Topspeed’s list of aspirational cars in India
Aspiration means different things to different people. Aspiration is relative like our idea of fun. What might be aspirational for someone might not be to another. The Tata Nano for example is an aspirational car for those who own a two wheeler. At Topspeed we like cars which make us want to drive. Cars which make us dream, cars which want us want to get behind the wheel and remind us why we became automobile enthusiasts in the first case. In our selection of cars we have consciously kept a 40lakhs cap and have tried to pick cars from different segments. Aspirational cars to us would be those which possess dynamic ability, a responsive and eager engine or like in the case of the Mahindra Thar and the Toyota Fortuner SUV’s, cars on which we could go from home to Timbuktu. The Maruti Suzuki Swift and the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 are the cheapest cars that we have chosen and both these cars and could realistically be afforded by a salaried person while the Skoda Laura offers a involving package both dynamically and performance wise at an attractive price. The 6th car, the BMW 328i is an automotive gem and though beyond the reach of most, it makes us fall in love yet again with automobiles.
Maruti Suzuki Swift
Auto journalists would have once argued that India as far as cars went was a boring place to be. But all that changed when the Swift was launched in 2005. Suddenly India was a good place to be in and there was something to look forward too. Or at least when you talked about cars.
The Maruti Suzuki Swift changed everything. This was a car that even a salaried person could hope to buy some day. There were other things as well which changed with the launch of the Swift. Suddenly hatchbacks became popular and fashionable and amongst the other things, Indians too got a taste of a car which delivered performance without making a hole in their pocket. Maruti Suzuki launched the 2nd generation Swift in India in 2011 and improved this already rewarding and aspirational car. The Swift that was launched in India was actually the second generation of the hatch and it was first shown at the Paris Motor Show in 2004. The design was based on the Concept S and Concept S2 concept cars and was manufactured in Hungary, India, Japan, Pakistan, China and Japan. The hatch was popular in Europe too and was marketed by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Like all popular evolutions, the 2011 Swift is an evolution over the car it replaces. The styling remains sporty and purposeful and even though the Swift was built on an all new platform it retained the styling of the car that it replaced. The 2011 Swift is bigger and wider and the wheelbase has increased as well. The headlights are bigger and more prominent as well and now go further into the front fenders. The grille is more prominent and so are the wheel arches. The hatch overall conveys a youthful and a more racy look which is what the younger customers are looking for. The overall build quality and the quality of plastic too has improved and the centre-console is inspired from the Kizashi.
What makes the Swift really popular though is its engine line up. Rewarding is a word widely used for the Swift and powering the hatch is the 1.3-litre DDIS diesel motor. This Fiat sourced engine made everyone realize that diesel needn’t be always boring and dirty and the engine on the 2nd generation Swift produced 75PS and 190Nm@2000rpm of torque. Acceleration to 100kmph takes under 14seconds with an ARAI claimed fuel efficiency of 22.9kmpl. The 2011 model came with the new and revolutionary 1.2-litre K-Series engine with variable-valve technology. The 4 cylinder motor produced 87PS and 114 Nm of torque. Acceleration is brisk and the fuel efficiency high.
Separating the Swift from the rest of the hatchbacks is its sharp and go kart like handling. The Swift used MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear. Suzuki has reduced the weight of the hatch by using high-tensile steel. Body control is excellent and so is the feel form the steering. The Swift remains one of the best cars in the country and is proof that performance and ability has nothing to go with price.
Volkswagen Polo 1.6
Like the Swift the Volkswagen Polo too was a game changer in the Indian market. With the Polo we in India for the first time were getting German engineering at a ‘reasonable’ price. There were high expectations from the Polo and the hatch didn’t disappoint. The question on everyone’s mind was whether Volkswagen would be able to deliver European quality in India at Indian prices. All the questions were answered when the Polo was launched. Volkswagen didn’t stop there and went on aggressively with their marketing strategy. They started the Polo Cup which provided Indian drivers with an opportunity to take a step towards realizing their F1 dreams and though the 1.2-litre diesel and petrol engines are disappointing in terms of performance, the 1.6-litre engine despite its low sales is the car which really interests us.
