20150628

Dear Fiat, get us the Aegea please!

What's common between the Panda, 500 X, Viaggio and Doblo? Well, most of you would have guessed it but for those who didn't, these are successful Fiat cars that never made it to India. Its a pity as each of them could have made it really big in the Indian market, if priced, positioned and marketed right.


The Aegea, Fiat's latest model that was unveiled in Turkey a few weeks back, might unfortunately be heading in the same direction already. Fiat India, as usual, would take ages to get this here by which time the competition would have taken the game far ahead. That would be a shame as the Aegea is all that Fiat needs to turn its fortunes around in the Indian market and much more. Just look at it, we are not getting carried over here! As they often do, the Italians have got the design, styling and proportions spot on yet again. Here is a mid-size sedan that not just adds a boot onto a hatchback or has its boot chopped off to get to a certain length. Designed to be a sedan from grounds up, the Aegea looks striking and elegant at the same time.


Look at the grille, for instance. Featuring details that appear to be inspired by a German luxury hatchback we know, it adds a lot of drama to the Aegea's front. The drama continues all the way to the rear where the unique taillights are sure to carve an identity of their own. The silhouette is amongst the most beautiful to have come out in recent times. The interiors are stylish and appear to be well-made with flowing contours that blend well with Aegea's external design. An array of buttons underlining the center air vents and the climate control buttons stacked in a triple circular layout just below them look particularly nice. With a wheelbase of 2640 mm, the Aegea can be expected to be more spacious than the Linea that we have in India. 


A design as appealing as this, powered by a combination of punchy T-Jet and frugal Multijet engines, with that near-perfect ride and handling balance that Fiats are known for is the perfect base using which Fiat could stage a comeback of sorts. All it has to do is bring the Aegea here as soon as it goes on sale internationally and, crucially, tidy up its sales and servicing operations. But then, who are we to plan all that? Is the powers that be at Fiat even trying to read our minds? They better do, for their own sake!

20150626

Alfa Romeo Giulia is an Italian with Germans in sight

One of the most anticipated cars of recent times, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, was unveiled at a special event in Italy earlier this week. In what could be termed as yet another attempt of challenging the supremacy of compact executive sedans from Germany, the Giulia would rival the likes of Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class when it goes on sale in 2016.


Featuring Alfa Romeo’s legendary trefoil nose characterized by the triangular grille, the Giulia looks menacing when viewed up front. Adding further to the ‘aggression quotient’ are the large air dams flanking the grille on either sides and the sculpted hood with functional air intakes. The silhouette, with the long bonnet and the stubby boot encompassing a classic angular glasshouse, is curvaceous and beautiful. The prominent shoulder line that boomerangs out of the fender air duct is sexy as are the stunning petal-shaped rims shod with thin rubber. The split taillights appear to have been heavily influenced by those found in Maserati Ghibli, which isn’t a bad thing at all. More hints on the performance on tap could be found in the rear bumper diffuser with integrated quad exhaust pipes.


The Giulia is stylish no doubt, but its predecessor 159 looked sexier, we think.

Under the hood of this range-topping ‘Quadrifoglio’ trim is a V6 turbo petrol engine delivering an impressive 510 horsepower, enough to propel the car from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds. Available in both rear wheel and all wheel drive layouts, the Giulia boasts a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. Offering sophisticated ‘Alfalink’ multilink suspension setup at the rear, electronically-controlled adaptive dampers, double-clutch ‘Torque Vectoring’ system that controls torque delivery to each driven wheel and a new Alfa DNA system that lets the driver choose from one of the four driving modes available – Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficient and Racing, the Giulia promises an entertaining drive. What’s more, this new Alfa sedan uses light-weight materials like carbon fiber, aluminium and composites extensively in its construction like some more expensive cars we know. 

Well, all we can say is be prepared for a really big smile when you get a chance to sit behind the wheel of this new Alfa. 

With Fiat Chrysler Automobiles charting out major growth plans for Alfa Romeo, the Giulia has got a significant role to play to make that happen. Let’s hope the Giulia succeeds in its mission. With Jaguar lining up its XE and Alfa Romeo coming up with this red hot sedan, we bet the German trio would be watching this space closely than ever before.

