Volkswagen launches the sporty Polo GT TSI

Its time for automotive enthusiasts to rejoice. Roughly an year back, we moaned about the lack of performance hatchbacks in India and sorely missed cars like the Volkswagen Polo SR, Suzuki Swift Sport and Fiat Punto Abarth that our counterparts in Europe had on offer. As if to answer that post of ours, Volkswagen launched the GT TSI, a sporty, high-performance variant of the Polo hatchback today. Replacing the Polo 1.6 that had a very short life in India, the GT TSI is now officially the flagship variant of the Polo and is priced at INR 7.99 Lakhs, ex-showroom Delhi.

Powered by a 1.2-liter turbocharged gasoline engine with direct injection technology, the GT TSI enjoys the Indian Government's excise duty benefits that are applicable for cars under 4 meters in length with an engine capacity of less than 1.2 liters. Mated to this engine is Volkswagen's notorious yet popular 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. With a maximum power output of 104 bhp and a peak torque of 175 Nm, the GT TSI doesn't look too impressive on paper. But, the fact that all this torque is generated from as low as 1500 rpm combined with Polo's brilliant ride and handling should be enough to make the GT TSI a delight on road.

The fantastic styling is carried over from the regular Polo and devoid of cuts, creases and curves. The clean, straight lines of the Polo is timeless and adds to the overall appeal of the car. The interiors are carried over from the existing Highline variant as well, with some changes done to the upholstery and a few additional features like, for instance, the sporty aluminium pedals. Safety is given a priority, with the GT TSI boasting dual airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and 'Hill Hold' function.

What is really disappointing though is the absence of stand-out design elements that would have made the GT TSI a show-stopper. A chin spoiler up front, sporty side skirts and a bumper spoiler at the rear would have complemented the looks as would a set of wider, low-profile tires with snazzy alloys, smoked lenses and racing stripes across the body. A sporty suspension setup with stiffened springs would have also made the GT TSI a real automotive enthusiast's delight. Sadly, the GT TSI has none of these. The only visual differentiators are the 'GT' and TSI' badges in the front grille, boot-lid and the C-Pillars.

Overall, the GT TSI may not be what we would call a real 'hot hatch', but it comes close to being one. Nevertheless, things have to start somewhere and let's just hope that the GT TSI is the beginning of all good things for hatchbacks. Kudos Volkswagen, for taking the initiative!


Bring back the Sierra, Tata!

India's love affair with Utility Vehicles may have caught the attention of global automotive manufacturers of late, but there was one company that pioneered it all, way before our market had the maturity to accept them. As you would have guessed from the title of this post by now, we are talking about Tata Motors, then called Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO). Having learnt the art of manufacturing commercial vehicles through its partnership with Mercedes-Benz that lasted for decades, Tata ventured into the world of passenger cars with the Sierra, a Multi Utility Vehicle, in 1991.

When it was launched, the Sierra was a truly one-of-its-kind automobile in India. Not withstanding the fact that it was the first car to be designed and developed completely in India, the Sierra was deemed to be stylish, a tag-line that's been eluding Indian cars to this day. It was the only three-door car in a market that was used to seeing the Maruti 800 and Omni, apart from Hindustan Ambassadors and Premier Padminis. The huge, fixed, see-through rear windows were a rage, the tall stance was a boon on the then non-existent roads, the truck-based suspension could withstand abuse and the interiors with features like power steering, tilt steering, power windows, central air-conditioning and tachometer was much ahead of its time.

With petrol prices that remained at sensible levels, diesel was not the fuel of choice for passenger cars then. The Sierra broke that notion, becoming the first diesel-powered car that was accepted by Indians for personal use. Despite its limitations in the form of a tough-to-access rear seat, huge rear windows exposing passengers to harsh Indian summer, an expensive price tag and an utilitarian fit and finish, the Sierra became popular, more so amongst youngsters. It was, and still is, an automotive enthusiast's delight for a variety of reasons, the most significant one being its design. We at Anything On Wheels just can't help thinking how things would have been for Tata if the Sierra had lived on.

