20160204

2016 Auto Expo - Tata woos show-goers with a startling quartet of upcoming models

There's a lot going on at Tata Motors right now. Be it battling sales declines for the Zest and Bolt, scouting for an all-new name for its upcoming Zica hatchback or planning for the launch of the Zica-based compact sedan, the Indian automaker is having its hands full. Despite all that, the Pune-based automotive brand put on a dazzling display at the ongoing Auto Expo in New Delhi, previewing it's upcoming models to the media and the public.

The most important of them all, obviously, is the soon-to-be-renamed Zica hatchback that's slated for launch in the next few weeks. Though this is the first time Zica is officially presented to the public, representatives from the media have driven it and the car is all over the social media, thanks to Tata's new brand ambassador Lionel Messi. Why do they have to rename the car after all this, you ask? It's because of the Zika virus, ​a fast-spreading global health threat.


The renaming apart, the Zica is one stylish hatchback that debuts Tata's new 'Impact Design' philosophy. While we tend to dismiss phrases like that as​ mere​ marketing jargon, the Zica does create an impact with its mature looks and 'subtle yet noticeable' detailing. The trademark honeycomb grille, the new three-dimensional logo and the humanity line outlining the grille found in the Zica will be standard fixtures on all upcoming Tatas. More importantly, the Zica has no resemblance to the Indica, a problem plaguing Tata for years!

Every new hatchback these days brings along with it a compact sedan. Tata pioneered this with the Indica-based Indigo CS in 2008 and it continues with the Zica-based compact sedan. Internally codenamed 'Kite 5', Tata's new compact sedan looks ​great. Surprised that we mentioned 'compact sedan' and 'g​reat looks' in a single statement? We're surprised ourselves​ but that's what Tata has done! ​Their designers have done a tremendous job and the Zica-based compact sedan doesn't look disproportionate or awkward from any angle.​ Who says compact sedans have to look butt-ugly?​

Both these cars would have all-new 3-cylinder engines developed in-house by Tata. The​ petrol ​is a 1.2-liter mill from the 'Revotron' family​ churning out 84 horsepower and 114 Nm of torque​ and the ​diesel is a​ 1.05-liter unit christened 'Revotorq'​ generating a modest 69 horsepower and 140 Nm of torque​. ​Tata hasn't confirmed the diesel power and torque figures for the sedan, hinting at the possibility of a revised state of tune.

Also present in Tata's stand was the Nexon Concept, a star of the 2014 Auto Expo. This time, the upcoming compact SUV shed its concept elements with Tata deciding to showcase the vehicle in a mellowed-down production-ready avatar. Still, the Nexon looks amazing and futuristic with its floating roof, steeply rising beltline and dual-tone paint job. Projector headlamps and LED taillights add more bling to the Nexon. If its launched as it is, expect this Tata to be a head-turner on roads. The views might be polarizing though.


When it goes on sale, the Nexon-based compact SUV will be powered by a turbocharged 1.2-liter 'Revotron' petrol engine and a new 1.5-liter diesel engine developing 108 horsepower and a peak torque of 260 Nm​.

Production version of the soon-to-be-launched Hexa and a sexy Bolt Sport with a more powerful engine and body kit added pizzazz to the Tata stand.


Having displayed cars and SUVs as impressive as these, the pressure is now on Tata to get the pricing right and the marketing strategies, promotions and after-sales sorted before​ launching them in the market.​ Given its current plight, Tata just can't afford to screw up. As for us, we​ wish we could take these snazzy Tatas ​out for test drives ​​already!

2016 Auto Expo - Hyundai brings in Carlino concept, unveils Tucson for India

Hyundai sprung a surprise at the ongoing 2016 Auto Expo in New Delhi by bringing in its Carlino concept. Designed by the company's Namyang design center in South Korea, the Carlino, codenamed HND 14, previews a potential compact SUV from Hyundai targeted at the Ford Ecosport and Maruti-Suzuki's just-unveiled Vitara Brezza.


