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12 January 2016 Written by Naveen Arul

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Tata Motors Ltd entered the passenger vehicle market with the Indica in 1998, and has come a long way since then. More recently, the company launched its Zest compact sedan and Bolt hatchback, which did not capture the market as expected, to say the least. With the soon-to-be-launched Zica hatchback though, the company is looking to change its fortunes. Is this the best bet for Tata Motors yet? We find out.

Zica, derived out of 'Zippy Car,' is a completely new product from the Tata stable that is based on a new vehicle platform, featuring a new direction in terms of design, engineering and build quality. The Zica was developed in a period of 36 months, and seems to have finally shed the Indica side profile, which was fairly evident in all Tata hatchback models until now. This could definitely work in favour of the car, as well as represent a new direction for the design capabilities of Tata Motors in future models.

PLATFORM

The Tata Zica is based on a completely new vehicle platform that hasn't been christened yet. The car features a new-generation suspension that can be tuned with the use of dual path struts in the front and the rear, along with a safety-oriented body design. A number of processes followed by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in the development of a new product have been employed in the Zica hatchback, in the areas of product development, design, manufacturing and customer perception.

Girish Wagh, Senior Vice President, Programme Planning and Project Management, Passenger Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors, said the body of the Zica meets future safety regulations like the upcoming Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme. The flexible new platform will allow Tata Motors to add more models to its line-up in FY 2016, said Pratap Bose, Head of Design, Tata Motors. He added that Tata made more physical models of the Zica at various stages of product development, to a get better idea of the merger between the design and engineering. These early physical representations have been the biggest learning, Bose noted.

EXTERIOR DESIGN

The Tata Zica was designed with global inputs from all three of Tata's design studios present in India, UK and Italy. The car has a fresh exterior design, featuring the company's Designext signature Humanity Line, Slingshot line and Diamond DLO (Day Light Opening). The humanity line in the front is present in the form of a new vertical hexagon grill, finished off in glossy piano black. The grill, sporting a new 3D 'T' logo, integrates well with the car and flows into the smoked headlamps.

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The slingshot line on the side of the Zica features a strong shoulder line that starts from the front fender, above the wheel arch, and gets integrated into the tail light. The shoulder line also passes through the door handles that resemble arrow heads. The look of the car has been further enhanced by the 14-inch wheels that fill up the wheel arches appropriately.

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The hatch door continues the visual design carried on the car, with a number of lines moving from the rear windshield, tail lamps and bumper, which all come together remarkably well. However, the tail lamp has a very simple design when compared to the rest of the car. Additionally, the Zica, like the Zest and Bolt has the exhaust muffler hidden, adding to the clean look at the rear. The Zica features trendy spoiler spats at either ends of the rear spoiler that are said to aid aerodynamics.

INTERIOR FEATURES

With the interior design of the Zica, Tata Motors seems to have upped its game in creating a comfortable, interesting and purpose-built cabin. The high quality of materials, along with the fit-and-finish and storage spaces is better than segment standards. Additionally, Tata has paid attention to detail in the form of designs and practical features. One of these details is that almost all textures or patterns on the plastics of the Zica carry the hexagonal shape. The 22 storage spaces spread across the car add to the practicality.

The interiors of the top-end cars that we drove featured a dual-tone dashboard design that is carried across the door pads. We felt that the lower half of the dashboard finished in light grey could have been of better quality and finish. The interior features ample amount of gloss-finish panels on the centre console, around the air-condition ducts, inside door handles and part of the steering wheel. The company said these bits will be customisable according to the colour preference of customers.

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Zica features a dual-pod instrument cluster with driver information such as current gear, gear change indication, and instant fuel efficiency displayed in between the two. The car features a tilt-adjustable steering, with wheel-mounted controls for music and phone.

A key feature of the Zica is the Next-Gen Connectnext infotainment and audio acoustics system, developed exclusively by HARMAN over a period of 18 months. The infotainment system features an eight-speaker audio system with FM/AM, USB, iPod, Aux and Bluetooth Audio connectivity. The audio system provides good quality surround sound across various volume levels. The system is also equipped with first-in-class features such as Smartphone-enabled Turn-By-Turn Navigation app and Juke-Car app.

The Turn-by-Turn navigation is enabled by connecting the infotainment system to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and does not use the mobile data of the phone. Meanwhile, the Juke-Car app uses mobile hotspot to create a virtual network and host a service for sharing list of available songs in the device. All connected devices can view the song list on the hotspot device, with users placing their requested song in queue.

The seats in Zica offer good cushioning and support, and are finished-off in high quality fabric upholstery. However, the Zica can only seat four adults comfortably, since the rear shoulder room and high centre-tunnel hump leaves enough space for just two adults. One feature with unsatisfactory ergonomics was the power window switch panel on the driver's door. It was not easy to operate without having to look at it or fiddling around for a few seconds. Additionally, the height-adjustable driver seat could have been placed lower, especially for taller drivers who would find the view out of the inside rear view mirror less effective. The car offers a boot space of 242 l, with a near square shape that has been achieved by very low intrusion of the rear suspension.

