Tata Altoz

The Altroz is a key product in the Tata Motors’ path of reinventing itself. It is the latest offering in the new era of Tata products built from ground up and aims squarely at the premium hatchback segment dominated by the Baleno, i20, Jazz, Polo, Glanza etc. While the official launch will happen sometime in January, 2020, we got to sample one in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan and Unique Times readers will be among the first to read it this time.

This is a new platform for Tata Motors, which they call the ALFA architecture – short for Agile, Light, Flexible and Advanced. It will form the basis of many future cars in various body styles and has provisions for an electric power-train to be fitted in later. Making it light was one of the top priorities and the result is a body shell which weighs a lot less than that of the smaller Tiago. It uses a high grade of steel that makes it lighter without compromising on strength. Tata says it is their safest car yet and going by their recent crash test results, we have every reason to believe them. It feels very solidly built and there is a sense of robustness and indestructibility that is missing in others.

The Altroz looks the part and like most Tatas, hasn’t deviated much from its original concept form. The front end has a striking appearance that gets better, the more you look at it. The upward swept headlamps, the glossy black grille, the chrome line that runs underneath it and the foglamps with LED DRLs in the bumper are all very distinctive. The side profile has this uniquely placed turn signal on the fender and characteristic body lines that make the car look much lower. The rear door handles are hidden near the C pillar to give it a cleaner look to the overall body. The glossy black outline around the windows makes it look more dynamic without having to resort to a lower shoulder-line or a larger window. The rear gets more glossy black trim which along with the black tail lamp surrounds make it look like one solid piece of glass. The 16 inch polished alloy wheels look the part and the car looks very good from most angles. At 1755mm, it is the widest car in its class by a considerable margin. Incidentally, it also has the shortest wheelbase of all its rivals, although it is about the same four metre length.

Step inside and you are greeted by a cabin that is very generous in size. The dashboard layout is typically Tata in design, with well-made bits and a floating screen at the centre. The new flat bottom steering wheel is small and very nice to hold. The horn pad stretches all the way to the edges, so you don’t have to extend your fingers to the centre boss, to operate the horn. The downside is, all the buttons on the wheel are also mounted on this pad that it makes the whole set-up feel a bit wobbly when you first operate them.  We also feel the dashboard layout has a lot of vacant space, and that silver dashboard trim reflects light quite badly, when you have the sun shining behind you at an angle. Apart from this, there aren’t any issues to report. Tata has got most of the ergonomics right, this time round. The steering only adjusts for rake, but it is very easy to find a good seating position. The front seats have very good lateral support and so much room. The rear seat has decent width, adequate support, offers a comfortable posture and comes with a flat floor and its own AC vents. Also worth mentioning are the doors which open to 90 degrees making ingress, egress or loading something on the seats, so much easier. The boot is 340 litres and Tata’s attention to detail using colour coded mats for the car all round is top notch. The 7 inch touch screen infotainment system, which is by Harmon Kardon, doubles up as the display for the HVAC and also connects to the 7 inch driver information display for displaying song details and navigation info. You have to connect the phone for navigation, but it comes with Apple Car Play and Android Auto and gets six speakers including two tweeters on the A pillar. The sound quality is excellent, with good staging, clear vocals and tight bass.

The Altroz comes with two engine options – a 1.2 litre petrol and a 1.5 litre diesel – both BS6, coupled to 5 speed manual transmissions. As for the petrol, it is the only 3 cylinder engine in its class. With similar engine capacity, it makes 86bhp and 113Nm. It has a bit of a three cylinder thrum at certain rpms, but for most part, it feels smooth. The engine has good low end and mid-range power making driving much easier in city conditions. It feels adequate for the highways too, cruising effortlessly at triple digit speeds, although you don’t get much passing power for overtaking. The diesel on the other hand, has plenty of poke. It produces 90bhp and 200Nm torque. Even before the turbo spools up, there is adequate low down power making it better than most diesel cars in ‘stop and go’ traffic. Like in the petrol variant, the clutch is light and the gearshift action is positive, although we would have liked a shorter gear lever with a slightly lesser throws. The diesel sounds a lot coarser when revved hard, but for part throttle driving conditions, the refinement is decent.