Sporting slim headlights, flat hood, boxy taillights, front and rear skid plates and an overall squarish design, the Carlino concept looks butch and macho, just how an SUV is supposed to look. Of course, there are conceptual elements like suicide doors, massive wheels shod with ultra low profile tires and side air intakes that aren't going to make it to the production version. But, considering how well the Santa Fe and Creta turned out, we would be really surprised if the Carlino's production version doesn't turn out to be as good-looking, if not better.

Neither the interiors nor the technical specifications of the concept were revealed, indicating that this is just a design preview to keep the competition and potential compact SUV buyers interested.


Along with the Carlino concept, another Hyundai SUV stole the limelight at the Auto Expo. The Tucson, that had a forgettable first stint in India, made a comeback at the biennial event. Now that Indians have warmed up to buying expensive Hyundais and SUVs are all the rage, the all-new Tucson can hope for a better outing this time around. To be slotted between the smash hit Creta and the Santa Fe, the Tucson would be locking horns directly with the Mahindra XUV5OO when it goes on sale later this year.


A smaller Santa Fe or a bigger Creta, depending on how you look at it, is coming your way. So what do you do? Just hold on to the 15-20 Lakhs you thought of spending on a new car and watch this space!

​2016 Auto Expo - Maruti-Suzuki unveils 'red hot' Vitara Brezza

Maruti-Suzuki, India's largest car manufacturer, kicked off proceedings at the 2016 Auto Expo in New Delhi by unveiling the Vitara Brezza, it's upcoming compact SUV. Conceptualized, designed and developed completely in house by Maruti's engineers in India using a Suzuki global platform, the Vitara Brezza is aimed straight at the Ford Ecosport and Mahindra TUV3OO.


From the looks of it, the Vitara Brezza is quite a style statement from Maruti-Suzuki. It heavily borrows design elements from the international Vitara and presents it in a compact footprint, with its length falling short of the all-important 4-meter mark. It's compact dimensions notwithstanding, the Vitara Brezza looks butch, sports an upright hood and squarish wheel arches, gets short front and rear overhangs and boasts a high ground clearance of 198 mm, all of which are typical SUV traits. The two-tone paint job exclusive to the top-end variant promises to be an unique differentiator as well. 

Did we mention the top-end Vitara Brezza in red-black and blue-white combos look snazzy?


While the exteriors are all new, the engine isn't. The Vitara Brezza's power source remains the tried and tested 1.3-liter DDiS diesel engine that churns out 89 horsepower and 200 Nm of torque. The power is transmitted to the front wheels through a 5-speed manual transmission. It's interesting given that the premium Baleno gets the same engine in a lower state of tune while the Vitara Brezza gets the same tune as the S-Cross. Though not officially confirmed, we expect Maruti-Suzuki to launch petrol-engined variants and automatic transmission at a later stage. 

From the official images released, the interior design doesn't break new ground but we expect Maruti-Suzuki to load the Vitara Brezza with features. The official brochure lists cruise control, multi-coloured instrument cluster and touchscreen infotainment system with GPS navigation amongst others! Maruti-Suzuki claims the Vitara Brezza meets the frontal offset and side impact crash tests that will come into force in India from 2017. A driver airbag is standard on the Vitara Brezza while front passenger airbag and ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) with EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution) is provided as an option from the base variant. 

Pre-bookings for the Vitara Brezza starts immediately while the price announcement and official launch will happen a few weeks down the line. Well, we see "blockbuster" written all over the Vitara Brezza! You do as well, don't you?

20160129

Driven #32: 2015 Ford Figo Aspire TDCi Titanium+


Ford has a notorious reputation in India with just one of its models selling well at any point in time. Be it the Escort, Ikon, Fiesta, Figo or Ecosport, they have all stayed true to that legacy. In its bid to change that image, the American manufacturer has launched a slew of new models over the last few months with the Figo Aspire leading the charge. The Aspire is not just an extension of Ford's successful Figo nameplate but also marks the brand's entry in one of the fastest-growing and most-competitive segments in the market. Yes, the Figo Aspire has jumped head on into a segment where Maruti-Suzuki, Honda and Hyundai aren't letting the new comers settle down. Add to it the perception of expensive maintenance associated with Ford and there is a lot riding against this car.

