The purity of the relationship between a driver and a car is supremely defined by roadsters, which essentially have two seats, low-slung chassis, four wheels, and a powerful engine. BMW's Z4 fits the bill pretty much to the T here. Then of course, there's an array of new-age electronic aids, which keep the Z4 in the contenders list for the geeks, and the electrically-foldable hard top. We recently got a chance to drive the Z4 sDrive35i in Delhi, and it was extremely hard to part away with that surprisingly cheap-looking plastic key to such a fabulous car.
The Z4 follows the design language of a true roadster, sporting a long bonnet, low-stance, rear-placed seats and a short boot. Featuring a hard-top also adds to the sense of security (especially in India) and better protection from external elements. The front grill with silver slats is reminiscent of a shark's face and pretty or not, is surely imposing and head-turning. The side profile and rear look aggressive and purposeful, fulfilling the visual character of a roadster.
The design highlight of the Z4 though is its folding hard top, which when tucked away in the boot, transforms the Z4 into a visual spectacle. With roadsters and convertibles still being a rare buy in India, the admiration and excitement you'll draw from onlookers is nothing short of crazy. The electric roof takes about 20 s to fold or open, and will work at pedestrian speeds too. With the roof down though, boot space is at best good for a couple of small bags, unless one drives it with the roof up, defeating the key purpose it was brought for – interacting with the environment rather than cutting through it.
The cabin is a remarkable example of merging form and function, while retaining the good old feel. Parallel-running layers of black and metal lend the cabin with a high-quality feel, which most modern cars trade-off in favour of plastics or newer materials. Tactile feel from the minimalist control layout is impressive as well.
The seats are placed just ahead of the rear axle and along with that long bonnet we couldn't help think of a resemblance with the WWII fighter plane Messerschmitt 109. While the cabin isn't particularly large, it seats two adults comfortably unless the height is six feet or more. Storage space is actually quite good inside the cabin including decently sized door-pockets and a storage area behind the seats with a net.
The pop-up infotainment screen utilises BMW's iDrive system and offers an experience similar to that found in other BMW cars. The screen tucks away inside the dashboard to protect it from vandalism if leaving the roof down but we aren't sure if that's going to be enough in India.
Summing it up, we found the Z4 to sport an impressive design with a strong and aggressive character with no room for softness. It might not look as pretty as the Jaguar F-Type or as iconic as the Porsche Boxster, but it surely holds spectacular authenticity to the family of roadsters.
The Z4 in India is offered with a 3 l TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder engine developing 306 hp and 400 Nm of torque between 1,300 and 5,000 rpm. The TwinPower turbo, actually a twin-scroll turbocharger, ensures there's very little lag in the lower revs, only to disappear past 1,800 rpm. The engine is comfortable puttering around at city-speeds but comes to its glory past 4,000 rpm, when the exhausts scream loudly with a note very close to music for the right ear.
From a standstill, the Z4 hit the 100 km/h mark in 5.5 s in our test, using a hand-held GPS device, making it a seriously quick car. One needs to be a bit careful with the throttle response though, which is pretty sharp and can be a bit uncomfortable in traffic. Adding to the acceleration and sensation of speed is the brilliant double-clutch seven-speed transmission, which shifts almost instantaneously, leaving no trace of a gap. Using the paddles lends more control of revs to the driver and is best enjoyed with the Sport + mode. Talking of modes, there are three available in this car – Standard, Sport and Sport +.
At the end of the drive, we were left addicted with the exhaust note, particularly with the roof resting in the boot. The powertrain didn't leave us wanting for more in any particular area but it could have been more fun to have the more powerful motor found in the Z4 outside India.
Ride & Handling
The Z4, owing to its nature and intent, is firmly sprung and the same firmness can be a bit uncomfortable but not bone jarring over broken surfaces. However, the Z4 was never designed to offer comfort but for offering a pleasurable driving experience and that it does in heaps.
