2016 Los Angeles - Alfa Romeo stuns with the Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Alfa Romeo has been making cars for more than 100 years but they have never made a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) so far. At a time when demand for SUVs and crossovers are sky-rocketing, no automotive brand can afford to not have one in their lineup. Being late to the party as they are, Alfa Romeo unveiled it's first-ever SUV, the Stelvio, at the recently concluded 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Named after the highest mountain pass in Italy, the Stelvio is all set to join the Giulia that debuted in 2015 marking the beginning of a new era for the Fiat-owned Italian luxury brand. Just like the Giulia, the Stelvio aims to offer Alfa Romeo's signature Italian flair and sporty handling in the booming SUV crossover segment, a combination that not many brands successfully manage to deliver.

SUVs aren't always pretty but the Stelvio, unveiled in Quadrifoglio version in Los Angeles, surely is. The brand's trademark shield-shaped grille with apertures around it and the big air dams hint at power and aggression as do the functional air vents in the hood. Alfa Romeos have always vowed us with their impeccable surfacing and the Stelvio is no different - just look at the interplay of surfaces in the hood, bumper and the fenders! The racy profile has flared wheel arches and two prominent character lines to show off. Don't miss the cloverleaf 'Quadrifoglio' logo and the gorgeous alloy wheels! The rear, though, is more station wagon than SUV but, with a contoured trunk lid, diffuser and quad-exhausts topped off by a beautiful spoiler, we aren't complaining.

The driver-centric cabin is simple yet elegant. The steering wheel is beautifully shaped and textures and has a plethora of controls including the push button start. That, and the angled dashboard with the diagonal central tunnel, puts a lot of focus on the driver and the driving position. While this Quadrifoglio version has a 8.8-inch touchscreen multimedia in the dashboard, the standard Stelvias get a 6.5-inch display.

Powering the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a 2.9-liter BiTurbo petrol engine shared with the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Mated to a ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission, this engine generates 510 horsepower, enough to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds. All other variants of the Stelvio get a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo petrol, also shared with the Giulia, that churns out 280 horsepower.

Stelvia's all-wheel drive hardware includes an active transfer case and front differential combined with Alfa Romeo's Torque Vectoring system, all of which are controlled by a Chassis Domain Control system. A double wishbone front suspension, Alfa Romeo's patented 'AlfaLink' multilink rear suspension, the new DNA Pro selector - offering Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficiency and Race modes and a perfect 50:50 weight distribution mean the Stelvio Quadrifoglio has all the characteristics to make us grin ear to ear when we are behind the wheel.

The Stelvio is slated to go on sale in 2018. With the Giulia getting rave reviews wherever it goes, we are sure the Stelvio wouldn't be far behind. Good times are ahead of Alfa Romeo, we think!


Empty your wallets and your bank accounts, the Vespa 946 Emporio Armani is now in India!

What happens when iconic Italian flair meets the ultimate in Italian fashion? The result is the Vespa 946 Emporio Armani. As the name suggests, this special edition scooter is an ode to the original 1946 Vespa with styling inputs from Giorgio Armani, the famous Italian fashion house.

Designed to commemorate 140 years of existence of the Piaggio Group and 40th anniversary of the Giorgio Armani foundation, the Vespa 946 Emporio Armani is truly one-of-a-kind. Indians got a first glimpse of the scooter at the 2016 Auto Expo in New Delhi with Piaggio officially launching it earlier this week. The price? That's a whopping ₹12.04 Lakhs, ex-showroom Pune. Your eyes are perfectly fine. This scooter costs 12 Lakh Rupees!

The regular Vespa 946 sports retro-modern styling that mimics the original 1946 Vespa. The Emporio Armani edition takes it to the next level. Wearing a unique matte black paint job and bespoke alloy wheels, the 946 Emporio Armani's feature list include full LED lighting, Anti-lock Braking, Anti-slip Regulator traction control system, front and rear disc brakes, LCD instrument cluster and leather-wrapped handlebars. The words Emporio Armani are prominently placed on both sides while Armani's eagle logo is stuck on top of the headlight.