The Figo Aspire has started off well in its first few months on sale but has the car got what it takes to overcome the odds, sustain sales and succeed in the Indian market? Let's find out. 

TO LOOK AT:


Designing a compact sedan for India has got to be a challenge for even the best automotive designers in business. Slapped with multiple constraints with the most significant being the need to restrict the length of the car under four meters, it is not that difficult to end up with a design that's disproportionate and awkward. That's precisely why Ford's designers deserve a pat on their backs for their work on the Figo Aspire. It isn't the most proportionate compact sedan out there but it easily is the best-looking one in the market right now.


Creating a positive impression from the word go, the Figo Aspire strikes a chord at first glance. Its sharp nose characterized by the hexagonal grille inspired by Aston Martin looks fabulous while the sleek horizontal chrome slats and swept back headlights further ups the style quotient. The Blue Oval logo sits atop the grille and not on it like it does in most cars. The ridges in the front bumper and the prominent 'power bulge' in the hood adds muscle to all that bling up front. The profile is not the best angle to view the Figo Aspire with the short overhangs, long wheelbase and puny 14-inch wheels resulting in an awkward stance. Fact is, the Figo Aspire looks better than most of its competitors in this angle too and that tells a lot about the prevailing 'aesthetic' sense in this segment. Stubby rear view mirrors with integrated repeater lamps and a strong shoulder line housing the door handles are nicely done. The rear, again, is well designed with large wraparound taillights setting the tone. The boot lid has an integrated lip spoiler as well as a character line that connects the taillights.


Though the Figo Aspire has generous application of chrome, the shiny metal looks classy in this car. Even the thick chrome bar that runs across the boot lid and the front fender inserts add to the appeal of the car and aren't gawdy to look at. Ford could have reduced the number of badges at the rear though. With different fonts, sizes and offsets, the Figo, Aspire, Titanium and TDCi badges fill up the empty space in the boot lid well but look cluttered. The design of the alloy wheels could have been better too, given that the Ecosport and the old Figo had great-looking wheels.

TO SIT IN:


Manufacturers these days are adopting a common design theme in and out for models across segments. Ford is no different and the Figo Aspire's cabin borrows heavily from its siblings, the Ecosport and Fiesta.


What is not borrowed is the instrument cluster that appears barebones at first look. Move past its simple looks though and this cluster provides you with all that you need and then some more. A large speedometer houses the LCD screen that displays the odometer reading. A steering-mounted stalk lets you toggle through information like trip meter, outside temperature, average speed, average and instantaneous fuel efficiency and distance to empty readouts. An analog tachometer sits to the left and a large fuel gauge to the right of the speedometer. There is also an 'Econo' mode which, when turned on, prompts the driver to shift up at optimal revs for better fuel efficiency. The prompting is done by displaying a green 'up arrow' symbol.


The three-spoke steering wheel is good to hold with nicely-shaped thumb recesses. The glossy black insert is great to look at but is an instant dust magnet. The center console is a direct lift from the Ecosport with an array of buttons stacked like those in the Nokia smartphones of yore. The layout is starting to look a bit dated and Ford should think of moving onto sleeker touchscreen-based units that are the norm these days. The climate control buttons below, though a tad smaller than what we would have liked, look neat and classy. The chrome-ringed rotary dials with their knurled finish stand out and are great to touch and operate. The USB and Aux inputs are placed right in front of the gearstick along with a 12-volt power outlet.


The Figo Aspire might be a compact sedan slugging it out in the mass market but Ford has put in a lot of efforts in designing the car's interiors. Don't believe us? Let's give a few examples. The recess right below the climate control unit has a ribbed texture to prevent items from sliding around. The superb integration of multiple controls including headlamp leveling, front and rear fog lights and remote boot opening in a single panel to the right of the steering wheel is another job well done. Are you looking for a secret place to hide your wallet from prying eyes? There's one to the side of the dashboard visible only when you open the driver's door. The front doors can hold a 1.5-liter bottle and two 1-liter bottles each with some space left for more! This, without a doubt, is a well thought-out cabin.