The biggest improvement Tata has made in driving dynamics, is reflected in the Altroz’s handling. It is agile, eager to turn in and has good amount of grip. It feels very composed through most high speed corners and the choice of dampers for the suspension is excellent. It also rides well over broken roads and the suspension, like in most Tata cars, seems like it can take quite a beating. Even with relatively lower profile tyres, the car seems to ride well over potholes and ruts. Interestingly, Tata offers wider 195/55 R16 section tyres on the petrol Altroz and 185/60 R16 tyres on the diesel, while logically it should have been the other way around. We spoke to a few engineers around and they said this profile was chosen to give the diesel’s tyres more durability in the long run and this was the closest tyre size available in the market.

Tata has got almost everything right with the Altroz. It has the styling, well-built feel, space, ride quality, safety, equipment levels and good road manners. The engines are a bit pedestrian and we wish they had offered it with the 1.2 litre turbo petrol in the Tiago JTP and Nexon. A dual clutch automatic for the petrol is on its way, but there should have been an automatic variant, right from the start. It comes loaded with keyless entry, push button start, climate control, cooled glovebox, ambient lighting, rear AC vents, stop/start, 7 inch touch screen Harmon Karon audio system. While it misses out on LED headlamps and auto-dimming mirrors, it also gets several segment first features like Cruise control, wide opening doors, flat floor etc. Tata also offers several ways of customising one with selected features from the model above, without having to spend for a higher trim level. With rivals like Jazz, i20 and Polo showing their age, the Altroz’s timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Audi A6

The coveted luxury arm of the German automobile giant Volkswagen, has been in India for the better part of a decade now. Starting off by selling imports in small quantities, the brand rose to popularity and was the leader in luxury car sales in 2012-13 period. The brand had then gone silent with no new mainstream model launches since the Q5 in Jan 2018. Audi India isn’t at the best performance in terms of sales right now, but they are hoping this new A6 would get them back in the game.

Called the C8, this fifth generation of the A6 came out globally in 2018 and it took Audi its sweet time to bring it to our shores. Unlike the E class which is only available as the long wheelbase variant (except in the E63 AMG guise), what we get is the standard wheelbase of the car. It is dimensionally very similar to the outgoing model with 7mm, 12mm and 2mm added to the length, width and height respectively, with another 12mm stretch in the wheelbase department. To the uninitiated, it might look like a facelift of the old car, with similar proportions. But look closely and you appreciate the details. The front end looks sharper and the lines are all much more pronounced. The body has more creases and the lighting elements have more details inside them. The characteristic front end has a new larger grille that extends all the way to the lower bumper. The rear has a more elongated look to it. It doesn’t have the purposeful stance of the older car and now sits higher on slightly thinner tyres.

Inside, you notice the changes are much more profound. It gets a new layered dashboard with the new Audi MMI interface with twin touch screens in addition to the digital instrument cluster. The interface is all new and the infotainment system is very intuitive to use. It has haptic feedback to help you along, but using the lower screen while driving isn’t easy. The steering is looks good and is great to hold and so are the controls around it. Quality levels are good, but these days, with equally good competition, this don’t feel exquisite like it did in past Audis when they came out. What Audi does best, is the digital driver’s display which can show a multitude of information including maps, and that is easily the best in the segment. The boot capacity is 530 litres and unlike competition, Audi has its space saver spare wheel neatly tucked underneath the boot floor. The seats are comfortable, although we would have liked a bit more back rest angle at the rear. There is a prominent transmission hump, which means a third passenger wouldn’t be very comfortable in the middle. The front seats don’t get ventilation although you get four zone climate control. The rear sun blinds on the doors are manually operated and you don’t get 360 degree cameras, features that the competition do offer.

It might seem that Audi has taken a step back in the driving department too. To begin with, you only get a four cylinder petrol engine, the air suspension with their dynamic dampers is gone and so is the quattro all wheel drive system. You also get thinner 225/55 R18 tyres in place of the wider 245/45 R18 tyres in the older car. There is only one petrol engine on offer and there isn’t a diesel. Called the 45TSI, which is Audi speak for a medium level performance trim, this 2.0 direct injection four cylinder turbo petrol has 245bhp and 370Nm. The engine is a willing performer although in this segment, you would wish for a six cylinder or even a torquey diesel. It is easy to drive around town, has impeccable refinement at low revs and builds up speed quite well given its size. The 7 speed dual clutch automatic gearbox is quick to respond, although it feels it has been made to shift a bit smoother than in other applications.

