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21 September 2015 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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Going around a turn, leaning towards the right, there is a bit of surprise and lot of smiles behind the helmet visor, since the Indian Chief Dark Horse feels more composed than other motorcycles from the Chief range. The footboards though fire-off a loud warning suggesting to back-off a bit. If not for the footboards, the magnitude of fun could've been higher. Indian Motorcycle says the Dark Horse is the lightest in their Chief range, and its slightly more agile behaviour seems to be a good by-product of the weight shedding. So, what makes the Dark Horse stand out from other Chief motorcycles? We find out.


Design

The Chief Dark Horse is essentially the Chief Classic sans the oil-cooler, spoke-wheels and the dual lamps flanking the headlamp. Add to this recipe a matte-black finish with minimal chrome and the Dark Horse manages to look aggressive with a sense of mystery resonating with its character. This is something no other motorcycle in the Chief range manages to look like. The slimmer profile and the dark colour treatment give the Dark Horse an aggressive stance, which most cruisers lack.

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Despite the trimmed looks, the Dark Horse makes it clear that it's not a motorcycle to be taken lightly. It might be the lightest in its family but one needs to keep in mind that the family members weigh in excess of 370 kg on average. Dark Horse undercuts the 350 kg scale by tipping over 340 kg and most of that is down to using much lighter alloy wheels instead of the steel ones. The motorcycle is modern yet contemporary and better looking in our view than any other Indian motorcycle with the exception of the Scout.

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Instrumentation is similar to the Chief Classic with the tank-mounted circular display offering an analogue speedometer and a host of other information on a digital display. Both paint and switchgear quality is top notch and we couldn't find anything to complain of in this department.


Engine

The Dark Horse is powered by the same Thunder Stroke 111 engine, which signifies 111 inches or 1,811 cc of displacement. While horsepower figures are undisclosed, torque is a massive 139 Nm, which means you're never short of propulsion power, almost irrespective of the gear slotted in. The motor as we've said earlier is smooth and vibe-free and offers excellent drivability at low-speed. We were able to accelerate from just 60 km/h in 6th gear without any hesitation from the engine.

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Cracking the throttle wide-open transforms the character and results in instantaneous rush of torque. This is the point when one thanks the engineers to have designed a seat, which one can sink into. If not for the seat design, there would be a lot of work for the arms of the rider to stay on the motorcycle. Even at high-speeds, the motor remains smooth and emits a pleasant and adequately loud exhaust note. Given the character of the motorcycle we suggest a Stage One exhaust right out of the dealership.

The rear-wheel is fed through a belt-drive and power delivery is quick and the belt-drive enhances the aural effect of the exhaust since there's none of the metallic sound we're used to from a chain-drive. The only limitation of the engine is the quick arrival of the redline, which coming in a thousand or two rpm later, would elevate the overall riding experience significantly. The six-speed transmission is quite smooth and offers quick and hassle-free shifts.


Handling

The Dark Horse is mechanically similar to its siblings, but sports a lighter weight than the Chief Classic, 30 kg to be precise, which at about nine per cent of the motorcycle's weight can change the dynamics quite bit. As a result, the Dark Horse can be ridden a bit more enthusiastically than its sibling. That it might bite back is still a probability but the chances are lesser and the Dark Horse like any cruiser was never designed with words like apex and chicane in mind. That said the footboards are a limiting factor as they touch the ground a lot sooner than expected, limiting the speed one can carry through a turn. The steering isn't particularly quick, asking for some work from the rider to negotiate a series of fast-corners.

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Straight-line stability is excellent and the only thing keeping a rider from going over is the windblast, which due to the lack of a screen gets severe past 140 km/h or so. Managing the Dark Horse is easy in traffic too and one can actually change lanes and escape the confines of traffic sooner than the size might suggest. Getting stuck in traffic though is a total no since the heat from the air-cooled engine combined with the weight can bring in fatigue quite quickly.

Ride quality is plush and it's easy to tackle broken roads with ease, making it easier to cover long distances in one go. The dual floating 300 mm discs upfront with four-piston callipers and a single floating rotor with a two-piston calliper at the rear offer good bite, and the ABS makes it safer.