POWERTRAIN

The Zica will be offered in two engine options – a three-cylinder, 1.2 l, Revotron MPFi petrol engine, and three cylinder Revotorq diesel engine. Both engines will offer two driving modes – City and Eco, to provide customers the choice of performance and efficiency. These engines have been developed by Tata with engineering partners like AVL and FEV, as well as supplier partners like Bosch, Aisin and Delphi.

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The all-aluminium 1,199 cc Revotron petrol engine is completely different from the one introduced in the Zest and Bolt. The engine delivers 84 hp at 6,000 rpm, and 114 Nm of torque at 3,500 rpm. The engine offers a decent balance between efficiency, refinement and performance. Efficiency-inclined technologies include dual overhead camshafts, low-friction valve train & crank train, and variable oil pump.

The Petrol engine is peppy and performs well in the city, while being strained a little on the highway. It has a light clutch and gears slot in precisely. Even though the Zica features reduced NVH levels, engine noise and vibrations enter the cabin more than you'd expect of a petrol car.

The diesel variant is powered by a turbocharged 1,047 cc Revotorq, common rail direct injection engine delivering 69 hp of power at 4,000 rpm, and peak torque of 140 Nm from 1,800-3,000 rpm. The diesel engine has an aluminium head, with a cast iron block. Tata claims lower maintenance cost with consumables used and life of wear-and-tear parts tuned to render lower cost over five years/ one lakh km.

The Zica diesel offers loads of torque, but power output is sluggish. It has a linear power delivery when the turbo kicks in, and this is where the potential of the diesel engine can be taken advantage of. Not the best car for the city, the diesel variant is more apt for the highway. While the clutch and gear shifts are very similar to that of the petrol, the first gear of the diesel car we drove became a little difficult to engage after a while. Hopefully, this was a one-off problem that we faced.

RIDE & HANDLING

The new platform from Tata on which the Zica is based has been engineered well by the company. While the suspension soaks up large potholes and bumps, it is not soft enough to compromise the handling. Through corners, the car is well-planted, inspiring confidence in the driver.

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Another positive of the Zica is the braking set-up, which features ABS with EBD and corner stability control. Braking efficiency on the car is good at all speeds. The electronic power-assisted steering (EPAS) of the
Zica is also a positive, as it is precise and aptly-weighted for convenient and safe driving at low or high speeds. Adding to this are the 14-inch tyres in 175 mm size that provide the optimum amount of grip and comfort.

ROUND-UP

The Zica is a big step up for Tata Motors in terms of the design language it features, and the number of first-in-segment engineering and technology equipment. The final build, materials quality, as well as finishing is mostly better than the segment has seen. With its ride and comfort quality and safety features, the car could take on it competition aggressively.

The Zica has very little going against it, so long it is priced aggressively and has minor corrections made to it. It seems to be a completely different hatchback from the company, which has until now only seen iterations of the erstwhile Indica. Zica could be the game changer for Tata that other models have tried and failed at.

Text: Naveen Arul

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay

17 December 2015 Written by Naveen Arul
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We have seen companies launching completely new sub-brands with same engines as other models, even with the risk of one of these models being cannibalised by the other. Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) Pvt Ltd has carried out this strategy with the launch of its 15th product for the year, the CB Hornet 160R motorcycle. This street naked sports motorcycle is up against the likes of the Suzuki Gixxer, Yamaha FZ series, Bajaj Pulsar and TVS Apache.
 
The CB Hornet 160R is the second HMSI motorcycle to feature the company’s 160 cc engine, and introduces the ‘Hornet’ brand in India. We think that the company could launch other models from the Hornet family in the future, with other engine sizes.
 
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DESIGN
 
The new CBS Hornet 160R sports an aggressive look when viewed from almost any angle, with its contoured body and multiple textures in different colours. The riding posture on the motorcycle is sporty and slightly inclined forward, with a comfortable seating position for the pillion. However, on the short ride we were provided, there were many times we slid forward towards the fuel tank while braking a little hard, since the seat does not grip well.
 
The body colour of the motorcycle is seen partially on the front mud guard, cowl and tank. Other parts of the motorcycle are finished in metallic grey, matt black and carbon-fibre finished black plastic. The matt carbon-fibre finish panel is seen on the fuel tank, as well as on the side of the motorcycle extending from below the fuel tank right up to the swing arm. While these textured panels visually enhance the appeal of the CB Hornet 160R, the matt finish looks like it could succumb to scratches and distortion due to their placement on the body. The trademark 3D ‘Honda Wing’ symbols is placed on the integrated fuel tank shroud.
 
