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11 March 2016 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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Keen anticipation was building up among consumers and auto enthusiasts alike about the Vitara Brezza, ever since Maruti Suzuki showcased the compact SUV at the Auto Expo in February 2016. A month later, prices were announced for the newest SUV on the market, and right thereafter, it was time for us to drive the car and find out if it can rattle the segment.

Design

The Vitara Brezza is a smart looking vehicle with some impressive design touches that lend it a premium appeal. The front is undoubtedly the best looking angle on the vehicle with the slim grille and chrome panel connecting the ends of the headlamps. The skid plates and sharp fog lamp surrounds help add width to the Vitara Brezza's design. At the rear too, the tail lamps along with the bumper accentuate the width of the vehicle.

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The side profile of the Vitara Brezza isn't as busy as the front and rear with one of the highlights being the squared wheel arches. The 16-inch alloy wheels fill up the wheel arches nicely adding to the SUV stance of the vehicle. While the top variants get 16-inch wheels, the lower variants get 15-inch steel wheels. What really stands out on the side profile is the roof design, especially on the ZDi+ variant with dual-tone shades. The solid colour variants miss out on the visual extent of the floating roof design, but nonetheless, the resemblance with Range Rover cannot be ignored, which is a big positive.

Engine & Performance

Our drive covered 180-odd km between Pune and Wai, the latter being a small town on the foothills of Panchgani. The engine powering the Vitara Brezza is the tried and tested 1.3 l DDiS 200 with 89 hp and 200 Nm of torque on offer. The engine is paired to a five-speed manual transmission and this is the only engine & gearbox on offer right now. A petrol engine might come in later but for now it's the old steed, which does its job well in the Vitara Brezza.

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The engine offers linear acceleration, which never feels inadequate for reasonable intent, both in the city and on the highway. NVH levels have been controlled very well, so while cruising at about 90 km/h, there's hardly any engine sound filtering into the cabin. That the powerplant itself is quite refined helps the case further. The five-speed manual transmission is a joy to use and doesn't fall short on expectations even when driving in a spirited manner. The only slight issue is drivability, which suffers under 2,000 rpm as the turbo kicks in around this mark. This means that gear changes are more frequent than expected in traffic and especially while driving in hills.

Another area where the Vitara Brezza impressed us on the highway and in the hills was in its ride & handling. The compact SUV offers an almost perfect balance between handling and comfort. A good thing about the suspension is that it's set on the firm side, which means there is very less wallowing and pitching at high speeds and body-roll too stays in control. Despite the firm set-up, the Vitara Brezza doesn't have any problems tackling broken surface at slow speeds. The 198 mm ground clearance meant we were able to do some bit of mild off-roading as well. In the city this means one should be able to overcome pretty much any kind of bad roads. The steering is an electric unit and still manages to weigh up nicely in turns and is quite direct too. The feedback through high-speed corners is decent as well, if not impressive.

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As long as one pushes the Vitara Brezza within the reasonable realms of its purpose, it's quite impressive to drive and feels planted on straights and through corners. We managed a system-indicated fuel-efficiency of 17.8 km/l with most of the run being done on the highway. The drive, however, involved a fair bit of heavy throttle usage and redlining through gears so in normal driving conditions, the figure should easily cross the 20km/l mark. The certified mileage is rated at 24.3 km/l.

Interiors & Comfort

The cabin of the Vitara Brezza is the only thing, which instantly gives away that you're in a Maruti Suzuki. The centre console resembles the Baleno and a few other bits come straight off the S-Cross. This isn't a negative since Maruti Suzuki has made commendable progress in this area in the past few months. The centre console with a top-mounted touch screen is mildly different from the Baleno but offers similar functionalities, which includes navigation, Bluetooth, USB, FM and AUX connectivity. The minimalistic interface with few buttons and good ergonomics is something that bests the competition of Ford EcoSport and Mahindra TUV300 by a fair margin.