Round-Up

Paint jobs and different visuals often fail at bringing in any meaningful differentiation between two or more motorcycles. The Indian Chief Dark Horse fortunately doesn't belong to that category and offers a different character. Importantly, the Chief Dark Horse opens up the Chief range to younger buyer, who wouldn't have been drawn in by the other motorcycles from the family. It also rides considerably better than other Chief motorcycles. At Rs 22 lakh, it's a bit less expensive than other Chief motorcycles too.

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There's very little that we would have wished to be different on the Dark Horse except for the large footboards. The answer to the question in the opening paragraph is that the Indian Dark Horse may not be a vastly different motorcycle mechanically but it still has a unique character. Its character is what no other Indian motorcycle exudes presently – bad & somewhat evil – and in the world of motorcycles 'bad' and 'evil' are good traits.

Text: Arpit Mahendra

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay

18 September 2015 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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'All-New' is one of the most relative terms in the automotive industry with companies claiming even re-equipped interiors as an all-new vehicle. The new Volvo XC90 though justifies the use of this term more than adequately. Based on the company's new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), the XC90 features a new engine, steel-based monocoque and everything else that has been developed from scratch.

Volvo Auto India launched the SUV a few months back and with deliveries to commence shortly, we were invited to drive the XC90 in Lonavala. Volvo Auto India has already received close to 280 orders for the XC90. The company hopes to occupy about 40 % of the luxury SUV market share in the next few months and displace its key competitor, the Audi Q7 to take the leadership spot sometime next year. We found out if it has what it takes to stand taller than its competition.


Design

After its erstwhile owner Ford sold-off Volvo Cars to Chinese automaker Geely, there were serious doubts about Volvo being able to have a free hand in maintaining its Swedish heritage and design. With the ownership musical chair having ended, Volvo found itself lacking access to existing platforms, forcing them to develop a new one, including everything within it ground-up.

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The new XC90 thankfully confirms that Volvo's Chinese owners have not intervened in the brand's vehicle development process. The XC90 comes across as a refreshingly new and matured design. Without being loud the XC90 has a typical Scandinavian touch to its design – dynamic yet subtle. Headlamps with the hammer of Thor-inspired LED day-time running lights (DRLs) and a large grille with vertical slats lend the front with a relaxed and futuristic appeal. The bumper has minimalistic lines and the metallic-shade skid-plate and cornering lamp add purpose to the front design.

The highlights on the side are the large 20-inch wheels, standard on the Inscription variant, which we drove. Interestingly, the company has opened its order books only for this variant right now with the less-expensive Momentum variant to go on sale soon. The rear is a departure from the quirky-looking old XC90 and in a brilliant way! Despite exuding the legacy of the last-generation model, the XC90 tail lamps look pleasing. The tail gate and bumper maintain the clean and clutter-free look and maintain the design language.

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Structure-wise the XC90 has taken an interesting approach, favouring steel instead of aluminium. Increasing the use of Boron steel in the structure has expectedly improved the crash-performance over the last generation vehicle. Pegged at about 40 % of the total body weight, the quantity of this hot-formed steel is five times more than that used in the previous XC90. Whereas aluminium is the preferred material for most carmakers to save overall vehicle weight, Volvo has delivered a stonking reduction of 180 kg by using steel in various parts of the XC90. This definitely bodes well for the future of steel, given it's cheaper to use and repair.

Overall, the XC90 comes across as the most futuristic looking vehicle with a mature design in its segment. Most vehicles in this segment enjoy a dominating road presence due to the size and aggressive design, forcing many vehicles to move out of their way, one of the reasons why some people prefer SUVs. The XC90 too will have them giving way but not out of intimidation. They'll do it instead to enjoy the design of the complete vehicle, which looks striking yet elegant in the rear-view mirror and dynamic from the windshield too.