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A special design feature on the CB Hornet 160R is the X-shape LED tail light that makes one easily recognise the motorcycle from afar. It also features a stubby exhaust muffler with a silver heat guard, and split rear grab rails which add to the tough look of the rear of the motorcycle. A notable part of the motorcycle is the saree guard that looks well-integrated into the design of the motorcycle, without looking out of place. The wide 140-section rear tyre also adds to the aggressive look of the CB Hornet 160R. The motorcycle features black five-spoke split alloy wheels design that is the funkiest in the segment and gels well with the overall look.
 
The Honda CB Hornet CB 160R shares a few parts from its cousin, the Unicorn. These include the full digital meter console, indicators, rear view mirrors and lighting switch gear. While the complete fit and feel of the motorcycle is above average, the lighting switch feels somewhat cheap and not at par with the rest of the motorcycle. A part that is sorely missed is the engine kill switch. Additionally, the complete lighting switch and electric start button design is not very ergonomically-designed.
 
POWERTRAIN
 
The CB Hornet 160R features the same unit doing duty on the Unicorn, which is an air-cooled 162.71 cc SI engine featuring Honda Eco Technology (HET). However, the engine has been tuned to offer a slight bump in power, developing 15.66 hp of power at 8,500 rpm, and peak torque of 14.76 Nm at 6,500 rpm. The engine is mated to a five-speed manual transmission that is as refined as the Honda engine itself. The gear shifts are smooth and slot into place well, without ever slipping on our relatively short ride of the motorcycle. HMSI explained that the CB Hornet 160R’s engine is equipped with a counter balancer to reduce the vibrations produced in engine, and this felt easily.
 
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HMSI said a major achievement for the CB Hornet 160 R is that the motorcycle complies with the BS IV emission regulation norms. The company said that this is one of the first motorcycles in the 150-180 cc motorcycle category to conform to BS IV norms. Additionally, small spines have been added to the outer surface of the engine cylinder to improve cooling performance and help reduce distortion of its inner shape, added HMSI. Another feature of the engine that would help in the reduction of frictional losses is a needle bearing that is more suitable for handling the radial load. This needle bearing replaces the lubricated shaft.
 
RIDE & HANDLING
 
The Honda CBS Hornet 160 has a refined and controlled ride like most other Honda motorcycles. The telescopic front suspension and rear monoshock suspension provide a smooth ride over most surfaces, although we cannot really say about the ride over harsh road conditions without an extended ride. The power is linear and spread out well through the gears. The wide rear tyre, which was from MRF, gripped the tarmac well and added to the confident ride experience.
 
The combi brake system (CBS) of the CB Hornet 160R does its part well, and instils confidence while braking at higher speeds and on curvy stretches. The CBS is also claimed to reduce the stopping distance significantly, which is further enhanced by the three-pot brake calliper. The motorcycle is equipped with petal disc brakes, front and rear, the design of which is said to dissipate heat quicker than regular disc brakes.
 
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ROUND-UP
 
The Honda CB Hornet 160R is a motorcycle that features up-to-date, aggressive and sporty styling, with similar design cues to that of the Suzuki Gixxer and Yamaha FZ motorcycles. It features Honda’s renowned refinement and build quality, with very little going against it. The Honda CB Hornet 160R is priced at Rs 79,900 for the standard variant and Rs 84,400 for the CBS variant, both prices, ex-showroom New Delhi. It is priced about Rs 7,000 more than the CB Unicorn 160, but given the equipment and styling offered, the slight premium should not play a negative role for prospective buyers.
 
The retuned engine in the Honda CB Hornet 160R is claimed to return a fuel efficiency of 59 km/l, which is just slightly lower than that of the Unicorn. This fuel economy number is promising, given that the motorcycle is about 5 kg heavier than the Unicorn and features a wider section rear tyre. This does not mean the performance dimension of the motorcycle is lacking, as the CB Hornet 160R has reasonable power delivery for its segment. Overall, the CB Hornet 160R displays Honda ideology of using the same platform to offer different products for various types of customers.
 
In addition to the launch of the CB Hornet 160R, HMSI also launched an exclusive android mobile application for the motorcycle. This app can be downloaded from Google Play store. It will provide customers access to detailed product specifications, feature comparison, as well as a product experience zone. This app can also be used to book the motorcycle by submitting the required information and paying an amount of Rs 5,000 through an online payment gateway. Following this, the customer will be notified of the expected date of delivery of their CB Hornet 160R motorcycle.
16 December 2015 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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We've all had that classmate, who wouldn't ace one subject or sports but would do everything fine enough to get appreciation. Not a sports champion, not a topper but never on the bottom end of the scale in any department as well. The CBR 650F aims to fulfil a similar role as a motorcycle but this versatility like in any other package comes with its trade-offs. Do these shortcomings swing the scale against the CBR 650F or does it manage to stay in the centre? We found out.