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The instrument cluster on the Vitara Brezza is a mixed bag – it wins on some accounts but falls short on others. The highlight here is the option to choose among five colours of the cluster surrounds as per the driver's mood. While some fellow journalists felt this is more of a gimmick, almost everyone liked its inclusion. That is where we think lies a missed opportunity as Maruti Suzuki didn't go the full-hog in creating visual impressions. The multi-information display is a basic unit offering a range of information but is nowhere as attractive as that of the Baleno. Using the same unit along with the customisable colours would've added a lot of zing to the cabin.

Space is not a problem inside the Vitara Brezza despite it being under four metres in length. Clever space engineering meant that despite the front seat being pushed back to its farthest point, there was just enough space for someone who's around 170 cm tall. Headroom too is good and the width of the seat means that three people can fit in without any major hassles. Along with dual-glovebox compartments, storage space inside the cabin is generous and well-laid out.

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Features too are at par with competition and cruise control is a first-in-segment addition. Plastic quality however could've been better. Maruti engineers have given the top part of the dashboard and doors a grainy texture, which helps it look a tad better than it actually is. However, the lower part with no such cover-up of texture seems visibly a result of some bit of cost-control without stepping over the line into the bracket of negative.

Round-Up

The Vitara Brezza is a clear winner for Maruti Suzuki and a large part of it is for the way it looks and drives, both of which are impressive. A highlight of the design is that no matter which angle you look at the Vitara Brezza from, it forces you to have doubts on it being a sub-four metre vehicle and for that the designers deserve credit. We were told that engineers had to rework the packaging of the engine to reduce the front overhang in order to enhance the SUV look.

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The engine offers good performance and the handling too is good enough to reward the moments, when one may have the urge to go fast. In terms of features too, the Vitara Brezza is loaded to the grille and the bull-horn LEDs upfront and at the rear does what good seasoning does to an already great dish. Priced between Rs 6.99 to 9.68 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the Vitara Brezza also manages to offer best-in-class value while being positioned between the TUV300 and the EcoSport.

This is clever positioning by Maruti Suzuki as the vehicle will have a better chance of hurting the competition now, both in rural and urban markets. Missing out on a petrol engine at a time when petrol prices are down might keep some customers away from Maruti Suzuki showrooms. The company however claims that more than 85 % of sales in the compact SUV segment between April 2015 and February 2016 came from diesel versions.

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With very little to fault on the product side and a competitive price tag, it's quite easy for us to state the Vitara Brezza as a clear winner. That this is the first 'conceived and created in India' product story for Maruti Suzuki, and is this impressive, beckons well for the customers.

With nothing more to desire from the Vitara Brezza right now, the only thing we would like to see is a Vitara Brezza RS. The Baleno RS is on its way and that gives us enough reasons to be hopeful. Although the company has not confirmed anything, we should have an answer soon.

Text & Photo: Arpit Mahendra & Deepangshu Dev Sarmah

24 February 2016 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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Having introduced Indians to the Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) with the Celerio, Maruti Suzuki made it possible for entry-level buyers to access the convenience of an automatic minus the cons such as lower fuel-efficiency and high purchase cost. Alto K10 and Wagon R too got this technology soon after and they showcased the quick pace at which engineers at the leading Indian carmaker were fine tuning the AMT to offer better performance.

The company has now introduced the Swift Dzire with the same technology, but this time it's paired to a diesel engine and not the petrol one. We drove the Dzire Auto Gear Shift (AGS) recently to find out how effective it is and if the curve of improvement continues to rise.

Design & Features

Starting off with the design, there's nothing to distinguish the AMT version from the manual one except the badging beneath the 'ZDI' moniker, which is the highest and only version on sale. Inside the cabin, the same story continues as there is nothing entirely new here. Being the ZDI variant though ensures that the features list is at par with the competition. These include keyless entry, Bluetooth, multi-function steering wheel, dual-front airbags, ABS with EBD and parking sensors. The cabin itself boasts of a clean and spacious design with decent quality of materials and impressive ergonomics.

