REVIEW-TOYOTA YARIS DUAL TONE

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Toyota introduced the dual-tone variant of the Yaris around the festive season in 2019.  First introduced in April 2018 the Yaris has been a consistent performer in the Toyota line-up in India.

Toyota in India is largely known for the Innova and the Fortuner. These cars have been blockbusters from the word go with no competition in sight. But their range of sedans and hatchbacks haven’t exactly set the sales charts on fire.

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I had reviewed the Yaris earlier in 2019. One had come back impressed with the all-round efficiency of the sedan.Just before the year ended, I got a chance to review the Toyota Yaris Dual-Tone.

So, what are the changes one gets in the dual tone Yaris Variant? Let’s find out.

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THE EXTERIOR
This variant gets a dual-tone black roof, piano black finish on the grille, OVRMs, Fog bezel, Rear LED combination tail-lamps with LED DRLs, projector headlamps, chrome grille and OVRM turn indicators.

IMG_3130.jpgTHE INTERIOR
One gets new leather upholstery, centre console box a leather-wrapped steering wheel & gearshift knob. The 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is now compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It comes with Bluetooth connectivity, one USB charging port and a CD player. There are few 12V mobile charging points available too.

IMG_3129.jpgThe rest of the features remain the same such as mood lighting, roof-mounted air vents, 8-way adjustable driver seats and 4.2-inch MID. The seats are well contoured, comfortable and offer good under thigh support. Legroom on offer in the back row is adequate.

IMG_3128.jpgSAFETY FEATURES:
The Yaris comes with a host of safety features such as ABS, EBD, brake assist, hill assist, front and rear parking sensors with camera, front and rear fog lamps, seatbelt reminder warning for driver and co-driver.

THE ENGINE:
Under the bonnet the Yaris remains unchanged. It still uses the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine which delivers 107 PS of power and 140 Nm of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed CVT gearbox.

FullSizeRender(4).jpgDRIVE EXPERIENCE:
Press the start button and the car kicks to life quietly. There’s a relaxed tranquillity about the way the Yaris sounds like while idling. Shift into Drive mode, press on the accelerator pedal,  the 1st thing you experience is how easy the car feels to drive.

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In the first 10 minutes of driving the car one thing was obvious. The Yaris is the ideal vehicle to drive in the city. The engine is responsive enough, with a smooth CVT transmission. It’s perfectly at home in in the stop-go traffic, going about its job in an efficient fashion.

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The quality of our roads isn’t the best. That didn’t bother the Yaris one bit. It went over potholes, unpaved, broken stretches of road without any fuss. The ride quality is top notch. The suspension has been perfectly setup for our roads, the relatively tall tyres providing the right amount of cushioning to make the daily drive a hassle-free activity.

The visibility on offer is very good, Throttle response and braking sharp and precise. The CVT transmission is extremely smooth, downshifts and upshifts happen with any noticeable lag. This is one of the better CVT’s in the business right now.

The Yaris takes a tad bit to respond when you start accelerating. While this aspect is fine in the city, on the highway you want the car to respond in a brisker fashion. Overtaking is a bit of a task courtesy the flat mid-range of the engine.

The Yaris is extremely steady and planted at triple digit speeds. The customary speed warning starts beeping the moment you touch 80kmph. This is part of the safety norms for BSVI cars. The Yaris comes with 476 litre bootspace which is very impressive for a midsize sedan.

The fuel efficiency figures the Yaris returned were very good. Over the 300 kms I drove on this review it returned an average of 10.5 kpl in traffic. On the highway it went up to16.8 kpl.

PRICING
The pricing for the Toyota Yaris J manual starts at Rs 9.40 lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai, the J model CVT starts at Rs 10.10 lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai.

CONCLUSION:
The Yaris is a compact, solid and efficient sedan which comes with the Toyota brand of efficiency and reliability. Easy to drive with a no-nonsense approach, the Yaris is the ideal companion for everyday driving.