The front seats are spacious and accommodating with a healthy height adjustment range. The beige leather upholstery is exclusive to the Titanium + variant and adds to the plushness of the cabin. The rear seats are far more spacious than we imagined and the Figo Aspire offers more knee room and shoulder room than even the bigger Fiesta. Even after adjusting the front seats for six-footers, the rear seat still had ample space to comfortably seat three adults. Of course, the middle passenger would feel unwelcome with the raised floor. 


The Titanium + trim level we drove gets the ‘SYNC with AppLink’ infotainment system with a 4.2-inch display screen in the center console. It supports USB, Aux, MP3, CD and Bluetooth audio inputs and accepts voice commands as well. Working through the SYNC system is a bit overwhelming initially but gets progressively simpler once you are used to it. Unlike the Ecosport we drove earlier that struggled to understand Indian accents, the Figo Aspire had no problems listening to us. The Aspire also gets Ford’s industry-leading Emergency Assistance that calls the police and gives them the GPS co-ordinates in case of an accident. Making its debut in the Aspire is the new ‘Ford MyKey’ that allows owners to set speed limit, volume limit and let out an audible speed warning. It’s simple, intuitive and might come in handy when handing the car over to others. 

All variants of the Figo Aspire gets dual airbags as standard with the Titanium + getting segment-exclusive six airbags. Knowing how well the old Figo’s body structure fared in the Global NCAP tests, the Figo Aspire should be amongst the safest cars in the segment. We will wait for crash test results to vouch for that statement though! The long list of features in the Figo Aspire include power-folding mirrors, ABS with EBD, Guide Me Home headlamps, leather seats, adjustable front and rear headrests and steering mounted audio controls. Push Button Start, reverse parking camera, reach adjustment for steering and auto-dimming mirrors are conspicuous by their absence.

BEHIND THE WHEEL:

Figo Aspire’s engine lineup includes a 1.2-liter petrol, a 1.5-liter petrol exclusive to the 6-speed automatic transmission and a 1.5-liter diesel. The car we drove had the diesel mill under its hood with 99 horsepower and 215 Nm of torque. Though the engine is shared with the Ecosport and Fiesta, the Figo Aspire was the first model to get it in a higher state of tune. Of course, Ford has now updated the other models in the lineup as well. 


Turn the ignition on and the Figo Aspire cranks up with an unmistakable diesel clatter. Refinement levels are acceptable at low revs and increases as the revs climb. Though the engine gets a fixed geometry turbocharger to boost output, the lag is well-controlled and hardly evident. It’s a boon inside the city as the response in low revs is simply brilliant. The car shoots off the line and the linear power delivery ensures your daily commute within the city will be an easy affair. But, it’s an open road that this motor craves for. Show it an open stretch of tarmac and you will see the Aspire cross triple digit speeds in no time. Despite the absence of a sixth gear, the Aspire is an extremely capable cruiser and can munch miles for hours without breaking into a sweat. The mid-range packs a punch and you can drive the car in third and fourth gears all day. Power tapers off near the redline but you will hardly feel the need to rev this engine so hard.


The 5-speed manual gearbox is nice to operate with a reasonably light clutch and well-defined gates. That said, we would have preferred an additional gear in the Aspire, given the power on tap and its cruising ability. Though the Xcent and Dzire are more refined and have smoother gearboxes, the Figo Aspire would leave them in the dust when it comes to outright acceleration. The Amaze is no longer the segment benchmark in this category. 


