2014 Paris - Honda Civic Type-R Concept II is a sign of good things from Japan

Honda might have discontinued the Civic for good in India but the model continues to play an important role in shaping up the Japanese brand's fortunes globally. Europe had always had that one bit of additional luck on their side for they always had a hot hatch variant of the Civic on offer while the rest of the world had to do with the regular sedan and coupe body-styles. The 2014 Paris Motor Show that concluded recently had an interesting Civic Type-R Concept II on display that previwed the future of the hot hatchback destined for Europe. What about this wild blue hatch makes us say so, you might wonder!

For starters, this is not just the most-extreme Civic ever. This is the most-extreme and hence, possibly, the fastest 'Type-R' Honda has ever dished out. And that, dear folks, include all previous Type-R iterations of the Civic, the Integra, the Accord and even the NSX. Now, that's something, isn't it?

Under the hood of this hatch, a turbocharged 2.0-lier i-VTEC engine from Honda's 'Earth Dreams' series produces more than 280 PS, giving the car some real firepower to go with its looks. With the turbocharger boosting low-end power delivery, the i-VTEC works its usual magic at higher rpms, making this a Type-R powerplant like no other. The new Civic Type-R will also mark the debut of Honda's new '+R' button located to the side of the steering wheel. It basically alters the steering, suspension and engine settings towards a more sporty set-up at the press of a button. Further, Honda claims that the innovative 'steer axis' system and adaptive dampers enhances the car's traction and handling characteristics, making the Civic Type-R more track-friendly.

Designers at Honda have made no qualms in declaring their intentions with this car. Shod with a bright blue paintjob with contrasting red decals, the Civic Type-R is, to put it in one word, 'hot'. The sharp headlights with those characteristic kinks, the full body kit, the tipped-forward stance and the racy decals do a perfect job of hinting what's in store. But, it's at the rear where things get a whole lot wilder. The huge spoiler and the split taillights that extend into it look unique while the diffuser, fender vents and quad exhausts screams sportiness. If Honda decides to retain these styling elements in the production version when the new Civic Type-R goes on sale in 2015, have no doubts that it will turn heads wherever it goes.

With all necessary ingredients brewing up nicely, the new Civic Type-R might mark the dawn of a new performance era for Honda, the brand that has, of late, been battling allegations of swaying away from being sporty to more mundane and, dare we say it, boring. Come on Honda, launch this as it is and kill those allegations once and for all.


Maruti-Suzuki Ciaz makes its global debut in India

Maruti-Suzuki's most-awaited premium mid-size sedan, the Ciaz, made its global debut in India early this week. Replacing the ageing SX4, the Ciaz would battle it out with the Honda City and Hyundai Verna, two popular cars that have hit jackpot in India. When it was first unveiled last month, we stated that the Ciaz could be Maruti-Suzuki's most ambitious attempt yet in cracking the mid-size segment jinx that it has had for decades now. Post launch, we stick to what we said before.

Based on the Concept Authentics that Suzuki displayed at the 2013 Shanghai Auto Show, the Ciaz flaunts a clean design and near-perfect proportions. The upswept headlights and the rectangular chrome-clad grille are typical Maruti design traits that we have grown familiar with. Despite the familiarity, the Ciaz still manages to look unique, thanks to those projectors and superb detailing inside the headlights. The Ciaz shows off its length when viewed in profile with the prominent shoulder line breaking the monotony. The sleek alloy wheels and the boomerang-shaped character line at the bottom spice things up too. From the rear, the Ciaz bears a very strong resemblance to the City, it's chief competitor. The taillight lenses that extend into the bootlid, the integrated spoiler and the black plastic inserts in the bumper adds a touch of sportiness to the Ciaz.

The best-in-class wheelbase of the Ciaz gives the car an extremely spacious cabin in which leg, head and shoulder room would never be in short supply. The black and biege theme all around along with the wooden inserts and chrome accents lend a contemporary look to the cabin. Maruti-Suzuki has taken a leaf out of Hyundai and Honda and loaded the Ciaz with tons of kit. Apart from the regular goodies that are the norm in this segment, the higher variants of the Ciaz have automatic climate control, leather upholstery, steering-mounted audio and phone controls, push button start, reverse parking camera and sensors, rear air-conditioning vents, rear sunshade, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and dual airbags. A top-end variant equipped with a touchscreen entertainment system is expected to be launched a few months down the line. 

