2013 Frankfurt - BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports-car makes its global debut

Just over a month back, BMW announced the introduction of its ‘i’ sub-brand by launching the i3 hatchback simultaneously in New York, London and Shanghai. In a relatively-subdued affair at the recently-held Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, BMW took the wraps off the i8, a stunning, plugin hybrid sports-car that follows the i3 as the second model in the tech-savvy ‘i’ lineup. It looks like BMW is trying to make a point here that ‘green’ cars can actually be ‘fun to drive’ and need not be ‘mundane’ as they are stereotyped today.

Proving that point more than anything else is the styling of the i8. The car looks absolutely smashing and we are sure that the i8 will leave onlookers spellbound when it gets going on public roads. The low-slung front-end looks menacing and the glossy black finish of the kidney grille adds to the appeal. The profile is characterized by the ‘floating’ C-Pillar that stops short of converging with the strong shoulder lines that creep up from the bottom of the doors on either sides. The way in which the C-Pillars flow into the split-spoiler-like structures at the rear is incredible. Together with the matching taillight clusters and the two-tone rear bumper, the i8 makes a strong design statement. With a drag coefficient of just 0.26, the i8 has also got to be one of the most aerodynamic cars on earth.

A 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder, Twin-Power turbo-charged gasoline engine with 231 HP of peak power and 320 Nm of peak torque powers the front wheels of the i8. With almost all of its mainstream models driven by the rear wheels, this decision of BMW to go for front wheel drive configuration in its sports car is weird. As if to make up things, an electric motor that develops 131 HP of power and 250 Nm of torque on its own drives the rear wheels of this car. With both of them working in parallel, the i8 boasts statistics of 362 HP and 570 Nm that’s capable of propelling the car from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds and onwards to an electronically-limited top speed of 250 km/h.

Just like the i3 hatchback, the i8 was conceived from the ground up as a plug-in hybrid sports car and, as such, has the attributes of performance and efficiency built into it. The amount of research and development put in by BMW over the years has resulted in the unique ‘Life Drive’ architecture that has been designed exclusively for the ‘i’ sub-brand and consists of two individual modules. The “Life Module” is essentially the passenger cell that’s made of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP), while the “Drive Module” that’s made of aluminium comprises of the combustion engine, the electric motor, the battery pack and the structural and crash components of the car. The interiors are made out of materials as diverse as magnesium and recyclable Poly Ethylene Terephthalate (PET). The choice of materials has been dictated by twin goals of weight reduction and sustainability.

With such a pleasing combination of styling, technology, power, speed, handling and efficiency, there is no reason for the BMW i8 to not succeed globally. As for us, we were already smitten when we saw the prototype of the i8 in action in the Hollywood blockbuster Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol. Its time for us to get ready to be smitten again, this time in real!

2013 Frankfurt - Jaguar C-X17 Concept previews the British brand's first crossover

This could be the most definitive moment in Jaguar’s recent history since the famous British luxury car-manufacturer was acquired by Tata Motors. That sounds a bit exaggerated we know, but looking at what crossovers did for its competitors, that statement could eventually turn out to be true. Ending months of speculation, Jaguar finally unveiled the C-X17 Concept, its first ever crossover, at the recently concluded Frankfurt Motor Show. Glowing in the spotlights of the popular German city, the C-X17 Concept previewed the design direction of the brand’s first crossover that’s expected to join the lineup in the not-so-distant future.

As evident from the pictures, the C-X17 Concept is instantly recognizable as a Jaguar as it borrows prominent design cues from other Jag models. The thin headlights featuring multiple clusters of LEDs and the bold trapezoidal wire mesh grille are very similar to those found in the XF and XJ sedans, while the superbly-shaped taillight clusters are an ode to the gorgeous F-Type roadster. The strong creases in the hood combined with the broad shoulders give the Jag crossover an imposing stance. Though this is labeled a concept, let’s not be kidding ourselves that the production model won’t look like this. And if it does, the fact that Jaguar got the styling so right with most of the family design elements imbibed is an achievement in itself. Remember, a few other luxury car brands couldn’t do that the first time.

