2015 Los Angeles - Fiat 124 Spider returns

Come 2016, the much-loved Fiat 124 Spider will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. What better way to commemorate the occasion than revive the model itself? That's exactly what Fiat did with the all new 124 Spider that made its debut at the just-concluded Los Angeles Auto Show in California, USA. 

Affordable sporty roadsters are a dying breed with the Mazda Miata having the segment all to itself, well almost. Enter Fiat, with a deal struck with Mazda enabling the Italian brand to use Miata's underpinnings, to create a roadster of its own. That's right, Mazda helped Fiat develop a rival for Mazda's own Miata!

Essentially, the 124 Spider is a Miata wearing Italian clothes. Does it look sufficiently different to create its own identity? Yes, it is. Fiat's idea with this car is to pay homage to the original 124 Spider from 1966, a popular roadster in the USA that's widely considered to be one of Fiat's most beautiful designs ever. The mesh grille and circular LED ring in the headlights are a clear ode to the original as are the 'power domes' in the hood. The profile is a work of art and features a flowing design that oozes appeal with the roof down. The rear, again, is inspired by the 124 Spider of yore and has rectangular taillights with twin chrome-tipped exhaust pipes. Despite sharing its mechanicals with the Miata, the Fiat is longer and wider than the Mazda as evident from the longer overhangs. 

The interiors appear well finished but are very similar to the ones seen in the Mazda Miata. This is where Fiat could have made a difference and brought in Italian flair. Sadly, they have chosen not to. But then we aren't complaining as this borrowed cabin is a nice place for two to sit back and enjoy a relaxed ride. Classy bits in the cabin include beautiful chrome-ringed buttons in the center console and a 7-inch multimedia screen popping out of the dashboard. A 9-speaker premium sound system from Bose including dual headrest speakers is on offer too. Active safety suite include adaptive front headlamps, Blind-spot monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection.

Powering the rear wheels of the 124 Spider is a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir engine. For North America, the engine delivers 160 horsepower and 249 Nm of torque, mated to either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. The Mazda Miata is one of the best driver's cars currently in production and the 124 Spider sharing its mechanicals is expected to be no different. With such an accomplished chassis and forced induction underneath, the 124 Spider should be a hoot to drive.

When it goes on sale in summer 2016, the first 124 vehicles would be offered in a limited 'Prima Edizione Lusso' edition to celebrate the return of this classic nameplate. Exclusivity is guaranteed in the form of Azzurro Italia (Blue) exterior paint, premium leather seats in Saddle, individually numbered commemorative badge, custom wearables and a poster.


Hyundai's 'Genesis' luxury brand will make its debut shortly

So yes, it has finally happened. After resisting the urge to carve off an independent brand for its luxury cars, Hyundai has finally decided to launch a new luxury brand shortly. Guess what, it would be called 'Genesis'. That's hardly surprising, given that Hyundai tasted commercial success and critical acclaim with its first luxury sedan that carried the same name.

The South Korean brand's decision to launch a new luxury division wasn't unforeseen either. Hyundai dropped enough hints along the way with the biggest one being the debut of the HCD-14 Genesis Concept at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. 

The Genesis brand, Hyundai says, will adopt a modified version of the winged emblem that is currently used in the Genesis sedan. With plans to launch as much as six models by 2020, the Genesis brand will also adopt an alphanumeric naming nomenclature. With the 'G' prefix denoting Genesis, models would be named G70, G80, G90 and so on depending on the size and segment in which they compete. A new "Prestige Design Division" has been formed within Hyundai with Luc Donckerwolke, ex-Volkswagen Group designer who has penned Audis, Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Skodas before, at the helm. Peter Schreyer, the man behind the design transformation of Hyundai and Kia in recent years, would continue to oversee the work done in the Prestige Design Division too. 

Remember the impressive Vision G Concept that debuted earlier this year? That could be an hint on what to expect from Genesis going forward.

The current Equus sedan is likely to kickstart things for the new luxury brand, albeit with a different name, followed by the Genesis sedan and another smaller sedan. A coupe and a couple of Sport Utility Vehicles are rumored to be in the fray too. To maintain their exclusivity, image and appeal, all Genesis models are expected to come with a rear wheel drive layout with optional all wheel drive in some.

While other details like the investments to be pumped in and plans for setting up exclusive dealership networks aren't available, Hyundai has said that South Korea, China, USA and the Middle East would be the first markets to retail Genesis-branded cars. Europe and the rest of the Asian markets will figure later in the business plan. 

When it does make its debut, Genesis would be having its hands full dealing with brands with irresistible pull like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz and well-established rivals like Lexus, Acura and Infiniti. Will Hyundai succeed in its luxury venture? Or is it taking a step too far too fast? Let's keep our fingers crossed.