Compared to the nineties, the Indian market today is totally different. Duster has transformed Renault's fortunes, Ford Ecosport's popularity is at an all-time high, Toyota Fortuner is rewriting sales records for cars priced above INR 20 Lakhs, while the Bolero and XUV500, though separated by 10 years, are together making Mahindra laugh all the way to the bank. Sadly, Tata does not have a Utility Vehicle in its lineup that's capable of being popular and bringing in the much-needed volumes. That's where the Sierra could fit in. Unlike the early nineties, time now is perfect for a car like the Sierra.

With an appealing design, tall stance, tough build and a powerful, turbocharged diesel engine, the Sierra Turbo, which was the last version to be produced before the car was discontinued, already had the makings of a winner. With the then-new Indica and Safari promising much more for Tata back then, the Sierra's fate was sealed. But, that's alright. Bring it back, Tata. Do not mess with its design, just give it a few modern touches here and there, plonk in the 2.2-liter DiCOR engine, spruce up the interiors, splash it with cool shades from the latest palette and voila, here is a SUV that could make the Duster, Ecosport and even Tata's own Safari run for cover.

We might sound stupid suggesting Tata to bring back a model that was discontinued a decade back at a time when they are facing the heat with falling sales and market share. But, the fact is the Sierra excites us more than the Indica, Vista, Indigo, Manza, Sumo Gold, Grande and Aria combined. 

Who knows? In these trying times, the Sierra could be the savior for Tata! Is someone at Tata Motors reading this post?


2013 Shanghai - Ford surprises with the Escort Concept

While most of the new model launches that happened at the Auto Shanghai 2013 were, in one way or the other, known to the motoring fraternity, Ford managed to pull out a surprise that nobody saw coming. Alright, atleast none of us here at Anything On Wheels saw that coming.

The spanking new Ford sedan that you see in this post marks the rebirth of the American brand's once-popular 'Escort' nameplate. Unveiled as a concept to showcase Ford's commitment towards the Chinese market, the Escort is likely to go into production in the not-so-distant future to slot in between the Fiesta and Focus in Ford's lineup. Despite propagating 'One Ford' policy globally, the ever-growing compact car market in China is forcing automotive manufacturers, including Ford, to venture into non-existent segments.

With the Escort Concept, Ford has successfully managed to mix and match it's new corporate design language with a bit of the model's rich heritage. The upward-sloping kink in the rear windows, for instance, is a classic design touch that the Mark I Escort made popular as the 'Coke bottle waistline'. Just like all new Fords, the Escort Concept is adorned with a hexagonal, Aston-Martin-inspired radiator grille and a taut, muscular stance. Being a concept, the Escort boasts of swanky LED headlights and taillights apart from a generous dose of chrome that helps liven up things considerably. When it goes on sale, the Escort is expected to be positioned just below the Focus as a stylish, basic and affordable transportation option for families.

Though Ford has not revealed the mechanical underpinnings of the Escort Concept, we expect the production version to be powered by a choice of 4-cylinder engines, possibly with 'EcoBoost' technology. With the Fiesta, Focus and the recently-launched Kuga, Ecosport and Mondeo proving to be very popular in China, Ford would want to capitalize on that by launching the Escort as quickly as possible.

Despite possessing a special relationship with the Escort that was the first Ford model to be launched as soon as our market opened up in the nineties, India is currently not on the radar for the new Escort. As a matter fo fact, none of the countries except China are. That's a real shame, as the design and proportions of the car are spot on for the Indian market. Phew, let's continue to be overwhelmed by the Fiesta Classic, while the rest of the world moves on with stylish new Fords.