Ride quality is excellent and the Figo Aspire’s suspension is tuned for comfort. At city speeds, the Aspire gobbles up bumps and potholes with ease. The biggest of undulations filter into the cabin with a loud thud though. As speeds build up, the soft suspension setup’s limitations are exposed and the Aspire isn’t as composed as you would expect a Ford to be. Handling is predictable but body roll is quite evident when you flick the wheel enthusiastically. Where the old Figo and Fiesta handled as if they were on rails, the Aspire handles like any other decently-sprung compact sedan would on road. The steering is light at low speeds and weighs up well as you go faster. Still, its not a match for the fabulous hydraulic power steering in the old Figo. If you’re one of those smitten by the magic in cars like the Ikon, Mondeo or Fiesta, the Figo Aspire will not please you. For everybody else in the mass market, this is one of the better-handling compact sedans on sale.


Braking is good and the presence of ABS with EBD meant that the Aspire shed speeds without losing its composure. The pedal offers good bite and the Aspire won’t surprise you with its antics in case of an emergency. The car scores big in fuel efficiency too with 15 - 16 km/l easily achieveable inside the city. Even after some spirited driving during our test drive and extensive idling for the photo shoot, the average fuel efficiency in the MID was still 18.2 km/l. A big thumbs up!

SPECIFICATIONS & DRIVE SUMMARY:



TO SUM UP:


Ford might be late to the compact sedan party but the Figo Aspire is a truly capable product. The big-selling Swift Dzire falls short on rear seat space and comfort, the Xcent lacks power in its diesel avatar and the Amaze has disturbingly low-rent interiors. The Zest was a good all-rounder at launch but people’s lack of faith in Tata prevented it from posing a threat. That brings us to the Figo Aspire. It looks good, pampers occupants with a host of features and a plush cabin, packs a punch with diesel power, returns good fuel economy and boasts of a comfy ride. It might not steer and handle as well as the old Figo or Fiesta but that's hardly what the market wants. If we are on the lookout for a diesel compact sedan right now, our money would be on the Figo Aspire!


Photography & Editing: Bharath Rengaraj & Aravind Ramesh

20160126

Isuzu D-Max facelift spotted testing in Chennai

Slowly but steadily, Isuzu is carving out a niche for itself in the Indian market. Despite having limited sales points compared to rivals Tata and Mahindra, the MU-7 premium SUV and D-Max pickup truck in its various configurations have been doing reasonably well in India to warrant setting up of a new manufacturing facility. Coming up at Sri City in Andhra Pradesh, Isuzu is expected to soon start assembling vehicles at the new facility.


Internationally, the MU-7 has been replaced by MU-X while the D-Max received a significant facelift towards the end of 2015. While there is no news on the MU-X, Isuzu has already started testing the D-Max facelift in India. Caught testing by a regular reader of Anything On Wheels in Chennai, these camouflaged pickup trucks are proof that the D-Max is all set for a makeover very soon. Two variants of the truck were spotted, a Single Cab chassis and a Dual Cab (Isuzu calls this 'Crew Cab') variant with arched deck. In fact, the latter could be the Space Cab variant too but the cut-outs in the camouflage for rear door handles make us believe otherwise. While there are no frontal shots of the test vehicles, there are enough clues that helped in establishing the truck's identity. The prominent shoulder line that runs the full length of the profile cutting through the door handles, the vertical taillight clusters with clear lens indicators and reversing lamps and the cut across the rear deck opening are similar to the ones in the D-Max facelift currently on sale in Thailand.


The D-Max lineup in India currently include Single Cab, Single Cab chassis and Space Cab with flat and arched decks. When Isuzu launches the facelift, the lineup could expand to include the Crew Cab configuration as well. 4x4 versions are also rumored to be in the works. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder common-rail turbocharged diesel engine that powers the D-Max currently was replaced by a new 1.9-liter diesel mill that churns out 147 BHP and 350 Nm of torque when the facelift was launched. When the D-Max facelift is launched in India, this new engine is likely to make it here too. In addition to the new engine, the facelift gets significantly-revised front and rear bumpers, new wraparound headlights and sleeker taillights. The interiors have received a complete revamp too with improved aesthetics and better build quality.

Compared to Tata's Xenon and Mahindra's Imperio, the Isuzu D-Max stands out for its powerful engine and comfortable cabin that is well put together and loaded with all necessary features. With the impending facelift, these strengths are likely to be strengthened further. Bring it on Isuzu!