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REVIEW-THE NEW POLO GT TSI

2009 was when the 1st Volkswagen Polo came to our shores. Its 10 years now since then, but the loyalty and love the VW Polo shares amongst buyers and enthusiasts remains unchanged. That’s why it’s no surprise that the VW Polo has the distinction of being ranked no 1. for three years in a row according to the J.D. Power 2018 India Initial Study.Snapseed_2Down the years I have been fortunate to drive various models of the Polo during reviews. Every single time I have come back impressed. Last week I spent a few days with the 2019 Volkswagen POLO GT TSI the top variant in the Polo lineup.IMG_2649The 2019 model comes with quite a few exterior changes while retaining the timeless quality and appeal its known for. The new Polo comes in a brand new colour “Sunset Red” which gives the car a striking and sporty appearance. One gets new sporty side skirts, new smoked oil lamps, restyled tail lamps with LED elements, GTI inspired honeycomb front grille and bumpers, 16 inch alloys, rear bumpers with a faux diffuser-like black plastic.IMG_2647Step inside and you get a sporty looking flat-bottomed steering wheel that has controls on both sides of the wheel for audio, phone and multi-information display. The centre console has a silver finish on the exterior edges. The dual-tone interiors are very premium in finish. Chrome is prevalent even in the outlining around the air vents. The door mounted armrests have a fabric finish, seats are very comfortable and offer excellent under thigh support. Shoulder and headroom on offer is very good too. The legroom in the back seats is ideal for someone of average height. The Polo is a comfortable car for 4 passengers for long trips. The 5th person may find it a little discomforting courtesy the high tunnel height in the rear.IMG_2648The Polo I reviewed was the GT TSI that comes with a 1.2 litre engine that puts out 105PS horsepower and 175Nm of Torque. The transmission doing duty on this model is the legendary 7-speed DSG.

Start the engine, give it a rev, immediately you can sense the power under the hood. Put it into gear, step on the pedal and you get to experience the insane power the GT TSI offers. There’s zero lag going through the gears and before you know it, the car zooms away. The basic architecture of the engine is the same from the previous model, with a variable geometry turbocharger which force feeds air into the combustion chamber. The cabin is well insulated from engine sound, even while accelerating courtesy good NVH levels. The gear ratio is spread out specifically to help with the fuel efficiency figures the Polo returns.Snapseed 7Driving the Polo is something I have always come to enjoy. I enjoy driving hatchbacks that are complete in every sense of the word. In traffic the Polo is very easy to manoeuvre, overtaking is a breeze. Finding parking is effortless courtesy the size of the Polo. Safety in the Polo as with all Volkswagen cars is of the highest standards. ABS and front-dual airbags are standard across its range. An industry first in its segment.Snapseed 6Driving out of town on the weekend in the Polo was when I got to experience the full refinement and power of this 1.2 litre petrol engine. This is a car that remains planted even at high speeds.

The Polo handles all types of roads with ease, something that is a trademark of all VW cars. The suspension is soft enough to assure a comfortable ride quality over long distances. Braking is sharp, which is extremely confidence assuring when pushing the car hard into corners.Snapseed 4The Polo GT TSI is the ultimate hot hatchback for the enthusiasts.  The price for the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI is Rs 9.76 Lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai.Snapseed_1

REVIEW: THE NEW VOLKSWAGEN VENTO

The Diwali week started with a bang. I was reviewing one of my favourite sedans the new Vento which was launched in the beginning of September this year. The Vento is a car I have driven extensively. Whether it’s driving the stock or race versions, the Vento always brings a smile to my face.

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The new Vento comes with a host of changes to the exterior. It’s now available in a brand-new colour “Sunset Red”. The Vento is now more vibrant, younger and sportier courtesy the new side skirts, smoked oil lamps, GTI inspired honeycomb front grille and bumpers, cool looking black coloured roof and a rear bumper with diffuser.

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Step inside and the first thing you notice is the 2 toned beige and black interior colour scheme. The seats are all beige adding to the plush look of the new Vento. The flat-bottomed steering is both height and reach adjustable. The seats are very comfortable and offer good under thigh and lumbar support. The Vento comes with aluminium brake and accelerator pedals, glove box light, 16-inch Grey Portago alloy wheels, body colour rear spoiler and rear USB charging port. All variants of the new Vento now get a seat-belt reminder system, rear parking sensors and a speed alert system. Dual airbags and ABS have always been standard across the Vento range, that remains unchanged with this facelift. The boot space on offer in the new Vento is 494 litres.

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The cabin is spacious offering good leg, shoulder and head room in both rows. The suspension is setup perfectly for our road conditions. Post the monsoon roads in India are usually at their worst. It didn’t matter to the Vento. It handled bad roads, potholes with ease without any of the passengers in the car complaining of discomfort.

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The new Vento comes with Volkswagen Connect as a standard on the Highline trim and higher variants. Volkswagen Connect is a dongle-based connectivity suite which offers you features such as trip tracking, driver behaviour and statistic tracking, fuel cost monitoring, location sharing amongst other features. This system also helps to schedule service appointments with authorised Volkswagen India showrooms in India.