The driver sits just ahead of the rear axle, which also means that his/her weight compensates for the heavier engine up front, leading to an equal weight distribution between the front and rear. This along with a low ride height and a nicely set-up chassis offers an exciting driving experience. Being seated near the rear wheels means that the driver's back is exposed to a rapid and intense experience of forces working on the rear axle. The entire driver's seat turns into a huge seismic unit, transmitting a myriad of feedback from all over the rear axle and wheels. The steering weighs up nicely in accordance with speed and the feedback although good, could've been better.
In Sport + mode, with the traction control (DSC) off, kicking out the tail just takes a firm push on the throttle. When pushed hard, the Z4 does tend to wander away from the intended line of direction due to its tail-happy manners but that is what makes it immensely fun-provoking over twisties. The ground clearance of about 130 mm might sound grossly inadequate but with some careful driving one can be spared of the embarrassment of going diagonally over bumps, one wheel at a time. Visibility with the roof down is great and average with it up. Overall, as a vehicle to have occasional getaway drives, the Z4 checks almost all boxes.
The Z4 is more of an experience than anything and cars like it don't exist to add numbers to annual sales but wow people, enhancing the brand's value.
As a machine in solitude, the Z4 does have its drawbacks in the form of an almost unusable boot with the roof down and the lack of a softer suspension mode to soften things in the urban jungle. Anything beyond would actually be nit picking, unless making a direct comparison with its rivals, which we haven't done yet. The BMW Z4 is a capable drop top and for almost Rs 69 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, it's good value too, provided hedonism is a belief you side with.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay
Launched in 2012, the Audi Q3 quickly went on to become one of the most popular products in the small premium SUV segment. In fact, the smallest 'Q' sells the most in its segment in India. Audi India recently launched a refreshed version of the product, targeting primarily the youth, and the young at heart and spirit. We were invited to experience the Q3 in Goa recently. Does it better the outgoing model? Here's what we found out.
For Audi India, the Q3 has been a key product in its portfolio of premium vehicles. Competition in the compact luxury SUV segment isn't quite intense, and with a facelift introduction of the successful Q3 – badged Q3 35 TDI Quattro – the German carmaker hopes to tighten its grip in the segment further. This is not an all-new car; it is a mid-life facelift, and explains why it gets no major mechanical changes – it retains the same 2 l TDI engine and the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission with electrohydraulic control. But in the two variants that the Q3 comes in – the regular and one with a 'technology' package – there are quite a few changes both in the outside and inside the cabin.
LOOK & FEEL
Majority of the changes in the Q3 facelift are in the way the vehicle looks. The single frame front grille, for instance, is part of the new face of the Q family. Aluminium extensions have been added instead of the chrome used earlier, and the bumper too looks new with redesigned air inlets. The upper sides of the grille merge with the headlights, which are now LED powered. The company claims the headlights are brighter and more energy efficient.
At the rear, the LED tail lamps have been redesigned with integrated dynamic turn signals, which illuminate sequentially within two-tenths of a second from the inside out in the direction the driver intends to turn, claimed the company. The side profile has been retained, but a new pattern has been introduced in the wheels.
Inside the Q3, Audi has introduced a new tangent aluminium inlay as a part of the Audi Q3 design package. Aluminium also features in the controls and switches. The cabin feels very much like the earlier variant, with good space and impressive material quality. It's the infotainment package that gets a host of new features. The instrument cluster is new, and the top technology variant gets an updated MMI navigation system and parking system plus with rear view camera. The navigation worked fine for most part of our drive, but on one particular stretch, it gave up.
One can also store a lot of music, thanks to the 20 GB Jukebox built into the sound system that also supports two SDHC slots, Bluetooth connectivity and streaming.
In the top variant, the storage area under the front centre hand rest features a mobile phone holder and charger for android and iOS-based phones. The holder also features a signal booster for the phone by using the car's radio antenna. The USB slot, however, isn't easy to locate. We tried charging the iPhone and two android devices. While the iPhone worked, the android devices didn't get charged through the USB charging slot.