The switch to steel springs isn’t as bad as it is sounds, though. There is less complexity, less risk of things to go wrong considering how much the suspension has to work overtime given our bad roads. The springs and dampers are well chosen and the car has a good balance between a comfy ride and handling. The ride quality is very good and it takes a lot to unsettle the A6. Grip, on the other hand, is much lower because of the switch to front wheel drive and thinner tyres. The steering and ESP are better than before, but it is not a car you want to drive fast. Switching between driving modes, doesn’t make much difference either, now that it doesn’t have dynamic suspension to stiffen up. Audis never had the steering feel to match, but the outgoing A6 with the 3.0TDI, complete with air suspension and Quattro was on another planet.

The new Audi A6 is the jack of all trades car, something you can live with every day, and will do its luxury car duties quite well. It is comfortable, it looks good and although, you don’t get another engine option, the one it comes with, works adequately well. Still, you get the feeling that Audi hasn’t quite done its best with it. It is not the technological leap forward as we would have hoped and in fact, it has gone the other way for us. And while it all works, we can’t get our head round the fact that it has lost out on many things that made the older car special. Two extra screens on the dash won’t do it for us, what good, proper mechanical hardware can give on the road. Give us back the V6, all-wheel drive, dynamic dampers and wider tyres.

Tata Nexon EV

This may very well be India’s first affordable EV – and a proper one at that. Yes, there has been the E2O along with many other Mahindras, and the cheaper Tiago, but those had minuscule range and old battery technology. For it to be called a proper EV in our books, it has to have a high voltage setup and energy dense Lithium ion batteries. The Hyundai Kona was the first attempt at a proper EV we got, followed by the MG eZS and now we have a Tata that looks very promising.

On the face of it, it looks like any other facelifted Nexon. Tata has gone for blue highlights to differentiate the EV from the regular internal combustion engined Nexons. The refreshed styling looks better with less rounded elements and a flatter bonnet. The 16 inch wheels are also new and Tata says they are one kilogram lighter at each corner. It’s odd that Tata hasn’t offered LED headlamps or tail lamps in the EV and it is an eyesore to see inefficient, incandescent bulbs on what is otherwise a very high tech modern day EV.

The interiors of the Nexon EV are very similar to that of the standard car, with good amount of space, decent quality cabin and comfortable seats. The gear selector is now a Land Rover style rotary dial. What gets you every time is that it’s a bit slow to engage drive or reverse, which is annoying considering it’s an EV and that there are no mechanical parts to engage. The instrument console has the same 7 inch display as the Altroz but has EV specific graphics and look nice. The seats are comfortable and supportive, with good visibility, all around. There is a top of the line Lux variant which gets an off-white interior in faux leather, a sun roof, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers etc. The car also gets most of the connectivity features for location based services, vehicle security, remote commands etc.

The 30.2kWh T shaped battery pack sits towards the centre of the car and under the rear seat, taking up the space of the fuel tank. As a result, the boot space remains unchanged at 350 litres. The battery pack adds quite a lot of weight to the Nexon and the EV weighs 150kgs more than the diesel Nexon. The battery pack has an IP67 rating and can go underwater for up to one metre not exceeding 30 minutes. It has also conformed to rigorous other tests such as crushing, fire, nail penetration etc to have an AIS 48 rating. Tata offers a warranty of 8 years or 160,000 km on the battery and the motor. Because of the positioning of the battery, the Nexon EV has a 50:50 weight distribution and a much lower centre of gravity than the standard IC engined car, although the ground clearance is just 4mm lower.

Under the hood, you will find an electric motor that is good for 129bhp and 245Nm. Press the throttle and the Nexon EV responds quite well. The power delivery is quite linear and you can drive around without using too much throttle. You can keep up with other cars easily and the smooth, silent nature of the EV is quite relaxing. If you are in a bit of a hurry and want to close the gaps in traffic quickly, select Sport on the gear lever. Now the throttle feels very enthusiastic and you get a lot of power for even a little bit of pedal travel. The car feels extremely lively and with no traction control or ESP, you tend to spin the wheels when all that torque comes in one bit. It takes some getting used to the electric motor’s instant power delivery and quick throttle response when coming off a petrol/diesel car. Acceleration is very strong and the Nexon EV manages 0-100kmph in 9.6 seconds. Like most EVs it feels much faster than it is because of the way it delivers its output. Top speed is limited to 120kmph though.

