Hyundai launches the all-new Verna in India

Honda City has been ruling the roost in the mid-size segment since the late nineties. While competitors came in every shape and form, none but the Hyundai Verna (in its popular ‘fluidic’ avatar) managed to usurp the Japanese sedan. While the battle for supremacy is back with Japanese protagonists with the fourth-generation City and Maruti-Suzuki’s Ciaz vying for honours, Hyundai is not ready to cede further ground yet.  The all-new Verna, launched in India today, is the slingshot Hyundai hopes will bring it back into the hotly-contested battle.

With introductory prices ranging between INR 8.00 to INR 12.24 Lakhs for the petrol variants and INR 9.20 to INR 12.62 Lakhs for the diesel variants, Hyundai has played it smart by positioning the Verna bang in between the Ciaz and the City. Clearly, this is an attempt at pulling in buyers from both of them. 

At first glance, the new Verna appears no more than a facelift of the outgoing model, albeit a significant one at that. That's not true. Based on the K2 platform that also underpins the Elantra, this is an all-new generation of the car that made its global debut last year.

Incorporating Hyundai's newest corporate design trait - the 'cascading' grille, Verna's fascia looks more grown up and mature. On either sides are stretched headlamps with inbuilt projectors and LED Daytime Running Lights. The projector fog lamps, a segment first, are placed in separate housings on the bumper. The grille surround, the horizontal slats and the fog lamp surrounds are all dipped in chrome to satiate the never-ending craze for the shiny metal. In profile, the Verna retains the tipped-forward stance as before but the multiple cuts and creases are gone, now replaced by a prominent shoulder line. At the rear, Elantra-esque split taillights with LED elements look brilliant and gives the Verna a sort of 'mini Elantra' demeanor. 

As we have seen with newer Hyundai cars, the interiors aren’t what one would term aesthetically pleasing. Having said that, the build quality, fit and finish appear top notch as usual. The dual tone dashboard features a wing-shaped center console that houses a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the top variants. Interestingly, the seats are given the dual tone treatment as well with beige and black applied in equal measure. The new Verna is longer and wider than its predecessor, thereby liberating more headroom and legroom for the occupants. Despite that, the Hyundai is no match for the humongous space on offer in the rear seats of the Honda and Suzuki-badged rivals.

As is the norm these days, the new Verna is loaded to the hilt with features. Standard features across the lineup include dual airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), central locking, ISOFIX mounts, power windows, cooled glove-box, tilt steering and rear center armrest with cup holders. The kit in the top-end SX(O) variant include electric sunroof, side and curtain airbags, ventilated seats, projector headlamps, cornering lamps, leather upholstery, smart hands-free trunk, push button start/stop, Auto Link and rear curtain, a few of which are firsts for the mid-size segment.

Powertrain options in the new Verna are now restricted to the 1.6-liter engines. While the 'Gamma' petrol engine churns out 121 horsepower and 151 Nm of torque, the 'U2' CRDi mill generates 126 horsepower and 260 Nm of torque. Mated to these engines are a 6-speed manual gearbox carried over from the outgoing Verna or a new 6-speed automatic transmission shared with the Creta and the Elantra. The 1.4-liter engines and the dated 4-speed automatic box have been shown the door.

With the new Verna, Hyundai has carefully retained the old Verna's strengths while simultaneously rectifying the car's weaknesses. But, is that enough to pull in customers from the City and the Ciaz that are running away in the sales charts? For sure, an interesting battle is brewing up and we will have to wait and watch for the results.


Stretched variant of Mahindra TUV3OO spotted testing near Chennai

Head out of Chennai on a working day and the chances of spotting an upcoming Mahindra vehicle on test are quite high. Last week, we caught the KUV1OO facelift and the all-new Innova-rivaling MPV while they were being tested in the outskirts of the city, not far from Mahindra's Research Valley. This time around, its the extended variant of the TUV3OO that was spotted testing in the automotive hub of Oragadam.

Rumored to be christened the TUV5OO, this is essentially the TUV3OO that's stretched from the rear to accommodate a full-fledged third row of seats. The vehicle being tested had a front-facing third row in which the head restraints were conspicuous by their absence. With that in place, the TUV5OO (or whatever Mahindra decides to call it) would be a proper 8-seater like the Xylo. Let's not forget the TUV3OO itself has a third row, albeit with side-facing jump seats that provide limited space, comfort and functionality. 

Though it was completely camouflaged, that the test vehicle was based on the TUV3OO was quite obvious. The bold, upright fascia with the tall hood and the 5-slat grille is carried over from the smaller sibling. The shape of the headlights are the same too though the test mule appears to be wearing a pair of LED Daytime Running Lights that are not currently available in the TUV3OO. The profile remains unchanged up until the B-pillar after which the added length makes its presence felt. The additional few centimeters seem to have all been added after the rear wheels which means the wheelbase could be the same as the smaller TUV3OO. That explains why the test vehicle's rear end looks a bit bulky with unusually long rear overhangs. The D-pillar's rake angle is slightly more than the TUV3OO but the rest of the derriere appears to be carried over as well. In one of these spy shots, you can clearly see the glowing taillights that look very similar to the ones in the TUV3OO. 