The seats are very well-cushioned, but we feel sitting three adults in the rear might be too tight for comfort.
There is an updated engine available in Europe, but for now, the Q3 retains the earlier 2 l engine that delivers about 175 hp (130 kW) of power at 4,200 rpm. The engine is an inline four-cylinder diesel engine with VTG turbocharger, and direct injection. This particular engine is a proven unit, and on the new Q3, it continues to offer an impressive drive. The power delivery is linear, and reaching top speed is devoid of any fuss. Peak torque output is rated at 380 Nm between 1,750-2,500 rpm. The S tronic dual-clutch transmission offers seamless and quick shifts. The paddle shifters, featured on the Q3 for the first time, are brilliant to use.
The Q3 offers three drive modes as part of its standard drive select programme – dynamic, comfort and sport – which can be operated through a dedicated switch or the MMI system. It is the sports mode that extracts the most out of the engine. The Quattro all-wheel drive system offers very good grip, and even on wet slippery roads in Goa during the monsoons, the Q3 held firm.
The suspension is well-sprung, and we believe most owners would find that comfortable on various road conditions. In the front, the Q3 has McPherson struts with aluminium lower wishbones, steel pivot bearings, aluminium sub-frame, tubular anti-roll bar and track-stabilising steering roll radius, while the rear features a four-link suspension with separate spring/ shock absorber arrangement, sub-frame, aluminium wheel carriers and tubular anti-roll bar.
The electromechanical steering with the speed-dependent power assist feature is light, but offers decent feedback. The light steering also makes it easy to manoeuvre, even in congested environments.
CONSTRUCTION & SAFETY
For the construction of the Q3 body, Audi has used tailor-made blanks that have been developed to make the best possible use of the body's potential. These tailor-made blanks can help strengthen the upper zone of the B-pillars, while the lower zone is designed to help mitigate the impact in the event of a side collision.
There is a crumple zone in the front that helps dissipate the energy from a collision by spreading the impact forces around the passenger cell, and away from the vehicle occupants. In doing so, it also enhances the vehicle's deceleration rate, which further lessens the force of impact. Overall, the Q3 body is lightweight, made using sheet aluminium, extruded aluminium, ultra-high-strength steel and cold-formed steel. The unladen weight is measured at 1,585 kg. Apart from the safety built into the body shell, the Q3 features six airbags as standard, as well as ESC and ABS.
Priced at Rs 28.99 lakh (ex-showroom, New Delhi), the Q3 delivers an ARAI-tested mileage of 15.73 km/l. To our mind, Audi has added the right ingredients to make the already popular compact luxury SUV all the more desirable. Competition from the other German premium carmakers notwithstanding, the Q3 is expected to hold on to its forte, and attract many more new customers to its fold.
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
In March this year, Hyundai Motor India (HIML) had introduced a facelift version of the top-selling C-segment sedan, the Hyundai Verna. Called 4S Verna in its new avatar, the car has been able to hold on to its core strengths of offering a refined performance, refreshed looks and a long list of features on the safety and convenience parameters. What we had driven at that point in time was the high-end 1.6 l Gamma petrol variant, which delivers a peak torque of 155 Nm and a peak power of about 121 hp. That vehicle had pretty good improvement on the ride and handling departments, as compared to its predecessor.
Recently, we drove the diesel variant of the 4S Verna fitted with the 1.6 l U2 VGT unit that delivers 126 hp of power at its peak. There’s another diesel variant on offer, which features the 1.4 l U2 unit that produces 89 hp and 220 Nm of torque. Does the Verna diesel score on all the four ‘S’ parameters of style, safety, speed and sophistication? Here’s what we felt about the car after having spent three days on the highways and hills in north India.
Heart Of The Matter
Readers would recall our detailed review of the 4S Verna in March 2015 edition of Auto Tech Review (you can read it here). To avoid repetition, we would focus mainly on the diesel engine – the 1.6 l unit we drove. Both the diesel engines have been carried forward from the earlier variant, but with considerable tweaks.