2013 Shanghai - Mercedes-Benz shows off Concept GLA

Gone are the days when Mercedes-Benz was just a mute spectator to the strong surge experienced by its fellow German brands Audi and BMW. Of late, the brand with the three pointed star has been issuing blows after blows to the competition, courtesy its new Modular Front Architechture (MFA) platform. After enjoying stupendous success with its B-Class and A-Class hatchbacks and making the world go gaga over its CLA sedan, Mercedes-Benz is doing it all over again. Yes, the Concept GLA, a compact crossover based on the MFA Platform, is wooing onlookers at the 2013 Shanghai Auto Show. Looking at the official pictures released by the company, we aren't surprised.

We have been left thoroughly impressed with the design language of recent Mercedes-Benz models and the Concept GLA is no different. Despite looking butch and boxy unlike its other MFA-derived siblings, the Concept GLA can still be immediately identified with them. When viewed head-on, the Concept GLA looks pretty imposing, courtesy the huge radiator grille, the muscular hood with built-in 'powerdomes' and the chrome skidplate. In profile, the massive 20-inch wheels and the tapering character lines continue the muscular theme. At the rear, the sharp, boomerang-shaped taillights and the chrome skidplate with dual tailpipes are the cynosure of all eyes.

Of course, being a concept, there are certain outlandish elements like the laser beam in the headlight clusters that double up as a projector beam that's capable of displaying pictures and videos on a screen or the roof rail-mounted camera that can record your drive. The interior shots released by the company reveals part-concept and part-real stuff, with vast expanses of hand-stitched leather, illuminated air-conditioning vents, a dashboard with an interplay of materials and a tablet-like 'COMMAND' interface screen.

We expect the production version of GLA to share engines and transmissions with other MFA siblings, the B-Class, A-Class and CLA. And that means the delicious GLA 45 AMG should, in all probability, be under development in some corner of Germany. We just can't wait to get our hands on it. Being a crossover, Mercedes-Benz would also fit in the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system to help the GLA venture off-road.

Knowing Mercedes-Benz and the way it brought out production versions of A-Class and CLA from the respective concepts, we expect the GLA to retain its shape and dimensions, losing just the blitzy concept elements. Whatever it is, when the GLA finally makes its debut, expect Mercedes-Benz to laugh all the way to the bank. The GLA is expected to follow A-Class and CLA into India as soon as it debuts internationally.


Ashok Leyland Stile spotted testing in Chennai

The joint-venture between Nissan and Ashok Leyland couldn't have had a better beginning in India. Dost, the first model to roll out of the joint-venture, is a critical and commercial success and the plant in Chennai is not able to produce enough of them. With its first entry in the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) segment deemed a hit, Ashok Leyland is getting ready for its next.

This test mule spotted testing in the busy Anna Salai in Chennai is proof of that. Unveiled to the public at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi, the Stile is the next model that will carry the Ashok Leyland tag. Sharp eyes would have found out by now that this test car has a big resemblance to the Nissan Evalia. That's because the Stile is nothing but a re-badged and stripped-down Evalia. While the latter is pitted against the high-end variants of Mahindra Xylo and Toyota Innova targeting the family audience, the Stile will take the fight to the lower variants of the same cars targeting the commercial audience. Strategically, it does make a lot of sense.

The test car had its front end partially camouflaged, indicating that the Stile could look a little different from the Evalia. The tweaks would be limited to the grille, bumper and headlight detailing as touching the body panels would mean a lot of investment. The exposed rear reveals that the Stile has lost the taillight inserts that are present in the Evalia. Our guess is that the Stile would look similar to the model that was displayed at the Auto Expo. Expected to undercut the Evalia in terms of pricing, the Stile will loose many such features to keep the costs firmly in check. Though stripping down the already-bland Evalia inside and out isn't going to help the Stile in terms of looks, appeal and richness, Ashok Leyland knows that it's target customers wouldn't be too concerned about those factors.

What they will be concerned about though, is reliability and fuel-efficiency. With a solid base in the form of Nissan Evalia, Ashok Leyland has got the fundamentals of the Stile spot on. Remember, the Nissan NV 200 (That's how the Evalia is called, internationally) is making waves around the world as official taxis in cities like New York, London and Barcelona, which is a testimony to its reliability. It is being widely speculated that the Ashok Leyland Stile will be powered by the 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder, turbocharged, common-rail diesel engine from the Dost and not the popular 1.5-liter K9K diesel engine that powers the Nissan Evalia and a host of other models in the Renault-Nissan lineup. This move, it is said, is not only to improve the fuel efficiency, but also to keep costs down.