The interiors, in all likelihood, would be the same as the TUV3OO. That isn't a bad thing at all, given the TUV3OO's interior fit, finish and aesthetics are amongst the better ones from Mahindra. A few features might be added to the kit to justify the increased price tag that this bigger sibling is likely to carry.

Extensive test runs indicate something new is brewing under the hood of this extended TUV3OO. Is it a more powerful tune of the TUV3OO's mHawk 100 3-cylinder mill? Or is Mahindra planning to shoehorn the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine from the same mHawk family that currently does duty in the Scorpio? The latter would be a good fit considering this vehicle is likely to be used for lugging seven people and their luggage occasionally, if not often. Whatever it is, we will never know until the specifications are released by the folks at Mahindra.

When this stretched TUV3OO goes on sale, expect Mahindra to slot it above the standard sub-4 meter TUV3OO and below the Scorpio in its lineup. For reference, the former starts at 7.58 Lakhs while the Scorpio's base variant retails at 9.58 Lakhs, both ex-showroom Delhi. 

While it does seem now as if Mahindra is crowding its lineup with too many models at similar prices, it would make sense in the end if the overall sales go up. And that's probably what Mahindra would be hoping for.


Ford EcoSport facelift seen testing in Chennai

Compact crossovers might be a rage in India these days but it was Ford that kick-started the segment, way back in 2013, with the EcoSport. Be it the days leading up to its unveiling at the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi to months after its launch, the EcoSport has been hugely popular. In fact, four years down the line, the EcoSport is still the best-selling model in Ford India's lineup despite the presence of newer and more affordable cars in the lineup.

Ford has been constantly updating the EcoSport with mild tweaks now and then to keep it relevant and up to date. But, with Maruti-Suzuki making merry at the top of the sales charts with the Vitara Brezza and Tata threatening to crash-land into the segment with the Nexon, its high time the EcoSport gets a full-fledged facelift. That’s exactly what Ford has in store.

We caught up with a group of face-lifted EcoSports sans camouflage on a test run not far off Ford’s manufacturing facility on the outskirts of Chennai.

As evident from the pictures, the EcoSport’s fascia is all set for a significant makeover. Gone is the funky 'love-it or hate-it' split grille that characterized the current EcoSport. In its place is a more conventional grille that’s in line with global Ford SUVs like the Kuga. The thick chrome-lined grille is flanked on either sides by bigger headlights that now houses inbuilt projectors and Daytime Running Lights. The fog lamps have also grown in size while the bumper has been restyled to give an appearance of a skid plate. The profile is unchanged except for the newly-designed alloy wheels (Titanium) and wheel caps (Trend and lower variants). The rear gets a blink-and-you-miss change in the form of addition of variant badges in the mid-spec Trend variant. Let's not forget the current EcoSport has variant badges only for the top-spec Titanium trim level. Don't miss the subtle change in the spare wheel cover's design too!

The interiors are getting a substantial makeover as well, the biggest being the addition of a 8-inch floating touchscreen infotainment system that pops out of the dashboard. Ford is also likely to bring in the advanced SYNC 3 system to the EcoSport facelift's kitty in addition to a few other creature comforts and cosmetic add-ons. The EcoSport already leads the segment in terms of safety kit on offer and that's unlikely to change.

While most of us believed the 1.5-liter TiVCT petrol, the 1.5-liter TDCi diesel and the award-winning 1.0-liter EcoBoost engines that power the current EcoSport would carryover into the facelift, recent reports indicate otherwise. An all-new 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder petrol engine from the new 'Dragon' family might replace the current 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder mill. The absence of TDCi badges on any of the test cars indicate its the Dragon engine that's probably being tested under the hood of the face-lifted EcoSports. While Ford hasn't disclosed anything yet, expect higher power, torque and fuel efficiency figures from the new engine.

The EcoSport facelift is expected to be launched around the festive season, a time frame in which is Tata is also planning to launch the Nexon. We could sense a tough but interesting duel in the making. Let's wait and watch the fun!


Mahindra's upcoming MPV (Toyota Innova rival) caught testing

Ever since it set shop in India, Toyota has been owning the Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) segment, first with the Qualis, then with the Innova and of late with the Innova Crysta. Competitors have tried their very best but never managed to usurp Toyota one bit so far. All that could change once the vehicle featured in this post hits the market. 

Caught testing in the busy Chennai-Trichy National Highway, this camouflaged test mule is Mahindra's all-new MPV that's expected to take the Innova Crysta head on. Reportedly code-named 'U321' internally, Mahindra is betting big on this upcoming MPV without a doubt. Look closely and you will know why this could potentially turn out to be Innova's toughest rival till date. 

Despite wearing camouflage that reveals next to nothing, we quite like what we see here. 

The proportions, for instance, are much better than any MPV Mahindra has rolled out thus far. Unlike the crude-and-boxy Bolero or the bulky-and-awkward-from-certain-angles Xylo, this new MPV creates a positive impression from the word go. Though not to be seen in these spy shots, Mahindra's trademark grille with vertical slats is now smaller and sleeker like the one in the KUV1OO. The heavily-raked hood almost matches the slope of the front windshield, giving the MPV a clean silhouette. The tipped-forward stance and the rising windowline go with the theme as well. At the rear, the LED-equipped taillights look similar to the Renault Lodgy's but that's possibly due to the camouflage masking the shape of the lenses well. 

Another impressive aspect is the absence of unnecessary cuts and creases in the sheet metal. There is a strong character line that runs the length of the vehicle on either sides cutting through the door handles but that's pretty much it. There are none of those over-ambitious creases like those in the KUV1OO. Let's just hope it stays this way and Mahindra's design team don't go overboard and slap in attention-grabbing elements ahead of launch. The TUV3OO and the XUV5OO facelift have been mature attempts from the Indian brand and we trust this new MPV would be another step in that direction. 

The vehicle appears to be just the right size too. The two side-by-side shots taken alongside an Innova and an Innova Crysta show that the upcoming Mahindra MPV compares favourably with its arch-rival in terms of size. That should translate into a spacious cabin with decent space and comfort in the third row. 

Recent launches from Mahindra have had well put-together interiors and we expect the new MPV to go down that path as well with a cabin that's well-designed, well-equipped and well screwed-together. It better be as the Innova Crysta has taken the interior quality levels and feature list up several notches. 

Though Mahindra is still tight-lipped on the specifications, the 2.0-liter 'mHawk' diesel engine that does duty in the Scorpio and the XUV5OO could be the power of choice in this upcoming new MPV. The powerful and torquey turbocharged mill should have no problems lugging the people-mover. A Ssangyong-derived petrol engine is also reportedly under development. The new MPV is said to be based on an all-new monocoque platform and is therefore likely to be more accomplished in terms of its road-handling capabilities.

Putting all the bits and pieces together, this new MPV is turning out to be a formidable alternative to the Innova. With good looks, spacious interiors, a powerful and torquey diesel engine, an exhaustive feature list and much-improved ride and handling, Mahindra could actually end up tasting blood here. 

The only problem is MPVs are no longer in favour amongst the car-buying public. Will Mahindra buck the trend, attract the SUV-crazy population and make a hit out of this seemingly-formidable MPV? We have our fingers crossed.


Mahindra KUV1OO facelift spotted testing

Mahindra launched the KUV1OO early last year in an attempt to woo small car customers with SUV-like styling elements. Though it started off pretty well, the KUV1OO didn't exactly set the sales charts on fire as Mahindra hoped it would. In fact, the year-over-year sales figures have been on a steady decline for quite some time now. One obvious reason was the KUV1OO's odd-ball styling that didn't find favour with the conventional car-buying public in India.

It seems Mahindra has realized its folly and is trying to amend things. Spotted testing near Mahindra's Research Valley on the outskirts of Chennai yesterday, this heavily-camouflaged KUV1OO test mule indicates a facelift is on the cards for Mahindra's most-affordable vehicle. 

From the sole picture we captured, it appears the KUV1OO facelift would debut new alloy wheels with an ever-so-subtle change in design. Though this top-end variant is seen wearing 15-inch wheels, other variants could continue with undersized 14-inchers like they currently do. Also visible are subtle changes to the taillight lenses though the overall shape remains the same. As is the norm with facelifts like these, expect the bumpers, air dams and headlights to get a nip here and a tuck there. While they are at it, we hope the folks at Mahindra use this chance to tone down the KUV1OO's ungainly bits. 

Those extended eyelashes in the front fenders and the prominent creases that cut across the profile should go. Look closely beneath the camouflage and these elements are pretty much there, so they aren't going anywhere at the moment.

Interiors are likely to be spruced up a bit though we don't foresee significant changes to the overall design and equipment.  

The 1.2-liter petrol and diesel engines from the 'mFalcon' family are likely to continue in the facelift. While the petrol generates 82 horsepower and 115 Nm of torque, the diesel churns out 77 horsepower 190 Nm of torque. Both the engines transmit power to the front wheels through a 5-speed manual gearbox. With the growing acceptance of Automated Manual Transmissions (AMT), this facelift would be a good opportunity for Mahindra to plonk one in the KUV1OO. That should be fairly easy, given Mahindra has one in the TUV3OO already.

Though the launch date isn't confirmed yet, expect Mahindra to act swiftly and launch the KUV1OO facelift pretty early. Will the facelift improve the vehicle's prospects? Or, will the KUV1OO continue to remain a missed opportunity for Mahindra? Let's wait and watch.