BMW X5

In this latest fourth generation, the BMW X5 has grown again in size. The big one piece grille was the talking point in 2019, but I have gotten over them now especially after having seen what the 4 series will be coming with. And in any case, big grilles on X5 and X7 are okay because they go well with the size of the car and it is when they put it on a smaller car that they tend to look out of place. To me, the X5 looks the best among all BMW SUVs and this generation is no different. Yes, the switch from traditional L shaped tail lamps to elongated, generic looking ones isn’t welcome, but it has tried to look more athletic in overall design. The front end is very curvy towards the edges, with shapely laser lights sitting above the aggressive M Sport bumper. The rear fenders have muscular haunches on them which coupled with a beltline that dissolves into the fenders makes it look far from being slab-sided. While it may try to hide its bulk with clever design, you can tell from the 20 inch wheels with relatively thick sidewalls that it has to be an enormous car for that to look normal. 20 inchers would have been the max size in any performance SUV a generation ago, and here it is standard on all but the base SportX model. The rear tyre measures 305 section in width and you can go up to 22 inches in diameter on this new G05 gen X5.

The X5 has got a lot more luxurious inside too with trim that wouldn’t look out of place on a 7 series. Not that the previous generation was lacking, but this one is even wider by 66mm and has a 42mm longer wheelbase and that gives it more room inside. The plush front seats get a commanding position and can be adjusted in any way you like. The rear seats are a bit upright, but they are quite spacious and so wide. You get a feeling of the dashboard and centre console cocooning you a lot more than in the last X5. The ‘CraftedClarity’ which is a glass crystal application on the Gear selector, iDrive Controller, and starter button is standard on Indian cars. The iDrive is easily the best infotainment in any luxury brand by being logical and easy to useThe M Sport variant gets Headup display, the Display Key, 12.3 inch instrument display, the 12.3 inch control display, the 16 speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, Apple Car Play, Phone mirroring etc. . The parking assistant, the 360 degree camera with 3D view all work really well etc

The reason why we are driving an X5 now is the 40i variant, with its 3.0 litre straight six turbo petrol. Now you are spoilt for choice when it comes to the two engine options in the X5. The diesel 30d develops a solid 265bhp but this 40i petrol has a stonking 340 horsepower. Before you conclude that the petrol is better, let me tell you that the 30d produces 620Nm torque vs the 450Nm in the 40i petrol. And to me, in a two tonne SUV you enjoy that colossal torque wafting you along, more than you enjoy revving the nuts off a petrol engine. Mind you, it is still faster, doing 0-100kmph in 5.4 sec, a second quicker than the diesel. The acceleration is never ending but is much more linear than the diesel’s. It is also generally refined, but in this M Sport with its sportier exhaust, it is whisper quiet at low revs and sounds throaty when you floor it.

The biggest improvement in this gen is comfort. Driving pleasure takes a step back for added ride quality. The F15 generation was never a car the rear seat passengers enjoyed, but this has been taken care of, in the new one. The biggest difference comes from air suspension on both front and rear axles (The F15 only had it in the rear) and it allows up to 60mm adjustment in ride height. The wide tyres do cause some extra noise, but the X5 rides well over most imperfections. It tends to roll a lot more than the old car and the steering isn’t as direct as it felt before, but this is still one of the best handling SUVs in India. You can hurl it at speeds you wouldn’t dare in a tall 2 tonne SUV and though it may not as enjoy it as much as the previous gen, it would still happily oblige.

Grand i10 Nios Turbo

A small turbo petrol engine in a small city car – perhaps the Grand i10 Nios Turbo could be the fun Hyundai we have been waiting for. The last time we got something similarly sized was the Tiago JTP but that was short lived. The Grand i10 Nios Turbo is a lot more upmarket and a lot easier to live with. The only visual differentiator on the outside is the turbo badge on the grille and the bootlid.