20150521

Driven #30: TVS Jupiter Special Edition


Gearless scooter buyers in India are a happier lot these days. Never in the past have they been spoilt for choices as they do right now. The TVS Jupiter is one of the better choices available right now. Having showered a spate of “Scooter of the Year” awards on the Jupiter, critics would vouch for that. And with 500,000 units sold in just 18 months from launch, the public seem to be in agreement too. To celebrate Jupiter’s successful first anniversary and its status as the most-awarded scooter in India, TVS launched a ‘Special Edition’ earlier this year with some cosmetic add-ons, leaving the mechanicals unchanged.


We rode the Jupiter Special Edition extensively over the past weekend and came back impressed. Read on, to know why.

TO LOOK AT:

The Jupiter has been on sale since 2013 and this 'Special Edition’ is just a dressed-up version to make it look, err, special. Fact is those enhancements, though just a few, can't be missed.


For starters, the Special Edition wears an exclusive 'Stallion Brown' shade that looks different from every other scooter on sale in the country. It has a metallic brownish tinge to it and, believe us, the photographs just don't do justice to the hue. It looks far more appealing in person. Next up are the ‘premium’ beige panels. Premium they might be to look at but these panels are going to be a pain to maintain in the harsh and dusty conditions that our roads are famous for. There is also this 'Dura Cool' seat which, TVS claims, retains lesser heat compared to the regular seats by as much as 10 degrees. To top it all, there is a glossy 'Special Edition' emblem that sits proudly in the front apron.


In its regular form, the Jupiter is a stylish urban scooter that's designed to appeal to a wide audience. Be it mature middle-aged men or college-going youth, urban hipsters or rural folks, the Jupiter's styling would offend none. Of course, it won't turn heads either as the styling can at best be termed neutral. 


Viewed up front, the Jupiter looks sharp with the bold trapezoidal headlight taking pride of place at the top. It comes integrated with twin pilot lamps while the indicators are housed in the broad front apron. A central air intake finished in a contrasting black shade sits in between. Walk around and the edgy body panels adorned with the three-dimensional ‘Jupiter’ hologram impresses. Thankfully, the Jupiter is devoid of gaudy body graphics that, more often than not, end up spoiling the looks. TVS’ own Wego is a victim of that trend now. At the rear, the sleek rectangular taillight is accompanied by clear indicator lenses that curve up on either sides like wings. Right above is the fuel-filler lid finished in glossy black.

Adding a touch of sportiness to the overall package are the black five-spoke alloy wheels shod with tubeless TVS tires. The exposed engine parts and the exhaust canister get the nice ‘blacked-out’ treatment too while the rear grab-rail sticks out like a sore thumb in grey. The seat, with its contrasting white stitch pattern, looks great as well.

TO SIT ON:

Get astride the Jupiter and the first thing that strikes you would be its comfortable seat. It is wide, soft and has no qualms accommodating derriere of various sizes. At one point of time during the test, with two hefty adults on board, the Jupiter's seat was still comfortable and accommodating. TVS has got it spot on here.


While the nicely-designed and well-bolstered seat lets you get into a comfort zone, the familiar controls and instruments make life easier for your hands and eyes. The bold analogue instrument cluster has a white-on-black theme with chequered pattern in the sides. The large circular speedometer houses an age-old analogue odometer which frankly looks out of place in this otherwise well thought-out scooter. Apart from tell-tale lights for indicators, high beam and low fuel warning on top, there is a separate fuel level indicator to the right and lights for 'Eco' and 'Power' mode to the left. The switches are made of good quality and appear durable to last the distance. The absence of a storage compartment in front has liberated much-needed space in the footwell where the Jupiter scores over some rival scooters we know.


This being a Special Edition, TVS should have gone all out in making it stand out. That’s where we feel they have missed a trick or two. A digital odo and trip meter, if not a digital instrument console, would have been a nice feature to have. So would a warning chime when the side stand is deployed.

Nevertheless, we are smitten by the Jupiter’s high level of attention to details. The switches, for instance, have a dimpled texture in places where our thumbs come into contact and there is a neat 'pass' function integrated in the switch that lets us toggle between high and low beam. The rear brake has a locking mechanism that would prove handy with kids around and the external fuel-filler allows the rider to refuel without having to step out. The two hooks provided for hanging knick-knacks can be tucked away flush with the body when not in use and the underside of the seat has straps to hold documents in place. Heck, you can even opt for a charging point that would be retro-fitted by the dealer in the under-seat storage compartment. Definitely, lot of thoughts have gone into designing this!