Interiors

Palatial is the best word we could think of to describe the XC90's interiors. The dashboard design with the centre-console is the biggest highlight of the XC90's interior. Doing away with buttons, Volvo has replaced them with a touch-based central display screen. With just eight buttons on the dashboard, the central screen is the main human-machine interface (HMI). We had our reservations about the effects of touch-screens on driver focus since one doesn't need to look for buttons.

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Try operating an application on the smartphone you're hooked onto for hours even for a second without actually glancing at it and it becomes clear that driver-distraction is a larger possibility with such an interface. Volvo engineers though need applause for limiting this distraction to an extent it is no longer distracting. One does need to spend some time with the screen though and the multi-layered screen will allow you to access/ operate most vehicular functions in a couple of swipes, the first of which can be made without glancing at the screen at times. One can also customise the tiles available on the home screen to display data of interest to the driver, eliminating the need to fiddle with the screen.

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The engine start/stop knob with the drive mode rotor is finished in chrome with a diamond-cut finish, adding an expensive and unique feel to the cabin. The material quality and fit & finish are consistently impressive around the cabin, making the cabin plusher than any of the present competition. Space on offer too is impressive, even in the last row. The last row with two individual seats can accommodate two adults in reasonable comfort as long the height is within 5 ft 8 inches, although the under-thigh support is a bit limited here. The other two rows, however, easily seat much taller people without any hassles. The front seats offer impressive support all-round with adjustable side bolsters and seat extenders. The panoramic roof adds to the airiness of the cabin, enhancing the feeling of space inside.

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Of note is the Bowers & Wilkins audio system featuring the world's first automotive air-ventilated subwoofer. The sound quality of the system is impressive and we'll share more details about it in our detailed technology report in the magazine.


Powertrain

The XC90 is powered by Volvo's new Drive-E engine, which will be combined with various forced-induction combinations to power all upcoming Volvo vehicles, be it petrol or diesel. The engine in this case is a turbocharged 2 l four-cylinder diesel unit developing 225 hp and 470 Nm of torque. This may not sound much but the XC90 manages to accelerate in a linear manner without feeling underpowered at any time. We were able to touch a speedo-indicated 182 km/h, and reaching that number never left us struggling for power, although the XC90 can go faster to a claimed 230 km/h.

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The engine is mated to an eight-speed Geartronic transmission, which is inclined towards fuel-efficiency. The unit offers reasonably quick upshifts but is a bit slow to downshift. This, however, isn't a negative, given the vehicle's luxury-aimed positioning. The engine is smooth and doesn't sound strained even when pushed hard. One has access to five driving modes – Eco, Comfort, Off-Road, Dynamic & Individual. One can engage the Off-Road mode to not only raise the vehicle height but also to automatically engage the Hill Descent Control to negotiate steep gradients.


Dynamics

During our drive we encountered bad roads, complete lack of them and also got a chance to go off-road. The XC90 handled all situations with aplomb and never felt out of its element. The high ground clearance of 238 mm (further extendable) comes in handy going off-road. The automatic all-wheel drive system does a good job of shifting torque between the four wheels as per the surface. Our test car was the Inscription variant with 20-inch wheels, which meant the ride quality was a bit harsh on broken surfaces but these were seriously bad roads with us driving literally on stone edges.

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On the smooth tarmac though, the XC90 delivered a supple ride quality in spades as the air suspension on all four wheels soaks up most of the undulations we encounter in daily conditions. The Dynamic mode improves the exhaust note, holds on longer to a gear and stiffens the steering. Talking of the steering, it is extremely light at slow speed and weighs up as velocity increases. Feedback too is present but just enough to let you know when to back-off.

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At high-speeds too on the highway, the XC90 felt composed through long turns and under hard braking. In the narrow roads in the hills we encountered many sharp turns and while the XC90 will go through these with ease, pushing the vehicle will result in a fair bit of body-roll, which again is quite low for a vehicle of its size. The air suspension also offers convenience to passengers in the form of a rear-lowering mechanism. Operated by a button in the boot area, one can lower the rear loading-lip height by 50 mm, making it easier to carry heavy objects into (or out of) the boot. One can also open/ close the boot lid by carrying out a kicking/ swipe motion through the feet under the boot.