Every generation of the i10 has taken the interior design and quality up a notch and the Grand i10 Nios has stayed true to the tradition. The Turbo gets all black interiors with red highlights and while it doesn’t have the visual appeal of the grey interiors and fantastic fabric seats of the regular Nios, it still feels good quality and has an interesting texture. The 8.0inch touch screen is slick though sound quality is quite average. The front seats aren’t the most supportive with built in headrests, but are easy to get on to and offers a high seating position. The rear seats are not wide for three, but have good headroom and a decent sized squab.

The 1L three cylinder engine is from the Aura, Venue and Verna. Unlike the Venue and Verna which have 120bhp, in the Nios Turbo it has 99bhp and 172Nm. The engine is very refined for a 3 cylinder but you can feel the vibrations through the steering wheel and the pedals. The turbo gets on boost from 1800rpm onwards. Though not as powerful as the VW 1.0TSI, it has a strong surge and you can keep up with or overtake fast moving vehicles quite easily. It is quite willing to rev and the powerband is really wide till about 6000rpm.

The Grand i10 Nios was never an accomplished car in the corners and the Turbo variant has the same suspension setup carried over. It is predictable, but the steering is light, the front end isn’t as grippy as we’d like and it understeers when you really push it. We recall driving the Aura, where the diesel variant with its heavier front end felt more planted than the turbo petrol. The Grand i10 Nios Turbo has the sporty engine but not the suspension to match it.

With its 100bhp turbo petrol engine, the Nios Turbo makes for a very good city car. Nippy enough to dart between traffic, the small size has an advantage in the city. The tall stance makes it easy car to get into and see out of while giving it plenty of room inside. The interiors are easily the best in class too.Wish it had the dynamics to match the engine

Mahindra Thar

This is the car we never knew we wanted, till we saw it. After I posted a pic online, I was inundated by calls and personal messages from people wanting to know my opinion. Such has been the enthusiasm that every video review or social media content out there has racked up lakhs of views in days, much to the surprise of their own content creators. It got thumbs up everywhere we took it and the level of attention it gets can put most supercars to shame. Most people who are waiting to buy one, forget test driving, haven’t even seen one in the flesh yet, but have their cheque books out already. So what’s all the fuss about?

The short answer is, Mahindra nailed it this time. This is how a modern interpretation of the legendary Thar should be. The proportions are spot on. The new Thar is wider and looks more purposeful. The front bumper runs into thick fenders that are square shaped at the front and circular at the rear – a design element that harks back to the previous generations. Yes, the new Thar looks like a Wrangler, but if they both started out as modern versions of the old Civilian Jeep and decided to stay true to the original, they are bound to look similar, right? And at least here in India, you can get the Wrangler only as a long wheelbase five door model, so that makes the Thar a lot cooler in our books.

The Thar is built on a new hydro-formed, body-on-frame chassis similar to that of the Scorpio. There is a roll cage that connects the top of the B pillars and runs on either side of the car all the way to the back. The doors are removable and Mahindra says the whole interior can be hosed down although it’s not easy as that. Fit and finish is top notch, and although panel gaps are big by modern day standards, they are consistent. It looks best from the sides or rear three quarters where the 18 inch anthracite wheels and chunky 255/65 R18 tyres fill up the big arches. The boxy hardtop is rugged enough and is made of two pieces. It has fixed glass windows on the sides while the rear glass is a hatch and opens upwards. Yes, that grille is a last minute job to avoid legal tangle with FCA and that’s the only thing we didn’t like. Funnily enough, aftermarket replacements are available even before the car is launched.

The interiors are totally revamped and feels upmarket enough. The ergonomics are way better than what it used to be and the dashboard feels solid and built to last. The thick steering wheel and some of the switch gear are borrowed from other Mahindras. The gauge cluster feels modern but very minimalistic. All-round visibility is fantastic and most will love it for that. The front seats are well shaped but aren’t very comfortable because of the way they are padded. The forward facing rear seats which are accessed by flipping the front seats forward, are a bit low, but have decent legroom and headroom. If you are used to the fabric soft top of the old Thar that starts flapping after 70kmph, you will be impressed by the new hardtop too. This is a strict four seater and the boot is quite small to take in all their luggage. This fully loaded Lifestyle series (LX) car has a lot of features like ESP, Cruise control, hill hold, hill descent control, tyre pressure monitoring system, a 7 inch infotainment system with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, electrically adjustable mirrors etc. The Thar comes with the option of a hard top, a soft top and a convertible soft top. There will also be a more utilitarian AX version called the Adventure series with jump seats, 16 inch wheels etc targeted towards hard-core off roaders, joining the line up soon.

