Our 10 most important cars of 2012
Though in no order in particular, the following are topspeed’s most important cars of 2012. We have kept in mind what the car brings to the table, if it is a game changer for the manufacturer or for the segment or for the industry at large. Volume it generates is essential, so is innovation and pricing. We have tried to include different categories which is why the Pajero Sport also gets a look. It is the festival season going on right now and the customer is definitely spoilt for choice. If you ask us, there is no better time than now to write that cheque. Happy Diwali.
The French many thought were jinxed. Renault some had predicted was heading Peugeot’s way and the chances for it to bounce back were slim. By entering the Indian market with a car that lacked any kind of imagination like the Logan was a mistake and the manufacturer then tried to correct that and their image by introducing the Fluence and the Koleos. Both the Koleos and the Fluence failed to make any kind of impact which put additional pressure on the Duster.
The Duster in its first month recorded bookings beyond what the manufacturer has predicted and the rest as they say is history. The Duster has put Renault back on the map in terms of automobile in India and now every major manufacturer including Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Ford, Volkswagen and Honda are all planning to launch a similar mini SUV to counter the Duster. With prices starting from just over 7lakhs, the Duster hits the likes of the Mahindra Scorpio and the Tata Safari hard. It is a genuine volume product and though it is a Logan underneath, there is enough going for it.
The front has lots of use of chrome, the lines are clean lines, we like the double barrel headlamps and the black and silver finish body under cladding at the front and at the rear. The wheel arches are flared and the beige and black dashboard looks neat. The cabin has some hard plastics but is reasonably designed with the music system integrated smartly into the centre console.
The overall build quality is good and so is the feature list. The Duster is only a 5 seater and there is enough space for 5 adults which is important for customers in this segment. The Duster gets a 1.6-litre, in-line 4 cylinder petrol engine producing 103PS@5850rpm and 160Nm of torque at 3750rpm. The diesel engine is the 1.5-litre K9K motor producing 110PS version with 240Nm of torque. There is also a less powerful 85PS and 200Nm of torque version.
Maruti Suzuki Alto
For a month this year the Maruti Suzuki Swift recorded the highest sales figure as far as passenger cars were concerned. It replaced the Alto which sat pretty at the top of the table for longer than people could remember. The Alto next month rightfully retook its position and last month Maruti Suzuki launched the Alto with its biggest changes yet since it was first launched.
The Alto is not only one of the most important cars of 2012, but probably of the next 5 years. Maruti has been losing its market share to Hyundai and to the others rapidly and with the Alto the manufacturer hopes to correct that. The rise of Hyundai in particular and the failure of making its mark in the premium segment has made Maruti anxious and we can expect them to become more aggressive in the future with their marketing and product planning.
The newAlto is designed and engineered specifically for the Indian market and has added more curves with petal shaped head lamps. The tail lamps are chunkier, the hatch has a cab forward design with new front and rear bumper and a two part front grille. The interiors though basic are new with a three spoke steering wheel. The instrument panel is simple with a large speedometer and a ‘V’ shaped central console. Plastic quality has improved and the hatch is now more spacious.
The most important changes are made to the engine and the Alto uses a heavily revised version of the 3 cylinder, 12 valve F8D engine. The motor gets friction busting pistons, the compression ratio has been revised and the connecting rods and crankshaft lobes are lightened. The changes result in smoother and more linear power delivery with better refinement with the hatch now developing 49PS@6200rpm and 69Nm of torque. Torque has increased by 11percent and the 5-speed manual gearbox now uses a new cable shift mechanism. The fuel efficiency has increased as well. The rear suspension comes with gas dampers and the torsional rigidity has improved.
The Mahindra Quanto has been in the making for some time now and isn’t a reaction to the Duster. At its launch Pawan Goenka said ‘Mahindra is the Maruti of Utility vehicles.’ The sub 4-metre Quanto is basically a chopped version of the Xylo and with the backing of Mahindra’s wide distribution network and affordability, we have no inhibitions in outing our money on the Quanto to make a telling impact in the market.
Compared to the Xylo the bonnet is more defined with more prominent creases, the grille is different and the side-strips are different as well. The rear windows are like quarter glasses, the new tail lamps are placed higher, the rear bumper is new and the spare wheel is mounted underneath the body.
The grey and beige dashboard is the same as the Xylo, so is the instrument cluster but the plastic colour scheme and the seat fabrics are different. The front and second row of passengers get lots of space but the third row of passengers aren’t as lucky. Depending on the model you are buying you get lots of features. The Quanto uses the Xylo’s engine but minus a cylinder. Its 1.5-litre mCR100 diesel engine produces 100PS at 3750rpm and a maximum torque of 250Nm between 1600 to 2800rpm. The engine is reasonably smooth and torque builds early. Efficiency is high too. The mini SUV uses independent double wishbone suspension at the front and a multi-link suspension with coil springs at the rear. The ride would be to your liking but we can’t say the same for the handling.