Powering the Ciaz are the 1.4-liter K14 petrol engine and the 1.3-liter DDiS diesel engine, both of which are currenty powering the Ertiga too. Both the engines are mated to a 5-speed manual transmission though a 4-speed automatic is also offered with the petrol unit. The petrol mill generates 91 bhp at 6000 rpm and 130 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm while the diesel unit generates 89 bhp at 4000 rpm and 200 Nm of torque from as low as 1750 rpm. While the power and torque ratings can be claimed as, at best, modest, the Ciaz has recorded incredible fuel efficiency figures during ARAI testing. While the petrol Ciaz delivers 20.73 km/l, the diesel returns an incredible 26.21 km/l, making it India's most fuel efficient car. This, along with Maruti's unshakable reliability, rock-solid reputation and widespread after-sales service, would bring in hordes of customers for sure.

For now, the Ciaz is available in a range of 6 petrol and 4 diesel variants. Prices for the base VXi manual petrol variant starts at INR 6.99 Lakhs and goes up to INR 8.59 Lakhs for the ZXi(O) variant. The automatic variants are available in two trim levels - VXi+ and ZXi+, priced at INR 8.65 and 9.34 Lakhs respectively. On the other hand, the base VDi diesel variant retails for INR 8.04 Lakhs while the ZDi(O) variant tops out at INR 9.80 Lakhs. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi. That's good pricing by Maruti-Suzuki, undercutting the City and Verna by quite a margin. 

With pre-bookings running into several thousands, we believe Maruti-Suzuki is finally staring at a much-deserved and much-needed success in the mid-size segment. The SX4, Baleno and Kizashi shall rest in peace knowing that the Ciaz has well and truly taken over the mantle.


2014 Paris - Audi TT Sportback Concept hints at family expansion

Audi, no doubt, makes beautiful cars, but the TT has got to be one of the most beautiful cars ever made by the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer. After captivating critics and public alike across two iterations, the third-generation TT made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year. If the TT Sportback Concept that was showcased at the recently-concluded Paris Motor Show is any indication, the TT family that currently comprises the coupe and the roadster, might expand to include this five-door sedan.

The Sportback Concept shares most of its design cues with the new TT. Up front, the singleframe hexagonal grille is lifted straight off the TT, though the one in the concept is flatter and bigger. The front bumper features a single air inlet with two large trapezoidal edges joined together by a thin strip. The headlights with vertical separators that form a unique DRL signature are shared with the TT too. In profile, the bulging wheel arches, the sharp horizontal character line and the sloping glasshouse reminds us of its relationship with the TT coupe. That Audi has managed to incorporate two additional doors without spoiling the beautiful profile of the TT is quite remarkable. At the rear, the recessed taillights that narrows down towards the license plate holder and the twin tailpipes incorporated in the diffuser stand out. A thin strip connecting the taillights carries the logo, giving it an embossed look.

Unlike other concepts that feature outlandish design elements and crazy interiors that hardly end up in production, the TT Sportback Concept has production-ready interiors that borrows heavily from the original TT. Audi claims that the Sportback's interiors combines uncompromising sportiness of a coupe and the functionality of a five-door sedan. A funky instrument cluster in the form of Audi virtual cockpit, the center console that spans the entire length of the cabin, the rotary air-conditioning vents and a thin array of buttons below them are things that greet our eyes at first look. A 2.0-liter TFSI engine that generates 400 horsepower and a maximum torque of 450 Nm sits under the hood of this concept, giving it some serious performance credentials. Combined with the 'quattro' permanent all-wheel-drive system, the TT Sportback Concept should be a hoot to drive on road.

If this TT derivative makes it to production, it would slot in below the A5 and the A7, both of which feature Sportback design elements. Well, why spoil the exclusivity and the uniqueness of the TT we would ask. But, if Mercedes-Benz can make a blockbuster out of a four-door coupe, who are we to stop Audi from doing that again? After all, every niche exists to be filled!

2014 Paris - Jaguar XE makes its public debut

Ever since Tata Motors acquired it along with Land Rover, Jaguar, the iconic British luxury car-maker has been staging a strong resurgence with rising sales and fatter profits. But, it just couldn't challenge the German luxury trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the absence of an entry-level luxury offering hurting its cause. While the XF took the A6, 5-Series and E-Class head-on and the XJ challenged the likes of A8, 7-Series and S-Class, the A4, 3-Series and C-Class were having a free ride. And that might change soon. After its world premiere at a private event in London early September, Jaguar's all-new XE made its public debut at the just-concluded Paris Motor Show.

Challenging the German trio on paper is one thing, but does the XE has enough in it's arsenal to challenge the fabled Germans? Atleast as far as design and styling are concerned, it most definitely has.