Round-Up

The all-new Volvo XC90 is an impressive vehicle from multiple perspectives and more so a brave attempt by Volvo. Breaking away from conventional in multiple areas, Volvo has introduced a new cabin experience to its customers like no other competitor can presently. The rich interior, tons of space, brilliant audio system and the surprisingly user-friendly central touch-screen set the cabin apart from everything else on sale in the country right now. At Rs 77.9 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the XC90 is great value as well keeping the competition in mind. Given the high demand and constrained supply, orders placed will result in a waiting period of between 2-3 months for the vehicle delivery.

Safety of course continues to be the XC90s strength and it comes with seven airbags, front seats whiplash protection, pyrotechnical seatbelt pretensioners, ABS & ESC, roll-stability control, a world-first run-off road protection system and the list just doesn't seem to end. Testifying that is a five-star rating from Euro NCAP but more importantly a high scoring in some critical areas.

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Volvo is working on a death-free future by 2020, as far as its vehicles are concerned. The XC90, Volvo says is the safest SUV they've ever made, bringing Vision 2020 closer to reality. Starting off our XC90 experience with the Thor's hammer based DRLs and similar-looking tail-lamps, we were left convinced that the XC90 would be Thor's vehicle of choice. Not just because of the safety but also because Thor's character is based on a Norse mythological deity and that originated from Scandinavia and not Marvel Comics as many think.

Text & Photo: Arpit Mahendra

14 September 2015 Written by Deepangshu Dev Sarmah

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At the unveiling of Renault's newest product for the Indian market in May this year, Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO, Renault announced the Kwid would be a game changer. The French carmaker has had in the past changed the game in the compact SUV segment with the Duster – a product that made the French carmaker a household name in the country. The stakes aren't quite the same with the Kwid though. This entry-level compact hatchback is pitted against one of the most successful and influential cars ever made in India, the Marui Suzuki Alto as well as the Hyundai Eon and Datsun Go.

The Kwid gives Renault India a lot of positive energy, a potential masterstroke to take them to the stated goal of five per cent market share in the country by 2017. The A-segment happens to be the most competitive end of the automotive market, and breaking through this segment isn't going to be easy. Renault might be able to produce the numbers, but customers in this segment are particularly concerned about the ownership experience. Will Renault be able to deliver?

The briefing we received from the company at the recently-organised media drive in Goa reveals a sound go-to-market strategy. But before we delve into the company's market strategy, let us review the product itself – the Kwid – and see if it has the right ingredients to up the game in the entry-level compact hatchback segment.

Genesis

The KWID is Renault's first model to be built on the Common Module Family (CMF) platform – a modular strategy introduced by the Renault-Nissan Alliance to be able to develop and build different product for different size and segments. The Kwid falls under the CMF-A classification, the A representing the entry-level or sub-compact segment. Likewise, the Kwid bore an internal codename of BBA, with the B's representing the body type and platform respectively, while the A denotes that it's the first car on this platform.

The Kwid is claimed to be one of the only cars from a global manufacturer to be built from scratch on a new platform with local content of about 98 %. Gerard Detourbet, the father of the Kwid (as well as the Logan, Duster, and Lodgy), said no part in the Kwid has come from any other car in India – each and every component, even the nuts and bolts – have been newly developed for the Kwid. In the process, the engineers have been able to introduce tremendous amount of lightweighting in the vehicle, leading to an overall vehicle weight of just 669 kg!

CMF

The Kwid has been developed predominantly in India, with inputs from other Renault centres in France, Japan and Korea. Endurance and durability was tested in France, while Japan contributed to the electronics. Body equipment was evaluated in Korea, and Renault India the chassis and body testing beyond bulk of the vehicle's development. The design too was done at Renault's design studios in Mumbai and Chennai. In fact, Detourbet informed that the first sketch – even before the project went live – was done by a young engineer in the Mumbai studio in 2009.

Design

One look at the Kwid and you know this is a product unlike any other in the segment. The design is SUV-inspired, with a tall stance and bulged-out exteriors that gives the Kwid a big car feel. The feeling of largeness isn't restricted to the exteriors alone. Inside the Kwid, space is similar to that of larger compact hatchbacks, with very impressive engineering visible all around. We shall discuss that in one of the following paragraphs.