Just look at it, complete with that unconventional seat and the beautiful leather bag fitted on to the carrier. If this isn't a fashion statement, what else is? We could keep staring at it all day!

Unfortunately, the 946 does not have the go to match its show. The single cylinder 125cc engine is shared with the regular Vespas and generates 11.7 horsepower and 10.3 Nm of torque mated to an automatic transmission. While the engine is adequate enough for everyday riding, it just doesn't make you feel 'special' after paying what Vespa is asking for this scooter. Think of it, Vespa is charging us 1 Lakh Rupees for every horsepower!

But that's the whole point. See this as a scooter and it makes no sense to plonk your hard-earned money to buy one. But, look at the 946 Emporio Armani as a style statement - a sort of expensive piece of sculpture that could move around - and it suddenly makes sense for those with deep pockets to have one at their disposal.

As for the rest, go rob a bank in the vicinity. Even that won't guarantee enough funds to buy one of these!


Jaguar guns for Tesla with the I-Pace Concept

Who would have imagined Tesla's full-electric Model X SUV would see a rival as early as 2018 from Jaguar? Yes, the British luxury car-maker pulled a proverbial cat out of the bag during the run up to the 2016 Los Angeles International Auto Show by taking the wraps off its I-Pace Concept. It might only be Jaguar's second-ever SUV after the stylish F-Pace but, crucially, it leaps ahead with its fully electrified drive-train.

When we post on Jaguars, we usually begin with describing how beautiful they are to look at. But this isn't a regular Jag. This is Jaguar trying to make a statement against its more popular rivals - Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus included. This is Jaguar announcing its leap, pun intended, from internal combustion engines straight to zero-emission full-electric vehicles, skipping the usual step of plug-in hybrids in between.

Powering the I-Pace are two electric motors, one each at the front and rear axles. Together, they generate 394 horsepower and a whopping 700 Nm of instant torque. With zero lag, no transmission losses and all-wheel drive traction, the I-Pace can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 4 seconds flat. That's close to Jaguar's own F-Type SVR, a thoroughbred sports car. 

A 90 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, designed and developed by Jaguar, is an integral part of the I-Pace Concept's body structure. Located beneath the floor and between the axles, the lightweight, liquid-cooled pack can be charged to its full capacity in about 2 hours on a 50 kW fast-charging DC station. Once charged, Jaguar claims the I-Pace can go more than 500 km on the European NEDC combined cycle and more than 220 miles on the US EPA cycle. That's a wee bit less than Model X's claimed-and-tested range but we are nit-picking here.

With such credentials, one would have forgiven Jaguar for giving up on form over function when designing the I-Pace. Fact is, they haven't. The I-Pace Concept is quite a looker in its own right and every bit a Jaguar. The brand’s distinctive trapezoidal grille with hexagonal grids has not been chucked out like in many other electric vehicles. It still occupies prime position up front flanked on either sides by full LED headlights with ‘Double-J’ Daytime Running Lights. In the absence of an engine underneath, the hood is scooped out to reduce drag. The profile is sweet with short overhangs and a long wheelbase that gives the I-Pace Concept classic proportions. The cabin is brought forward and sits low compared to regular SUVs. Flush door handles and the flowing waist line that leads to muscular rear haunches not just look beautiful but also aid aerodynamics. At the rear, the fastback-like sloping windshield, F-Type inspired taillights and functional rear vents that replace the conventional tailpipe stand out.

Being a concept, Jaguar has taken full liberty to come up with a minimalist yet futuristic cabin. A configurable 12-inch virtual HD instrument cluster and a full-colour Head-up Display ensure the driver is presented with all the information needed at all times. The dashboard has a 12-inch primary TFT touchscreen supported by an auxiliary 5.5-inch secondary touchscreen that lets users change multimedia and climate control settings without interrupting the main multimedia screen’s display. Those tactile rotary controllers with a rich knurled finish for the climate control system look fantastic and lifts the cabin ambiance. The floating center console and the absence of transmission tunnel liberates a lot of space, making the I-Pace a spacious and comfortable vehicle to travel around. In fact, the flat second row’s legroom and the 530-litre boot space at the rear complemented by a 28-liter luggage compartment under the hood rival larger SUVs and sedans.