The engine in the new Vento 1.5 TDI DSG that I drove was the same as the older model. Go past 1500 rpm and the car springs to life. The acceleration is brisk, overtaking is done without too much effort, the car stays planted at all times and is extremely secure at any speed. The handling, braking, driving dynamics on the new Vento are very impressive. It offers solidity which one has come to expect in all Volkswagen cars.

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The Vento churns out 108Hp at 4000rpm and 250Nm@1500-30000 RPM of power. The ARAI claimed mileage is 21.5 kmpl. The mileage figures I got on this trip with the new Vento were excellent.

The real pleasure of driving Volkswagen cars comes courtesy their legendary “DSG” gearbox… This is something I mention every time I drive cars from the Volkswagen group. This is by far the best gearbox in the business. Upshifts and downshifts are swift and smooth, there’s no lag at all. This makes driving the Vento in any kind of traffic conditions a relaxing affair.

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Prices for the new Vento start at Rs 8.76 Lakhs ex showroom Mumbai for the Trendline (base model) 1.6 Petrol and Rs 9.59 lakhs  for the Trendline(base model) 1.5 Diesel.

 

NEW LAUNCH-KIA SELTOS

Kia Motors, the world’s 8thlargest automaker today launched its first product inmid-SUV segment, the Seltos in the Indian market with an introductory price starting from INR 9.69 lakhs (Ex-showroom PAN India) for the entry level Petrol Smartstream G1.5 HTE model going up to INR 15.99 Lakhs (Ex-showroom PAN India) for the Diesel1.5 CRDi HTX plus (6AT) and Petrol Smartstream 1.4 T GdiGTX (7DCT) and GTX plus top-end variant. The Seltos is BS-VI compliant and available in both petrol and diesel variants with manual and automatic transmission options.

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The company also announced the receipt of record 320,35 bookings for the Seltos so far which has set a new benchmark for the mid-SUV segment in the country. Kia Motors India is well equipped to handle the overwhelming demand for Seltos in the market.  The company’s Anantapur plant has an annual production capacity of 3,00,000 units which will allow the company to smoothly cater to the increasing demand of Seltos in the country.

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Commenting on the occasion, Mr Kookhyun Shim, MD & CEO, Kia Motors India said, “The Seltos has been one of the most ambitious projects for Kia Motors and even more so for Kia Motors India. The Seltos marks the arrival of Kia in India for the first time, and we have put our heart and soul into this product. The Seltos is all about surprising everyone with its premium features,distinctive design, supreme quality, refined and powerful engine options, addictive performance and so much more. It is BS-VI compliant and has undergone extensive testing to meet emission norms even with the currently available BS-IV fuel, which makes it future proof. With the most advanced set of engine, fuel and transmission options in Seltos, we are confident to address all the unmet needs of the segment today. For our new age digital savvy customer, we have also designed a complete digital journey from booking, sales and delivery to aftersales service thereby ensuring the most evolved ownership experience ever. I am confident that Seltos will redefine the entire mid SUV segment in India.

Seltos is available in Smartstream 1.4 turbo petrol with a 6-speed manual/7-speed DCT, smartstream 1.5 petrol with 6speed manual/IVT and 1.5 diesel VGT with 6speed manual/6speed automatic. Further, all theengines will be BS-VI compliant, making Seltos the first car in the segment to meet the emissions norms that will come into effect next year. The Seltos will have two distinct design lines – Tech Line aimed at family-oriented customers and GT Line aimed at enthusiasts who are young at heart. The Seltos line up will get premium and smart features such as 8.0 inch heads-up-display, 10.25 inch HD touchscreen, a hi-tech sound mood lamp, a rear shade curtain, 360 degree surround view monitor, blind spot monitoring, world’s first connected air-purifier, highly advanced proprietary UVO connect system with 37 unique features for a wirelessand seamless communication with the car, an 8-Speaker Bose Hi-Fi sound system with sound mood lamp and more. Host of safety features, ESC, VSM, 6 Airbags and use of AHSS– Advanced high strength steel.

The Kia Seltos will be offered in a variety of 8 sensuouscolors and will get 5 dual tone options to keep the young and dynamic character of the car intact.

Further easing the buying process, Kia’s partnership with 8 leading banks of India will help the customers get the most attractive financing options with the lowest interest rates and desired paying back period. To add more comfort to the buying process for the customer, the company has designed a unique online purchase process, which begins with booking, selection, to financing and closes with delivery. Two leading banks of the country have tied up with the company to offer a complete online financing option to customers as well.

