20140414

Ford S-Max Vignale Concept looks stunning

In automotive parlance, Multi-purpose Vehicles (MPV) and the adjective "stunning" generally don't co-exist. In fact, those kind of words are more at home when used in posts that describe exotic sports-cars and uber-luxury automobiles sporting badges like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz and the like. But, when we first saw the images of the S-Max Vignale Concept released by Ford, that 's' word is actually what struck us. We were, quite literally, stunned!

To be honest, the Ford S-Max Vignale Concept evoked adjectives that's so untypical of an MPV. It is sleek, stylish and sexy. Surprised, aren't you? Look at the pics and we bet you won't be anymore!


So, what is it with the S-Max Vignale Concept that's so attractive? It starts with the colour itself. Draped in what Ford calls "Milano Grigio", a pearlescent jewel-like shade with rose metallic tones, the S-Max Vignale Concept looks dashing. Further accentuating the beauty are the Dark Rose Grey detailing in the grille, air dam and exhausts. Liberal yet subtle applications of chrome around the grille, in the front and rear bumpers, around the windows, in the doors and in the rear view mirrors is striking too. Add to that the unique 21-inch alloy wheels and the sharp headlights and taillights and the S-Max Vignale Concept is one hell of a looker.

We can't remember an MPV creating such a visual impact anytime in the recent past. How cool would it be if the MPVs criss-crossing our roads look as good and appealing as this one? That's wishful thinking, we know!


Though the interiors of the S-Max Vignale Concept fall way short of concept standards, it is still an appealing place to imagine yourselves in. From the dashboard and instrument panel through the glass roof to the luggage compartment, the interiors are swathed in high-quality leather. In sync with the exteriors, the seats have an unique hexagonal quilting pattern and the air-vents feature the six-faced shape too. Advanced car-to-car communications, tablet-docking stations for the second row and a flexible seating concept ensures that this concept creates an impression of a lounge on the move.

Showcased at the Salone del Mobile during the Milan Design Week, the Ford S-Max Vignale Concept is all set to go into production sometime next year. Following the Mondeo, the S-Max will be the second Ford model to be offered in the high-end 'Vignale' trim level that promises customers luxury, exclusivity and special treatment. Whatever it is, we only wish what we see as virtual images in this post is what we get to see on the road in 2015.

20140413

Volkswagen Golf celebrates 40 years of existence

Irrespective of what metric it is being measured up against, the Volkswagen Beetle would emerge as an iconic automobile that shattered the industry records. Hugely successful for decades together, the Beetle has its name etched in automotive history as one of the largest selling cars of all time. On March 29, 1974, when Volkswagen first rolled out the Golf as a replacement for the Beetle, it wouldn't have foreseen what happened next. Over the next 40 years, the Golf has spawned seven generations and sold an unprecedented 30 million units. In the process, the Golf not only became the most successful European car in history but also the most successful Volkswagen ever.


Its not always automotive companies openly admit one of their competitor's models as their benchmark. But the Golf is one such model and has always been the gold standard of the compact segment against which most new models conceived and developed by rival brands are being benchmarked. It's not hard to understand why. From the 'Mk I' which debuted in 1974 to the Mk VII that premiered in 2012, the Golf has always been a pioneer when it comes to introducing technology and features to the compact segment. As Volkswagen rightly pointed out in its press release, it was this car that took the most important technologies and trends, like turbocharging, direct injection, Antilock Braking System (ABS), Adaptive Cruise Control and automatic air-conditioning, to the mass market.


With thousands of loyalists that swear by them, the sporty GTI and GTD variants have gone on to become legends in their own ways. The seventh-generation Golf will also have a GTE, an electric hot hatch, joining the lineup.


Quite understandably, for a car that accomplished so much in its life span, awards and accolades have poured in over the years. The Golf is a two-time "European Car of the Year" title-winner in its Mk III and Mk VII incarnations while the latter was also chosen as the 2013 World Car of the Year. The Golf is also one of the few cars that cracked the Japanese car market and was also selected as the Japanese Car of the Year 2013-14, beating domestic giants Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda.

This is not the end of the story, mind you, as the Golf is still going strong at 40 years and is all set to shatter more records over time.

20140412

Driven #25: 2014 Mahindra XUV500

Mahindra, the Indian corporate giant with interests from hospitality and leisure to tractors and farm equipment, has been in the business of manufacturing and selling automobiles since the forties. But not until 2002 when the Scorpio was launched did it make its presence felt. Designed and developed completely in-house albeit with the help of a few international firms that tweaked the mechanicals, the Scorpio took Mahindra to the big league. But, it was the XUV500 that announced the arrival of Mahindra in style.