Slated to go on sale in 2018, the I-Pace will begin a new chapter in Jaguar-Land Rover’s history, with the scalable electric architecture allowing the two brands to come up with more battery-powered vehicles as and when they find it appropriate. So, Model X isn't the only model Tesla should be worried about. 

In the press release, Ian Hoban, Jaguar’s vehicle line director is quoted as saying “Electric vehicles are inevitable - Jaguar will make them desirable”. We couldn’t summarize the I-Pace better. Kudos Jaguar, on a job well done!


Hyundai launches the all-new Tucson in India

Hyundai's SUV and crossover lineup in India is limited to the blockbuster Creta and the highly-capable Santa Fe. Between the two models is a huge price gap. In comes the Tucson, to plug that gap. 

Launched in New Delhi yesterday, the all-new third-generation Tucson is making a comeback in the Indian market. Hyundai launched the first-generation Tucson here amidst a lot of hopes but it failed so miserably that the Korean automaker pulled the plug and never bothered to bring along the second-generation model. Now that SUVs are high on demand and Hyundai has had back-to-back hits in the premium segment, the Tucson is back.

Following Hyundai's Fluidic 2.0 design philosophy, the Tucson looks bold and mature. The chrome-lined hexagonal grille dominates the fascia flanked by a pair of sleek wrap-around projector headlamps. The bumper has a thin air dam underlined by a skid plate with hexagonal-shaped fog lamp enclosures on either sides. The profile is characterized by a prominent shoulder line and beefed-up wheel arches that lend character to the design. The window line goes up and up, almost ending at the top of the rear windshield. Just like the i20 and the Elantra, the Tucson has wrap-around taillights that extend well into the tailgate. Dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes and plastic-clad bumper complete the rear.

Hyundai has been consciously moving away from flashy designs and the Tucson's cabin is yet another step in that direction. The dual-tone dashboard is neatly-designed in such a way it would offend none. Build quality, fit and finish would be top notch, something we have experienced with Hyundai time and again. Though the Tucson can seat just five, it can do so in absolute comfort given the space on offer. 

Feature list runs into pages with several segment-firsts like full LED headlamps with static bending, puddle lamps, powered tailgate, electric parking brake and auto-folding rear view mirrors with heated function. Other features include full leather upholstery, 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control with cluster ionizer, smart key with push button start, automatic headlamps, cruise control, 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, split-folding rear seats, cooled glovebox and a 8.0-inch touchscreen infotaiment system that can support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

Having said that, the base variant of Tucson appears severely under-equipped. Would you believe us if we tell you it comes with fabric seats and manual air-conditioning while lacking features like keyless entry and rear air-conditioning vents? 

For a premium vehicle like the Tucson, it is unfortunate that the safety kit isn't standard across the range. While six airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management, Hill-start Assist Control, Downhill Brake Control, Brake Assist, front and rear parking sensors, ISOFIX child seat anchor system and electronic shift lock system are on offer, most of these are reserved for the top-end GLS variant only.

Powering the Tucson are a pair of 2.0-liter engines. The 'Nu' petrol engine is shared with the Elantra and generates 153 horsepower and 192 Nm of torque. The 'R' diesel engine is all-new and churns out 182 horsepower with 400 Nm of torque. While the base variants come with a 6-speed manual transmission, the GL and GLS variants are equipped with a 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission. 4WD isn't on offer at the moment and is expected to join the lineup next year. 

In terms of pricing, Hyundai has positioned the Tucson bang in between the Creta and the Santa Fe. The two petrol variants retail at INR 18.99 and 21.79 Lakhs while the diesel variants are priced between INR 21.59 and 24.99 Lakhs. Pricing is a hit and miss. The base variants are competitively priced but the top-end variants are so close to Ford Endeavour and Chevrolet Trailblazer territory which have the advantage of offering 7 seats. 

Despite common perception that it was overpriced, the Creta has been a smash hit in India selling around 8000 units a month. The Elantra has started off strongly as well with over 1000 bookings within a couple of months of its launch. Will the Tucson be Hyundai's next big hit in the premium segment? We have our fingers crossed.