The new Thar will have a choice of 2.0 litre 152bhp petrol with 320Nm or a 2.2litre 132bhp diesel with 300Nm paired to a six speed manual or a torque convertor automatic. These new engines will be offered in a lot of new cars from Mahindra and Ford in the future. The one we tested was the diesel manual and the first thing you notice is the refinement at low revs. The engine also has a wide power band and pulls cleanly past 1000rpm, giving it great drivability. Performance is sprightly, although we are yet to fully test it both on and off-road. The clutch is not too heavy but the gearbox is a bit notchy and has longer throws.

The Thar gets new independent front suspension and a multilink setup for the rear dead axle. This has transformed the way it drives and it now feels like a shorter wheelbase Scorpio 2.2 VLX. The steering is more precise and does kickback a little on bad patches, but the chassis is much more capable on road with better front end grip giving you confidence. The ride isn’t fully sorted and it tosses you around but not to the point where it gets uncomfortable. There is also a bit of body roll and pitch as there would be in this class of vehicle. The brakes feel a bit spongy and take some getting used to, but they have good stopping power. Though it isn’t as dynamically sorted as a modern day crossover, you can drive it on the road and go long distance touring with it.

The Thar has 226mm ground clearance, 42 degree approach angle, 37 deg departure angle, 27 degree ramp break-over angle and a 650mm water wading capability. The wheel articulation seems to be lesser than before, but with mechanical locking diffs at the rear, front electronic locking brake diff, a low ratio and other electronic aids, it has more than enough capabilities to keep the average off-roader happy. We took it for some mild off-roading and the Thar seemed to be unfazed by it all. The long travel suspension can take some nasty jumps and it can carry a fair amount of speed through a beaten paths. The best part is our test car felt stiff and solid with no creaks or rattles even after all that abuse.

It is the most talked about car on the internet and for a good reason. It is a vast improvement over the old Thar. It is good to drive both on and off-road. With the snug hardtop, forward facing seats and more creature comforts, it has become more practical. It can be a fun daily if you want it. The choice of automatic with petrol or diesel powertrains makes it even better. The new Thar is one of the best things that happened in 2020.

Skoda Karoq

Remember the Yeti? It was an odd looking car but it drove well, was immensely practical, had so much flexibility in the seating, it was good off-road and was reasonably fast and pretty fuel efficient. Sadly the looks were a bit polarizing and most people couldn’t see past that and it was far from the best sales success stories out there. Enter the new Karoq, which is the replacement for the Yeti. It is more conventional in its attire and looks like a shrunken Kodiaq. Perhaps this is what everyone wants.

The styling is very elegant yet conservative. You get the typical Skoda face with the crystal headlamps and fog lamps set high up in the bumper. The tail lamp is an interplay of 3D surfaces with sharp angles and cuts. The sides are a little too bland with too much metal under the shoulder line. Perhaps a Scout variant with its chunkier claddings and wheel arch trim can fix that.

The interiors are very well thought out and quality is excellent. The front seats are electrically adjustable and are very comfortable over long distances. The dashboard has good feel and everything is logically laid out. There is a 10 inch digital cluster and an 8 inch touch screen for the infotainment system both have excellent Skoda graphics on them, which are better than in the T Roc. The panoramic glass roof adds to the airiness of the cabin while it comes loaded with dual zone climate control, heated seats, panoramic sunroof, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, tyre pressure monitoring, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors etc. The Karoq also gets 9 air bags.

