more so if you happen to be residing in Chennai!