INTRODUCTION

Having stayed away from the growing 250 cc + motorcycle segment in India for long, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) finally brought in the CBR 650F in CKD form. Built on a new platform, the CBR 650F is slotted in the middleweight sports bike segment. It aims to offer a comfortable ride associated with a sports tourer, the small dimensions of a sports bike and the excitement of a supersports to an extent. These are many shoes to fit into and instantly sound like a package of strengths and compromises. This might not be exactly what the CBR 650F is but its attempt to fulfil multiple roles is what defines its character.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

The CBR 650F offers a unique engine configuration of four-cylinders in its segment. Displacing 649 cc, the liquid-cooled in-line four-cylinder engine develops about 85 hp and 63 Nm of torque @ 8,000 rpm. The engine plays a key role in lowering the centre of gravity, pros and cons of which we've mentioned elsewhere in this story. Dual-overhead camshafts with the cylinders angled at 30o aids mass-centralisation and a low-centre of gravity. This angle also helps create a straight flow path for the air to the intake system, increasing the effectiveness of the system. The engine has a compact architecture with the gearbox, starter motor and clutch stacked close to each other.

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Off the line, the motor pulls smoothly in a linear and predictable manner and one gets access to usable torque from about 4,000 rpm. Going around the city or enjoying the scenery is best done between 4,000 to 6,500 rpm. Moving around at 55 km/h in 6th gear is clatter-free and this impressive low-end performance is mainly due to the long stroke and a low-compression of 11.4:1. Opening the throttle wide open in any gear doesn't result in ferocious acceleration, making it more forgiving for riders moving up from smaller displacement motorcycles. It's fast enough to be fun without being petrified. Throttle response too is crisp as the fuel injection system gathers information from four sensors on 32 mm throttle bores.

Less fuel and more miles has been made possible by extensive reduction of friction within the engine. The con-rod length has been optimised to decrease the forces acting on the sides of the pistons and breathing holes have been created in the crankcase walls between journals to reduce pumping losses with increase in engine speed. The pistons feature asymmetric skirts to minimise the bore contact, further reducing the friction. The cylinder sleeves' outer surface has ferrous spines to lower oil-consumption and improve heat transfer.

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The motor starts exhibiting its strongest performance beyond 7,000 rpm or so, before tapering off at about 10,000 rpm, onwards to the rev limiter at about 11,000 rpm. Hitting the limits will only hamper performance if you're trying to push hard. Aiding the mid-range is the 4-2-1 exhaust layout. The exhaust note is quite muted and even when revving hard, there's isn't any aural treat waiting although the typical in-line four howl is present.

What is rewarding though is the smoothness of the engine and the light and hassle-free shifts from the six-speed transmission. We didn't notice any false shifts during our ride and the gearbox is well-suited to both relaxed and spirited riding. Good low-end and mid-range performance coupled with well-sorted gear ratios makes it easier to power out of a corner without having to shift frantically, like one would on a supersports motorcycle.

RIDE & HANDLING

The CBR 650F is built around a twin-spar steel frame, which doesn't sound very futuristic and that's mainly because it doesn't need to. Aimed at being a sports cruiser, the current chassis set-up is more than adequate to handle commuting and weekend riding with ease without being a back-breaker as one would expect on 600cc supersports machine. Riding position on the CBR 650F is on the sporty boundaries of comfortable. The seat cushioning is soft and good enough to be on top of for hours on those long rides. Being a single-unit, the seat also offers good comfort to the pillion.

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The 41 mm telescopic forks upfront are non-adjustable, while the monoshock at the rear comes with seven-stage preload adjustment offering a travel of 4.3 inch and 5 inch respectively. Like all other things on the motorcycle, the suspension also dwells in the region of intermediate – not too soft, not too hard. Bad roads and bumps are soaked in well and the rider isn't thrown around on every pothole. Straight-line stability is faultless and is aided by the low centre of gravity. Hit the corners and this low-centralisation of mass suddenly becomes a limiting factor.

The CBR 650F isn't exactly agile over bends and requires some effort from the rider to turn in, partly due to the hefty 215 kg kerb weight. Also, the 180-section rear tyre hurts agility to some extent although the grip from it is satisfactory. If one intends to go really fast over a series of corners the best thing is to hang off the bike a bit more than usual but that too works somewhat as the foot pegs quickly start grinding into the road. Despite this the CBR 650F once dialled into a corner holds onto a line with ease and remains neutral throughout.

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The brakes consist of a twin 320 mm disc set-up upfront and a 240 mm disc at the rear with ABS as standard. Brake bite is progressive and adequate as the pressure applied increases. Feedback from the system is good as well and both these things make the CBR 650F a good motorcycle for riders with less experience on larger motorcycles.