Seltos will come with Kia Motors’ comprehensive Promise to care service program which has been designed on the core philosophy of CARE-Connected, Adaptive, Responsive and Engage, which dovetails into a never before service experience for our customers. The service network of across 160 cities in India issupported by a digitized, IOT enabled Kia LINK app to efficiently manage service lifecycle. Spare parts network ensures spare parts are available across the country through 4 Parts Depots in Chennai, Navi Mumbai, Delhi NCR and Kolkata. The Seltos comes with a 3 years comprehensive warranty, extendable upto 5 years. The offering includes 24/7 Road side assistance of 3 years and scratch care program for one time free repair, amongst others.

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PRICE

There will be a total of 16 variants, the ex-showroom prices of which are:

The deliveries of the Seltos will begin today and bookings will remain open and the interested customer can purchase the Seltos at any one of the 265 customer touchpoints across 160 cities or can even purchase the car online by logging onto www.kia.com/in

All India (EX. Showroom Price   in Lacs)

Tech Line

All India (EX. Showroom Pricein Lacs)

GT Line

Petrol

Diesel

Petrol

Smartstream G1.5

1.5 CRDi VGT

Smartstream

1.4 T – GDi

HTE

9.69

9.99

GTK

13.49

HTK

9.99

11.19

GTX

14.99

15.99  (7 DCT)

HTK Plus

11.19

12.19

13.19  (6 AT)

GTX Plus

15.99

HTX

12.79

13.79  (IVT)

13.79

HTX Plus

14.99

15.99 (6 AT)

NEW LAUNCH-THE NEW MARUTI XL6

Driving forth the NEXA values of global experience, innovation and excitement, Maruti Suzuki India Limited today launched its all new premium MPV, the XL6. Available at over 360 NEXA dealerships across the country, the exclusive 6-seater, XL6, is a blend of stylish exteriors coupled with plush interiors.

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Presenting the XL6 to customers, Mr. Kenichi Ayukawa, Managing Director and CEO, Maruti Suzuki India, said, “There is a considerable increase in demand for premium MPVs owing to the ever-evolving customer needs. At Maruti Suzuki, we always bring out products that match and compliment customer’s demand. Backed by NEXA’s focus on creation and innovation, the XL6 is a testament of our commitment to bring the newest technologies to our customers. The XL6 strikes a perfect balance of style, space, comfort, performance and safety. We are confident that our exclusive 6-seater, the XL6 will strike a chord with today’s customer who seeks Comfort and Style.”

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XL6 Exterior – BOLD, ICONIC, SPORTY AND ASPIRATIONAL

The bold exterior design of the XL6 reflects aspirations of urban individuals who need space without compromising on style.Its raised hood and unique grille with bold cross-bar design element sweeping into the head-lamps ending with the inset LED DRLs add to XL6’s imposing, rugged and tough stance.The Stylish all black Alloy wheels, Roof rails and side claddings along with expressive side profile add to vehicle’s personality. Signature Quad LED headlamps and tail lamps with LED light guide are designed to captivate anyone with their detailing.

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INSIDE THE ALL NEW XL6 – BUSINESS CLASS, TECH-SAVVY AND SOPHISTICATED

The exceptional driving experience of XL6 is enhanced by the sophisticated and plush interiors.The all black interiors, with Premium stone finish and rich silver accents sweeping across the cabin impart a sophisticated touch.  The slim wide Instrument panel emphasizes the width of the car, adding to the overall feel of space and carrying forward the exterior

The XL6 prices are as follows:

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NEW LAUNCH-THE ALL NEW BMW 3 SERIES

The all-new BMW 3 Series, the power-packed seventh generation of the world’s most iconic sports sedan, was unveiled today at the ‘Thrill City’ in Gurugram. Locally produced at BMW Group Plant Chennai, the all-new BMW 3 Series is now available in diesel and petrol variants at all BMW dealerships across India.

849034B8-F116-4DD9-8981-CDCEC0EBCE2F.jpegMr. Rudratej Singh, President and Chief Executive Officer, BMW Group India said, “The 3 is the heart and soul of BMW. As the ultimate sports sedan, for over four decades, it has been the flag bearer of ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’. In its new avatar, the 3 has outdone itself once again! Built for thrill and driven by technology, the all-new BMW 3 Series is an automobile that creates an impeccable harmony between the driver, the machine and the road. Enthusiasts waiting for the perfect luxury sports sedan will be undoubtedly drawn to its new design, generous space, luxurious interiors and host of innovative technologies. Our current patrons, who swear by the unmatched driving character of the 3, will be equally thrilled with its enhanced best-in-class handling and agility.”

029B5106-7E76-445B-9870-930E06837979‘Thrill City’, a unique pop-up space, reflects the pulse of modern city life, full of buzzing entertainment, high skylines, city squares and even has its own nightclub. Created exclusively for the launch, it showcases the highly-urban, dynamic and spirited personality of the all-new BMW 3 Series.