Like the T-Roc, this has a 1.5 litre direct injection petrol four cylinder engine mated to a 7 speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. Drivability is excellent with longer stroke. With 150bhp and 250Nm on tap this is an engine that revels in its midrange performance and feels strained above 4500 rpm. Also efficiency is a key factor for this engine. The cylinder deactivation mode which shuts off two cylinders is seamless and there is no change in sound or any extra vibration. This is commendable because it is only a four cylinder motor to begin with. Fuel efficiency is also great because it was returning close to 18 kmpl city and highway driving, combined if driven sedately.

The Karoq has a great balance between ride and handling. It is comfy enough on our broken roads and has great composure. The steering is light, direct and light in traffic. The handling is involving with good body control till you start pushing it to the limits, in which case it starts running wide. A tap on the strong brakes will curb just enough speed to tackle the corner quickly.

VW T-Roc

It’s small, not very spacious or that good value, but you still want one. That’s the appeal of the recently launched Volkswagen T-Roc. It is easily the most exciting product in the VW line up right now. Only a handful are coming to India this year under the homologation exempt scheme and they are all getting picked up quite quickly too. The T-Roc is a desirable compact crossover that VW thinks has a better market case here, than their globally successful Golf hatchback on which it is based. In terms of size or pricing, it doesn’t fall into any particular class. Even its Czech cousin the Skoda Karoq, sits in a different market place in India, owing to its bigger size and pricing.

The T-Roc is in fact quite small and to many, therein lies its appeal. It is compact enough to be handy in the city while remaining classy and stylish enough to be hanging out with other upmarket cars in the office parking lot. It looks more like a lifestyle product along with the Beetle and Arteon in the VW range where form is more important than function. While it is shorter than a Creta and not as tall, it is quite wide at 1819mm. That along with the stretched 2590mm wheelbase, gives it a wide stance. The styling is typical VW at the front with elongated fascia holding the grille and the headlamps. The DRLs are set prominently on the bumper and they double up as indicators too. The overall shape is very sporty with a sharper rake to the rear windscreen. The contrasting roof and silver accent running along the sides merge into a minimalist looking boot. The fake exhaust tips on the bumper are part of the styling and VW isn’t the only one who does this. The 17 inch wheels are reasonably sized, but this car could surely benefit from an upgrade.

The interiors are much more staid in comparison to the exteriors. It has the typical sensible design and solid build of a VW, but since this is a CBU, quality levels are a notch above. Sure, there are some hard plastics around and it looks a bit dull being black, but live with it for a while and you will surely be able to tell. The driver gets a 10 inch digital cluster while there is an 8 inch touch screen for the infotainment system. The front seats are comfy, and hugely supportive. The rear is a little short on space, but two average sized adults or three kids will still be comfortable. The panoramic glass roof adds to the airiness of the cabin. You don’t get cruise control, electrically adjustable seats, wireless charging which seem like glaring omissions. However the T Roc comes loaded with dual zone climate control, six airbags, heated seats, panoramic sunroof, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear parking sensors etc. It also gets a collision warning system and a lane keep assist which steers you back to your correct lane if you wander away.

Powering the T-Roc is a 1.5 litre direct injection petrol four cylinder engine mated to a 7 speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. The new EA211 TSI Evo engine is the replacement for the older 1.4 TSI engine that was sold in the A3, A4, Beetle, Jetta and Octavia. The new engine benefits from a longer stroke and a more efficient combustion cycle to give it more torque and better drivability. It produces 150bhp and 250Nm. The engine feels particularly strong in the midrange and you can do 0-100kmph in 9.9 sec. Though there is adequate performance on offer, you can tell this one is not as eager as other performance oriented TSI motors from VW. That’s because the engine and gearbox are both tuned towards efficiency. There is also a cylinder deactivation mode which shuts off two cylinders while cruising and apart from a small pop-up in the gauge cluster, there is nothing else to tell when it’s doing that. There is no change in sound or any vibration which is odd because it is only a four cylinder motor to begin with. It’s brilliant. I tested this feature in a similar engined Skoda Karoq and that one was returning over 18 kmpl city and highway driving, combined.