2016 Sao Paulo - Hyundai tri(u)cks rivals with the Creta STC

Hyundai has been admittedly aggressive with its teaser campaigns leading to the 2016 Sao Paulo International Motor Show but little did we see this coming. Yes, while the press and the public were waiting for the Creta to be unveiled for the South American market, Hyundai pulled off a surprise debut alongside.

Well, that was also a Creta technically, albeit in an interestingly different avatar. Dubbed the Creta STC (Sport Truck Concept), Hyundai previewed a potential lifestyle pickup for the Brazilian market based on the Creta.

The fascia is straight out of the Creta with liberal helping of conceptual touches. The headlights are slimmer, the grille is bigger sporting Hyundai's new 'cascading' design and halogens and projectors have given way for some cool Light Emitting Diodes. The beautiful wraparound windshield​, ​raked window line​ and half-size suicide rear doors​ remind us of the ​HCD-15 ​Santa Cruz Concept that was unveiled in Detroit last year. Of course, the window line bears a strong resemblance to the Creta's. The rear is a bit underwhelming with a bland tailgate and slim taillights that look​ ​out o​f sync​​ on what is supposedly a striking concept truck. Massive ​21-inch ​Pirelli-shod wheels and a bright green colour​​ add to the sexiness quotient.

The Creta STC is longer and marginally wider than the regular Creta. The ​sporty​ space-cab pickup has a bed with speakers, nifty storage compartments and a capacity to hold 850 litres of luggage. Though Hyundai hasn't announced it, we expect Creta's engines and transmissions to be carried over.

As of now, the Creta STC is not confirmed for production, which is a shame. But, if it makes the transition as it is with minimal changes, the Renault Duster Oroch and Fiat Toro should be worried.


2016 Sao Paulo - Honda WR-V makes its world premiere

The BR-V is still only a few months old out there but Honda is already on the march with its next compact crossover. This time, its even smaller than the BR-V and, crucially, less than 4 meters long. In case you are wondering, its christened the WR-V. In short for what Honda calls "Winsome Runabout Vehicle", the WR-V made its world premiere at the ongoing 2016 Sao Paulo International Motor Show in Brazil. 

Developed by Honda's engineers in Brazil, the WR-V is conceived to satisfy the needs of tough urban buyers who are looking for a rugged and spacious utility vehicle within a compact footprint. While the BR-V shares its underpinnings with the Brio, Amaze and Mobilio, the WR-V uses the same platform that the Jazz and City are based on.

Though the WR-V is based on the Jazz hatchback, Honda's designers have done just enough to give the vehicle a distinct fascia. As we saw with recent new launches from Honda, the front end is dominated by a split grille, the upper half of which gets a thick bar of chrome that connects the headlights. The lower half extends into the bumper which is already busy with a slim air dam, few sharp lines here and there, plastic cladding and a fake skid plate. The profile is straight out of the Jazz with bulky plastic cladding and roof rails being the only add-ons. Of course, the ground clearance would be higher too. The rear gets some CR-V cues which is evident in the way the split taillights extend onto the bootlid. Glossy black inserts replace the reflectors found on both sides of the rear windshield. The bumper gets an overdose of plastic cladding with an integrated metallic insert.

Brazil is where the WR-V will go on sale first and that's expected to happen in the first half of 2017. India is on the list of potential markets for the WR-V, given our obsession with SUVs in general and brand Honda in particular. When launched, the WR-V will rival compact crossovers like the Ford Ecosport and Maruti-Suzuki Vitara Brezza as well as hatchback-based pseudo-crossovers like the Toyota Etios Cross, Volkswagen Cross Polo and Hyundai i20 Active.

While Honda has not revealed the WR-V's specifications yet, it is anybody's guess the engines and transmissions would be carried over from the Jazz. So, the 1.2-liter iVTEC petrol and the 1.5-liter iDTEC diesel, both of which aren't new to India, are expected to power the WR-V as well. Apart from the manual transmission, Honda's CVT automatic gearbox is likely to be offered. The Brazilian market will include a potential flex fuel variant too.