In what is a total contrast to the exteriors, the interiors are pure concept car stuff and none of the flashy stuff in the show car is likely to make it to production. Who is going to complain anyway, if the crossover sports interior appointments similar to the existing Jag models?

Also debuting in the concept is the company’s new advanced aluminium architecture that will span a range of future Jaguar models, including the upcoming midsize sedan that will end up locking horns with the compact luxury sedans from Germany. This uni-body platform is modular and scalable and reinforces Jaguar’s commitment towards the lightweight material. Let’s not forget that the previous generation XJ rose to fame with its all-aluminium construction. With multiple benefits in the form of increased rigidity and stiffness in a light weight chassis, Jaguar, like many fellow automotive manufacturers, believes that aluminium is the way to go and rightly so.

With sister brand Land Rover focusing on hardcore off-roaders, it makes perfect sense for Jaguar to venture into the crossover segment and make some quick bucks. Looking at this concept, the leaping cat is all set to pounce!


BMW launches 1-Series hatchback in India

After a couple of teasers that were aimed at snatching the limelight from the hot and happening Mercedes-Benz A-Class, BMW has now launched the 1-Series, its smallest and most affordable model yet, in the Indian market. To be assembled in the company's Chennai facility, the 1-Series will be a shot in the arm for BMW that has not only lost its lead but also been relegated to the last spot among the three big players in the Indian luxury car market.

The 1-Series is available in 4 variants. The base 116i is powered by a 1.6-liter TwinPower turbocharged petrol engine that churns out 136 bhp of power and 220 Nm of torque. Don't be fooled by the engine displacement. This car can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 8.7 seconds. All the other variants are powered by the 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged diesel engine that also does duty in 3-Series, 5-Series, X1 and X3 in varying levels of tune. With a rated power of 143 bhp and torque of 320 Nm, the diesel variants can reach 100 km/h from standstill in 8.6 seconds. Both the engines are mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission that transfers the power to the rear wheels. This bodes well for the enthusiasts amongst us, as rear wheel drive means a whole lot of fun every time we sit behind the wheel.

While the 116i is priced at INR 20.90 Lakhs, the diesel variants are priced at INR 22.90 Lakhs (118d), INR 25.90 Lakhs (118d Sport) and INR 29.90 Lakhs (118d Sport Plus). All the prices are ex-showroom and valid across all authorized BMW showrooms in the country. Unlike Mercedes-Benz that has just one variant of the A-Class each with a petrol and diesel engine, BMW has went all out with prices varying by a whopping INR 8 Lakhs between variants. Despite being assembled locally, the 1-Series, surprisingly, is more expensive than the A-Class which is it's sole competitor that's imported into India as a Completely Built Unit (CBU).

Safety isn't compromised in any variant, as the 1-Series range has 6 airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSL) with Dynamic Traction Control (DTC). The top-end 1-Series is fully loaded  and carries features such as rear-view mirrors with anti-dazzle function, xenon headlights, electrically adjustable seats with memory function, iDrive infotainment system with a 16.5cm colour display and a host of external touches that are aimed at enhancing the style quotient. While the features gradually reduce as we move down the pecking order, the price difference of INR 8 Lakhs between the lower and upper variants is alarmingly high.

While the 1-Series does look a bit aggressive like all other BMW models, it isn't going to grab eyeballs like the A-Class does. The uniquely-shaped headlight clusters combine with the kidney grille in perfect harmony. The profile is long and muscular with a horizontal character line running along the door handles. At the rear, we see traces of Volkswagen Polo in there.

By rushing up the launch of the 1-Series, BMW has ensured that Mercedes-Benz doesn't enjoy the first-mover advantage for long. Will the 1-Series, with the fun factor associated with its rear wheel drive configuration and more powerful and exciting engine options, dethrone the A-Class? What effect is Audi's proposed entry into the compact luxury segment going to have on the 1-Series and the A-Class? Let's wait and watch as this interesting episode unfolds.