Cara Mia Fiat, grazie infinite

Ah no, we aren't posting this from Italy, if you are wondering after reading the title of this post. 'Cara Mia' is Italian for 'beloved' and all we are saying is 'Dear Fiat, thank you so much'.

We bloggers have a moral responsibility to control our emotions and think more than once before we type what we want. At times though, pent up emotions get the better of us and make us go bonkers. This post is a result of one such instance. Something similar happened earlier too and that's when this happened. Lamenting on the lack of sporty performance-oriented hatchbacks in India, we poured our hearts out hoping for a change.

It’s been almost four years since and an automotive brand we least expected has finally satisfied our plea. Yes, with sales of just a few hundred cars every month, Fiat was least expected to whet the appetite of car enthusiasts in India. With brands like Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai, the two biggies that enjoy fat profits and control close to 65% of the Indian car market between them, choosing to remain silent, Fiat didn’t have to do this. With brands like Ford, Volkswagen, Renault and Honda that have successful sporty sub-brands in their global lineup choosing to remain silent, Fiat didn’t have to do this. But they did and we mean it when we say we can’t thank them enough.

You could argue Fiat is desperate to garner attention hoping it adds to its minuscule sales tally. But then, Skoda and Nissan aren’t doing much better either. Why hasn't their desperation led to something like this? Let’s give credit where its due. Fiat gave us the first 100 horsepower hatchback with the Palio 1.6. Fiat gave us the first affordable turbo petrol engine with the Linea T-Jet. And now, with the launch of the Abarth Punto a few days back, Fiat has gifted us Indians our first ‘true’ hot hatchback.

Take a look at the car's specifications. 145 horsepower. 212 Nm of torque. Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.8 seconds. 0 to 1 km covered in 30.4 seconds. Powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. All this in a hatchback that you could drive for your daily commute to work, do your monthly grocery shopping in, take out for that road trip with family every quarter and even indulge in that occasional, once-in-a-year fun outing in a race track. 

If this isn’t reason enough to go crazy, what else is? Yes, the Abarth Punto isn’t perfect in every sense but then, no other car is.

The Abarth Punto not just packs a punch under its hood but looks the part too. Some of its elements like the bright red fog lamp surrounds in the bumper are garish but the car makes a loud statement for sure. In fact, with its 16-inch scorpion alloys and tastefully done decals on the sides, it screams sportiness and aggression. Let’s not forget the big scorpion pasted on the roof while we are at it! The changes aren’t restricted to the exteriors and the cabin is mildly spruced up too. The instrument cluster is Abarth badged and features the performance brand's red and yellow theme. The seats and gear lever have contrasting stitches in the same colours and the entertainment system can finally stream music through BlueTooth. There are sportier Abarth pedals available as an option too. 

Apart from the Abarth Punto, the Avventura also gets the T-Jet engine finally in a slightly lesser state of tune. Visually, there is just a ‘Powered by Abarth’ sticker on the rear door that hints at the power under the hood. The rest of the car is similar to the regular Avventura launched earlier. 

The Abarth twins might not add significant volumes to Fiat but they sure have done a world of good to Fiat's image and prospects in our market. Now that the Italian brand has done its part, let's hope its rivals take a cue and come out with performance cars of their own.


Maruti-Suzuki launches Baleno, priced between INR 4.99 and 8.11 Lakhs

One of the most-awaited car launches of 2015 happened today as Maruti-Suzuki, India’s largest car-maker, pulled the wraps off the Baleno. As most of you would remember, this nameplate isn’t new to India and adorned a premium mid-size sedan from Maruti-Suzuki some time back. This time though, the Baleno makes a comeback as a premium hatchback and has two cars in sight - the Hyundai i20 and the Honda Jazz.

Suzuki’s designs have always been conservative apart from a few exceptions like the original Swift in 2006. The Baleno sticks to that tradition and tries to please all and offend none with its safe and suave ‘Liquid Flow’ styling. That said, the car has its own design flourishes too. The swept-back headlights, for instance, look very similar to those in the Swift at first glance. Look closer though and the subtle differences are apparent. The top-end variant, with HID projector lights and LED Daytime Running Lights, look and feel premium. Accentuating the premium feel further is the V-shaped chrome strip that underlines the small honeycomb grille and extends inside the headlights. The wavy hipline that rises up from the tip of the headlights, then drops slightly to go under the door-mounted rear view mirrors before sweeping past the door handles and ending in the taillights gives the Baleno a distinct identity. The roof-mounted spoiler, LED taillights and the thick chrome strip are the only highlights in an otherwise bulbous rear. The Baleno is longer, wider and has a longer wheelbase than the Swift and is a proper full-size hatchback.