To get straight to the point, the 1.6 l diesel unit is very impressive – thanks to the 260 Nm of torque, it’s pulls well, and there’s minimal noise that creeps into the cabin even when you throw the throttle open. There is some lag in the engine till you reach the 1,800 rpm level, but beyond 2,000 rpm the engine really comes to life. We were particularly impressed with the mid-range of this engine, between 2,000 – 4,000 rpm. The lag is more prominent in city traffic, but once on the highway overtaking is fairly easy and one can work around the turbo lag comfortably. In the 6th gear, for instance, the 4S Verna hurries on to triple figure speed at just about 2,000 revs a minute.
From a technology standpoint, the diesel units now feature pistons with nano diamond coating for lower friction, which essentially leads to better mileage, lower NVH and improved emissions. To further the efficiency envelope, Hyundai engineers have also added a Swirl Control Valve on the engine, which facilitates a swirling motion of air in the intake manifold that leads to better combustion. In addition, by adjusting the turbo-charging effect as per driving requirements, the variable geometry turbocharger is claimed to offer improved engine response and performance at low speeds.
Like in the earlier variants, the diesel units on the 4S Verna are paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, with the 1.6 l variant getting an optional four-speed automatic transmission as well. These combinations have worked well to deliver impressive fuel-efficiency numbers. ARAI-tested fuel-efficiency stands at 24.8 km/l for the 1.4 l unit – up 1.3 km/l from the previous version. The 1.6 l with 6MT delivers 23.9 km/l against the earlier 21.9 km/l, while the automatic variant has a mileage of 19.08 km/l.
The company claimed to have worked on the power steering of the 4S Verna, and we could sense some difference. Compared to the older variant, the EPS unit is slightly heavier, and is easy to deal with on most conditions. The Verna was always criticised for having a vague steering and light suspension set-up. Although Hyundai engineers seem to have put in a lot of good work into effect, one may still question the overall steering feedback and vehicle stability in high speeds. The clutch pedal is light, and brakes are generally good. However, the brakes on the vehicle we drove felt somewhat spongy, but that could be a one-off example.
On the 4S Verna, Hyundai has also offered a tweaked suspension set-up, which now offer better ride quality and performance. The rear suspension in particular has new coil springs and a low velocity control valve on the dampers to ensure appropriate damping force. New bump stops too have been added to counter the 'thud' on full compression. Particularly on the highway, the vehicle handles pretty well, but this is not a vehicle to be thrown around in corners. Drive in a sedate manner and it cruises comfortably.
The fourth-generation of this popular sedan is still a while away. Till then, the company hopes to keep the excitement intact with the third-gen, facelift version of the Verna.
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay
In February this year, Volkswagen India had introduced to the market a mild facelift variant of the Jetta sedan. Auto Tech Review had reviewed the vehicle in details in our March 2015 edition, details of which can be found here. At that point in time though, we could drive only the manual transmission-equipped petrol and diesel variants. Recently, we reviewed the DSG-fitted TDI variant of the Jetta, and our focus particularly was on the DSG unit. Here are our impressions.
Engine & Transmission
As was mentioned in our previous report, the engines in the new Jetta are unchanged and power output for both diesel and petrol units remain the same – the 1.4 l TSI engine produces about 120 hp, while the 2 l TDI unit produce 140 hp.
The strongest characteristic of the 2 l TDI engine is its low-end power, which in combination with the double-shift gearbox (DSG) also makes it very efficient. The engine is not very quiet, but that would not count as a negative feature by any measure. Maximum torque of 320 Nm is available in the rev band of 1,750 and 2,500 rpm, and this provides short bursts of quick acceleration.
One inevitable comparison, while driving the Jetta TDI was about its Czech cousin, the Skoda Octavia. Owing to the modular MQB platform it has been built on, the Octavia is lighter that the VW Jetta, and the first thought was about the drive feel. The Jetta, built on the previous-generation PQ35 platform, might seem a little underpowered to some, but from all practical purposes, it feels and behaves the same. It must also be noted that the MQB platform allows Skoda to use the Volkswagen group's new-generation of engines.