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The Kwid has many elements that grabs attention, and we have no doubts that it will make heads turn in appreciation, once on the road. The headlamps, coupled with the turn indicators, are big. The grille depicts a chain-link, and has a large Renault logo placed at the centre. The raised bonnet, 180 mm ground clearance and flared wheel arches further accentuate the Kwid's SUV look. The side profile carries forward the muscular design language from the front, and the rear too doesn't disappoint. In fact, it is the rear that gives the Kwid a smaller hatchback profile.

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At a length of 3,679 mm, width of 1,579 mm and height of 1,478 mm, the Kwid stands taller, longer and wider than competition. The 13-inch wheels look small, but go well with the overall design of the car. At 300 l, the boot is bigger than even cars of a segment above.

Moving back to the interiors, space engineering is something that deserves a lot of appreciation. The front seats are very comfortable, and the rear seat is good for more-than-average-built Indians, with ample leg and knee room. The plastic used in the overall compartment is of decent quality for this segment, but for the glove box. That bit needs more attention as the glove box lid looked inferior and flimsy. Overall fit and finish of reasonable quality too, and should be acceptable to customers in the Rs 3-4 lakh bracket.

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The highlight of the interiors is in the dashboard. The Kwid has got features that no other car in the segment offers, including a 7-inch multimedia system with satnav, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The touchscreen provides media options, telephony through Bluetooth and navigation. In addition, it has an on-board trip computer, a gear shift indicator and power windows in the front. We loved the clutter-free look of the dash, accentuated by the chrome-fitted centre console, which has the same touchscreen unit used in the Duster and Lodgy. There is a three-tiered glovebox, leaving no space for the company to fit in an airbag. A driver airbag is available though as an option. To offer the customer more personalised options, Renault is also offering 60 accessories for various tastes.

Performance

Renault has introduced a brand-new – SCe (Smart Control Efficiency) engine – developed specially for the Kwid. The 800 cc, three-cylinder, all-aluminium engine develops max output of 53 hp, and torque is rated at 72 Nm. The engine is mated to an all-new five-speed manual transmission as well. The power-to-weight ratio for the Kwid is rated at about 84 hp/ tonne. Power delivery is linear, and shouldn't trouble customers on sedate city drives. On the highway though, it tends to lose steam if you aren't engaging in short-gearing. The shift quality is decently smooth, but there is considerable NVH seeping into the cabin, especially in the lower gears. At steady cruise though, the hum settles down well.

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Nonetheless, the Kwid delivers on what is the most important parameter in this segment – fuel efficiency. At 25.17 km/l, the Kwid delivers the highest fuel-efficiency for a petrol car in the country.

We loved the way Renault has set up the suspension of the Kwid. MacPherson struts at the front with a lower transverse link keep body roll under control, while the rear duty is done by a twist-beam suspension with coil springs. The vehicle rides very well on even roads, but takes in the potholes rather well. Although the rear suspension felt a little on the softer side, the overall handling of the car is decent. There is some body roll though, but that's evident only during some spirited driving, which may not be the case with most Kwid owners.

The steering is light, but vague at times. It offers good feedback mostly, but at high speeds, it needs assistance. Overall, compared to competition, the Kwid certainly is more stable.

Round-up

In the Kwid, Renault India has been able to offer a package that ticks off almost all the right boxes. The entry-level customer can be a demanding one, but this hatchback has the potential to provide good all-round value to its owner. What goes in its favour include exterior and interior styling, good engine and transmission, a host of features that customers would love to own and flaunt.

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The company also claims that the Kwid will be the cheapest car to maintain, thanks to the 98 % local content that it has fed into the car. It offers a 2 years/ 50,000 km warranty, which can be extended to 3 years/ 60,000 km or 4 years/ 80,000 km options. The company has announced the Kwid will get an automatic variant in the future, and has in its plans an AMT (automated manual transmission) variant as well.