Powertrain

The engine on the Dzire remains unchanged as the trusted 1.3 l DDiS engine continues to offer about 73 hp and 190 Nm of torque. Anyone who's experienced this engine earlier would be well aware of the initial turbo lag, which disappears once the tacho needle rises beyond 2,000 rpm. With the manual transmission this lag is quite evident but the AMT has rectified it significantly. This improvement comes in handy in traffic. The gearbox itself is the same unit as seen on the manual version so the ratios remain unchanged.

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What matters most is how the AMT performs and that was something that left us impressed. The AMT on the Dzire seems to have been calibrated better based on the learning of earlier models. As a result, the shifts are much quicker than what one finds on a Celerio or even a Tata Zest for that matter, the direct competitor of the Dzire. In traffic and under moderate throttle usage the transmission shifts up quickly and doesn't mind to drop down a gear or two, when the throttle is floored. The downshift though can be hesitant at times and this creates a short gap during overtaking moves.

Try going fast and that typical lag between shifts associated with the AMT surfaces. The good thing is it's lesser pronounced than other AMTs in the market but it's not an enthusiast's car because it wasn't meant to be that. Another benefit of the AMT is the fuel-efficiency, which impressed us with figures of 16.6 km/l in dense traffic that saw us covering about 29 km in just less than three hours! Although we couldn't manage to do a complete fuel-efficiency test on the highway, we expect the number to be close to the company's claim of 26.59 km/l.

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Push the gear selector in manual mode and the lag issue gets corrected further. Holding onto a gear in redline is possible and for as long as one may want as the transmission doesn't upshift automatically in manual mode.

Round-Up

The Swift Dzire AGS is proof that Maruti Suzuki has continued to improve the operability of the AMT technology. The Dzire AGS offers the convenience of an automatic with better drivability than its own range and the competition. The fuel-efficiency also means that running costs should be low when coupled up with Maruti Suzuki's after sale service expenses. At Rs 8.39 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the Dzire AGS commands a premium of about Rs 50,000 over the top-end manual variant, which is slightly higher in our opinion. However, keeping in mind how improved this AGS system is the equation runs in favour of the Dzire. AMT already is a popular choice among Maruti Suzuki customers and the Dzire AMT has all that it takes to drive more numbers to the company's books as options in this segment remain limited.

Text: Arpit Mahendra

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay

16 February 2016 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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Kick-starting the premium SUV segment in the country, the Ford Endeavour stayed in action for more than a decade in its last generation. Now though, Ford has brought in an all-new Endeavour to take on the likes of Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. Ford claims it's the most technically advanced SUV in its segment in multiple areas. Naturally, we put that claim to test to check if the Endeavour has the goods to rattle the segment.

INTRODUCTION

Endeavour is an important model for Ford India, considering the premium SUV segment is growing at a terrific pace. When the old Endeavour was launched, this segment was sized at about 500 units per annum. Last year, this segment had grown to about 18,000 units and is expected to grow to about 100,000 units by 2024. This kind of growth provides a great opportunity for OEMs to grab a slice of this pie, which also offers higher profitability. While Ford India will launch more SUVs in the coming time, the Endeavour is its only bet right now.

DESIGN

Big is better, and more macho the design, even better it is for Indian consumers. And the new Ford Endeavour scores amply on these expectations. The Endeavour's large size, along with a robust design, helps it exude the kind of rugged image that many people buy such SUVs for. The large chrome grille merges in a triangular manner with the headlamps, which are equipped with Daytime Running Lights (DRL). Beyond adding a modern appeal to the design, these elements help retain the character of a boxy and large SUV, something not all of Endeavour's competitors have successfully managed. Despite this, the Endeavour cuts through the air with good efficiency, something the low drag coefficient of 0.389 testifies.

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The side profile does a good job of maintaining the brute element of design through large doors, 225 mm ground clearance and meaty six-spoke alloy wheels. The rear design is once again modern yet robust aided by a chrome strip merging into the tail lamps in a similar fashion to the design upfront. From a design perspective, there isn't anything that seemed out of place and all the lines and creases come together very well. The only little thing, which we thought could've been avoided, was the chrome finish on the ORVMs.