The Nexon has retuned suspension with stiffer springs and dampers to suit the EV’s extra weight. It feels firmer on broken roads, but overall it isn’t far removed from the standard Nexon’s. Where it gets a lot better is in the dynamics front. The car feels much tauter and goes into corners better. The lower centre of gravity and the near 50:50 weight distribution helps here, but it is also down to the fact that the strong battery casing acts as a load bearing member, which also makes the overall chassis much stiffer. Select S on the drive, and you can surely have some fun with this EV.

So, what did we not like about the Nexon EV? It does consume a lot of energy in S and you will not get anywhere close to the 312kms ARAI certified range. And once the charge drops below 25 percent, it will not allow you to be in Sport anymore and there is a drastic reduction in available power to get you home. This is an oversight, because even if you know there is a charging station only two kilometres away, you still have to drive slowly to get there, which is bad if you are in an emergency.

Another gripe is that, although the car has hill start assist, there is a momentary delay before that gets activated and the Nexon EV rolls back a fair bit before it can move forwards. Pressing the brakes to stop it rolling backwards, will only delay things further and make matters worse and this can get confusing. You would also wish the amount of regeneration was variable to suit driver preferences, because out on the highway, you may want less re-gen to be able to coast more with a light throttle.

These things aside, the Nexon EV is quite a promising SUV for the price. While building a totally new skate board chassis with hub motors is the best way to build an EV, Tata’s approach is much simpler and very cost effective. Taking an existing production car platform and turning it into an EV, by fitting the electric motor and controllers under the hood where the engine used to be, is much simpler from a manufacturing perspective. That Tata chose to go with the Nexon – a well-received compact SUV, is pure genius. Prices start from around Rs.14 lakhs and if you want to be one of those early EV adopters, be sure to give this one a look.

Maruti Brezza Petrol

When the Brezza came out in 2016, that diesel engine was one of the main reasons to buy it. It was available only as a diesel and people were happy with it, but how times have changed. Today more people are switching away from diesels and not having a petrol option was taking its toll on the sales. What’s more with the new BS6 emissions, it was also time to say good bye to the faithful old 1.3 Multijet diesel. The result is the updated Brezza with a 1.5 litre petrol. Since it is 1500cc, the Brezza no longer qualifies for the excise benefits of the sub 4 metre segment and that is reflected in the prices too.  But does the rest of the car add up to it?

The big changes on the front are the new headlamps, grille and front bumper. The thick slab of chrome on the grille got bigger and has four slots on it. The bumper has been updated to look more purposeful with larger fog lamp surrounds. The headlamps, though similar in shape to the old ones, are new too. They have dual LED projector elements inside and a larger DRL element that helps identify the car from afar. The big change on the sides are the new black diamond cut alloy wheels, but we preferred the classic wheel design of the older car. The rear gets new LED tail lamps that jut out a bit more in the corners.

We wish the facelift was a bit more comprehensive especially in the interiors where the Brezza is showing its age. The switch to all black plastic midway through its life improved things, but it still warrants a new design and better materials and this would have been the perfect time to do it. Nothing has changed here except for the new infotainment system which replaces the old Bosch unit. It can connect to your phone for music streaming, live map updates, restaurant suggestions etc. while supporting Android Auto and Apple Car Play. The high seating position with great visibility which is one the highlights remains, as does the very supportive front seats. The rear seats are good too, but the presence of Li-ion battery under the front seat limits legroom for the left passenger. The Brezza continues to be one of the safest Maruti cars, if the Global NCAP crash tests are anything to go by.

The Brezza petrol is powered by the same K15B 1.5 litre petrol engine as the Ciaz, Ertiga and XL6. It produces 105bhp and 138Nm torque.  The engine is surprisingly refined and easy to drive around town. The clutch is light and the gearshifts are very smooth. Where this engine feels let down is in the mid-range especially after the turbo diesel Brezza. It feels laboured on the way to 6000rpm but it sounds nice doing it. A downshift is in order for a quick overtake but you can cruise very well at high speeds with this one. This isn’t a slow car and 0-100kmph comes up in 11.7 seconds – less than half a second slower than the Venue turbo petrol.