Conceived and developed with global ambitions, the XUV500 was stylish, tech-laden and feature-loaded, attributes that aren’t usually associated with Mahindras. That the value-conscious Indian customers lapped it up in thousands despite its ‘more-than-a-million-rupees’ starting price, a price point that Maruti-Suzuki still hasn’t cracked, Hyundai couldn’t impress upon in its first few attempts and Tata has failed miserably so far, was just the motivation Mahindra needed.

Despite its resounding success, the XUV500 had its fair share of issues related to its build quality, electronics and brakes that left some customers unhappy. Being who they are, Mahindra reacted swiftly and embarked on a journey to sort the niggles out. The result is this, an updated model that, Mahindra claims, is troubleshooted. We chanced upon an opportunity to drive the updated XUV500 and here is what we felt.

TO LOOK AT:

Ever since its launch, the XUV500 had its share of admirers and critics. While the bold and aggressive lines were appreciated by many, there were quite a few who thought that Mahindra’s designers went overboard while working on this project. They are not to be faulted as Mahindra, in recent years, did just that. The rabbit-tooth grille, for instance, that adorns all new Mahindras including the XUV500 is awful while the Quanto and pre-facelifted Xylo aren’t great lookers either.



But there’s no doubting that the XUV500 turns heads, even today. That’s probably why Mahindra decided to not touch the design and styling of their flagship SUV in this update. Elegant trapezoidal headlights on either sides of a trademark seven-slat grille define the front end of the XUV500, imparting an imposing stance. The larger-than-usual honeycomb mesh, the aggressive detailing in the front bumper and the faux plastic inserts are fussy. We would have preferred a subtler front end, but that’s just us. The same aggression is carried over to the profile with flared wheel arches, rising shoulder line that stands out with a prominent bulge and an upward-sloping window line. The alloy wheels are appealing but, despite being clad with decent-sized rubber, hardly fills the huge wheel wells. At the rear, the beautifully-detailed taillights stand out, more so when illuminated. The twin exhaust pipes and the ribbed rear bumper deserve mention too.

Being a SUV, the XUV500 would obviously be expected to go beyond tarred surfaces. The short overhangs, high ground clearance, the thin plastic cladding that protects the sheet metal from scratches and the optional AWD system takes care of that aspect.



The XUV500 is positioned as a premium SUV and it has the ammunition to proudly say so. The LED  parking lamps, though not as rich as the DRLs found in premium cars, does its job quite well. The projector headlamps with cornering function not only looks fabulous but is highly useful too. Puddle lamps integrated in the rear view mirrors light up the ground that passengers would step onto while alighting from the car. Though none of these features qualify as one to be bragged about, we were surprised how these little things bunched up to increase the feel-good factor surrounding the XUV500.

TO SIT IN:

Walk into the XUV500 and it is immediately apparent that the exterior theme is carried over inside. It looks good and modern but seems to be overdone in some places.



With three distinct shades and textures highlighted by fake wood paneling, the layout of the dashboard is practical. The instrument cluster is tastefully done with two circular pods housing two chrome-ringed smaller dials inside. The LCD screen in between, apart from lighting up the dash with an array of symbols on ignition, displays useful information on the go. The steering wheel is aesthetically pleasing and good to hold with perfectly-positioned thumb recesses. A touchscreen panel, that controls a host of functions including music system, navigation, tire pressure monitor, service alerts and fuel consumption data, dominates the center console. It doubles up as a video player too. Below the touchscreen are neatly laid out buttons and knobs. Among them, the three chrome-ringed knobs that control the air-conditioner and music system are chunky and good to operate. A few things like the shape of the air-vents, the quality of wood panels and positioning of the handbrake lever could have been better though.



Without a doubt, the overall quality, fit and finish of the new XUV500 is miles ahead of other Mahindra models and visibly improved over the earlier model that we drove after launch. But it’s also true that it is still not where it should be. As if to make up for it, the XUV500 features nifty touches like a pull-down conversation mirror, felt lining inside the storage compartments, ambient lighting and Bluetooth functionality that restricts pairing of mobile phones at anything more than pedestrian speed. Also impressive is the sheer list of equipment inside. In addition to the regular stuff, the top-end W8 variant of the XUV500 that we drove came with dual zone climate control, tire pressure monitoring system, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, six airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Traction Control System, cruise control, hill-hold control, stop-start system and even voice-activated controls. It’s quite possible that new owners might end up spending more time fiddling with the features rather than actually driving the vehicle.