POWERTRAIN

Of the 4x4 and the 4x2 variants on sale, our test vehicle was the 4x2 one, limiting our ability to go off-road. The 4x2 variant is powered by a 2.2 l Duratorq TDCi engine developing about 158 hp and a healthy 385 Nm of torque. Power is transferred to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Our test car was equipped with the automatic unit, which is a standard offering on the 4x4 variant.

The 2.2 l engine is aimed at offering a balance between power, efficiency and cost and does its job satisfactorily. The turbocharged engine utilises tried & tested diesel powertrain technologies with modifications to serve the purpose. This unit offers acceptable grunt but has some lag below 2,000 rpm. The lag also becomes a bit more evident due to the transmission, which is a bit slow to downshift. Once past 2,000 rpm though, the engine offers decent acceleration but the transmission's slow pace to upshift takes away some of the performance. Reaching triple digit speed is easy and overtaking on highways was never a problem for us. Drivability is impressive with the transmission ratios spaced out perfectly to handle stop-go traffic.

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Refinement is another ace up the Endeavour's sleeve and even around 4,000 rpm there are hardly any vibrations. Ford claims a fuel economy of 12.62 km/l and during our test, we got a figure of 9.8 km/l, with around 50 % of the driving done on highways, 35 % in cities and the remaining in places, where there were no roads to be found. These are good numbers for an SUV of this size and this has been made possible partially due to the usage of piezoelectric diesel injectors, which deliver precise fuel-metering. Helping efficiency further is the variable vane turbo technology, also known as variable geometry turbocharger.

Ford India is trying hard to convince people of it shedding the high-maintenance tag and this is where things such as the variable pressure oil pump comes in to the picture by reducing wear and extending service intervals. There's also a 3.2 l engine on offer, which we'll do a technology analysis of, in our next edition.

DYNAMICS

In order to retain the rugged qualities associated with an off-road SUV, Ford has used the ladder-frame chassis for the Endeavour. Driving the Endeavour through the city and on highways, however, had us doubting Ford's claims. While it's natural to expect Ford vehicles to offer good dynamics, the Endeavour's performance was a bit unexpected since it didn't feel like a ladder-frame chassis. Feeling more like a newly-evolved version of ladder-frame, the Endeavour displayed little body-roll and pitch motion for its size. With a few minutes behind the wheel the Endeavour was responding to our inputs seamlessly and was tackling corners with aplomb. Ride quality was fantastic since the cabin remains largely unaffected even when going over roads with lunar surface quality.

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This impressive balance between handling and ride quality is a result of a stiff chassis and perfectly optimised suspension characteristics. Talking of suspension, the front unit comprises of independent coil spring with anti-roll bar and at the rear, one can find a Watts linkage suspension with anti-roll bar. This is an interesting choice of suspension but hasn't been used for the first time by Ford. In this type of suspension the central moving point is forced to travel in a straight line up to a defined length. This allows the axle to travel vertically while preventing sideways motion. This is the key reason why the Endeavour feels so planted around corners.

While off-roading too, the 225 mm ground clearance comes in handy and the suspension allows a generous articulation as well. Since our test vehicle was a 4x2 drive variant, we couldn't do serious off-roading but on sand and on stones the Endeavour was comfortable and will cope well with most of the regular stuff buyers will throw at it.

CABIN

The cabin of the Endeavour is largely an impressive place and looks thoroughly modern and upscale. An area where the Endeavour literally walks over the competition is noise vibration & harshness (NVH) levels. Equipped with noise-cancellation technology, similar to that found in headphones, there are three microphones mounted in the headliner. These microphones transmit a signal to the Active Noise Cancellation control module in real time and this module then generates opposing sound waves, cancelling any potentially objectionable sound within the range of 30 Hz to 180 Hz. The effect of this technology is easy to experience and only when accelerating hard, the diesel clatter can be heard inside the cabin. While cruising at triple digit speeds the cabin is so quiet, one is hard pressed to believe a diesel engine is powering the vehicle.