There is also a torque convertor automatic on offer and if you are buying one for city use, do have a look at it as well. It may only be a four speed auto, but in real world and for driving around town, it isn’t so bad. There is plenty of low down power, with the torque convertor playing its part and you can drive around with minimum hassle. It upshifts quickly and gives decent fuel efficiency at normal speeds. It gets occasionally confused between second and third gear, depending on how much throttle is being used. And when you demand quick acceleration, there is some delay to be expected. Choose a relaxed driving style and the Brezza auto does play along. It must be noted that only the Brezza Automatic gets the mild hybrid tech and hence has a better fuel efficiency figure in ARAI tests.

The car also feels different in the way it drives. It has lost a bit of the handling and grip it used to have. You feel slightly disconnected when driving it fast than you did in the diesel. And we don’t know why, but the steering feels a tad lighter and less communicative than before. On the good side, the suspension does feel softer and you feel less of the road imperfections now. It has become a lot more comfortable and that’s what most people would notice and appreciate.

Four years since its introduction, the Brezza was due for an update along with a petrol version. We wish the facelift was more comprehensive and it had better interiors. The introduction of petrol will draw in some new buyers although the lack of diesel will drive away some. That it doesn’t qualify for the small car benefits has partly to do with it, but it should have been a lot cheaper. You will appreciate the new found refinement of the petrol and that engine will be adequate for most people. It continues to be dependable, easy to drive, and easy to own, now even more so, with a petrol.

SupraStar

These are two of my favourite things from the 90s coming together. A Mercedes – Benz W124 and a Toyota Supra 2JZ engine. The W124 is a late 80s and early 90s E class and is a byword for German reliability and over engineering. It can take quite a beating and still work flawlessly for many more decades. And the 2JZ engine from the Toyota Supra is yet another nineties legend. This 3.0L straight six with twin turbos was known for its strong construction and could take quite a lot of horsepower, often twice or thrice that of the original. Like the 124, this is another epitome of reliability and over engineering.

Put the two together and you get this one. This is the creation of KS Motorsport in Mumbai. What they have done is, taken a standard E220 and put a 2JZ GTE engine in it. I have been itching to drive this car for so long, well ever since Karan told me, he is building one.

The 2JZ is unlike any other engine – it’s a big, strong, cast iron block capable of insane boost. Toyota doesn’t make anything robust like it now a days except for their trucks. And get this, the engine weighed around 220kilos and that’s what makes the front end sit so low on this. Only the rear has lowering springs.

Like the E38, this wasn’t complete when we did our shoot. It is still an automatic and that shifter will be better integrated the next time you see it. But it already gets D2 brakes 8 pot at the front and 6 pot at the rear, lowering springs in the back and Bilstein B6 dampers all round.

Unlike the BMW 7 series, this is more of a cruiser. The engine and transmission are so well suited to driving with one arm hanging out of the window line. When you give it the beans, the car gets up and going where you point it at. It is so out of character for something as stately as a W124 to make loud turbo noises and pull out hooligan antics. The surge of power as the turbos spool up one by one, makes it totally different to any other W124 you have seen. It can stay with some very fast cars on the road. This may very well be the fastest W124 I have driven.

The 2JZ GTE first made its appearance in the Toyota Aristo aka the Lexus GS300. To understand the name better, JZ is the name of the engine family, G stands for the performance spec twin cam setup, T means it is Turbocharged and E stands for Electronic Fuel Injection. The GTE models had different aluminium cylinder heads with unique intake and exhaust manifolds with high flowing injectors. It also had recessed pistons with lower compression ratios to enable it handle more boost and oil squirters to keep the pistons cool.

It had dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cyl, distributor less ignition system, liquid cooled sequential turbos and an identical bore to stroke ratio. This square setup meant it was the ideal compromise between low end torque and high end power and the twin turbo setup gave it a very broad powerband. The block is tough and comes with forged internals. The closed deck construction means it can take extreme cylinder pressures. The crank shaft and the bearing can handle a lot of power and very high speeds.

Toyota said it produced 276bhp as was the gentleman’s agreement in Japan at that time but US spec models had over 320bhp and 430Nm. It could do 0-100kmph in just over 5 seconds which was blazingly fast in its day. And that’s before any tuning. An enormous 67mm single turbo conversion is a popular mod for these as is swapping the intake, exhaust, injectors, intercooler etc. It can take upto 800bhp on stock internals and the 2JZ is no stranger to four digit horsepower figures.