We mostly drove the car within the limits of the capital metropolis, and as a regular executive sedan, the Jetta didn't disappoint.
The highlight of the drive, however, is the six-speed DSG unit, which in essence is a dual-clutch transmission. More on that in the next section of this report. In terms of weight, the Jetta with the DSG weighs 38 kg more than the diesel manual. We were very pleased with the smoothness of the DSG unit, and the effortless manner in which it helps the Jetta TDI move. Whenever necessary during the drive, downshifts are extremely quick as well.
Against the company-claimed fuel efficiency figure of 16.96 km/l for the DSG, we could manage about 11 km/l, as indicated by the on-board system.
DSG Dual-Clutch Gearbox
It was in 2002 that Volkswagen first presented the first duel-clutch gearbox intended for series production, the six-speed DSG, or direct-shift gearbox, codenamed DQ250. Compared to a conventional automatic transmission, the dual-clutch principle is claimed to ensure higher efficiency and lower fuel consumption and offer greater comfort and driving pleasure.
The DSG gearboxes essentially comprise of two independent gearbox units. Moving through the gears, the dual-clutch mechanism allows the engine to engage with each of the two gearboxes in turn via two drive shafts. There is a compact mechatronic module – consisting of an electronic control unit, various sensors and hydraulic control elements – that controls the gearbox. This module helps instantaneous shifts to happen between the two clutches.
In a typical dual-clutch gearbox, the odd and even gears are separated on individual shafts – so, gears 1, 3, 5 are on one clutch and 2, 4 and 6 on the other. The outer clutch has a larger diameter and is connected to the odd gears. This helps the outer clutch to handle more strain from the engine. Both the clutches run in an oil bath. The concept is that whichever gear one wants to go to – up or down – it is available on the other clutch. The DSG unit features two modes: normal and sports, with the DSG holding on to the gears for longer. In the sports mode, even the downward shifts are faster.
The mild facelift only adds to the timeless design of the Jetta, be it on the outside or the interiors. We had enjoyed driving the manual variants in February, and the DSG only accentuates the drive quality of the Jetta. The suspension is well-tuned, and overall the Jetta delivers well on the handling parameters. Moreover, it offers an all-round safety package with six airbags, ABS + EBD, ESP, EDL and more. It also has a 5-star NCAP rating to boast of.
We, however, feel DSG should be offered in all the variants, and not just the diesel's Highline variant. The next-generation Jetta, which will be based on the MQB platform, might offer that and a lot more.
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay
Automotive history is littered with examples of how just one model can transform a company's fortunes, and set the success wheel rolling. Suzuki Motorcycle India Private Limited's Gixxer is one such product. Naturally, in order to maintain the newly found momentum, the company recently launched a fully-faired version, the Gixxer SF. Whether the winning recipe has been kept intact or lost is something we found out by putting the motorcycle to test.
The Gixxer SF is a visually tweaked version of the existing Gixxer naked motorcycle, and the 'SF' stands for Sports Fairing. The appetite of Indians for fully-faired motorcycles is well-known and the Gixxer SF seems to be a right move from the Japanese two-wheeler maker to encash on this trend. The key thing the company needed to get right was the styling and they seem to have nailed it and missed it, both at the same time.
The fairing on the SF is a streamlined and well-designed unit, especially when seen from the side. The front is only a wrap-around on the existing headlamp of the Gixxer and bears resemblance to the fairing design of the Hayabusa. The fairing has been developed in the same wind tunnel, which is used to hone the Hayabusa and MotoGP motorcycles. The design is aerodynamically efficient, claims the company. On the road, we did find it to be effective at directing air around the rider, minimising wind blast. The best part is that the entire fairing gels with the remaining body seamlessly; resulting in good fit and finish.
