15 June, 2012

Mini Countryman: A Powerful Mini Car For The Big Indian Population?

It’s one of my favorite oxymoron these days – the big Mini!

Don’t know what I am referring to? It’s the Mini cars that have been launched in India. The Mini Cooper S & Mini Countryman. 

A friend of mine asked me to describe the Min Countryman in a single sentence. Here’s what I told my friend: The Mini Countryman is a style icon with super cute looks, lots of space, immense power, and a huge price tag.

Many things have been said about the Countryman, some bad, but mostly all good. The looks of this sporty car are fairly aggressive. You have a powerful bulging front, large headlamps that have been swept back to give this car a ‘bulldog’ ish look and a squarish rear side that add a lot of character to this really powerful, 181BHP @ 5500 rpm, car that now comes with the BMW badge of trust. 

The theme here is retro. Old school. So the cabin is characterized by a retro looking dash with a large analogue speed-o-meter, then there are the toggle switches placed on the middle console and back doors, and plenty of other interior details. The seats are fairly ergonomic in design, though I was surprised to find that the front seats can’t be adjusted electronically. The rear seats are fairly standard and much like most Indian hatches, there are no AC vents for the back seat passengers. Is that an oversight or does BMW think that Indians don’t care for comfort? Disappointing, especially considering the HUGE price attached to the car.

My friend and I, both, found that the Mini Countryman’s cabin is fairly restrictive in width and height dimensions and the back bench seat can only fit two passengers, a third would be a struggle. However, over and above the 350 liters boot, the rear bench can also be folded 40:20:40 to adjust more luggage as needed. 

I would hate to find faults with such an iconic car, more so because even I am a fan of the Mini. I have seen it in movies such as the Fast & the Furious, Italian Job and several others. I always wanted to drive it. Feel its power. Experience the 1.6 liter petrol direct injection engine. Feel the adrenaline pump, sitting behind the EPS wheel of a car that has a peak torque of 24.5kgm, and which can be bumped to 26.5kgm by using the ‘turbo overboost’ feature. The Mini Countryman is sheer fun. It’s an unforgettable experience. 

All that, aside, at Rs. 36Lakh (approx), the Mini Countryman is completely and totally overpriced!! It may be a celebrity car in its own right, but why wouldn’t I spend that amount of money to buy a car like an Audi or a BMW that would give me power, space, comfort, driving pleasure, and more recognition here? Will you buy this car just to stand out amongst the crowd? I definitely won’t!

11 June, 2012

Tata Safari Storme – A Totally Different Animal?

What does a car facelift mean? Does it simply mean cosmetic changes or does it mean a change in the DNA of the car?

I am convinced that many of the facelifts that have happened so far have been fairly superficial. Take for example the Skoda Fabia Scout or the Toyota Innova among others. But there are exceptions and one such is the to-be-launched Tata Safari Strome. This new SUV is expected to be launched in July and I do believe that Tata Motors have made sure the changes are more than superficial, under the hood to be precise.

The looks of the Tata Safari Storme aren’t anything to write home about. But, dig a little deeper and the old Safari’s chassis has been changed to the one that currently holds the Aria. Shorter by 200mm as compared to the Aria, the Tata Safari Storme has the same wheelbase, 2650mm, as that of the soon-to-be-discontinued Tata Safari as well as being 45% more stronger than its predecessor’s.  

Pretty much of the new Tata Safari is borrowed from the MPV, Tata Aria, like the suspension, the Macpherson struts and the double wishbone. Then there are the dampers, the steering gear, and a reduced turning radius to 10.8m from the older 12m. That’s especially of comfort for off-roaders, as the Tata Safari Storme 4X4 now has a ‘shift-on-the-fly system.’ 

With all the mechanical changes, there’s more to this new SUV than meets the eye. The 2.2 Litre Dicor motor, with 140BHP, now purrs like a baby, the 5-speed manual G76 gear box is more refined and the overall feel of the Tata Safari Storme is just very different from the current Safari. And then, my dear friends are the standard changes in the look. So the headlights are slimmer with a brand new grey honeycomb pattern grille sandwiched in the middle, with a chrome strip that is positioned just above to brighten the front appearance.

The one place where the Storme pushes ahead of its competitors is the cabin d├ęcor and space. It’s freshly designed, high quality, and plush. Beige theme and better quality plastic with a well designed dash appeal nicely. All very sporty, minimalistic, and to some extent, manly, and definitely improved rather nicely!

While the Tata Safari Storme was to be launched in July 2012, the exact month for its launch is still unclear.  Whatever said and done, while this new Tata SUV manages to retain its old looks, it also manages to add a more youthful, cosmopolitan flair. But I had expected that Tata Motors would have rethought this muscle car and given us Indians nothing short of a fantastic new design and technology to make it a truly international SUV.

05 June, 2012

Renault Duster Price Shock Ready To Shatter the SUV Price Glass Ceiling!!

What’s the biggest buzz going around in the world of Indian automobile industry? Just two words: Renault Duster.

So what if Renault Fluence, Renault Koleos and Renault Pulse aren’t doing much to propel the company into the big league, the company has a couple of aces up its sleeve. And these include the ‘Mini’ SUV, the Duster. And in order to leave no stone unturned to achieve success with its launch, Renault, the French car maker, is planning a strategy to shock the car buyers and the industry. This is similar to what Nissan did when it launched the Sunny, or when Ertiga was launched by Maruti. The strategy paid for Nissan and Maruti as several pages of their order book got used really quickly.

If sources are to be believed, the Renault Duster petrol variant may be priced just below 6 lakh, while the diesel variant of the Duster may be just over 7 lakh. If I were a Hyundai or a Ford, I would surely be running back to the boardroom with my marketing team in an attempt to make sure my next launches…the Ford EcoSport or the Hyundai MPV are ready to face the ripple effects of this shocking play by Renault!

So when does the Renault Duster actually hit the Indian roads? While production will begin in July, the cross-over will be ready for sale in August 2012. The Indian version of the Renault Duster is likely to be powered by Nissan’s 1.5-liter petrol engine, the same that’s powering the Sunny. Duster diesel will get the successful 1.5-liter DCI engine.

The fully loaded variant of the Renault Duster will be fitted with ABS, EBD, Dual front airbags, leather upholstery, and keyless ignition among other features.

Get a grab of Renault Duster’s specs and pictures here. You can be one of the first to test drive the Duster. So go ahead a book a test drive now!