A W124 with Supra engine is the best hot-rod build you can have. A part of me, wish this was a manual and I could fully exploit the performance on tap but Karan who lives in Mumbai says he wouldn’t have it any other way.  Doesn’t matter what transmission it has, this engine in that car makes it one of the best builds we have ever covered. As for the 2JZ, the stories are real and nearly quarter of a century after it first made its debut, this legendary engine continues to be on top of list of best engines ever.

Kia Carnival

Kia has shown us how best to launch a new brand in SUV-loving India, with the Seltos. It’s been just six months since the Seltos came out and they aren’t resting on their laurels but giving us an all-new luxury MPV proposition – the Carnival.

This is something that we were missing in the Indian Car Industry but we never knew. It is obvious to compare it to the Innova Crysta which was the closest we ever had to such a thing. But the two can’t be more different. The Carnival has a transverse engine monocoque chassis that is front wheel drive, whereas the Innova is built on a body on frame that is rear wheel drive and has an engine sitting longitudinally. It is much longer and wider at 5115mm and 1985mm, while the Innova Crysta measures 4735mm and 1830mm respectively. The dimensions of the Carnival are much more in line with the Mercedes V class and Toyota Velfire although they are much taller vans. Because it is lower, the Carnival feels so long and wide on the outside. The styling is pleasing with the large Kia grille taking centre stage with long headlamps and muscular bumper underneath. The 18 inch chrome wheels are too bling to our tastes, but buyers in this category wouldn’t mind. The rear is very conservative in style and like the rest of the car looks classy enough.

The generous dimensions mean, there is a lot of room inside. The Carnival comes in seven seater (2+2+3), eight seater (2+3+3) and nine seater (2+2+2+3) configurations. That’s right, the 9 seater variant has four rows of seating! What we tested was the top spec Limousine 7 seater variant which has two big individual seats in the middle row. This is the place to be, in a Carnival. You get all sort of stuff you find in luxury cars, plus a lot more. There is a second sunroof, manual sun blinds, your own climate control panel, a 220V power outlet for your laptop etc. You also get two 10.1inch touch screen tablets with USB, HDMI, screen mirroring and internet capability to keep yourself entertained while on the move. The manually adjustable seats are clad with Nappa leather and can recline, slide back and forth, move inward and outward and have fold out calf supports that extend for length. Your feet touches the seat in front when you have it folded out though, so it kind of defeats the point of having that in full extension. The last row is comfortable with the middle row moved a bit forward to liberate some extra room, but you still sit with your knees up. Getting into the last row is fairly easy with the VIP seats moved inwards or the seats raised up vertically – what Kia calls are ‘stand up’ seats. The entry is via big sliding doors that are electrically operated, either via buttons on the door handle, or the overhead controls at the front or via the remote. The boot is fairly huge and so deep it can take big suitcases and a couple of travel bags with ease. The third row folds flat in 60:40 layout to maximize luggage space even further but with all rows in place, capacity is still massive at 540litres!

General cabin quality is excellent. The plastics are top grade and the controls feel like they came out of a luxury sedan. The buttons are well finished and the knobs have a knurled finish around them. There is an 8 inch Harmon Kardon touch screen infotainment system upfront and dual zone climate control for the front. The car also gets 10 way electrically adjustable driver seat, ventilated front seats, dual sunroofs, cruise control, wireless charging, auto headlamps, air purifier, rear camera, hill start assist, hands free tail gate, front and rear parking sensors etc. You also get all the UVO connected car features from the Seltos with an extra layer of functionality added in with a new smart watch app.

The Carnival is powered by a 2.2 litre turbo diesel with 200bhp and 440Nm and the only transmission on offer is an 8 speed automatic. The Carnival is a heavy car at 2.2 tonnes, and so performance is best described as adequate. The car gets to speed in a relaxed manner and the transmission while not very quick, gets its job done. It feels smooth and is at home whether in the city or on the highway. The engine is very refined and is very relaxed at highway speeds too, thanks to the 8 speed gearbox.