The WR-V will be the smallest crossover in Honda's lineup, slotting below the CR-V, HR-V and BR-V in the Japanese brand's portfolio. There really isn't space for yet another crossover, we think. Honda might have other plans, who knows?

Fleet of BharatBenz buses and trucks spotted testing near Chennai

The Commercial Vehicles sector in India has evolved in the last few years with international players setting up shop to rival the two home-grown biggies, Tata and Ashok Leyland. Daimler, through its specific-to-India 'BharatBenz' brand, has been one of them, gaining share slowly and steadily. 

Starting off with their heavy duty haulage trucks, BharatBenz slowly expanded its portfolio to include trucks with capacity ranging from 9 to 49 tonnes. The first batch of BharatBenz branded buses were then introduced around this time last year. That's not all, there's more coming our way. This fleet of test vehicles from BharatBenz spotted running in close proximity to each other in the busy NH45 a few days back is proof of that. 

While three of the four vehicles spotted testing are already on sale, this bus with body built by 'Arrow' caught our attention. 

Bus bodies built on 12 meter chassis are quite popular in the intercity transportation sector with players like Ashok Leyland, Tata and Eicher being the big-sellers right now. With this bus, Daimler's next target appears to be this popular segment. The test vehicle was air-conditioned and had fixed windows. What made us feel good was the fact that passenger's safety has been well taken care of. A door for 'Emergency Exit' with provision to open from outside is present towards the rear of the bus on the right side while two openable emergency windows could also be seen on either sides.

Interestingly, a test mule of BharatBenz's Staff Bus that was launched late 2015 was also seen accompanying its bigger sibling. 

With an aluminique body built over frame borrowed from the Fuso Fighter, the Staff Bus is powered by a 3.9-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that belts out 140 horsepower and 420 Nm of torque and is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. With a 2x2 seating layout, the Staff Bus can accommodate 39 passengers apart from the driver. We had our eyes and ears wide open for clues but still couldn't figure out what was being tested. But the very fact BharatBenz is testing something on the vehicle within an year of launch is an encouraging sign for this segment.

As always, BharatBenz's bread-and-butter medium duty haulage trucks, the 914R and 1214R, was also part of the test fleet. 

With payloads of 9 and 12 tonnes respectively, these trucks are powered by the same 3.9-liter engine that does duty in BharatBenz's Staff Bus. The power (140 HP) and torque (420 Nm) figures remain identical as well. Launched in 2012, these two trucks were responsible for establishing BharatBenz as a credible alternative to the Tatas and Ashok Leylands. 

2015 saw BharatBenz launch the next generation of these trucks dubbed MD IN-Power. With improved fuel efficiency, higher payload, higher service intervals, radial tyres, Multi Drive Mode and optional features like air-conditioning and anti-roll bar, the trucks raised the segment standards. These test vehicles go on to show BharatBenz isn't getting complacent at all and hint at more things in store for the 914 and 1214 series.

Watch this space!


Toyota launches the new Fortuner in India

Any which way you look at it, the Toyota Fortuner has been a textbook success in the Indian automotive industry. Ever since its launch, this macho Toyota SUV sold in numbers unheard of for a vehicle priced above INR 20 Lakhs. And the less said about its competitors, the better it is for them. The Fortuner was so dominant that it sold more than the cumulative sales of all of its competitors. The launch of the new Ford Endeavour earlier this year finally proved to be a real challenge for Toyota and here they are wasting no time in launching the new second-generation Fortuner here.

The first-generation Fortuner made a name for itself with its butch looks and macho appeal. The new model tries to accomplish the same, albeit in a completely different way. Sleek Bi-beam projector headlights, funky character lines in profile, wrap-around rear windows with the unique kink and sharp LED taillights have transformed the Fortuner into one modern-looking SUV. The aggressive grille gets a healthy dose of chrome as do the foglamp surrounds and tailgate. Other traits like the extra large dimensions and imposing stance are carried over from the previous model.