INSTRUMENTATION & DESIGN

A twin-pod instrument cluster provides all vital information to the rider in digital format. While the information on display is extensive, the design of the console itself is pretty basic. Font size is good enough for quick readouts when going fast. The design of the CBR 650F is sharp and gives the perception of a large motorcycle. An edgy fairing along with the huge 17.3 l fuel tank gives the CBR 650F a strong presence. The fairing has been designed in a way to keep the engine largely exposed, adding mechanical beauty to the overall design. The clean design of the engine and the absence of some usual hoses had us wondering a bit initially. Later though, we found out that the engine has an internal water-channelling system to carry the fluid from the cylinder head to cylinders, reducing the number of external hoses required otherwise.

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Fit and finish on the CBR 650F is impressive throughout and quality of plastic and other materials too is good. There are some odd bits though such as the side mirrors, which look to have come straight out of a 125 to 150 cc commuter motorcycle. Visibility too is just about average on these mirrors as the rider would need to adjust hand positioning to get a complete view of the rear. Another issue we noticed was the illumination of the headlamp on dark stretches, which isn't adequate for riding on highways in dark and is surprising for a motorcycle in this segment.

ROUND-UP – WORTH THE PRICE?

The CBR 650F intends to do a lot of things well, if not master one and it does them convincingly. Everything on the motorcycle right from the engine, suspension, chassis and dynamics sit in the middle of the scale – not too scary, not too boring. Riders looking for versatility in their machine will have a great time with the CBR 650F as it will serve multiple purposes without demanding absolute commitment from the rider for any of those. It's also one of the better motorcycles to make a mistake on since it's never too eager to bite back.

This same ability of doing many things, however, makes it a less-exciting motorcycle for more experienced riders. Those looking for a machine that demands 100 % commitment and then rewards accordingly will not be too interested in this motorcycle. Good thing for Honda is that motorcycling as a hobby is nascent in our country and a lot of the premium customers are interested in styling and the overall experience of owning a large motorcycle, especially a fully-faired one. Competition for the CBR 650F isn't much since some of them are having either twin-cylinder engines or have a streetfighter body style.

So, does the CBR 650F really justify the ex-showroom price of Rs 7.3 lakh? It doesn't, especially when considering that it's locally assembled from kits imported from Thailand.  The extent of its over-pricing, however, doesn't seem to be enough to work against its fortune. There is no other fully-faired motorcycle with an in-line four engine on sale in the country right now. Given how much Indians love faired motorcycles and the fact that this one is an easy motorcycle to ride and live with, expectations of the company seem likely to be fulfilled.

Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay

20 October 2015 Written by Arpit Mahendra

All-New Ford Figo

On days that don't involve driving cars or riding motorcycles, crunching numbers is automatically the next most interesting thing to indulge in. Then there are days that let you do both. Ahead of the recent media drive of the newly-launched Figo hatchback, Ford India threw many numbers at us, of which one in particular was of considerable interest – the previous generation Figo sold over 300,000 units in India since its launch a tad over six years back. That's an average of 50,000 + vehicles every year or close to 4,200 units per month, which considering segment numbers and Ford's sales network, is quite impressive.

For Ford, this clearly is the best performing product since it entered India. So, does the new Figo, coming in quickly after the Figo Aspire's (sub-four metre Figo with a boot) launch have what it takes to fill in the shoes of its predecessor? A long drive on the Yamuna Expressway between Noida and Agra gave enough time to find the answer.

Design

The Figo hatch carries over an unaltered styling from the Aspire for the front, with a large grille and swept-back headlamps. There's a slight hump on the hood, giving the Figo a powerful appearance, but in a subtle manner. The shoulder line on the side is well-pronounced and gives the vehicle a dynamic stance. The 14-inch alloy wheels have the same pleasing eight-spoke design as seen on the Aspire and fill up the wheel arch enough to not look undersized.

All-New Ford Figo Headlamp

The rear obviously is where most of the visual differences between the Aspire and the Figo hatch are. The Figo's tail gate bears a clean yet bold design with a strong horizontal crease gelling seamlessly with the tail lamps. The tail lamps too are good looking and give a modern and youthful appearance to the rear. Overall, the Figo is a smart and graceful car with a hint of kinetic flair to its character.

Cabin

Step inside the Figo and the interiors are pretty much what one would see on the Aspire sedan, except for the interiors – the all-back interiors on the Figo looks better than the Aspire's beige upholstery. The centre console is quite similar to what we've seen on the EcoSport, Fiesta and identical to that of the Figo Aspire. The design though, resembling a mobile phone, seems a bit dated now and doesn't rank high on the scales of user-friendliness as well. In comparison, some competitors like Hyundai and Honda offer touchscreens, which definitely appeal to the young buyers. Talking of the interests of young buyers, there is quite a lot to keep them entertained inside the Figo.

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You can either opt for a variant with the MyFord dock feature or the Sync, and we experienced both of them. S/he can dock their mobile onto the central top of the dashboard and alternatively use it as a navigation device. If you're going for a variant with Sync, you miss out on this dock and this is where things start going a bit bizarre in the way Ford has designed the variants.

If you opt for the petrol 1.5 l engine with an automatic transmission, you get the dock but not the Sync. The 1.5 l diesel, however, gets Sync but has to do away with the dock. More so, you can't order the 1.5 Ti-VCT Powershift in the top-end Titanium +. This then means that you miss out on the six airbags and make do with the dual-front set-up only. The unique features though for this variant are quite good in the form of ESP (Electronic Stability Program), Hill Launch Assist and Traction Control, all of which add to safety. Now look at it as a diesel Titanium + consumer and you get Sync and six airbags but miss out on ESP and Traction Control.

All-New Ford Figo Clever Smart Storage

Beyond the inconsistent variant packaging, the Figo's cabin is well-built and feels strong enough to stand the course of many years of life without falling apart. Front seats are comfortable and offer good side support while legroom at the rear is decent but the seats lack a bit of under-thigh support. Headroom is good even at the back and seat width is just about fine for seating three adults occasionally.

Powertrain

Ford is offering the Figo in three engine options – a 1.5 l petrol with a dual-clutch transmission, a 1.5 l diesel with a five-speed manual and a 1.2 l petrol with a five-speed manual. During the drive we got to drive the two larger motors only. We began our drive with a lot of expectations on the 1.5 l Ti-VCT with PowerShift 6-speed transmission. The naturally-aspirated motor with about 110 hp and 136 Nm of torque, channelled to the front wheels through a dual-clutch transmission, raised our expectations.

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Off the line, this motor feels eager and is full of energy since there is no lag one usually encounters with the turbo engines. Performance in the 'D'rive mode is a bit unexciting, and that is down to the transmission and not the engine in any manner. Shifts tend to be slower and eager for a higher ratio in this mode, limiting the potential of an otherwise brilliant motor. Engaging the 'S'port mode improves things considerably; quickening the shift speed, while holding gears for longer near the red line.

The 1.5 l TDCi engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission though is the variant that most buyers will go for. And if they do, they'll have almost no reason to be disappointed; such is the exceptional drivability of this motor. Most diesel engines need to be between 1,700 and 2,000 rpm for the turbo to spool up, creating a window of lag. This engine, however, has the turbo spooling up under 1,500 rpm and by 2,000 rpm it's ready to offer the linear yet strong surge of acceleration till about a shade under 4,000 rpm. Not only does this mean better drivability in traffic but better performance on highways and twisty roads too.

All-New Ford Figo Automatic Climate Control

Nonetheless, the manual gearbox dwells between the borderlines of average and good. Average because of the notchy shifts, and somewhat good because of the well-sorted ratios that complement the engine brilliantly. NVH on the diesel version is decent till the time one isn't revving hard. So in regular driving cycles, the Figo turns out to be a refined hatch.

Ride & Handling

As is the case with Ford vehicles, one expects solid build quality, grounded performance on straights and confident dynamics over turns. The Figo delivers on these accounts and beyond as our drive highlighted. Yamuna Expressway gave us ample space to stretch the Figo to its limit for straight-line stability and stability under braking, and not once did it show signs of stress. Of particular mention is the steering, which is light at slow pace but weighs up well with increase in speed. It offers decent feedback as well.

Over fast corners too, the car is well-composed with little body-roll and good grip from the tyres. On the bumpy and broken roads in and around Agra, the Figo performed well by filtering most of the surface undulations at slow to high speeds. It can be a bit bouncy though at pedestrian speeds.

Round-Up

Based on the previous Figo's performance, Ford has high hopes from the Figo and reasonably so. The question we now need to answer after highlighting the various aspects of the vehicle is whether it is well-equipped to deliver. Looking at the elements in the vehicle, there is little reason to doubt, since performance, styling and equipment level is impressive, if not segment leading in all the areas. The 1.5 l diesel motor is the best engine in our opinion and will appeal to not only the family buyers but enthusiastic buyers as well.

That brings up the question of where the 1.5 l petrol automatic fits in. With the highest power output in the segment and a dual-clutch automatic, one would expect that enthusiasts would buy it but we doubt that happening. The same engine with a manual transmission though could deliver on that ground.

Interior View-Top Final

This also brings us to the strange way Ford India has packaged the variants, wherein one can have this or that but not the best of all that Ford has to offer on this platform. Beyond this as a product, the Figo is a well-engineered car, which continues to focus on the driver, like one would expect any Ford vehicle to. Good connectivity, smart styling, impressive driving dynamics and a competitive pricing mean that the Figo should strike the right chord with young buyers. Priced between Rs 4.3 – 7.4 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the Figo makes a good case for itself.

So can the new Figo repeat what the older version did? A repeat of the earlier Figo's success seems unlikely given the stiff competition in the segment presently. The new Figo is technically well-equipped but some of the present and upcoming competition isn't going to make things easier. Besides, the small price differential between the Figo and Figo Aspire combined with the limited reach of Ford's network are some more obstacles this car will need to overcome. What remains certain though is that the new Figo is what consumers would expect from a Ford hatchback, and Ford engineers have done well to live up to their expectations.

Text: Arpit Mahendra

Photo: Ford India & Arpit Mahendra

15 October 2015 Written by Deepangshu Dev Sarmah

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Come October 26th, and Maruti Suzuki India will introduce to the India market – also a global launch for the product – its premium hatchback, Baleno. In fact, the Baleno in many ways redefines the premium hatchback segment for Maruti. It was in 2005 that the company had positioned and launched the Swift as a premium hatchback. But a decade in the automobile sector today is indeed a really long time. Competitors have been able to introduce more appealing products, with much better value, albeit at a higher price. The success of the Hyundai i20 Elite in this segment is a case in point.

The fact that Suzuki chose India as the debut location for the Baleno reiterates the importance of India as a leading market for hatchbacks for the Japanese carmaker. Also, it complements the Indian unit's manufacturing capabilities, as the India will be the sole location for the production of the Baleno, which will be exported to over 100 countries globally. That's how important the Baleno is for the country's largest carmaker.

Post its showcase at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September this year we were one of the first publications in the country to be able to drive the vehicle around the Jaipur-Ajmer highway. Before we get into the details of the three variants the Baleno will be introduced in, we can tell you that there is a lot of excitement in the Maruti camp. And we share some of that excitement too, but could this become another megahit for MSIL? As in many other cases, the Baleno's success might just be dependent on how the company prices it. Here's our review.

Platform

This is the second essay for the Baleno nomenclature in India. The earlier foray as an executive sedan, which Maruti had introduced in 1999, had a decent eight-year run till it was discontinued in 2007. The company though believes the average success of the Baleno sedan would have absolutely no bearing on the new premium hatchback it is bringing in.

While the Baleno badge has been re-introduced – Baleno in Italian means flash of light – the hatchback has been built on a completely new-generation platform. In fact, the Baleno has been developed entirely by Suzuki Japan, with inputs from Maruti Suzuki engineers. The platform development focussed on reviewing the basic structure of the vehicle underbody, with an aim of reducing weight and improving vehicle performance.

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In doing so, Suzuki has been able to enhance body rigidity by approximately 10 % as compared to the platform currently used in the same vehicle class. Total vehicle weight, on the other hand, has been reduced by approximately 15 %, or 100 kg. Normally, for every 100 kg reduction in vehicle weight, a 5-6 % improvement in efficiency can be achieved.

Suzuki followed a basic philosophy in developing the Baleno platform. First, the focus was on creating simple shapes that resists deformation. Hence, the Baleno platform has a smoother shape with no bends, thus creating a stronger structure even without reinforcements. The front section has a revised layout for engine, transmission and suspension, while the rear section has a new suspension and fuel tank configuration. Minimising reinforcement components led to further savings in weight.

Secondly, engineers have used rigid areas in the Baleno platform for joints. Rigid areas in a vehicle are usually used to concentrate components. In using these existing areas for joints, Suzuki claims to have built a highly-efficient structure, while securing rigidity.

Third, Suzuki decided to focus on the whole rather than parts. Vehicle rigidity and crash safety has been considered in the light of the totality of all parts making up the vehicle, and not just individual components. For instance, the suspension frame and body framework were conceived as a single component. This resulted in minimisation of the body and suspension frame reinforcement – another innovation to further lighten the vehicle.

Exterior Design

The Baleno design isn't the loud design language you'd see on the Hyundai i20 Elite or the Honda Jazz. In many ways, it looks like an evolution of the Swift. But that in no way is meant to be read in a negative light. The design is subtle, yet strong enough to lend it a lot of road presence. The flowing lines and smooth corners across the vehicle are derived from Suzuki's new 'liquid flow' concept.

The Baleno has got a new grille, which is striking, unlike any other you'd see in the company's portfolio. There's a chrome outline that runs from the grille upwards and integrates neatly into the headlamp. The headlamp unit of the top variant we drove houses projector lamps clubbed with LED daytime running lights, and the 'follow-me-home' feature. On the lower variants though, it is a much simpler unit.

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The side profile of the Baleno is where you see most evidence of the liquid flow concept. The lines on the side flow in sync with the overall design, and the bulges around the Baleno waist add to the character of the car. The windows and handles get the chrome treatment, and they sit well with the overall look of the car. At the rear, the smaller window and high boot-lid raise the overall presence of the car. The wider stance, further accentuated by the pronounced chrome element, gives the Baleno a distinct identity. The LED tail lamps look proportionate with the overall styling of the rear.

The top-end Baleno we drove had 16-inch alloys, while the lower variants get basic 15-incg steel wheels. Customers would have the option of choosing from seven colours, including a Autumn Orange, Ray Blue, Pearl Arctic White, Granite Gray, Fire Red, Premium Urban Blue and Metallic Premium Silver.

Interiors

The interior of the Baleno is one area we were fairly impressed with, and that is not simply restricted to the way the dashboard or the instrument cluster looks. The all-black look that Maruti has opted for gives the cabin a premium and sporty feel, attributes we believe would be welcomed by potential customers. There is no leather upholstery, as some might expect in a premium product, but the materials used and the fit & finish are good for the segment it will play in.

Some components, including the 4.2-inch TFT screen, have been borrowed from the S-Cross, for instance. The metre console is freshly designed, and small elements therein have been beautifully done. For the first time in the country, Maruti has introduced the Apple CarPlay system, which allows the driver to connect an iPhone through the car's in-built display and voice control system.

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Steering mounted audio controls, tilt & telescopic steering, reverse parking camera and voice recognition are some of the other features that make the Baleno interiors an exciting experience. The higher models also get climate control, rear parking camera and satellite navigation system. Another interesting addition to the feature list is the UV Cut Glasses that have been introduced on the Baleno. These glasses help cut harmful UV rays by up to 85 %!

The cabin overall is spacious. There is ample leg, knee and shoulder room for the rear passengers and the front seats are large and comfortable. The driver's seat gets the height-adjustable function. The boot offers 339 l of space, which we think is ideal for a family's weekend run. You would find the loading height in the boot taller than some of the other cars in the segment, but that has been primarily done to keep in sync with European regulations. It is in no way a hindrance though.

Powertrains

The Baleno will come with two engine options – the proven 1.2 l K-Series VVT petrol and the 1.3 l DDiS DOHC diesel units – that are mated to five-speed manual transmissions. The petrol Delta veriant, in fact, also comes with a CVT unit – the company's first in India. Both engines are well-refined and respond very well to throttle inputs. Internationally, the Baleno will come with a new 1 l turbocharged Boosterjet engine.

The power delivery in the petrol engine is linear, and we loved its rev-happy and peppy characters. This engine displaces 1,197 cc and produces approximately 83 hp of peak power and 115 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. The CVT works well, and is well packaged. However, overtaking meant the engine had to be revved to its maximum – the lop-side of course being the noise it creates. The fuel efficiency claimed is a best in class 21.4kmpl.

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The diesel engine on the Baleno is the 1.3 l DDiS unit that delivers 74 hp of power and 190 Nm of torque. This is one engine that we have always admired, and the one on the Baleno didn't disappoint either. Touching speeds of about 150 km/h seemed effortless. What we also loved is the way the engine sounds – a nice hum, but no unpleasant engine clatter.

Overall, Suzuki has once again delivered engines that are smooth and spirited. We just hope that at some point in time, Maruti also decides to get the CVT in the top variants. That would make for an exciting combination.

Ride & Handling

The ride quality of the Baleno is an absolute highlight of the car. The suspension set-up – McPherson Struts in the front and Torsion Beams at the rear – is well tuned for Indian roads. On a certain section of road in Jaipur, we deliberately drove the car over potholes, and it returned un-scraped – thanks to the 170 mm ground clearance. We didn't experience any body roll, and the stability of the car in high speeds is praiseworthy. The steering is light and communicative, and the brakes have adequate bite.

Through its development process, Suzuki put a lot of emphasis on optimisation of the entire vehicle, including components attached to the underbody. That has helped in keeping NVH in check, while maintaining good riding comfort.

Round-Up

Maruti will retail the Baleno through its premium network, NEXA. In fact, the company would be hoping to bolster the NEXA network through the success of the Baleno. The S-Cross premium crossover hasn't truly set the sales charts on fire, and Maruti would be aware of that. Pricing would be key to ensure the Baleno's success, and that we'll know on October 26th.

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However, what is commendable for Maruti is the right intention it has portrayed in offering safety as standard on the Baleno. Dual airbags, ABS, EBD and seatbelts with pre-tensioners are standard fare across all variants – a move that should upset the competitor's strategy. The higher trims also get fog lights, auto headlamps and parking sensors.

So, in terms of overall packaging of the vehicle – powertrain, including the CVT, safety, interior space & features, and looks – the Baleno has the elements to deliver a strong product this festive season. Add to that the assurance that the company brings to prospective customers in terms of reliability, serviceability and hassle-free ownership experience – the Baleno could just be the next winner from the Maruti stable.

Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah

Photo: Arpit Mahendra



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