Ashok Leyland is expected to launch the Stile later this year to kick-start its innings in the commercial people-mover segment. With the Nissan Evalia turning out to be a huge disappointment in terms of sales, will the Stile hit the sweet spot in the market? Can Ashok Leyland do what Nissan couldn't? Through the joint-venture, will Nissan gain with the Stile what it lost with the Evalia in India? That's a whole lot of questions for the Stile to answer.


Tata continues testing variants of the Nano

Tata Motors is in a free fall right now, both in terms of sales and in terms of brand image. Neither are the company's perceived high volume models like the Nano and Vista selling in consistently high numbers nor is the brand's attempt at improving its brand image by going upscale with the Aria working. With no all-new models in sight atleast for the next few months, the only option left for Tata is to launch new variants and refresh their existing line up to sustain interest amongst customers.

This Tata Nano that was caught testing in Pune should be one of those attempts to improve the dismal sales that the cute little car has been experiencing of late. While the 2013 Nano with subtle but noticeable changes in the front and rear bumpers, dashboard and tailgate was spotted testing by a fellow automotive website earlier, the Nano diesel with partially-camouflaged front and rear ends was also caught testing on a different occasion. This Nano that we spotted yesterday has neither of those changes and looks exactly similar to the 2012 Nano facelift that was launched early last year. All these make us believe that this could be the CNG variant of the Nano being tested by the company before launch.

Whatever it is, there is no doubt that the Nano needs a new lease of life. In the last two months, sales of the Nano was just around 1500 units, an alarmingly-low number for a car that was thought to put the entire nation on wheels. Tata realized the hard way that people don't take easily to the tag of "world's cheapest car" and is working to project the Nano in a different light. The CNG variant, along with the 2013 facelift and the diesel variant that are in the pipeline, is expected to give a much-needed fillip to the falling sales of the Nano. Let's wait and watch the results.


Bajaj launches Kawasaki Ninja 300 in India

The Kawasaki Ninja 250R holds a special place in our hearts as it was the model that introduced us Indians to the concept of ‘affordable sports biking’. Though the Honda CBR 250R, the KTM Duke 200 and the Hyosung GT250R came later and stole some thunder from the Kawasaki, the Ninja 250R managed to retain its appeal amongst the competition and achieved a fair amount of success in India.

The Kawasaki Ninja 300, that was launched by Bajaj Auto on Wednesday (Apr 10, 2013), hopes to carry this legacy forward. Priced at INR 3.5 Lakhs ex-showroom Delhi, the Ninja 300 is significantly more expensive than the 250R that it replaces.

Trying to justify the price hike is the Ninja 300's thoroughly modern styling that draws a lot of inspiration from the flagship higher-displacement Ninjas. Featuring a 'mass-forward, minimalist-tail' design concept, the Ninja 300 stuns with its dual headlamps, flush-fitted indicators, floating windscreen, thin taillight, skyward-sloping silencer and a sporty, stepped up pillion seat. The 5-spoke alloy wheels look great. Apart from the dual-tone body panels, the engine and the frame of the Ninja 300 are also finished in black. Unlike the dated instrument panel of the 250R, the Ninja 300 sports an analog tachometer and a digital speedometer that also houses an odometer, dual trip meters, clock and an economy indicator.

Powered by a 4-stroke, parallel-twin, liquid-cooled, 296-cc engine, the Ninja 300 boasts a maximum power output of 38.5 bhp at 11000 rpm and a peak torque of 2.8 kgm at 10000 rpm. Red-lined at 13000 rpm, this twin-cylinder engine sports a host of technologies including a slipper clutch system that is usually found on bigger-displacement race bikes. Built on a steel-tube diamond frame that offers high strength and durability, the Ninja 300 has a telescopic fork up front and a bottom-link Uni-Trak gas-charged shocks at the rear with a 5-way adjustable preload. Equipped with dual-piston petal discs in both the wheels, the Ninja 300 has the go to match its show. But, the absence of Antilock Braking System (ABS) is a shocker.