Just like the exteriors, the interiors have underwent a complete transformation. The cabin appears to be better built, better finished and more luxurious than the outgoing model. The feature list has expanded significantly as well with the Fortuner now getting automatic headlamps, smart key with push button start, fully automatic powered tailgate, leather upholstery, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, paddle shifters (automatic only), cruise control and dual zone climate control as standard. Top notch safety kit include seven airbags, ABS with EBD, Whiplash injury protection, ISOFIX anchorage points and 3-point seat belts for all passengers.

Built on Toyota's New Global Architecture, the Fortuner shares its underpinnings with the Innova Crysta MPV and the Hilux pick-up truck. Two engine options - a 2.7-liter petrol developing 164 horsepower and a 2.8-liter turbo diesel churning out 175 horsepower - are on offer. The petrol variants are available in 2WD configuration only with the option of a 5-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmission. On the other hand, the diesel variants can be had with 4WD configuration as well. Transmission options in the diesel variants include a 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic gearboxes. 

The petrol variants are priced between INR 25.92 to 27.61 Lakhs while the diesel variants are priced from INR 27.52 Lakhs for the 2WD MT variant to INR 31.12 Lakhs for the top-end 4WD AT variant. 

The new Fortuner's main rivals include Ford Endeavour, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Chevrolet Trailblazer and Ssangyong Rexton, all using body-on-frame construction like the Toyota. By virtue of being in the same price point, monocoque crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe might also be cross-shopped by some. 

While the old Fortuner just started to lose a bit of its sheen to the new Endeavour, the arrival of the new Fortuner should bring Toyota back to pole position. Keep a close eye on this potential slug-fest between Toyota and Ford!

Volvo S90 launched in India at ₹53.5 Lakhs

In an attempt to gain market share in the rapidly-growing mid-size luxury car segment in India, Volvo has recently launched the new S90 sedan. Pitted against cars like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Jaguar XF, the S90 sure has its work cut out.

At the moment, the S90 is available in just one variant and trim level - D4 Inscription - priced at INR 53.5 Lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai. Deliveries are expected to begin next month.

Volvo's new design language that debuted in the XC90 has been winning over critics and customers across the globe and the S90 is no different. The sleek LED headlights with the characteristic "Thor's Hammer" DRLs, the trapezoidal grille with vertical chrome slats and the wide air dam look very similar to the ones in the XC90. The silhouette exudes class helped extensively by the long hood, the near-flat shoulder line, the sloping coupe-like roof line and the almost 3-meter long wheelbase. Unlike the minimalist approach elsewhere, the rear is a bit loud with large C-shaped taillights and a contoured trunk lid. If distinct looks are what you are after, the S90 will emerge a strong contender trouncing its competitors.

The interiors, again, are very similar to the XC90 with a clean, uncluttered design accentuated by subtle and classy walnut inserts and chrome bezels. The center console is dominated by a large 9-inch 'Sensus' touchscreen that controls the infotainment system, navigation and the car's various settings. As one would expect from a car in this segment, the S90 is loaded with premium features including a 19-speaker 'Bowers and Wilkins' sound system, Nappa leather upholstery, four-zone climate control, electrically adjustable and ventilated front seats with memory function and powered seat cushion extensions, graphical Head-Up display, independent rear air suspension with multiple drive modes, powered Sunroof and a full safety suite.

Sharing its modular SPA platform with the XC90, the S90 sedan gets a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine with 190 horsepower and 400 Nm of torque. The power is delivered to the wheels through an Aisin 8-speed automatic transmission. While this is the only engine option on offer now, Volvo might contemplate launching a more powerful diesel, petrol and hybrid powertrains later.

Well, the Volvo S90 has all that an average Indian luxury car buyer wants and more. It's priced well too, something that we rarely say when talking about luxury cars. But, will Indians look beyond the snob value associated with the German trio? Volvo certainly hopes so.


99 Volkswagen GTIs are all set to scorch Indian roads

Three long years after we lamented the absence of hot hatchbacks from mainstream auto-makers in India, Fiat did the unexpected by launching the Abarth Punto last year. While the car did succeed in whetting the interests of automotive enthusiasts across the country, it failed to set the cash registers ringing for Fiat. Unperturbed by the tepid response to it's only closest rival, Volkswagen has now followed suit with the introduction of its legendary 'GTI' nameplate in India.