After the S-Cross, the Baleno is the second Maruti-Suzuki product to be sold through the premium NEXA dealerships and the interiors are a testimony to that. The multi-function steering wheel is similar to the ones we have seen in other Suzuki cars and the blue-ringed instrument cluster appear to have been inspired by the positive feedback on the dials in the S-Cross. Taking prime place in the V-shaped center console is a large touchscreen infotainment system. Dubbed ‘SmartPlay’, the system has in-built navigation as well as Apple’s CarPlay that lets the occupants to use and converse with Siri, a first in a car sold in India. The car otherwise is well-loaded too with Antilock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and twin airbags being standard fare. The feature list also includes push button start, height-adjustable driver’s seat, follow-me-home headlamps, automatic climate control, tilt and telescopic steering, voice command, rear parking camera, automatic headlamps, leather-wrapped steering, UV-cut glass and HID projector headlamps with LED Daytime Running Lights.

Powering the Baleno are the same engines that power the Swift. The 1.2-liter petrol engine churns out 83 horsepower at 6000 rpm and a peak torque of 115 Nm at 4000 rpm. The popular, Fiat-sourced 1.3-liter diesel engine that’s badged DDiS 190 generates 74 horsepower at 4000 rpm and a peak torque of 190 Nm at 2000 rpm. Both the engines are mated to a 5-speed manual transmission while the petrol variant can be bought with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) too. These aren’t class-leading specs but given that the Baleno is almost 100 kilos lighter than a Swift despite being structurally stronger, makes this a reasonably peppy car. More importantly, the Baleno has an ARAI-certified fuel efficiency figures of 21.4 km/l for the petrol and a whopping 27.39 km/l for the diesel variants, a number that could potentially attract thousands of thrifty Indian customers each month.

The Baleno has been launched in four trim levels - Sigma, Delta, Zeta and Alpha. The petrol variants are priced between INR 4.99 and 7.01 Lakhs while the diesel variants retail between INR 6.16 and 8.11 Lakhs. The sole automatic variant (CVT), available in Delta trim level, is priced at INR 6.76 Lakhs. At these prices, the Baleno undercuts its main rivals by a handsome margin and could end up being a potential threat to Maruti’s own Swift and Dzire too.

India is the first country in the world where the new Baleno is launched. India will also be the sole production hub for this car as the Baleno would be made here for the world. The car is expected to be exported to as many as 100 countries including Suzuki’s home country of Japan in the not so distant future.

Maruti-Suzuki, the erstwhile king of hatchbacks, might have come late to the premium hatchback party but they are sure to create ripples in the market with the new Baleno. The car looks good, is spacious, has a plethora of safety and convenience features including a few segment-firsts and is backed by Maruti’s excellent after-sales support. Add to that the frugal engines and the premium car-buying experience promised by NEXA, there is really nothing more that one could ask.

Watch out Hyundai and Honda, Suzuki is back with vengeance!


Chevrolet launches the Trailblazer SUV in India

After a few years of lying dormant in India, Chevrolet is finally showing some signs of life. Earlier this week, the American brand owned by General Motors launched its Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Trailblazer in the country, priced at INR 26.40 Lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi). The Trailblazer is Chevrolet's rival to the popular Toyota Fortuner and other premium SUVs like Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Ford Endeavour, Hyundai Santa Fe and Ssangyong Rexton.

Anything On Wheels was amongst the first few sites in India to post clear spy-shots of the Trailblazer that hinted at what's in store for us from the General!

SUVs are all about size and presence and on that aspect, the Trailblazer doesn't disappoint. Its massive, rides high and is bigger than the segment-leading Toyota Fortuner in most dimensions. Up front, the huge split grille with the big bow-tie logo in between gives the Trailblazer an unmistakably Chevy identity. The tall bonnet, massive bumpers and skid plates at the front and rear gives it a tough, muscular look while the projector lamps up front, LED taillights and subtle chrome garnishing adds to the appeal. We particularly like the way the C-pillar is shaped and the floating rear windscreen. Shod with 18-inch wheels, the Trailblazer has a whopping 241 mm ground clearance and a water-wading capability of 800 mm.

All that size translates into a spacious cabin that can comfortably accommodate seven passengers in three rows. The cabin has a dual-tone colour scheme with beige taking predominant real estate inside. Thankfully, the top half of the dashboard is finished in black with the colour scheme extending onto the doorpads on either sides as well. Chevrolet's My Link infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen is standard as are features like climate control, cruise control, BlueTooth connectivity, dual front airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), cornering brake stability, panic brake assist, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control and Traction Control System.

Under the hood of the Trailblazer is a turbocharged 2.8-liter, 4-cylinder 'Duramax' diesel engine that generates 197 horsepower at 3600 rpm and 500 Nm of torque at 2000 rpm. Mated to the engine is a 6-speed automatic transmission that transmits the power to the rear wheels. No manual transmission or All Wheel Drive system are available at the moment. 

Though the Trailblazer is unlikely to add significant volumes to General Motors India, it will help prevent the interest levels in Chevy brand from falling further. That's crucial as General Motors is said to be preparing for a fresh onslaught of new models in the Indian market in the upcoming years.