Where the T-Roc impresses even more is the way in which it gets on the road. We know German cars have good ride and handling by default, but more often than once, the cars we get here have their suspensions raised and softened up a bit, to suit Indian conditions. Not in the T-Roc, which comes as such from the factory in Portugal. As a result, you feel it is more European than most German cars. Everything feels very tight and built to last. There is a hint of firmness to the suspension over sharp bumps, but it improves with speed. It can tackle bad roads with so much ease. This is a well-honed VW Golf chassis underneath and it is evident in the dynamics. There is enough grip and it feels very balanced too. The T-Roc is a car you enjoy driving fast no matter what road you are on. Even the brakes are superb and offer plenty of confidence.

What makes the T-Roc even more appealing is the pricing. It is around Rs. 7 lakhs cheaper on road than the slightly bigger Skoda Karoq built on the same platform. It costs Rs.19.99 lakhs ex.showroom, but because we have to pay the flood cess in Kerala on top of that which pushes it to the next tax bracket, it costs about Rs. 24 lakhs on road. And while that looks expensive next to something like a Creta or Seltos, it is quite reasonable for an import. And for an urban SUV that looks this good, drives this well and is so desirable, Volkswagen has got it right this time

VW Polo 1.0L TSI

This has to be a very special moment. Ten years ago, when Quarter Mile magazine started out, the VW Polo had just hit the market and here we are, both celebrating our 10th Anniversary together. There has been a demand for both, even today both are sought after by enthusiasts.

Of course, the magazine has changed a lot more in these years than the Polo. The Polo had a refresh last year when it gained the GTI style bumper and a new cladding under the running board that continues on to the rear diffuser. Although it’s a generation old, it still looks good after all these years.

It still exudes the Germanic build and tautness that people have come to love about them and nowhere is this more visible than the insides. The familiar dashboard and controls are well made and feel solid. The front seats are great, it’s the rear that is short on space. The 6.5 inch infotainment screen is small but sharp and has Apple Car Play. There is a no reverse camera which is strange.

The 1.0 litre 3 cylinder engine is the talking point now and replaces the 1.2 turbo petrol 4 cylinder from the old GT TSI. It is down on one cylinder, but power has jumped from 105 to 110 bhp while torque has remained the same at 175Nm. It is noticeably quicker moving off the line and performance is stronger after 2500rpm. It does 0-100kmph in 9.9 seconds a full second quicker than the 1.2 TSI DSG. The engine is at best when wound up, because at low revs, pottering around town you can feel the 3 cylinder imperfection. This engine doesn’t have a balancer shaft and it judders a little when you are crawling over speed bumps.

The steering is light and lacks feel, but with grippy tyres, stiff chassis and good brakes, you can really throw this car around a few corners and come out smiling.

Skoda Rapid 1L TSI

If you’ve ever driven a Rapid, you wouldn’t question its intent or name — which suggests that it’s not a slow boat, one that loses steam every few miles trying to catch up with the competition. In fact, even with a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine (which might be ancient, according to the social-media rulebook of cars), it wasn’t half bad. But taking away those vital 600 or so cc, one cylinder, and natural aspiration has Skoda reduced the Rapid to only a city runabout? And will the update only to what’s under the bonnet make its case any stronger in 2020?

The year 2020 didn’t start with the car industry performing at the peak of its ability. Owing to the ‘millennials not committing to investing in cars and preferring to take an Ola/Uber’ apparently, the sales were fairly low. And then we were hit with what’s possibly the worst thing that happened to mankind after, some may suggest, mobile apps that let you lip-sync to music clips. No, really, the pandemic is bad, and the effects aren’t limited to our health and mortality alone. Although nothing is more important than being alive (our materialistic acquisitions can wait, obv), the coronavirus has disrupted regular life. And as it turns out, not a lot of people are willing to buy cars. So a product that’s brought out in 2020 doesn’t just have to be better than its rivals in some way, it also needs to work a little extra to make people take notice — and eventually buy it.