The 17-liter under-seat storage compartment is good enough to stow away a full-faced helmet, albeit with a bit of effort. All it takes to deploy the center stand is a gentle push, with TVS’ patented ‘EaZy’ stand coming to the rescue here. That would make the women folk happier.

ON THE ROAD:

The Jupiter is powered by a 109.7cc, 4-stroke, single cylinder, air-cooled engine that churns out 7.8 horsepower and 8 Nm of torque. It continues with no change in the Special Edition too. This is the same engine that powers the Wego and Scooty Zest, two other popular TVS scooters in the market.


Though TVS claims a different tune in the Jupiter, it is still the same peppy unit that we  experienced before. Throttle response from standstill is adequate and the Jupiter gathers momentum at a brisk pace without letting us feel wanting. The midrange is especially good and the Jupiter zooms past slow-moving two-wheeler traffic comfortably. While doing so, the engine gets into Power Mode invariably with the orange light glowing in the console. Trying to stay in Economy Mode with the green light on significantly reduces pulling power. The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) coupled with the engine gave us seamless shifts all through our drive and we couldn't help but smile at the overall levels of refinement on offer. Honda is a tad better in this aspect though.


TVS claims a 0 to 60 km/h acceleration time of 7.2 seconds and, going by its performance, the Jupiter should have no trouble attaining it. During its time with us, we pushed the Jupiter to 80 km/h on more than one occasion at which point the engine started showing signs of strain.


While the Jupiter proves that it is no slouch to the Japanese competition in terms of engine performance, it beats them fair and square when it comes to the suspension hardware. Telescopic forks up front and gas-charged rear suspension endows the Jupiter with superb ride quality that is far better than the popular Activa and Dio. Handling is good too with the TVS tubeless tires shod on 12-inch alloys providing adequate traction when cornering and braking. There is none of the nervousness that you might associate with scooters of years gone by. Though the Jupiter maintains composure under hard braking, both the front and rear brake levers feel spongy and respond only when pressed hard.


Again, TVS could have provided a front disc brake in this Special Edition but have chosen not to. For an otherwise feature-loaded scooter with contemporary hardware, front and rear drum brakes is a blip in the radar.

We rode the Jupiter for a little over 200 kilometers, coaxing and cajoling it in some stretches but also pushing it to the limits at times. Overall, it returned a little more than 48 km/l which should keep most owners happy. For its part, the Jupiter urges us to turn the ignition off when idling by flashing the orange light in the console after some 20 odd seconds, which is nice.

SPECIFICATIONS:


| Engine Type: 4-stroke, Air cooled, OHC |
| No of Cylinders: 1 |
| Displacement: 110 cc |
| Maximum Power: 7.8 bhp @ 7500 rpm |
| Maximum Torque: 8 Nm @ 5500 rpm |
| Transmission Type: Primary CVT & Secondary Gear Box |
| Tires: 90/90 R12, Tubeless |
| Brakes: 130 mm Drum (Front & Rear) |



WE VOTE FOR:

* Clean design and styling
* Good overall build quality
* Contemporary specs and features
* Balanced ride and handling

WE VOTE AGAINST:

* Absence of disc brake option
* Steady increase in price since launch

VERDICT:

After spending considerable time with the Jupiter, it is not hard to understand the reasons behind its success. It is a complete all-rounder that looks pleasing to the eyes, has enough grunt to zip along crowded city roads, offers a lot more than most other scooters in its segment, rides and handles admirably well and is backed by a competent after-sales network. We aren't surprised then that it has become the fastest scooter in the country to cross 500,000 units sales milestone.

If you are in the market looking to buy a 110 cc gearless scooter, there aren't better choices than the Jupiter available right now. If only TVS had sweetened this Special Edition with more exclusive features, the INR 2000 premium over the regular Jupiter variants would have been justified.

Photography: Bharath Rengaraj | Editing: Bharath Rengaraj & Aravind Ramesh

20150520

Hyundai ix25-based SUV seen testing in Chennai again

Hyundai might be very well-placed in India with a success ratio envied by many of its rivals but the South Korean brand is conspicuous by its absence in the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment. We know, the Santa Fe is there in the lineup catering to a niche clientele, but there is nothing for the mass market to compete with the likes of Ecosport, Duster or Scorpio. Given that vehicles of this type are all the rage in India now, the fact that the otherwise-proactive Hyundai has missed the boat for so long is glaring.