Hyundai launches the Grand i10 in India, slots it between the i10 and the i20

Hyundai Motor India Limited, the country's second largest car manufacturer, sells no less than four hatchbacks in our market. Starting from INR 2.89 Lakhs for the base variant of Eon to INR 7.90 Lakhs for the top-end i20 with the Santro and the i10 in between, there is practically no gap to squeeze in an additional model. But, that's exactly what Hyundai has done. They have managed to find a slot between the i10 and the i20 and the Grand i10 launched in New Delhi today fills that slot. As the name suggests, the Grand i10 is a bigger, better and grander second-generation version of the i10 hatchback that has been a consistent top-seller in the Indian market ever since its launch in 2007.

The i10 Grand is launched in 4 variants - Era, Magna, Sportz and Asta (O). All these variants are available with a choice of petrol and diesel engines under the hood. While the petrol variants are priced between INR 4.29 Lakhs and INR 5.47 Lakhs, the diesel variants retail at prices starting from INR 5.23 Lakhs and extending up to INR 6.41 Lakhs. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi.

The petrol engine is the familiar 1.2-liter Kappa engine that powers the existing i10 and i20. In the Grand i10, this dual-Variable Timing Valve Train (VTVT) technology-equipped engine produces 83 PS of maximum power at 6000 rpm and 11.6 kgm of peak torque at 4000 rpm. But the big news is the debut of the smallest CRDi engine in the Hyundai portfolio under the hood of the Grand i10. This 1.1-liter second-generation common-rail direct injection diesel engine is rated at 71 PS of power at 4000 rpm and 16.3 kgm of torque at 2750 rpm. Going by the popularity of CRDi engines right from the Accent CRDi of yore to the recent Elantra CRDi, we expect the CRDi variants of Grand i10 to sell strongly.

As is customary with every new Hyundai model launched, a slew of segment-first features make their debut in the Grand i10. Have you heard of rear air-conditioning vents and an integrated 2-DIN audio system with a built-in memory capacity of 1GB in hatchbacks? If not, hear it now. The Grand i10 possess these features and much more that include rear parking sensors, push button start/stop system, a multifunction steering wheel with Bluetooth, audio and trip controls, automatically folding outside rear view mirrors, driver seat height adjustment and front and rear power outlets. The increase in wheelbase of 100 mm compared to the European model is said to have significantly increased the passenger room in the rear seats, which will prove to be a boon for Indian families. The biggest disappointment though is the absence of dual airbags and Antilock Braking System (ABS) as standard in any variant. They are only available as options in the top spec Asta variant.

Surprisingly, the Grand i10 is styled a bit conventionally compared to other Hyundais such as Eon, Sonata and Elantra that are famous for their flamboyant styling. The swept-back headlight and taillight clusters, the thin chrome grille and the familiar hexagonal air intake in the front bumper look good but not great. Unlike the European i10 that looks relatively more stylish and contemporary, the modified-for-India Grand i10 has shed some style for added practicality. For instance, the upward-sloping rear windows in the European model that gives the car a chic look along with the wraparound rear windscreen are replaced by a pair of flat windows that are said to provide a sense of airiness in the cabin. Unlike the Eon and the i20, the profile is devoid of character lines. While the roof rails look a bit gimmicky, those diamond-cut alloy wheels are gorgeous.

When the first-generation i10 was launched, it became the most awarded Car of the Year in 2007 sweeping off every award in the Indian automotive industry. On top of that, it earned the goodwill of customers and has consistently been among the top-selling cars in our country. Let's also not forget that the i10 was 'made in India' for rest of the world too and the good demand for this little car in the international markets made Hyundai Motor India the country's largest car exporter. With such a chequered history for its predecessor, will the Grand i10 deliver the goods and hit the sweet-spot? We think it will.