True to its legacy, the GTI is the hottest hatchback on sale in the country with specifications that would make cars like the Mini Cooper S and Fiat 595 Competizione feel insecure. We aren't joking. With a 1.8-liter turbocharged petrol engine underneath, the GTI produces 192 horsepower and 250 Nm of torque, the latter limited by the capabilities of the infamous 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission. The GTI can race from 0 to 100 km/h in just 7.2 seconds with a claimed top speed of 233 km/h. Now, that's some serious performance!

Visually, the GTI has no pretensions to hide its Polo roots and carries the same straightforward and timeless design that we all love. Being available only in its 3-door avatar, exclusivity is guaranteed though. In addition, visual tweaks like full LED headlights with red accents, honeycomb mesh grille with red inserts, sharper front and rear bumpers, dual chrome-tipped exhausts and 16-inch 'Salvador' alloy wheels provide the much-needed differentiation from the regular Polos. Just like the GT twins, there are no Polo badges anywhere in the car. The letters 'GTI' proudly sit on the grille as well as the boot-lid.

While the interiors look similar to the normal Polos at first glance, the GTI will have better build quality, fit and finish as it is imported fully built. The materials used are expected to be a couple of notches better than the regular Polo as well. The cabin gets a few sporty bits like a leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel and sporty bucket seats with contrasting red stitching on them. Safety kit on offer include six airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), ISOFIX anchorage points, all round disc brakes, front and rear Park distance control, Hill start assist and electronic locking differential.

So far, it's all been so good. What's not is the GTI's whopping price tag of INR 25.99 Lakhs, ex-showroom Delhi. That kind of money could fetch you 3 GT TSIs or 3 Abarth Puntos after a bit of haggling! It's definitely super pricey, but then, Volkswagen isn't looking to make a success out of this launch. They have smartly limited the number of units to just 99 and we are sure there are more than enough folks out there with pockets deep enough to splurge on the GTI.

Folks like us can't buy one, of course, but would we mind taking one out for a spin and end up grinning ear to ear throughout the time the car is with us? Absolutely not, and that's what Volkswagen wants!


Maruti-Suzuki Baleno RS with 'Boosterjet' engine spotted testing in Chennai

With more than 100,000 units sold in just over a year since launch, the Baleno has been a runaway success for Maruti-Suzuki in India. In fact, production constraints at the Gurgaon plant and export commitments strictly restricted the number of units that could be sold in the domestic market. Let's not forget India is the manufacturing hub for the Baleno with Maruti-Suzuki exporting the hatchback to global markets including Japan and Europe.

The success of Volkswagen's GT twins opened up the performance hatchback segment in India with Fiat following suit with the powerful Punto Abarth. Maruti-Suzuki's intentions to offer one became apparent at the 2016 Auto Expo in New Delhi when the Baleno RS Concept made its debut. Testing on public roads started soon afterwards.

Spotted testing in Chennai yesterday, it appears Maruti-Suzuki is not done with the testing schedules of the Baleno RS yet. Slated for launch before end of the year, this car would be the launch pad for Suzuki's 'Boosterjet' engine in the Indian market. The 1.0-liter three-cylinder turbocharged direct-injection mill is already on offer in the Baleno globally where it generates 110 horsepower and 160 Nm of torque. In comparison, the existing 1.2-liter petrol engine generates 83 horsepower and 115 Nm of torque from its four cylinders. Mated to a 5-speed manual transmission and Baleno's lightweight chassis, the RS is expected to be a genuine performance hatchback unlike the decked-out limited-edition RS that was offered in the Swift sometime back.

While Maruti-Suzuki does not offer the Baleno in black now, the Baleno RS is expected to be offered in one, similar to the car being tested. Additionally, it could also get visual add-ons like a different grille pattern, more muscular front and rear bumpers and subtle skirting all around to differentiate itself from the regular Balenos. The interiors are also expected to get subtle visual embellishments along with a few additional features.

When it goes on sale, expect the Baleno RS to be priced at a premium over the regular variants. Given that Maruti-Suzuki surprised us with competitive pricing across the existing Baleno range, shall we expect the same with the Baleno RS as well? Let's wait and watch.