For the two biggest passenger car manufacturers in India, Hyundai and Maruti Suzuki, it is a surprise and a coincidence that neither Hyundai nor Maruti Suzuki has managed to make an impact or succeed in the luxury segment. The Santa Fe and Sonata when it comes to Hyundai and the Kizashi and Grand Vitara if you talk about Maruti. These cars have been made to feel embarrassed in front of their competitors.
The general perception of neither Maruti nor Hyundai being good enough to compete at the top level has more reasons than one and is not entirely misleading but this is one trend that both Hyundai and Maruti would like to change. Hyundai has had reasonable success with the Elantra the first time around but the manufacturer would be hoping for a stronger showing this time. The Verna Fluid since its launch has been the best selling sedan in its segment and the Elantra would be hoping to build on the success of the Elantra.
The fifth-generation Elantra uses the Korean manufacturers ‘Fluidic design philosophy’ with a contemporary looking sedan. The curves and slopping roofline look good and the dashboard has a multimedia screen. The cabin is bold to look at, the fit and finish is good though still not class leading, interiors are spacious and feature list is massive as we have now started to expect from Hyundai. There diesel engine is torquey, refined and efficient.
Mahindra SsangYong Rexton
You only need to look at the demand for the Toyota Fortuner to realize that the SUV segment going to keep on growing for a while. The Mahindra SsangYong Rexton is the first vehicle to be launched in India after Mahindra’s acquisition of the Korean brand. Though the expectations the manufacturer would claims are only modest to begin with, the success of the XUV500 has put Mahindra into the big league which has definitely increased their expectations and anything short of a big response for the Rexton would end up disappointing.
The latest version of the Rexton is contemporary looking with the prominent chrome grille and the projector headlamps. The tail lamps have LED’s and the big size adds a lot of presence to its looks. The bonnet is slopping, wheel arches are flared and there is a black plastic undercladding under the front bumper. The cabin is plush looking, dashboard has soft plastic, seats get leather and equipment list is huge. The first two row passengers get good space but the same can’t be said about the third row occupants.
The Rexton uses a Mercedes sourced 2.7-litre, 5 cylinder diesel engine producing 165PS and 340Nm of torque and 187PS with 402Nm of torque in its two variants. Fuel efficiency is reasonable and the Rexton is built on a body on chassis configuration with double wishbone coil springs at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear. The underpinnings are shared with the first-gen Mercedes-Benz W163 ML and the pricing which is less than the Fortuner makes the Rexton an attractive proposition.
Maruti Suzuki Ertiga
Maruti wanted a piece of the Utility Vehicle pie. For a manufacturer which prides itself with the volumes it generates, not being on the thick of the things in the UV segment needed to be addressed. Enter the Ertiga and Maruti’s problems were solved in a flash. Such has been the success of the Ertiga that Maruti is slowly regaining its lost market share which over the last few years has been decreasing. Prices for the Ertiga starts from just over 7lakhs and only a brave man would bet against the Ertiga not walking away with the converted ‘Car of the Year’ award from automobile publications in the country.
The Ertiga is based on the Ritz and the styling does bear resemblance to most contemporary Maruti’s, especially the Ritz. The swept back headlights, the bonnet and the wheel arches are similar to the Ritz but this MPV does have character and presence. The tail lamp cluster is small, there is a rear spoiler and though the dashboard is the same as the Swift, it is beige and brown in colour. The cabin is airy, there are silver inserts, seating is versatile and the front two row passengers get good space. Even the third row passengers get reasonable space and there is judicious use of space with lots of storage area. The driving position is good and for the price the feature list is strong.
TheErtiga comes uses the 1.4-litre, K14B petrol engine with variable valve timing that produces 95PS@ 6000rpm and 130Nm of torque @4000rpm. The 1.3-litre diesel engine with VGT produces 90PS of maximum power at 4000rpm and 200Nm of torque and the UV is built on a monocoque construction. The Ertiga delivers car-like comfort and handling is confidence inspiring.
Maruti Suzuki Dzire
It might surprise some to know that the Maruti Suzuki Dzire is the largest selling sedan in the country. Basically the Swift but with a bit more rear space and a boot, the Dzire hits the sweet spot with the Indian customer. A hatch doesn’t quite fit the bill like how a sedan does and that’s why theDzire is a best seller. Maruti didn’t launch the Dzire immediately after the Swift and unlike the first generation Dzire which was more of an afterthought, Maruti engineers this time took their time and went about giving the Dzire a more distinct identity to the Swift.