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The seats in front are large and supportive and offer good comfort and external visibility. The rear seats too offer good legroom and headroom along with decent under-thigh support. The last row is expectedly less spacious but should be fine for seating two average-sized adults for a short while. Flexible seating on the second and third-rows are good enough for accommodating everything ranging from bags to bicycles.

The steering wheel is good to hold and has a myriad of buttons making it possible to control almost all important functions without having to take the eyes off the road. Ergonomics are of top order and finding the desired button was easy after just a few minutes behind the wheel.

The dashboard got a mixed response from everyone in our editorial team primarily due to the changing quality of it within the three layers it sports. The top part of the dashboard is of premium quality and has a soft touch to it. Below it is a glossy plastic surface and an eight-inch colour display flanked by chrome-finished air-vents. This part again boasts of good quality and design, but problems start appearing in the beige-coloured third section. The hard plastic along with the matte black finish on the centre console do not match the quality seen on the upper parts of the dashboard. It almost feels like cost constraints came into effect by the time sourcing for this part of the dashboard began.

ROUND-UP

The new Endeavour is everything the consumer of a premium SUV would ask for, and then there's a bit more to have fun with. With an impressive design, the Endeavour is right up there with the competition, and a bit ahead in terms of interiors & refinement. It offers the best-in-segment driving pleasure by a fair margin. The Endeavour scores high on the safety quotient with dual-front, side and curtain airbags, ABS with EBD, Hill Launch Assist, ESP and Traction Control System. With two engine and gearbox options, the Endeavour also meets varying needs of SUV buyers.

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All of this sounds like a winning recipe, and at a price range of Rs 23.64 lakh to Rs 28.15 lakh, it surely is. The only test for the Endeavour is Ford India's ability to effectively market it and convince buyers that it's as reliable and easy on the pocket as its key Japanese competitor.

Text: Arpit Mahendra

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay

12 January 2016 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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More than a 1,000 km over expressways, narrow town roads, twisty mountain roads with good to almost no tarmac and snow covered roads and sub-zero temperature. All this sounds fun for a road trip but also demanding on the vehicle undertaking the same. While SUVs would do such trips with relative ease, a premium hatchback with just 133 m of ground clearance wouldn't come to mind as a suitable option. However, the best test for any technology is pushing beyond the comfort areas, something you'll find us doing often at Auto Tech Review. We recently ventured out on a trip to the hills on a Volvo V40 R-Design. Here's the report.

Being a weekday, we wanted to avoid the morning traffic of Delhi and hence pushed out of west Delhi at 4:45 am. Encountering very little traffic meant we were on GT Karnal road within 30 minutes. This route was riddled with diversions and broken roads due to construction work for the metro and a flyover. It is in these places, where the V40's Active Bending Lights helped significantly by lighting up areas with sharp turns and very little signage, as the headlamps' beam travels in correspondence with the steering movement.

On the highway, the D3 engine, which is a five-cylinder unit, came into its own element, making easy work of the sprint to the hills in Himachal Pradesh. With 150 hp and 350 Nm of torque, the 2 l engine never felt short of power and overtaking was quick and easy. Holding onto speeds around 150 km/h was easy and the engine never felt strained at this point and further at 175 km/h as well. Turbo-lag is present but its extent isn't enough to affect the driving experience. Acceleration is good beyond 1,800 rpm with power starting to taper close to the 4,000 rpm mark.

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While engine sound at cruising speed was acceptable, under acceleration and in stop-go traffic, it was intrusive, especially when considering that the German competition offers quieter diesel mills. This was actually the five-cylinder configuration affecting sound, despite good proofing in the cabin. The new Drive-E engine on some other Volvo cars is much more refined and that at least sorts out cabin sound insulation for all future Volvo passenger vehicles.

Unlike the Drive-E engine's impressive eight-speed automatic, the D3 engine works with a six-speed automatic gearbox and although the recipe sounds old, it works well and gets the job done. From stop and go traffic to steep gradients, the gearbox did a good job of managing drivability. Where it lacked a bit was during spirited driving in the hills as there was a slight hesitance in shifting down. Although engaging sports mode helped, and shifting manually was even better, the shift speed was a bit slow overall. However, for what the car aims to offer to its consumers, we found the overall powertrain performance impressive and user-friendly.