Space is another USP of the XUV 500. The front and the middle rows are extremely spacious and can comfortably accommodate five well-built adults, thanks to a wide cabin and a flat floor. The seats too are comfy and offer good support at all the right places though we would have preferred a bit more cushioning for the thighs in the middle row. The third row is nowhere near the other two, both in terms of space and in terms of comfort. It is best-reserved for kids on long journeys. To their credit, all three rows get individual air-conditioning vents, charging points and bottle holders.

ON THE ROAD:

One of the biggest strengths of the XUV500 has been the m-Hawk engine developed by Mahindra and it hasn’t changed in the updated model. To be honest, we can’t think of any other SUV in this price range that are as quicker or as powerful as the XUV500 and Mahindra didn’t really had to change it.



In this higher state of tune, this 4-cylinder engine generates 140 bhp of maximum power at 3750 rpm and 330 Nm of torque between 1600 to 2800 rpm. There is a bit of lag in lower revs after which this turbocharged mill delivers all the power in a flat manner. The short first and second gears means that we are off the line fairly quick. At the other end, the higher gears are spread out nicely with the sixth proving to be particularly useful while cruising on highways. During the course of the drive, the XUV500 didn't leave us wanting for more, both in the city and on the highway. All it needed was a firm push on the throttle pedal to dispatch slow-moving traffic. The six speed transmission is a big downer though. The shift action is notchy and the gears don’t fall in place smoothly, which brings the overall driving experience down.



Refinement levels are satisfactory at idle and at lower revs but as the revs get higher, the noise from under the hood rises too. In fact, it gets so noisy beyond 3500 rpm that we had to refrain from pushing it further.


With McPherson struts up front and independent multi-link coil springs at the rear, the XUV500's underpinnings are strong. On the road, it translates to an extremely good ride quality, especially at low to moderate speeds. It absorbs mild bumps and potholes with ease but crashes into bigger irregularities on the road. Passing through a rough patch at about 60 km/h, passengers seated in the middle and last rows felt the ride to be particularly bouncy. Unfortunately, this is where the competition excels as the Duster, Terrano and Safari offer exemplary ride quality. The XUV500 is Mahindra's first monocoque crossover and it shows in the way in which it handles. Body roll is well controlled and the XUV500 completes sudden direction changes without unsettling the occupants. A host of electronic features keep constant vigil on the XUV500 and would step in if it detects something is amiss.



Having said that, this isn't a vehicle that can take a twisty road at full speed. The steering wheel, while offering decent feedback, starts getting inconsistent as speed builds up. Braking is excellent though. The way in which the XUV500 comes to a halt without losing its composure on hard braking is commendable, thanks to the combination of disc brakes, ABS and EBD. But the brake pedal lacks bite initially and requires a firm press to respond. With the XUV500, rocks, sand, slush and mud won't pose a problem and the All Wheel Drive variant is known to possess good off-roading skills.
 
SPECIFICATIONS:



| Engine Type: mHawk |
| No of Cylinders: 4 |
| Displacement: 2179 cc |
| Maximum Power: 140 bhp @ 3750 rpm |
| Maximum Torque: 330 Nm @ 1600-2800 rpm |
| Transmission Type: 6-speed Manual |
| Tires: 235/65 R17 |
| Brakes: Disc (Front & Rear) |


WE VOTE FOR:

* Aggressive design and styling
* Extensive feature list
* Powerful engine

WE VOTE AGAINST:

* Average build quality
* Unproven reliability
* Fussy detailing

VERDICT:



Like it has always been, the updated Mahindra XUV500 is an attractive proposition. It turns heads, comes loaded with more features than its owners will ever need, is quick, powerful and is capable of munching miles all day long. It's value-for-money pricing, go-anywhere capability and Mahindra's reputation for good after-sales service are added advantages. Yes, the flaws still remain. The build quality is inconsistent, fussy detailing is unnecessary and despite Mahindra's claims, the long-term reliability of the electronics and gadgetry is still unproven. But, that didn't stop the earlier XUV500 from setting the sales charts on fire and we do not think this situation is going to change with the updated model. We can't wait for the next all-new model from Mahindra to see how big a leap forward do they make

Photography: Arun Varadarajan & Bharath Rengaraj

20140411

Isuzu MU-7 and D-Max spotted undergoing ARAI tests

A regular reader of Anything On Wheels from Pune has caught Isuzu's current Indian lineup, the premium SUV MU-7 and the D-Max pick-up, being tested by the Automotive Regulatory Authority of India (ARAI). Snapped in the early hours of Tuesday in the outskirts of the city, the reader claims that the fleet of test vehicles also included commercial pick-ups from rival brands like Tata, Mahindra and Ashok Leyland.