The new Dzire is under 4meters in length and this allows it to take benefit from the excise cut. TheDzire is shorter than before and unlike its predecessor the boot doesn’t look to be an afterthought and the sedan looks more like a notchback. To differentiate it from the new Swift the Dzire has a slatted grille, the front bumper has a wider air dam and the tail lamps are new. The cabin is identical to the Swift, the seats are comfortable and the Dzire which has a 40mm longer wheelbase and is 5mm wider, has more interior leg and shoulder room than before. The dashboard has wood-grain inserts, there is a in-dash audio system and the climate control panel as well.
The 1.2-litre K-Series petrol engine produces 85PS and the Fiat sourced the 1.3-litre diesel engine produces 75PS@4000rpm and 190Nm@2000rpm. The petrol engine also has an option of an automatic gearbox. The rear suspension is tuned for more comfort and the ride quality is better than on the Swift but the handling isn’t as sharp.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
Mitsubishi is in need of a miracle for it to come back into the automobile mainstream in India and though the Pajero Sport is not that miracle, it is a start. A good start if we might add. Mitsubishi still has a long way to go and to be honest there isn’t much coming out from them which would make us believe that they could come into the league of Toyota, Honda or Suzuki in the next 5 years. But the Pajero Sport now with its prices being reduced (Mitsubishi is now assembling the SUV in India and prices have gone down by nearly 2lakhs), has a serious chance to sell in good numbers. Like the Fortuner the Pajero Sport too is built on a pickup truck and is a ‘man’s car’ in the true sense.
The Pajero Sports looks like a proper SUV, is imposing and has lots of street presence. The silver skid plate, the clear lease headlamps, the wheel arches and the raising shoulder line make it look attractive. The cabin is airy with the black and beige dashboard and the aluminium inserts make the cabin look premium. The hooded dials are from the Outlander and there is also a touchscreen interface. The SUV can seat 7 people but the third row passengers are short on space.
The 2.5-litre, 4D56 four-cylinder DOHC motor makes 178PS of power and 400Nm of torque. The engine is very smooth, drivability is good and the Pajero Sport at the front uses a double wishbone with coil springs and a stabiliser bar. At the rear is a 3-link, coil springs setup and there is ‘shift-on-the-fly’ 4WD system similar to the Pajero.
In terms of how Indian families travel, the Nissan Evalia could be a game changer. From the looks of things the Evalia isn’t an immediate hit but if you look deeper the MPV with its space and pricing has everything it takes to succeed in the Indian market. The Evalia is pushing boundaries and is aiming at providing to the consumer the best of both the worlds in a package that hasn’t been done yet.
There is no hiding its MPV styling with but adding a bit of a dash is the front grille and the rising headlamps. The UV is squarish to look with dominant character lines and has sliding side doors. The cabin has beige plastics, bright seat fabric and the Evalia scores in the space department which is its forte. The driving position is good, the gear lever is mounted on the dash, there is lots of storage space and the steering wheel and air vents are from the Micra. Passengers in all three rows get good space and the Evalia uses a 1.5-litre, Renault K9K diesel.
The 4 cylinder motor produces 85PS and 200Nm of torque with a manufacturer claimed 19.3kmpl. The 5 speed manual gearbox is the same as the Duster and the MPV uses a monocoque construction. Ride is decent and the tall dimensions along with the leaf spring rear suspension results in body roll.
Tata Safari Storme
It’s the return of the legend. The wait for the Tata Safari Storme has been long. I bit too long in the case of most. Everyone thought that the new Safari would be called the Merlin until the 2012 Auto Expo in New Delhi when Tata unveiled the Storme. The Safari can boost to be the original Indian SUV and it has taken them no less than 14 years to come out with the second generation Safari. Though from the outside this might seem like a facelift, the Storme is an all new SUV and would appeal to not only the diehard Safari loyalists but also the urban commuter who would be attracted by the new found refinement in the Safari.
From the outside unfortunately the Safari looks a bit too similar to the old Safari but changes have been made to the front. TheStorme has a wider chrome grille, sharper looking projector headlights and the spare wheel is now mounted under the floor. Build quality has improved and at the rear are the twin chrome-tipped exhausts. The bonnet is flatter and the interiors have a lot in common with the Aria which isn’t a bad thing. The quality of plastic is far better than before, the centre console uses wooden finish and front and second row passengers get excellent leg and head room. The feature list is extensive as well.
The 2.2-litre, DICOR engine is an updated version and is the same as on the Aria and the Sumo Grande. It produces 140PS and 320Nm of torque and accelerates to 100kmph in 15seconds. The Safari is now built on a shortened version of the Aria’s hydroformed chassis which makes it stiffer and lighter. Handling has improved and the 4WD version comes with a low range, a limited-slip differential and 4WD can be changed on the fly.