The black alloy wheels feature a pinstripe, which manages to add a bit of zing to the overall design. The turn indicators have been given the clear lens treatment to further differentiate from the Gixxer. While the exhaust design is the same for both Gixxers, the SF gets a more upmarket aluminium muffler cover. The instrument console is a rectangular digital display, which offers good visibility with gear indicator and digital tachometer.
The reason we said that the company has nailed it and missed it on the design front is due to the colour and livery options. In the blue shade, which is a special MotoGP edition, the SF looks stunning. The colour shade and the branding accentuate the sportiness of the bike. On the other hand, in the regular black and white colours, sans the livery, the SF doesn't look impressive and loses out on road presence. The designers have achieved two extreme ends of the scale in one go.
Suzuki decided to play safe with the SF, which means that the motorcycle gets no mechanical changes or upgrades. The engine hence is the same 155 cc single-cylinder carburetted unit, developing about 14.5 hp and 14 Nm of torque at 6,000 rpm. One would expect the SF to be slower than its naked counterpart, owing to the added weight of the fairing but that isn't the case. The fairing weighs just about four kg, which doesn't change the power-to-weight ratio considerably. Acceleration hence is pretty much same as the Gixxer but beyond 100 km/h or so, the SF pulls marginally quicker due to the aerodynamic effect of the fairing. Top speed too is higher since we managed a speedo-indicated 124 km/h on the Gixxer and 136 km/h on the SF.
The engine itself is quite impressive by segment standards and offers peppy performance. The motorcycle pulls cleanly off the line and the engine is acceptably smooth and has good low and mid-range performance. Closer to the red line though, the engine shows signs of stress.
The engine features the Suzuki Eco Performance (SEP) technology, which the company claims to help offer high efficiency without sacrificing power. What it actually means is that the engineers have worked upon reducing the friction inside the engine to minimise mechanical losses. The lightweight design of the engine also helps improve the overall balance between power and efficiency.
The exhaust note of the motorcycle is noteworthy and is better than most of its competition. We tested both the Gixxer and Gixxer SF at the same time and despite the lack of any mechanical changes, the five-speed gearbox on the SF was notchy and hard, while it was smooth on the Gixxer. We checked with the dealership and were told that the gearbox would be fine after the first service.
The SF doesn't feature any change on the riding dynamics front compared with the naked Gixxer. This means that the rider sits almost upright, which isn't the normal position one would expect on a motorcycle styled like this. That isn't a drawback though as the SF, due to this very reason, can be a great bike for covering long distances.
The suspension set-up on the Gixxer SF is neither too hard nor soft, striking a good balance between ride quality and high-speed stability. The capable chassis and decent grip from the MRF tyres translates into good handling characteristics. It should, however, be kept in mind that the Gixxer SF has been developed to look like a sportsbike and not go like one. The city roads too are dealt with in an impressive manner with good damping over uneven surfaces. The seat too is comfortable, making it easy to negotiate long durations on the motorcycle. What could be a concern though is the 160 mm ground clearance, which could prove to be a bit low for some of the really bad roads we encounter in the urban environment.
The brake set-up on the Gixxer SF consists of a 266 mm single disc upfront and a 130 mm drum at the rear. The front offers good bite and feedback, the rear drum seems underequipped. While this is helpful in keeping the cost low, a disc at the rear would have been a great addition.
Since its launch in early April, the Gixxer SF has been well-received by the customers. We were told by Atul Gupta, Executive Vice President, SMIPL that the demand for the SF already exceeds the production capacity and although these are early days, the company expects good response for the motorcycle in the long-term.
We agree with him on multiple counts. First, the overall packaging of the motorcycle gives it a very different perceivable character for a reasonable price increase. The Gixxer SF in general is well-equipped by segment standards and offers impressive performance too. At a little more than ' 83,000, ex-showroom, Delhi, the Gixxer SF is not only the cheapest fully-faired motorcycle in the country, it's easily one of the best looking too in the sub-one lakh segment. The latter, however, holds true if one opts for the special edition blue shade with MotoGP livery.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay