Watch out for Genesis!

If there's one thing any brand worth it's salt strives for, it is to have a strong and distinct identity. If that's sorted, everything else usually fall in place. Genesis - Hyundai's luxury arm - has seemingly cracked this code after years of stuttering and misjudged decisions.

Before we get to that, let's not forget how it all began. Genesis started life as Hyundai's flagship model, announcing the car-maker's intent to get into the high-stakes luxury space. The ingredients were all there - an exclusive rear-wheel drive platform, a gem of a V8 engine, sorted road manners siding towards comfort, acres of space, boatload of features and shockingly good value. But there was a problem - 'Brand Hyundai' wasn't even associated with premium, let alone luxury.

This confused identity led to a rare car that neither had its maker's logo up front nor a badge at the rear. Those fears, though, were unwarranted. The car debuted to critical acclaim and commercial success in its very first year of sale in major markets like South Korea and the United States of America. Clearly, the 'E-Class space and luxury for C-Class money' formula worked.

It wasn't until the Coupe's debut in 2010 Hyundai mustered courage to affix it's logo and slap a 'Genesis' badge. The decision to spin Genesis off into a standalone luxury brand came much later, almost at the end of 2015.

Having made that call, Hyundai should have gone the whole hog, giving Brand Genesis the space and identity it needed to pull in customers from the established luxury brands. Instead, they chose to first sell Genesis cars alongside entry-level models like the Accent before going back on their decision a couple of years later. The clean but generic styling of Genesis cars didn't help either, as the brand struggled to differentiate itself from the crowd.

Come 2020, Genesis is in a different league.

Under Luc Donckerwelke's supervision (who is no longer with Genesis), the brand has been successful in creating a design language that's both unique and impactful. Though there were hints along the way like the stunning 2018 Essentia Concept, those muscular lines and quad-lighting signature have lent themselves beautifully in the new third-generation G80 sedan and the all-new GV80, Genesis' first-ever SUV. The large crest-shaped grilles are in-your-face, no doubt, but that's sadly the norm these days. Plush, well-appointed interiors complement the stylish exteriors.

The Koreans haven't stopped with just the cars. Standalone Genesis studios are being set up in major cities and posh localities worldwide like this one in Suji, just outside Seoul. Who wouldn't feel good stepping into such stores for getting to know their next car?

Established luxury brands out there, watch out! Genesis is coming at you. Fast.


All-new Mahindra Thar unveiled

As India celebrated it's 74th Independence Day yesterday, Mahindra took the opportunity to unveil the all-new Thar. The iconic off-roader - now in its second generation - has been in the making for over three years and one of the most-anticipated new launches in the country.

Does the all-new Thar has what it takes to satisfy expectations and widen its appeal? Let's look at what's good and what's not to find out the answer.

Good: Killer looks. As always.

Mahindra has been a licensed manufacturer of the Willys 'CJ' (Civilian Jeep) since 1947. That explains why the Thar - based on  Mahindra's CJ successors like the MM540 and the Classic - looks like an imitation of the Jeep Wrangler which boasts the original CJ's ancestry. 

That said, there's something about the shape and stance of these vehicles that you can't not like. The new Thar is no different. Mahindra has safely retained the much-loved basic design elements while smartly changing just enough things to differentiate the Thar from the popular Jeep. Speaking of changes, the grille is one of those that turns out to be the only chink in an otherwise shining armour. 

Despite archaic underpinnings, the previous Thar was quite a looker itself. The all-new model, with its wider track, longer wheelbase and macho lines, take it several notches higher. The three-piece bumpers at the front and rear extend on either side in the form of thick plastic cladding that are uniquely squared off at the front and circular at the rear. The long hood lead to a rather short cabin that ends with the B-pillar with a canvas or FRP roof covering the rest of the car. Shod with those striking gun-metal alloys with the roof down, the Thar is sure to attract as much attention on Indian roads as a supercar or exotic would!

Good: Interiors are a quantum leap ahead

We have a Thar in the family and unless you're in the middle of a trail climbing over rocks and crossing water streams, it's cabin isn't likely to evoke positive emotions. If the pictures of the all-new Thar's interiors are anything to go by, it seems the car has taken a quantum leap over its predecessor on this aspect. 

The seats look properly bolstered, the center console gets a factory-fitted touchscreen infotainment system and switches and knobs aren't ergonomic disasters. From lacking basics like power windows, power-folding mirrors and central locking in the previous generation to being equipped with all of them plus steering-mounted controls, cruise control, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity and a colour multi-info display in the instrument cluster, the Thar has sure come a long way. That's not all. With roof-mounted speakers and IP54-rated switchgear, the entire cabin can be hosed clean after a day out in mud and water.

Two other major pain points of the outgoing Thar has been addressed too. Yes, you can now buy a Thar with forward-facing rear seats and a hard top! 

Mahindra's recent launches like the XUV3OO and Marazzo impressed with their safety kit and high scores on Global NCAP crash tests. The Thar appears to be next in-line for that glory. Safety kit includes dual airbags, Anti-lock Braking System with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, ISOFIX child seat mounts, Electronic Stablity Program (ESP) with roll-over mitigation, Hill-start and descent assist, rear view camera and three-point seat belts for the rear passengers. 

Good: Great off-road, quite good on road too!

Thar has always been a king off-road but the same can't be said about it on the road. Neither the car nor the occupants would be comfortable cruising on our highways. The all-new Thar appears to have turned the page. Unlike the previous generations, the new Thar offers more powertrain choices and improved underpinnings.

Powering it is either an all-new 2.0-liter 'mStallion' turbocharged petrol or the familiar 2.2-liter 'mHawk' common-rail diesel engine. The former produces 152 horsepower and 320 Nm of torque while the diesel generates 132 horsepower and 300 Nm of torque. Both these engines can be had with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission. 

A four-wheel-drive system comes as standard of course along with a manual-shift transfer case. By default, the torque is sent to the rear wheels only while 4H and low-range 4L ratios are available for those jaunts off the beaten path. With an unladen ground clearance of 226 mm, water-wading depth of 650 mm and approach, ramp-over and departure angles of 42, 27 and 37 degrees respectively, the Thar will be at home over such terrain.

In addition to a new and improved body-on-frame chassis, the Thar has finally made the shift from the erstwhile archaic leaf-springs to a multi-link rear suspension. The bouncy ride-quality is hopefully a thing of the past. 

Good: A 'brand-builder' done right

There are a little over 60,000 Thars on Indian roads which isn't a big deal in terms of numbers. But the sheer popularity and brand recall this iconic off-roader boasts has got to be amongst the highest in Mahindra's line-up. There are so many out there who have always wanted a Thar but hasn't bought one due to its niche positioning and several limitations. With the all-new Thar, Mahindra wants to capitalize on this pent-up demand. The new Thar wouldn't look out of place in urban surroundings which can't be said about the previous models.

In short, the new Thar has what it takes to be Mahindra's brand-builder. It could end up doing what the Classic series did for Royal Enfield - sell in hordes, mint money with handsome margins and boost the brand's image. 

Not Good: This can't be your only car

With much-improved interiors, a full suite of active and passive safety features, better road manners, ride quality that's no longer back-breaking and a choice of engines and transmissions to pick from, the Thar is now more mainstream than it has ever been. But, Mahindra's newest still can't be the only car in the family. Here's why.

Firstly, access to the rear seats is not straightforward. The side-facing rear benches on the AX series can be accessed through the trunk as before while the front-facing rear seats in the LX series can only be accessed through the side doors by folding the front seats forward. Once you're in, the space there looks to be strictly limited. Boot space is non-existent with the rear seats up. It's evident the Thar is designed to be a lifestyle product. As a second or third car in the family for weekend fun and off-road outings, this is a no-brainer. As the only car in the family though, the Thar falls short. By a long shot.

But then, for a car that looks so hot, who cares? Frowns from friends and family who frequent the rear seats can be ignored.

The folks at Mahindra are clearly proud of the work they have done on the all-new Thar and it's "Made in India" heritage. Going by the response the car has generated in social media since its unveiling, it seems most of us Indians share the pride. And rightly so. Now, help me plan my finances to bring one home!


Kia Sonet officially unveiled

Kia took the wraps off the Sonet - it's all-new compact crossover - last Friday. When it goes on sale in September, the Sonet would join the Seltos and Carnival as the brand's third model for India. 

Is Kia on for a hat-trick here? To find out, let's look at all the things that are good in the Sonet and some that are not.

Good: Kia is on a roll

Right from the get-go, Kia has been aggressive and bullish about India. From flooding the 2016 Auto Expo with its entire global line-up to setting up a manufacturing facility at Anantapur in record time, the South Korean brand announced its intentions loud and clear. Further reiterating that were the cars Kia chose to begin it's stint in the country.

Instead of the quicker and easier route of bringing in one of its existing global models, Kia put in the time and efforts to launch the Seltos. With a plethora of variants and a multitude of power-train choices priced from ₹ 10 Lakhs to as much as ₹ 21 Lakhs, the Seltos straddled three segments and raced to the top of the sales charts. In what was a smart move, Kia brought in the Carnival premium MPV next, a niche no other car-maker had the courage or enthusiasm to enter. The result? Kia now holds the distinction of selling 100,000 cars on Indian soil faster than any other brand.

With the Sonet, Kia is clearly repeating the Seltos success formula in a smaller and more affordable package. Looks like a home run then, uh!

Good: High on style

Kia's design team has been in top form of late. If you're in doubt, google Telluride and K5! The Sonet, though not in the same league, is stylish enough to attract eyeballs.

Up front, the wide 'Tiger Nose' grille and the large air dam with brushed metal inserts make the Sonet look as imposing as it could be for its diminutive size. In profile, the Sonet sports mildly-flared wheel arches with plastic cladding and thick C-pillars with sharply-rising sheet metal. There is quite a lot happening at the rear with those snazzy taillights, the trim piece connecting them, multiple creases on the tailgate and the two-tone bumper with metallic inserts vying for attention. What steals the show though is the 'Heartbeat' LED lighting signature at the front and the rear.

The interiors are just what you would expect from a Korean car - over-styled and feature-loaded. Standout elements include the in-vogue 10.25-inch floating touchscreen, the sporty 3-spoke flat-bottom seering wheel, the funky instrument cluster and large, vertical air vents. 

Not good: Sibling rivalry on the cards

Hyundai might own one-third of Kia but there is no love lost between the two brands when it comes to sales and market share. The Seltos, when launched a year ago, was aimed straight at the Creta and ended up eating into the latter's sales. That's no mean feat, given the Creta had fended off every single rival there was from 2015 before losing out to its sibling. With the all-new Creta launched this March, Hyundai managed to wrestle back to the lead. 

With the Sonet, the scenario is all set for a repeat albeit one segment below. Yes, Hyundai's Venue is one of the many rivals the Sonet has in its sights. And the Kia is entering the game with quite a few factors in its favour. The Sonet arguably looks better, has a longer feature list and gets the crucial diesel-automatic combination. Do the folks at Hyundai have an answer this time? Let's wait and watch. This sibling rivalry is fascinating to watch!

Let's not forget the in-house fight brewing either! The Sonet has the potential to greatly cannibalize Seltos' sales. 

Good: A Sonet for everyone

When Kia launched the Seltos, it took a while for even the hardcore enthusiasts to figure out the many variants, engines, transmissions and trim levels on offer. Imagine how prospective customers would have felt trying to pick a Seltos variant for them. The Sonet, it appears, is heading down the same path. 

First up, there are two distinct appearance packages - Tech Line and GT Line. The latter, with it's bright red accents and all-black interiors, is aimed at those with sporting pretensions. Both these packages will have a range of trim levels to choose from. Then comes the powertrain choices. A trio of engines are on offer - a 1.2-liter petrol, a 1.0-liter turbocharged petrol and a 1.5-liter turbocharged diesel. Depending on the engine chosen, transmission options include a 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual, 6-speed clutchless Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT), 6-speed torque converter automatic and a 7-speed Dual Clutch automatic transmission (DCT). Phew!

Petrol or diesel? Manual or Automatic? Power or fuel efficiency? Beige or black interiors? Whatever your pick is, there's going to be a Sonet for you. 

Good: Fully loaded.. and some more!

Most new cars are equipped with features and technology far beyond what we used to have just two years back. Just when we reconciled to the fact there would be no big surprises on that front, Kia has pulled a  While that isn't surprising these days, Kia has taken it a notch or two higher. 

Who would have thought a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with over 50 connected car features, ventilated front seats, cabin air purifier with virus protection, perfume dispenser, mood lighting and a wireless smartphone charger with cooling vents would be available on a compact SUV? Sonet's top-spec trim level gets all of these in addition to the regular list of features you would expect from a car of this size and price range. 

Sonet scores in terms of safety too with six airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Hill Assist Control (HAC), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), ISOFIX child seat anchors and front and rear parking sensors.

Not good: Late in a crowded space

It is clear the Sonet has a lot going for it. But there is one risk element that could work against it big time. Unlike the Seltos that had only the Creta to contend with and the Carnival which had no direct rivals to speak of, the Sonet is a late entrant to a crowded party. 

Though Premier tried its luck with a rebadged Chinese car, it was Ford that truly kick-started this segment with the EcoSport, catching rivals off-guard. That was way back in 2013! Now, this is one of the hotly-contested segments in the Indian automotive industry with Maruti-Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Hyundai Venue, Tata Nexon, Mahindra XUV3OO, Honda WR-V and Mahindra TUV3OO fighting it out with the Ford. 

With Toyota's Vitara Brezza-based Urban Cruiser, Renault's Kiger and Nissan's Magnite slated to join the party soon, Kia is having its hands full.

To sum up, the Sonet is not going to have it easy out there. But, the folks in Kia seem to have done their homework well and equipped the Sonet with all that's needed to fight and win over customers. It's fair to conclude Kia is staring at its third consecutive success story in India.