Until last year, Isuzu's association with India was limited to supplying engines to Hindustan Ambassador and commercial vehicles. That's excluding the Tavera, which is actually an Isuzu rebadged as a Chevrolet for our market. All that changed in 2013 when the Japanese brand made a silent, almost unnoticed entry into the Indian market with the MU-7 and D-Max. Both the models were first imported as Completely Built Units (CBU) and retailed through just a couple of dealerships, one each in Hyderabad and Coimbatore.

Meanwhile, Isuzu announced setting up a full-fledged manufacturing facility at Sri City in Andhra Pradesh, thus committing itself to a long term in India. Two years is what it would take for the first vehicle to roll out of that facility and Isuzu wasn't interested in waiting until then. The result was an agreement with Hindustan Motors that would facilitate local assembly of MU-7 and D-Max from Completely Knocked Down (CKD) kits sourced from Thailand. While HM's Chennai facility that also rolls out the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport started assembly of the MU-7 a few months back, D-Max was expected to join shortly.


Putting all these pieces together, we assume that it is the locally-assembled MU-7 and D-Max that's being tested by the ARAI, possibly for homologation purposes. The MU-7 seen here is the standard model without the "Hi Pack" which means that it loses out on visual add-ons like bumper spoiler, black plastic inserts and chrome garnishing in the registration plate, exhaust pipe and door handles. From the angle in which it is shot, we aren't able to ascertain if the D-Max being tested is the standard single cab or the extended cab version. What we do know however is that the MU-7 is powered by a 3.0-liter, turbocharged, direct injection diesel engine while the D-Max has a 2.5-liter diesel engine under its hood.

With Isuzu's plans for India seemingly in full swing, we expect to see and hear a lot more of this Japanese brand in the coming months. Keep visiting Anything On Wheels!

20140322

Bajaj Boxer spotted with test registration plates in Pune

Over the course of time, we have developed a soft spot for the Bajaj Boxer. While the Pune-based Indian motorcycle brand keeps churning out a multitude of variants of Discovers and Pulsars, not to forget the high-end motorcycles sporting KTM and Kawasaki badges, the Boxer is deemed a misfit and often in a state of neglect. Or, that's how it appears to us.

One of the best-selling 100cc motorcycles in India at a time when Hero-Honda's Splendor was at its peak, the Boxer, badged a Kawasaki-Bajaj back then, carved a niche for itself. Subsequently, when the CT100 and Platina took over as Bajaj's 100cc challengers, the Boxer ceased to exist only to come back in 2011 with a bigger 150cc engine powering it. Badged BM150, the Boxer retained its core values of rugged build, efficiency and practicality, aimed at the demanding rural market. A handful of spotting on road apart, nothing more was heard or seen about the model.


Just when we thought that the Boxer is done and dusted, these blurred pictures sent in by one of our readers in Pune hints that Bajaj isn't done with the model yet. Spotted testing in the outskirts of Pune a few weeks back, all we can infer from these pictures are that the design and styling isn't changing at all. The familiar taillight and the neatly-drawn indicators are carried over from the existing Boxer as are the spring-in-spring rear shocks and exhaust pipe. Nothing else is visible, which means that we know zilch about the engine and frontal design in the test bike.


Curious to know more, we browsed Bajaj's official websites only to find no mention of the Boxer in their Indian lineup. The global site however had the Boxer listed in two configurations, the 100 and the 150. So, what could Bajaj be testing in this Boxer? Is the rugged and utilitarian bike making a comeback in the 100cc segment in India? Is the Boxer finally getting the patented and heavily-marketed DTS-i twin-spark technology? Is it just a subtle facelift for the Indian model? Or, is it a durability test for an update to the international model? At this point of time, we don't have an answer. May be, Bajaj could help us find out.

Whatever it is, three people atop a motorcycle without helmets at midnight isn't a sight that we would ever embrace.