The ride quality is good for the most part. The big wheels and soft suspension means, it absorbs bumps and potholes with ease. It does get a little unsettled on certain sections of the road and a bit more fine-tuning with the suspension would have gone a long way here. The Carnival doesn’t feel as big once you get behind the wheel and that’s down to the high seating position and overall great visibility. The highway manners of the Carnival are good too. It feels planted on the road, the steering is well weighted and the 235/60 R18 tyres give it good amount of grip. There is some respect to be had when tackling fast corners or calling for quick direction changes because it’s a big, heavy, softly sprung MPV at the end of the day.

The Carnival is everything that a big family needs but something they didn’t know they were missing until now. It is a full size MPV that is a cut above the current champion – the Innova. Kia has struck the right chord by offering the Carnival in different seating configurations. It is perfect for the chauffeur driven who likes to sit higher than in most sedans, or hotels who want their VIP guests picked up in comfort and style or for those fleet operators who want the most number of seats in the 9 seater configuration. The 2.2 litre diesel is efficient and comes with an automatic. It also comes loaded with features and is an easy car to live with on a daily basis. It seems Kia has another winner in its hands, and it all boils down to how they price it.

Zen Master

A few years ago, if you asked the owner of this car what he thought of the Zen as a project car, he would have laughed. He didn’t hold the Zen in high regard. He didn’t like the way it looked or the idea of an old, cheap, city runabout as his base.

Shortly after I met him, he was grinning in the driver’s seat, watching me in amusement as I scare myself to death in the passenger seat. It was already past 160kmph on the speedo and the car was still accelerating hard. I could tell from his face that he loved his Zen.

This story goes back to the days when Joseph George from Kochi was driving his Honda City with a huge body kit and everything else on it, not realizing how slow he was, until he was overtaken by a taxi cab. Ego bruised, he starting thinking about performance mods and not body kits and heavy audio systems. He knew he wanted something fast but he had also made up his mind that he would take a slow car and make it fast, instead of buying something that’s fast out of the box.

The thought of a Zen with an Esteem/Baleno engine was put into his head by a friend. He knew it was one of the lightest cars around and thought since it was a Suzuki, it would be light on his pocket too.

Two years back he got this particular Zen. And before he knew it, a G16B Baleno engine was swapped into it. After the swap, he started to strip the car apart completely, to repaint it. Joseph wanted everything to be usable and drive it everywhere without scraping the wheels or sump. Those questionable fenders, are there to accommodate those wheels with that wider track.

He was always fascinated about Race Concepts and the kind of work they did to naturally aspirated cars. They advised him to keep it NA and started working on the G16B. The engine was rebuilt with stock internals and bottom end, but the head was given their stage 3 treatment, along with an upsized throttle body and a new intake setup. They also increased the compression ratio and provided an adjustable timing gear. It runs a stock Baleno ECU at the moment, but has an upsized fuel pump. They also made a drag spec side exit exhaust. A lightened flywheel was also put in, along with an Exedy clutch. The car runs on stiffened dampers and Cobra springs. It also has Dixcel calipers and pads.

As expected, this little Zen feels manic from behind the wheel. The way that lightened flywheel makes engine rev and spin your wheels, will take you by surprise. Helping the revs rise so quickly is also the wonderfully short gearing, which makes the car get to three digit speeds, in no time. The Zen is a light car to begin with, but Joseph’s have had even more weight taken off. It is stripped of most of its interior, the bonnet is a thin sheet of fibre glass and there is not much in the way of safety here either. It is scary past 120-140kmph where you know the car has a lot more to give, and the question is whether you can take it in. Took me some bravery to keep the throttle pinned but the blurred scenery and deafening noise of a side exit exhaust was all the motivation I needed.

Joseph started off his project to make it a daily driver for city use. But with no AC and that loud exhaust, it is far from that. The short gearing isn’t ideal for cruising either. But for a shot of adrenaline on a cool morning like this one, he can’t think of a better way to spend his money than on his Zen

Euro Fighter

‘When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it’. You might think you missed the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ to buy a particularly good car when it gets sold before you could react, only to see something even nicer turn up a few weeks later. But for Arjun Rajendran, there was a different plan.

Arjun had plans to buy this Skoda Laura RS when it came up for sale in 2016. The car had run about 66000km but the owner was asking Rs.12 lakhs for it. He did the sensible thing and bought a new Polo GT TSI because you know how hard it is to get good finance on a used car. He did a lot of things to the Polo and considered everything including a 1.8 TSI swap but he couldn’t get the Laura out of his mind. In 2019, he sold the GT and bought the very same car that he wanted in the first place. The irony of the story is that he bought it from another Quarter Mile reader who found it too much for everyday driving and bought a new GT TSI instead. One man’s poison is another man’s cure.