The V40's fuel-efficiency figures left us surprised since we never drove with the objective of extracting maximum fuel-efficiency, but didn't go berserk with the throttle either. On the highway, the V40 covered 15.2 km on a litre of diesel and in the hills, it delivered 10.2 km/l and these aren't readings from the on-board computer but real-world numbers derived from consecutive fuel-refills.

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Once in the hills, we were greeted by smooth flowing tarmac forming a serpentine pattern, opening up the chance to put the V40's handling to test. We had high expectations from the V40 since it shares its underpinnings with the Ford Focus as a hangover from the times of Ford owning Volvo. Around the bends, the V40 is comfortable handling quick and successive direction changes, owing to the well-balanced chassis and a low-ride height. There is little body-roll, which helps the driver push for a bit extra and the acceptable steering feedback helps further. The suspension is inclined towards the stiffer side and helps explore the abilities of the chassis. That said, the V40 isn't a flat-out corner-happy machine but as a luxury hatch, it'll do enough to impress even the enthusiasts to a large extent. The negative in this equation though is the ride quality, which is a bit choppy and rear passengers might not really have a good time, especially when going over broken roads.

Further up on the hills in Kufri, we encountered snow, and this is where the V40 aced two tests – looks and grip on low-traction surfaces. Starting off with mild snow close to Kufri, we were soon driving on roads with the contact patch between the tyres and the road being only snow. On a quick photo and tea pit stop, we were swarmed with locals admiring the elegantly striking design of the V40, especially in the red colour of our R-Design spec test vehicle.

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Rising shoulder lines and window lines along with 17-inch wheels make up a dynamic side profile. The front too is dynamic with a low-slung bonnet rising constantly till it meets the A-pillar. The rear received mixed response with some people completely adoring the sharp and semi-blackened tail gate and some finding it a bit quirky. We found ourselves siding with those loving the design as the V40 R-Design looks better while departing than oncoming.

With the design appreciated, some locals approached us warning to not proceed ahead with the car as they were convinced that the V40 would not make it through the roads up ahead covered in deeper snow. An example they cited was a loaded MPV spinning its wheels intermittently, managing to catch enough traction to get through a turn. In search of the vehicle's outer limit though, we nudged along, gradually reaching gentle yet constant acceleration through the roads. What lacked completely was wheel spin and we were happy with its absence. Part of this was down to the engine's linear power delivery, which doesn't require one to be too mindful of the throttle input. Mixed up with good grip from Michelin tyres, the V40 made it up to Kufri's ski-point and down to Shimla again without any theatrics. The firm suspension helped keep the 133 mm ground-clearance surprisingly contactless throughout the journey.

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All through this drive and then over the one back to Delhi, we learnt a lot about the V40's cabin. From a driver's perspective, the TFT-instrument cluster with three modes still looks fresh despite having spent some time in the market. Front seats are comfortable and offer good side support, something we appreciated a lot during the drive in the hills. What does look a bit old-fashioned is the centre-console, which with a myriad of buttons isn't as user-friendly and simple as the competition. Space at the rear is average, considering the V40's 4,369 mm length and a wheelbase of 2,647 mm. Legroom wasn't an issue but headroom gets compromised due to the roof design and the reducing glass area along with black interiors create a bit of claustrophobic environment at the rear, when seated for long. The fixed panoramic roof helps but one can't keep it open at all times of the day.

Conclusion

After clocking more than 1,000 km over a variety of terrains, we were thoroughly impressed with some aspects of the V40 R-Design. These include an impressive exterior design and powertrain performance along with good handling. Safety is best-in-class as one would expect from Volvo and it not only protects the occupants during a crash but also avoids its occurrence using City Safety technology. This system tracks the vehicles/ objects in the path of the vehicle and applies brakes automatically in case the system finds a collision imminent. While it is good to have such a system, it did intervene unexpectedly twice in stop-go traffic in Delhi, which can be a bit unnerving when one's completely sure of the stopping point but is subjected to unexpected hard-braking. Thankfully, cars at the rear weren't tailgating as many drivers prefer to in India. Pedestrians' safety too is taken care of by deformable bumpers and a hood airbag to prevent injuries to pedestrians in case of an impact.