Built on the PQ25 platform which is also shared by the Skoda Fabia, the Polo has a simple yet elegant style. The clean lines make the hatch look smart, there are no unnecessary design elements and though the hatch lacks flair, it makes up for that in terms of quality. Apart from the Skoda Fabia the Indian customer had never experienced such quality on a hatch and with its angular headlights, twin bar horizontal grille and mildly flared wheel arches, the Polo is typical in terms of design from the German manufacturer. The interiors like the exteriors are simple but smart. The cabin is uncomplicated, material used is top notch and the red backlighting on the instrument gauges is sporty. Rear space is a bit cramped though.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine is what the enthusiast driver is looking for. The 4 cylinder motor produces 105PSand 153Nm of torque. Throttle response is strong, so is the low and mid range torque and to drive this 1.6-litre engine is lots of fun. The engine revs well and sounds particularly good at the mid and top end. The aspect of the Polo which surprised everyone was its handling. At the front it rides on MacPherson struts with torsion beams at the rear. Steering is well weighed and the car inspires confidence. The body roll is controlled and the chassis is amongst the best in country. Volkswagen will be launching a new 1.6-litre petrol engine and that would make the Polo an even more a tempting option for the enthusiast.
The Skoda Laura was a surprise. A good surprise. Sedans in this segment have been generally disappointing especially for someone who likes to drive and not be chauffeured around. The Toyota Corolla Altis and the Renault Fluence being a case in point. When Skoda launched the Laura everyone expected another fuel efficient and well built Skoda but that all changed when the manufacturer launched the Laura with the 1.8-litre TSI motor.
The styling might fool you into believing that the Laura is nothing special. But don’t read too much into the modest looking car which has a long and prominent centre crease on the bonnet. The headlamps are stretched, there is a strong shoulder line and the wheel arches add a bit of muscle. The cabin is smart and like the exteriors the build quality and use of material is excellent. There is a premium an understated look to the interiors with the two-tone finish dash.
What makes the Laura special is the 1.8-litre direct injection TSI motor made by Volkswagen. This is the same engine used on the Superb, the Audi A4 and the VW Passat. The 4 cylinder unit produces 160PS and 250Nm. The crisp nature of the engine delivers great throttle response and acceleration to 100kmph takes under 9 seconds. This makes the Laura the fastest accelerating car in its segment. The engine uses a Borg Warner turbocharger with intercooler and matched to the engine is a 6 speed manual gearbox. The Laura would have been a disappointment had it handled poorly or was soft around the corners but with the MacPherson struts and torsion bar at the front and with the multi-element rear axle and torsion bar at the rear, the sedan delivers rewarding handling. Around the corner the sedan grips well and body roll is well controlled. The stiff suspension makes it the best handling car in the segment by a mile.
The Mahindra Thar isn’t for those who are looking for a sensible everyday commuting vehicle. For 7lakhs there are lots of other options in the market and the Thar isn’t the obvious choice. It is built for a purpose and its main objective is to literally get dirty. The Maruti Suzuki Gypsy till the launch of the Thar was perhaps the only genuine 4WD under 10lakhs and the demand for a more contemporary and light off roader was big. Mahindra timed the launch of the Thar perfectly and Thar drivers are now regularly seem on the way to Ladakh and on the sand dunes of Jaisalmer. This is a man’s car if there ever was. The Thar’s success proves that there is room in the market for vehicles engineered for the enthusiasts.
The Thar has the classical Jeep looks. This is how one would expect its SUV to look like with the tapering bonnet, prominent round fenders along with the drop-down windshield. There is nothing soft or understated with the styling and there is a choice of a soft and hard top. At the front is the mesh grille and it looks purpose built for the outdoors. The interiors aren’t inspiring and the built quality is poor to say the least. The ergonomics are a disappointment as well and the equipment is minimal. The Thar now does have an air con and the dash is borrowed from the Bolero. There however is a reasonable accessory list with black leather seats, red inserts on the dashboard, a custom central console, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob. You can also add a bull bar at the front, a winch and roll cage.