We asked Gerard if he has a larger engine in mind for the Kwid. Not until a stage, where the customers or market dynamics demand it, he said. For now though, the company is busy expanding its network to ensure the Kwid is made available to larger sections of the Indian market at the earliest possible time. For the record, by the end of the year, Renault India would have set-up 205 outlets, increasing it to 280 in 2016. That's not a sizeable number compared to competition, but officials believe it's a good number to cater to current demand.

Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay

11 September 2015 Written by Arpit Mahendra

Hero Shot

Authenticity of the TUV300 is what will attract consumers and make them love the product, said Anand Mahindra at the vehicle's launch in the company's Chakan plant. Highlighting the TUV300 as a proper SUV and not a poser, the company launched the vehicle at a starting price of Rs 6.9 lakh. We got a chance to drive the car briefly at the company's test track and here's what we think of Mahindra's foray into the compact SUV segment.

Design

The TUV300 quite frankly came across as a polarising design when we saw it on paper. In the flesh though, it looks a lot better though. The design isn't beautiful but going by the company's positioning of the product it was never designed to be pretty and sophisticated anyway. The TUV300 is based on an all-new platform and isn't based on the Quanto platform as was the buzzword. The pronounced grille with five vertical chrome-surrounded slats and aggressively designed bumpers gives the TUV300 an imposing look at the front.

There isn't anything dramatic about the side and it looks like a typical Mahindra vehicle, something that is perfectly fine. The rear benefits from the door-mounted spare wheel with a smart-looking cover. This cover also adds to the visual length of the vehicle making it feel larger than most compact SUVs.

On the inside, the TUV300 is a surprising departure from the typical Mahindra cockpits we're used to seeing. The centre console with its black perforated background and chrome & metal accents looks premium and looks well-built too. The dual-tone black & beige combination works well at breaking the monotony of single shade and material, giving the cabin an airy feel. Bits such as door levers, handles and some lower dashboard areas still leave room for material improvement.

Premium dual-tone dashboard

Space, despite the confinement of 4,000 mm length, is impressive and Mahindra engineers have done a great job at extracting maximum space. Front seats are adequate in offering all-round support and even with a 172 cm tall person driving with the front seat rolled back to his convenience, there was enough space for a person of similar height to sit comfortably. Head room and shoulder room is excellent and a wider seat than its competition means that three people can sit in acceptable comfort in the second-row. Last row comprises of two jump seats, both of which are there to give the vehicle an official tag of seven-seater and at best can only serve as emergency-purpose seats for kids.

Equipment level is also impressive the infotainment system is a 2-DIN unit with Bluetooth, USB, AUX connectivity and steering-wheel mounted controls. Overall, the interior left us impressed and we're convinced that this is the best-looking cabin we've seen in any Mahindra vehicle yet.

Engine & Gearbox

The TUV is powered by a mHawk80 1.5 l diesel engine with two-stage turbocharger, developing a modest 84 hp and 230 Nm of torque. While the numbers seem adequate for a compact SUV, the TUV300 is left struggling to gather momentum once past about 3,500 rpm. In order to get it moving, like one would want on a highway while overtaking, you would need to push the vehicle, which sends in a fair amount of sound into the cabin. NVH at low-speed is fine but at high-rpm the NVH is obtrusive and demands some improvement. The key problem to the performance aspect is actually not the engine but the heavy gross-weight of 2,225 kg. We feel at least 100 hp is essential for the TUV300 to make it a decent performer in terms of acceleration and speed. Fuel-efficiency stands at 18.49 km/l as per ARAI-certification, which is impressive but we'll be able to tell the real-world figures once we carry out a detailed road-test.

AMT Automated Manual Transmission

The good thing about this engine is its drivability, which is actually excellent. The two-stage turbocharging eliminates almost all of the perceivable lag and one doesn't need to fiddle around with the gears much with changing speeds. The gearbox itself offers decent shift quality and feel but is a notch below some of its competitors. There's an  indigenously developed AMT (automated manual transmission) on offer as well but we didn't get a chance to drive it at the launch day.