This partially-camouflaged test vehicle, spotted testing in Chennai earlier this week, is the big-ticket entry that Hyundai is placing its bets on. Compared to the last time we spotted it testing, the upcoming Hyundai has shed some camouflage. Clearly visible in these shots is the vehicle's tipped-forward stance and the upward-sloping windows. Look closer and the prominent shoulder line running from the front wheel arch to the taillight can be noticed too. The sporty alloy wheels painted in what appears to be a dark grey shade can't be missed either. Currently on sale only in China where it is badged ix25, this SUV will get a new nameplate for the Indian market when it debuts later this year.

Measuring more than four meters in length, the ix25 won't qualify for excise duty concessions offered by the Indian government. Good news is, the engine displacements would not be restricted either. Expected to carry over the engine and transmission options from the Verna sedan, the ix25-based SUV would have the 1.6-liter petrol and diesel engines under its hood. Both manual and automatic transmission options are likely to be available while a cheaper 1.4-liter diesel variant can't be ruled out either. 


Sporting the second iteration of the brand’s famous ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design philosophy, the ix25 looks sharp and futuristic with a stance that’s not much different from that of a Santa Fe. Though Hyundai might bring in a few India-specific design touches like additional chrome bits here and there, we don’t expect the Indian version to look much different. Interior quality, fit and finish would easily be close to the best in segment, a fact that existing Hyundai customers would vouch for. If their form in recent launches like i20, Xcent and Grand i10 is any hint, expect the ix25-based SUV to be loaded with features too.

This upcoming Hyundai SUV seems to be ticking all the right boxes for a successful run in the Indian market, provided the pricing is right. Over to you, Hyundai.

Kwid it is, Renault's newest entry-level model for India


This is it, folks. The all-new sub-compact car from Renault is out. And it’s not ‘Kayou’ as was widely speculated. It is christened ‘Kwid’ and has what it takes to be a big-seller in India. When we spotted this testing last week, we placed a big 'if' on it's design and styling. But now, after seeing the real deal, we are super excited! Here’s why.


Indians love Sport Utility Vehicles and crossovers. The more rugged a vehicle looks and the more presence it has, the better. That’s where the Kwid scores a perfect ten. Or should we say a nine out of ten as the puny wheels shod with thin tires spoil the show? Ignoring that aspect, the Kwid looks cool with a stance that could easily pass off for a mini SUV. Plastic cladding all around, beefy wheel arches, high ground clearance, short overhangs and what not? The Kwid could easily teach a lesson or two to all those pseudo-crossovers out there.


What appears to be another plus for the Kwid is its interiors. Though a bit drab and old-school, the Kwid’s cabin is neatly-designed and looks to be made of good quality stuff. A digital speedometer housed in a rather cheesy instrument cluster and a 7-inch MediaNav touchscreen system integrated in the center console pushes the segment’s boundaries while the Duster-like piano black garnishing adds to its aesthetic appeal. Its tall and boxy design liberates a lot of space and that should easily make the Kwid one of the most-spacious vehicles in its segment.


Following in the footsteps of the Duster facelift that debuted internationally earlier this year, the Kwid sports a structured grille flanked on either sides by sleek headlights with Renault’s new signature C-shaped chrome trim inside. The silhouette is defined by upward-sloping windows and large gaps in wheel wells while the rear features attractive wraparound taillights. When the Kwid goes on sale later this year, it would be Renault’s most-affordable model not just in India but across the globe. Looking at the pictures, that is evident. A single windshield wiper, three lug nuts holding the wheels and gaping wheel arches hint at cost cutting, which is par for the segment the Kwid targets.

When Carlos Ghosn, Chairman & CEO of Renault Group, unveiled the Kwid today in Chennai, it became the French brand’s first-ever model to have debuted outside Europe. India would be the first market to get the Kwid with Renault-Nissan’s joint venture facility in Chennai being its manufacturing location. To be powered by a 3-cylinder 800 cc petrol engine and with an indicative price tag of INR 3 - 4 Lakhs, the Renault Kwid might just be that ‘next big thing’ in the Indian automotive industry.

Even Hyundai, with all its might and the stylish Eon, couldn't pose a challenge to Maruti-Suzuki Alto’s stronghold in the Indian market. With the Kwid, Renault is taking a completely different approach towards the same target. This time, Alto might have reasons to worry. A few years down the line, we might be seeing a lot of these Kwids on Indian roads. Watch this space.