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What didn't leave us completely impressed was the ride quality, which could be an important consideration for some consumers scanning the luxury hatch segment. The centre console along with the rear seats too left us wanting for more.

The positives then by far outweigh the areas of improvement for the V40 R-Design, making the V40 R-Design a strong contender in its segment. It offers a good combination of technologies across areas and most of them deliver as desired. It might lack the brand appeal of the German marques and lag a bit on refinement but it makes up with exceptional safety technologies and a good driving experience along with the most desirable exterior design in the segment in our view.

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At Rs 27.7 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the V40 R-Design is priced almost at par with its German competitors. The base Kinetic version is priced lower at Rs 24.75 Lakh but misses out on too many features to keep the value proposition attractive. The more desirable R-Design variant then is a car that looks stunning, excels in most areas and offers a satisfying experience overall. For the 1,000 + km and few days we spent with it, we would recommend this car as a great buy.

Text & Photo: Arpit Mahendra

12 January 2016 Written by Deepangshu Dev Sarmah

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The introduction of the Volvo XC90 in the Indian market in May last year created an excitement for Volvo products in the Indian market, unlike any other product from the Swedish carmaker in the recent past. The V40 did receive favourable acceptance as well, especially among customers looking for premium and profusion in the luxury hatch segment. The company has now showcased the S90 sedan that will hit the roads sometime this year.

Also on the cards over the next year is the second-generation XC60 based on Volvo's SPA platform. The XC60 has been a bestseller for Volvo since its global launch in 2008-09, and has been selling in the Indian market for over five years. Some time back, Volvo Cars India introduced the SUV with a refreshed R-Design badge, primarily to keep the excitement in the product intact. We drove the vehicle recently around the Capital city, and here's we found out.

What's New?

Compare the R-Design variant with the regular XC60, and there isn't much to differentiate from a visual perspective. There are changes introduced to both the exteriors and interiors of the vehicle, but the highlights lie under the hood. In the XC60 R-Design variant, Volvo has introduced the new Drive-E engine that is packaged along with a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

The 1,969 cc D4 engine is a four-cylinder turbocharged diesel unit developing 181 hp at 4,250 rpm and a healthy 400 Nm of torque in a rev band of 1,750-2,500 rpm. The Drive-E engine is based on the Volvo Engine Architecture (VEA), an engine family that Volvo Cars introduced in August 2013.

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The Drive-E family essentially consists of two four-cylinder engines – a common rail diesel that delivers between 120 and 230 hp, and a petrol variant with direct injection that produces 140 to over 300 hp. Together, they replace eight engine architectures on three platforms. The engine family is lightweight, and features a new 'i-Art' fuelling system aimed at achieving the ideal air-fuel ratio gauge.

By feedback of the pressure in all the fuel injectors, instead of the conventional solution with a single pressure sensor in the common rail, in-Art makes it possible to continuously monitor and adjust the fuel injection in each of the four cylinders, explains Volvo on its website. Each injector is provided with its own computer that monitors injection pressure, and the i-Art system ensures the right amount of fuel is injected during each combustion cycle.

ART injection technology for diesel engines

The Drive-E family has been developed to fit into all front-wheel-drive Volvo cars in the future, in different combinations and in different states of tune. The line-up includes turbocharged, twin-turbocharged, supercharged and even a hybrid engine.

The other notable change under the hood is the new eight-speed automatic gearbox manufactured by Japanese supplier, Aisin AW. The eight-speed, front wheel drive unit was developed in 2012 with a focus on fuel efficiency and acceleration, as well as size reduction to equal six-speed units. Fuel efficiency and engine performance improvement is made through wider and closer gear ratios compared to existing transmissions, claims Aisin. Under standard tests, the engine performance as against a conventional six-speed transmission is claimed to have improved 2.5 %, while fuel-efficiency has gone up 6.6 %.