Handling & Ride Quality

The TUV300 amid a crowd of monocoque-chassis based compact SUVs is based on the conventional ladder-frame chassis. Benefits of this include higher strength, better ability to handle bad roads and of course the ability to keep cost low. Suspension setup includes a double wishbone front suspension and rigid-axle multi-link unit at the back. Mahindra calls it 'Cushion Suspension Technology' but due to the confines of a smooth track, we weren't able to put this claim to test. On the track though the ride quality felt supple and should be able to handle bad roads well. Straight-line stability is impressive and at the end of the straight too, the handling was acceptable.

Toughened steel body shell

Naturally, the ladder-frame chassis and a soft-suspension setup are fundamental foes of vehicle handling. The TUV300 though does a good job of minimising their perceivable scale. The TUV300 holds its line well with some body-roll but not enough to be termed harrowing. The steering is quite good and offers decent feedback but the brake-pedal feel unfortunately is a polar opposite. The brakes provide good anchorage but not even a hint of feedback from the pedal. A change of brake pads could improve this but given the positioning of the vehicle, we do not expect consumers to start tinkering with their vehicle just out of the showroom.

Round-Up

The TUV300 may not be a supremely impressive effort by Mahindra at entering the compact SUV segment but it surely is an intelligent one. The TUV300 is a mix of some great hits but isn't free of noticeable grey areas. Where Mahindra has shown wisdom is in the fact that they've masked the gravity of the grey areas by some towering positives. These include a more rugged structure resulting in better performance on off-road, option of choosing an AMT for convenience, significantly more space than competition, good equipment level and impressive safety in form of airbags and ABS being standard. The last quality actually calls in for a cheer to Mahindra since it is offering safety as standard equipment and not optional just to meet the archaic safety norms of our country and bringing the sticker price lower.

The engine and brakes are the areas where we feel Mahindra has room for improvement. Dr Pawan Goenka said at the launch that Mahindra is a consumer-listening company so we're hoping the shortcomings will be improved soon.

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The final piece in the puzzle is the price and Mahindra has done a brilliant job with it. At a starting price of Rs 6.9 lakh, ex-showroom, Pune, the TUV300 undercuts its key competitors by a huge margin. The shortcomings of the TUV300 might not make it a hot favourite in large urban markets but its strengths could play a great role in semi-urban markets. In such areas, the brand recall for Mahindra is strong and such places will play a large role in determining the success of the TUV300. We'll bring a more detailed review of the TUV300 once we drive the vehicle in real-world conditions.

Text: Arpit Mahendra

Photo: Mahindra

01 September 2015 Written by Arpit Mahendra

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Special variants of regular models are a tricky business in the automotive world. Spanning from mere sticker/ paint jobs, they can go right up till the building blocks of a vehicle being different. Fortunately, one of our recent experiences belongs to the latter category. The vehicle in discussion is the Volvo S60 R-Design. We found out what makes the R-Design so different from the regular S60.

Design

The S60 R-Design isn't a radical departure from the regular S60 sedan and continues to stand apart from its German competitors. One key thing we like about the S60 is that unlike its German competition, it has its own distinct visual character and doesn't just look like a scaled down version of a larger model from the same stable. The R-Design in particular, gets a new matte grille housing an R-Design logo. The five-spoke 18-inch alloys, combining matte and silver finish, look fabulous and give the side profile an eager look. Other changes include the silver-finished ORVMs and chrome-tipped twin exhausts. The rear diffuser adds more to the sporty design of the vehicle. All these changes lend the S60 R-Design with a muscular and 'out-of-the crowd' look.

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Add to it the brilliant-looking blue shade our test car came with and it was actually a task for us to get the shoot done amidst a crowd of impressed and inquisitive onlookers. There isn't anything in particular we disliked about the exterior design except the silver-finished ORVMs, which looked a bit out of place and more like coming off a luxury car and not a sporty one.

Interior

On the inside, things are somewhat different as one now gets the sportier R-Design seats and a host of 'R-Design' badging all-round, including the steering wheel. The infotainment system too gets an upgraded audio unit along with satellite navigation. The sportier seats offer top-level comfort and great support as well. The appreciable side supports on the upper and lower-sections hold the occupants firmly in place around corners.