The long, sculpted hood and the bold radiator grille defines the front end of the XE. Despite sharing design cues with the XF and XJ, the XE has an unique identity of its own, thanks to the menacing headlights that almost meets the grille on either sides. With the rising waistline, a sloping roofline and cab-rearward proportions, the XE's profile looks quite stylish and sporty. The airvent in the front fender is an ode to the sexy F-Type. At the rear, the integrated spoiler and the bumper diffuser spruce things up only to be undone by those large, ungainly taillights. We never thought we would say that on a Jag, but that's only because the rest of the car looks incredibly sharp.

The top-of-the-line, performance-oriented 'S' variant, the one in red in these pictures, is quite a visual masterpiece!

Looking at the pictures, the XE boasts of a cabin that looks clean and well-appointed, if a bit conservative. Apart from the rotary gear selector, the sporty three-spoke steering wheel and the squarish center console with Jaguar's new InControl infotainment system are the other attractions inside. The InControl Remote functionality even lets owners remotely connect to the car, start the engine, lock or unlock doors and adjust the climate control settings. With all the experience gained by using the shiny lightweight metal in the flagship XJ, Jaguar has extensively used aluminium in the construction of XE too, giving it a light yet strong structure. An array of active and passive safety features and a host of driver assistance systems would be part of the kit, giving the XE much-needed ammunition to go after the Germans.

Powering the XE would be the new 'Ingenium' family of engines that's engineered to deliver fuel-efficiency, refinement and performance with lesser emissions. A modified version of the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission would be coupled with these engines. The range-topping 'S' variant features the 3.0-liter V6 engine that develops 340 horsepower. Let's not forget that this engine also powers the F-Type coupe and roadster. That should make the baby Jag sedan a shattering performer. Whatever might be the engine under the hood, all the power generated would be transferred to the rear wheels though Jaguar claims that the XE's architecture is capable of incorporating 'all-wheel-drive' systems. The XE would also be the first Jaguar equipped with an electric power-assisted steering.

When it goes on sale globally next year, the XE should be taking the fight to its competitors from Germany and Japan, both in terms of sales and capabilities. That's what Jaguar would be hoping for! All we can say is there is a big cat-fight brewing that shouldn't be missed.

Mercedes-Benz launches the GLA crossover in India

Mercedes-Benz has been putting up quite a show in the Indian market with a spree of new model launches this year. And the show continued with the launch of the GLA crossover earlier this week, priced between INR 32.75 Lakhs for the base diesel variant 'Style' and INR 36.9 Lakhs for the top-end diesel variant 'Sport'. In between, there is a sole petrol variant in 'Sport' trim that retails for INR 36 Lakhs. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi.

Competing with Audi and BMW for supremacy in the premium segment, Mercedes-Benz was kind of handicapped without the presence of a compact crossover or Sport Utility Vehicle in its lineup, given that Audi's Q3 and BMW's X1 were adding significant numbers to the monthly sales tally of the respective brands. The launch of the GLA puts the brand with the three pointed star on an equal footing with its fellow German compatriots.

Following the A-Class, B-Class and the CLA45 AMG, the GLA is the fourth Mercedes-Benz model to be based on the Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform that's been making waves globally for increasing the affordability quotient of the brand. The GLA is quite a looker, with the raised stance and beefy wheel arches all around giving it that all-important SUV look. At the front, the big twin-slat grille with the huge three-pointed star logo in the center and the xenon headlamps their the characteristic 'kinks' are sure to attract curious stares. The raised stance and the beefy wheel arches show their mettle in profile while the nicely-detailed taillamps and the twin exhausts are the highlights at the rear. The bumpers have metallic inserts with a matte finish, adding a touch of class.

The interiors too are shared with its siblings from the same platform. On first glance, the beige upholstery and the metallic finish in the dashboard appears to be key differentiators. As we have said before, the SLS-inspired circular air-conditioning vents and the tablet-like Multimedia screen on top of the dashboard look good. The GLA comes fully loaded with a lot of kit that include a panoramic sunroof, Harman-Kardon sound system, satellite navigation, rear-view camera, electrically-adjustable front seats and an infotainment system with a 14.7 cm screen, CD and MP3 compatibility and USB and Bluetooth connectivity. As usual, a full array of safety features that include seven airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Brake Assist System (BAS), Anti-Skid Regulation (ASR) and Hill Start Assist are standard on the GLA.

Two 4-cylinder engines, a 2.0-liter petrol that generates 181 bhp at 5500 rpm and 300 Nm of torque between 1200 to 1400 rpm and a 2.2-liter diesel that develops 134 bhp between 3600 to 4400 rpm and 300 Nm of torque between 1600 to 3000 rpm, power the GLA. Both are mated to a 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. In what is a total contrast to the strategy adopted for the CLA compact four-door coupe, the performance-oriented GLA45 AMG is expected to arrive in India a few months down the line.