Design & Feel

Major design changes are expected on the next-generation XC60, and hence, understandably, no major design changes were introduced in the R-Design variant. However, the changes introduced on this variant do add to the XC60's sporty credentials. The bumper in the front gets new inserts in black, which adds to the overall look of the vehicle. Further adding to the front design quotient are the vertical LED daytime running lights that are bright and purposeful. On the side, the only visible change is that of the alloy wheels, while the rear gets a skid plate along with dual exhausts.

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Although minimal in the overall context, the design changes in the XC60 exteriors do add to the muscular and youthful appearance of the SUV. The headlamps, as well as the rear tail lights, in addition to the other subtle changes ensure a strong road presence. We've always regarded the XC60 to have been cleverly designed, marrying the compact look of the front with the strong and big rear look. And the R-Design holds that intact.

Inside the XC60, one is greeted with a pleasant all-back dashboard with aluminium accents that heighten the overall appeal. The dashboard is laid out well to offer easy access. The centre console features a wide range of buttons, which might need some time to get used to. Wrapped in leather, the steering wheel is optimally sized, and comes fitted with audio, phone and cruise control controls.

Volvo XC60-RDesign IMG 2693

The XC60 comes fitted with the same Adaptive Digital Display as found on the Volvo V40 Cross Country. It uses an active TFT screen that is placed right at the centre of the console. The interactive dashboard changes colour based on the mode you are driving – red in the performance mode, blue in the eco mode and grey in the elegance mode. One can also access a lot of information about the car, and its performance through the 'vehicle settings' menu. The navigation unit offers good visibility and the maps were precise through our test duration. The seats are well-cushioned and well-positioned to offer a good view of the surroundings. The front seats get memory function for three settings, adding convenience to the occupants.

Drive Experience

Although downsized, the engine is powerful and smooth. There is some clutter that diesel engines usually make, but once inside, none of that would bother you. We were fairly impressed with the linear power delivery of the new D4 engine, and in the sports mode, it offers the fun you'd expect from an SUV this size. The throttle response slows down in the Eco and Eco+ modes, and understandably so to improve fuel-efficiency. Across all modes, the eight-speed auto transmission does its job religiously, without any reason to complain.

In the regular D and S modes, one can reach speeds of 100 km/h in around the 1,400 and 1,500 rom levels. We didn't get much time with the XC60 R-Design, and that meant we couldn't test the SUV in different terrains, nor were we able to take it to the highways. However, aided by our experience of driving the earlier XC60, we can safely say that it offers a pliant ride overall and also the right amount of sportiness in terms of handling.

Volvo XC60-RDesign IMG 2755

Although a FWD vehicle, we experienced no major issues with the steering. Although slightly on the heavier side, the steering does offer good feedback. The brakes are very good – both in terms of pedal feel and bite, and the 235 section Pirelli P Zero Rosso tyres also have superior grip. The average mileage we managed was a system-indicated 12.7 km/l.

From a safety standpoint, the Volvo XC60 R-Design comes loaded with a host of features, including the City Safety Package, Driver Support Package, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Intelligent Driver Information System, ABS with Emergency Brake Assistance, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, and airbags in the front, side and curtain.

Round-up

For many, the Volvo XC60 may not be a top choice, when it comes to the luxury SUV segment. But in India, things are changing as far as the Volvo brand recall is concerned. And the company looks set to take advantage of that fact. The XC60 R-Design is in a class of its own, be it in terms of performance, build quality, equipment and luxury. With the new engine and transmission that Volvo has introduced on the XC60 R-Design, the vehicle offers a good mix of power and economy. Priced at Rs 51 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi, the Volvo XC60 R-Design offers good value for the kit it offers in its trim.

The excitement has just begun at Volvo Cars India, and with the imminent launch of the S90 luxury sedan and the next-gen XC60, the next year or so could see a major scale-up in the company's position in this market.

Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay



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