That very conveniently brings us to the other question. Because as mentioned above, there’s not much that has changed elsewhere with the Rapid. The 1.0 TSI engine is all-new, though. And you may now put all your apprehensions in a backpack and throw said backpack down a cliff because the engine is THAT good. It’s a three-cylinder unit, so it’s inarguably not as balanced. But will you notice that apart from during the time you start it up? Doubtful. Will you feel the need to lament the loss of the naturally aspirated engine that came before it or even the 1.2 TSI that the Rapid never got? That’s doubtful, too!

The new 1-litre, direct injection petrol engine makes 110 hp and 175 Nm. It comes specced only with a six-speed manual at present, and there’s no diesel option as well. Despite all of that, the Rapid looks like the enthusiast’s car of choice in the segment. Off the line, the engine has no struggle keeping up with the weight of the car. It remains audibly comfortable and well in control for most of its rev range. Push it towards the red line and the thing loves to eat up revs. You would hardly need more than three gears if you keep it on the boil to reach the national-highway speed limit. Where it absolutely decimates every single possibility of losing pace is its mid-range. I didn’t have a VBOX on me, but it’s astonishing how the engine picks up speed — despite the small size and regardless of the gear it is in. Downshifting and revving the nuts off it is generally an exercise with naturally aspirated engines, but this one, even with a turbocharger strapped on to it, likes that. And, goodness gracious me, the gearbox won’t complain, either. It’s smooth, slots in confidently, and with the dog-leg reverse, the newest of drivers will never run the risk of getting into reverse while going forwards. To sum the driving experience up, think of the Rapid as a Linea T-Jet with a less-explosive power delivery but possibly everything else improved. Almost!

And how’s the chassis, you must wonder? From the limited driving time I had with the car, one thing was made fairly clear: that the Rapid hasn’t lost its ability to soak up bumps and glide over bad roads. Of course, this is not the performance-orientated saloon you’ve been waiting for all these years. But it’s safe to say that the Rapid is happier taking corners at a pace most of its rivals fail to be comfortable with on the straights. Exaggeration? Only slightly, but you get the point. It’s not devoid of body roll, but that also heightens the sharp and decently attentive steering. Although it needs to be mentioned that the steering isn’t dripping with feel. You can absolutely chuck the car into corners if that’s your way of making the drive back home interesting. And unless you’re sat in the 6th when you should’ve been in the 3rd, you’ll have enough grunt to power you out of the corner — and repeat! Braking seemed adequate and the 195/55 R16 tyres were okay on the rain-soaked streets. But there’s a strong chance that you’ll want to upgrade to something more potent (at least in the tyres department) if you’re looking at driving more enthusiastically.

Which brings us to the final topic of discussion here. It’s been clearly established that the 2020 Skoda Rapid is the kind of car you as an enthusiast will have on the top of your list. It drives well, has good space inside, and won’t fail to make you proud of your decision every time you step on the accelerator. But which one should you get? If you’re strictly on a budget and don’t mind missing out on the height-adjustable driver’s seat, the Rider Plus is the variant for you — since the Rider isn’t available at the moment. At Rs 7.99 lakh, ex-showroom, it offers great value. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking at something more feature-rich (larger infotainment system and more importantly four airbags), the Rapid Style is the one to go for. As for this, the Monte Carlo variant, it’s weirdly specced and there’s not much about ‘Monte Carlo’ that you get from this. If only Skoda had put in some more effort in making this edition more special…

There aren’t too many things I didn’t like about the Rapid. To start with, the lack of side airbags on the Monte Carlo edition is appalling. The other bit that has particularly annoyed me is the infotainment system. While you can spec an Apple CarPlay-equipped version on the lesser variants, the Style and Monte Carlo only get this half-arsed Android-based unit. It’s not the most intuitive to use, it has pathetic sound quality, and most importantly, it feels out of place in an otherwise brilliant car. Also, the car isn’t great when it comes to hiding its age, especially with the interior. The lights, I feel, could have been better, too, because, in the low-visibility conditions that Mumbai threw at me, they somehow couldn’t cope up. Thankfully everything else worked like a charm. And while it’s not quite ‘simply clever’, if you’re after a saloon that performs well but doesn’t shout for attention, the Skoda Rapid seems almost peerless. Worth buying? Absolutely!

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.

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.

Petrobug