Arjun’s cars have been regulars at Quarter Mile due to the way he builds them, with equal importance given for looks and performance. This Laura got to him with most of its performance bits fitted. It already had an APR K04 turbo, Spec stage 3 clutch, Milltek Resonated exhaust, Pete’s remap etc. Where it could do better was in the looks department. It was not looking very clean and had black 17 inch aftermarket rims which didn’t suit the car very well. The paint wasn’t looking great and it sure could do with some upgrades.

He got the paint sorted, changed the headlamps and freshened up the whole car. He swapped the wheels for these 18 inch Audi RS3 style rims. It immediately bought a world of difference to the way the car looked. The car also sits nicely with Vogtland springs which the previous owner had put on. A suspension upgrade is a must for cars with so much power.

Fully built, these engine mods are good for 300+ bhp. The car already feels massively fast when given the beans. It also sounds good with the exhaust and blow off. In the hands of a good driver, it can keep up with some very fast machinery. But Arjun isn’t going to stop here and wants to put in a Wagner tuning intercooler and go for a Code6 remap. Plus an oil catch can, dual port diverter valve and bigger boost pipes are in his wish list too. The previous owner had fitted it with Tarox G88 rotors and pads but with the power upgrade, he thinks a 340mm big brake kit is in order.

Now having sold his Brio, L15 Jazz and Polo GT, this is his only car and daily driver. Arjun is in love with the Laura’s friendly size, practicality and fun nature. With the upgrades he has in mind, he will surely love it even more.

Figo & Honey

Shravan was happily driving his Polo when we saw a Mustang on display at a Ford showroom. After spending considerable time checking out the Mustang, his attention turned to the test drive Figo diesel parked outside, which the friendly executive suggested, he took for a spin. He had never considered buying a Ford Figo, but loved the power delivery of the diesel. He thought to himself if he got rid of all that chrome, put new wheels and suspension, it wouldn’t be a bad choice. And then as luck would have it, one week later, the Figo S was announced. It had what he wanted, straight from the factory.

He didn’t test drive the S, beforehand, There were no test drive cars available. His only experience was with the standard car with 14 inch rims, standard tyres and suspension which he felt wasn’t grippy enough. He hoped the S would be better than that and was hooked on to media reviews before he made up his mind to buy one. He wanted silver, but only White and Black were available, and he settled for white.

The Figo has relatively small wheel arches from the factory. Shravan’s car runs on 17 inch rims, and he had to put ultra low profile 205/40R17 tyres to make them fit. If those looks familiar, that’s because they are the OE wheels that came in the Ecosport S and they are sweet. They can be ordered using the original part number from Ford and have corrected the wheel track too. The design is very similar to the Mk2 Focus ST wheels and they suit the tiny Figo so well. If you think the car looks great in the pics, you have to see it in flesh.

The car has a remap with K&N filter.  It drives great even with the bigger 17 inch rims. You get amazing drivability and there is a strong tug anywhere in the powerband when you floor it. The rush of power is much stronger with the remap and fuel efficiency hasn’t taken a big hit either. Shravan has a downpipe with him which he is yet to fit.  The car has its original springs swapped for Eibach pro kit springs. It offers decent ride quality and looks extremely cool with the wheels. How much improvement there is to the handling with these new springs, we can’t tell unless we drive it back to back with a standard car.

Shravan who did his BBA, is also into small customisation and sales of car parts. He started off selling rubber lips for cars in his closed circles. Friends used to make fun of him saying he should start a shop and call it Tortoise Tuning. Shravan liked the name and thought ‘Hey, that’s what we wanted to do – Take a slow car and make it faster.’ and thus Tortoise Tuning was born. Two years after he started, he is now doing well, offering rare parts and special services for reasonable money.  He used the money from his thriving business to remap his car, put new wheels on, get the suspension etc. He would also build cars for friends who can’t run around and get things done. He says he really wants to set up a workshop, do some salvage builds, restoration etc rather than pursue an MBA and get a job like everyone else. Whatever he ends up doing later, this small car has a big role in his life, being his daily, long distance companion and support car for his business.

Petrobug