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The dashboard features a clean and ergonomic design, translating into great ease for the driver. The customizable TFT screen-based instrument cluster is the same as launched in the V40 Cross Country and continues to add ambience to the cabin along with a dash of freshness, just when one finds it getting mundane. One can choose between three modes – Eco, Elegance & Performance – all of which offer a totally different visual in-line with their name. There's also a sunroof on offer now but it isn't panoramic. The all-black interior looks dynamic and is put together extremely well as all bits exude quality and high level of details.

Space at the rear, or rather the lack of it, is what completely sets the S60 apart from its competition. While the space isn't conservative and will seat average-sized adults in decent comfort, it isn't for those who prefer to be chauffeur-driven or prioritise legroom. While that may be a downer for some, it really isn't a negative since the car is aimed at being a driver's machine. That focus is what we'll explain in the following sections.

Powertrain

The key change in the S60 R-design is the inclusion of the new Drive-E engine, which is becoming Volvo's staple choice for its newer vehicles. Critically, this new engine is a four-cylinder unit and offers a wide range of combinations with forced-induction, allowing Volvo to power almost everything from a hatchback to a large SUV with this engine. In the S60 R-Design, this 2 l engine has a single-turbocharger and a power output of 181 hp and 400 Nm of torque. The engine is mated to a new eight-speed transmission now, which bodes well for performance and fuel-economy.

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The engine feels a lot more refined than the five-cylinder unit we drove on the regular S60 earlier. There's also better performance in the lower revs and acceleration is slightly quicker, owing to the additional 18 hp over the five-cylinder D4 engine. The adequately-equipped ratios of the transmission further aid acceleration and offers quick shifts too, when pushed. Drivability in urban conditions too is impressive and the engine is responsive to light throttle inputs. A notable appreciation of this diesel engine is its sound, which is a deep rumble and not a typical diesel clatter. Even at high revs, the car sounds sporty and it's only close to the redline that the stress build-up becomes slightly evident. The steering-mounted paddle-shifters allow that extra time in any gear, translating into more driving pleasure.

Dynamics

The R-Design version has a lower and stiffer chassis compared to the regular S60, which along with torque vectoring makes it impressive around a series of turns. This eliminates the limitations of a front-wheel set-up to a large extent. Body-roll too is controlled and it's only around sharp turns that the set-up feels a bit overworked. A flowing series of smooth turns as in ghats and hills is the perfect place to enjoy the S60 R-Design's capabilities.

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Ride quality in city turned out to be a bit on the stiffer side but not to an extent that occupants would find it discomforting. Small undulations and expansion joints on flyovers are dispatched with ease but the mid and large-sized ones do unsettle the cabin. Steering feedback is good and allows the driver to have trust in the machine. Owing to supportive seats, the S60 R-Design is a comfortable car to push around corners. While the S60 R-Design isn't the best handling car in its segment, it surely is for people who love to drive and will keep them happy for a long time.

Round-Up

One might wonder why we haven't talked about safety while reviewing a Volvo car. The reason is quite simple – they're significantly ahead of the competition, especially when it comes to active safety. Almost everything that the competition offers is available on the S60 R-Design. In addition, it offers City Safety, a laser-based system, which can automatically brake to bring a vehicle to halt, if a crash is imminent and the driver isn't responding. The system works till 50 km/h, which is what one mostly manages in cities these days.

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Overall, the S60 R-Design is a much better vehicle than its earlier version and should make more people serious about considering a Volvo car. Many of the S60's shortcomings have been dealt with in the R-Design version, making it more appealing to a larger number of people. The competition though is stiff in this segment. What we surely can tell you is that the S60 R-Design will manage to make you stand out in the party or on the road as it surely is the most dynamic-looking car in its segment. All you need to do is pick the lovely blue shade as pictured here or the gorgeous red. The S60 R-Design is priced at Rs 40.25 lakh, ex-showroom, and for thta price it offers a good driving experience, impressive kit and segment-best safety. 

Text: Arpit Mahendra

Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay



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