The best engine option is the 2.5-litre CRDe intercooled turbo diesel 4 cylinder motor that produces 105 PS of power and 247Nm of torque. The engine is reasonably refined with good low end grunt and it accelerates to 100kmph in under 18seconds. The top speed is around 140kmph and this engine is derived from the Bolero. Matched to the engine is a 5 speed manual gearbox and the engine uses a Borg-Warner 4WD transfer case with manually changeable high and low ratio option. Built on a ladder frame chassis, the SUV uses independent front suspension along with a torsion and stabilizer bar. At the rear are semi elliptical leaf springs and the suspension is suited for off road use. You can drive across most surfaces with its 200mm ground clearance. The Thar has approach and departure angles of 46 and 30 degrees respectively. Though the SUV is aimed at a niche clientele it is a car the outdoor enthusiast would relish.
The premium SUV segment has changed post the launch of the Toyota Fortner. The Fortuner succeeded at what the Ford Endeavour attempted. There were lots of options as far as the premium softroaders were concerned but the demand for a premium, genuine refined 4x4 was huge and the Fortuner targeted exactly that. The demand for the Fortuner is huge and rightly so. Though its huge size can pose a challenge in urban conditions, like the Thar its main purpose is to be in the outdoors. The Fortuner is amongst the handful of vehicles upwards of 20lakhs which has been a runaway success. It is versatile and gets you more attention than you would have bargained for.
Toyota earlier this year launched the facelift of the Fortuner and the SUV now gets sharper headlamps with washers. There is a new radiator grille with chrome and the front and rear bumper is redesigned. The bonnet has a new scoop and the appearance is butch. The rear has clear lens tail lamps and despite the large number of Fortuners on the road this SUV still gets noticed. The cabin is a bit similar to the Innova and has grey faux wood inserts on the steering, centre console and the doors. The steering wheel gets audio controls and the SUV can seat 7.
The 3-litre, 4-cylinder engine produces 171PS and 343Nm of torque. The turbocharged and intercooled D-4D common rail injection now gets the “Diamond Tech” system, the injector feature carbon coating and the variable-geometry turbo works better with the ECU. 100kmph takes 14seconds and the mid and top end is particularly strong. The engine is smooth though there is a bit of turbo lag initially. Based on the Toyota Hilux which is a pickup truck, the Fortuner uses a body on chassis construction. The SUV has double wishbone front suspension and a four-link set-up with coil springs and gas shockers at the rear. It has permanent 4WD with low ratio. Off road potential is excellent and in the hands of an able off road driver you could drive across most hazards.
BMW 3-series 328i
The BMW 328i is the car to buy if you have the money. BMW has lived up every bit to its reputation of being a driver’s car since it was launched in India and its only once you sit behind one of these would you know what the whole fuss is about. Despite its stiff ride quality and the average rear leg room, enthusiasts in India swear by the 3-series. BMW launched the new 3-series earlier this year in India and the 328i we believe is one of the most rewarding cars in India. BMW is known to make driver focused cars and though the 328i is pricey, it is the car to buy under 40lakhs.
Compared to the model it replaces the 3-series now gets a stretched kidney grille and headlights. The bonnet is muscular and the sedan now looks more athletic. The stance is sporty with the sweeping bonnet, short overhang and the headlights with LED’s. The roofline is slanting and the cabin is designed keeping in mind solely the convenience of the river. The dash has a flat screen multimedia interface, the cabin has a neat and luxurious look with high quality material used. The 328i’s has a bright red stripe running with the ‘Drive Performance Control’ switch. The interior space is better than before and features include DSC (dynamic stability control), DTC (dynamic traction control), ABS (anti-lock braking system), DBC (dynamic brake control) and CBC (corner braking control).
The328i uses the all-new 2-litre, 4 cylinder motor with Twin Power Turbo. The engine produces 245PS and a peak torque of 350Nm. The direct injection engine is torquey with a strong mid and top end. Performance is awesome with 100kmph taking just 6.4 seconds. Top speed is electronically restricted to 250kmph and this engine despite being smaller is quicker than the previous 3-litre, 6 cylinder engine. Matched to the engine is an 8 speed auto. The new 3-series is lighter, the wheelbase is increased by and the handling is by far the best in class. The sedan uses double wishbone front suspension with a 50:50 front-rear balance. The suspension settings can be altered from between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.