There are around 3000 Ninjas running on Indian roads since the 250R and the 650R made its debut in 2009 and 2011 respectively. To add to that, the Ninja 300 is all set to paint Indian roads green. Are you ready to 'go green', fellas? If yes, head straight to the nearest Bajaj Probiking dealership.

Image Courtesy: Ninja 300 India Facebook Page

Honda launches Amaze in India, prices start from INR 4.99 Lakhs

The last few years were not good for Honda for myriad reasons. One, and the most significant, of them was the lack of a diesel engine option in any of its models in India. It not only stagnated Honda's sales here, but also forced many diesel-crazy Indians to ignore the brand altogether. All that is history now, as Honda finally launched the Amaze sedan in India yesterday. Based on the Brio hatchback, the Amaze is Honda's first sub-4m sedan ever. An innovation that was started by Tata has now really caught on the fancy of global brands.

Much to the delight of fans in India, Honda has launched the Amaze with both petrol and diesel engine options. The base petrol variant E is priced at INR 4.99 Lakhs, followed by EX at 5.24, S at 5.62 and the top-end VX at INR 6.60 Lakhs. The S and VX are also available with an automatic transmission and are priced at INR 6.62 and 7.50 Lakhs respectively. The eagerly-awaited diesel variants are priced at INR 5.99 Lakhs for the base E variant, while the EX, S and VX are priced at INR 6.24, 6.67 and 7.60 Lakhs respectively. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi. Contrary to its reputation of commanding a premium for its models, Honda has got it spot on this time around. At these prices, its clear that Honda is gunning for the Maruti-Suzuki Swift Dzire.

Shared with the Brio, the 1.2-liter i-VTEC petrol engine in the Amaze produces a maximum power of 88 PS at 6000 rpm and a peak torque of 109 Nm at 4500 rpm. The big news however is the all-new 1.5-liter i-DTEC diesel engine that churns out 100 PS of maximum power at 3600 rpm and 200 Nm of peak torque at 1750 rpm. Developed under Honda's 'Earth Dreams' moniker, this all-aluminium power-train features a host of weight saving technologies that has enabled the Amaze diesel to return an amazing 25.8 km/l in the ARAI fuel efficiency tests. That makes the Amaze diesel the most fuel-efficient car in India. You didn't expect that from Honda, did you?

The Amaze is differentiated from the Brio with a double chrome-lined grille, bumpers with body-colored inserts, fog lamps and a longer wheelbase. Despite the same tipped-forward stance as the Brio, the designers at Honda have done a good job of integrating the boot. Unlike most of its competitors, the boot of the Amaze doesn't look like an afterthought. Having said that, the Amaze isn't entirely pleasing to the eyes, atleast for us. The increased wheelbase has liberated more passenger room inside, which will prove to be a major draw in the Indian market. The rest of the interiors, including the unconventional dashboard, are mostly identical to the Brio.

With air-conditioner, power steering, tilt steering, central locking and front and rear power windows offered as standard, the Amaze has covered the basic requirements of a majority of the general populace. The top-end variant comes fully loaded with alloy wheels, power mirrors, dual front Airbags, front seat belt pre-tensioners with load limiter, an integrated music system with MP3, USB and Aux-in functionality, steering-mounted audio controls, chrome and silver accents in the interiors, fog lamps and a heat-absorbing front windshield amongst others. In a great move, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) is available as standard on all diesel variants. Sadly, only the VX and the two automatic variants of Amaze petrol gets this important safety feature.

Finally, Honda has launched a model that suits the requirements of the Indian car-buying public to the tee. Will this Amaz(e)ing model turn around the fortunes of Honda in India? We definitely think so. Be prepared for a big waiting list for the Amaze very soon!