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The all-new BMW 3 Series makes an incredible impression with segment-first technologies for an even better driving experience. Making its debut in the all-new BMW 3 Series is the BMW Virtual Assistant, a digital personality of the vehicle that responds to voice commands. It sets a new benchmark for voice recognition. Drivers can operate a number of car functions simply by speaking to their BMW Virtual Assistant. It can be addressed by saying “Hey BMW” or a customer-defined wake word, thereby adding an individual touch to the car. Hands do the talking with BMW Gesture Control, which is part of a rigorously thought-out operating concept that recognizes six pre-defined hand movements for control of a number of functions. The spread of driver assistancesystems is more extensive than ever. The Reversing Assistant provides unmatched support in reversing out of a parking spot or through narrow driveways. It keeps a record of the last 50 metres driven and assists by taking over the steering.

Overwhelming driving comfort of the all-new BMW 3 Series is a result of the debut of lift-related damper control that reduces body movement perceptibly caused by bumpy road surfaces and dynamic cornering, which paves the way for sporty, authoritative handling.

The all-new BMW 3 Series adapts perfectly not only to a dynamic lifestyle but also to personal taste. It is available in three design schemes – Sport, Luxury Line and M Sport. Sport celebrates the gust of adrenaline with sporty style and self-confidence. Luxury Line indulges movement in style and endows elegance. M Sport package bestows masculine character distinguishing itself as an elite sports model.

The all-new BMW 3 Series is available in two diesel variants (BMW 320d Sport and BMW 320d Luxury Line) and in one petrol variant (BMW 330i M Sport) which are locally produced. The ex-showroom prices are as follows :

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BMW 320d Sport – INR 41,40,000

BMW 320d Luxury Line –   INR 46,90,000

BMW 330i M Sport –   INR 47,90,000

VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN EXPERIENTIAL DRIVE

The last week of October took me to an area and location I hadn’t visited in quite a while. I was driving out early on Saturday morning to the Volkswagen Tiguan Experiential Drive being held at Mukesh Mills in Colaba. For anybody who’s grown up watching movies, music videos in the 90’s Mukesh Mills is immediately recognisable. Countless films and videos have been shot there. Every part of this defunct mill has been used in films to depict all sorts of locations and situations.

Experiencing the Tiguan in such an environment would be interesting!

After the usual registration process, we were briefed by Dr. Tejas Kothari a well-known off-roading expert of what we would experience on the course.

The first obstacle that was created was the terrapod. This would get us to gauge the Tiguan’s ability to handle different alterations in height. How it manages to stay stable and clear this obstacle successfully. I went about doing this activity with the usual sense of caution. Tejas who was the instructor, goaded me on, making corrections when I was veering off. Being on 2 wheels in a moving car is always exciting. This was no different!

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The next obstacle we experienced was the axle breakers. Here one got to see first-hand, the ability of the Tiguan to transfer the requisite amount of torque between the wheels, while they were struggling to find traction. Tejas instructed me to go easy and slow on the throttle, that being the key to clearing this activity smoothly. I did just that.

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Now we moved to the final activity of the drive.
The last activity was to test the ABS of the Tiguan. How it reacts during sudden braking at fast speeds, while attempting a lane change. Tejas told me to step hard on the throttle and slam the brakes the moment we reach the braking marker. The Tiguan managed this activity with ease, showcasing how well the ABS works in such situations.

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At the end of this experiential drive one got a different appreciation of the Tiguan.

A SUV which I have spent lots of time driving in the recent past.

APACHE RTR 160 4V – THE POCKET ROCKET

The first time I rode an Apache RTR was almost a decade back. It was an Apache 180 and we rode to Bordi and back. The impressions that I still have about the bike, that it was quick, nimble around traffic with superlative cornering ability. I wish it had more top end power but then the category it was competing in was controlled by that infamous line “Kitna Deti Hain?”.

Years have passed by, lots of bikes across categories have come and gone. Yet, I always look forward to riding an Apache RTR motorcycle.

TVS Apache bikes have come to redefine the way small and medium size bikes can have a high FTR (Fun to Ride) element to it while still being economical and well priced.

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In the last one month, I have been lucky to spend time with the APACHE RTR 160 4V on 2 occasions. My 1st impression on seeing the bike is; this is a good-looking bike which shows off its racing pedigree.

The TVS RTR 160 4V has been modelled as a smaller version of the Apache 200 4V. You can tell what the brief to the RTR designers would have been while designing this bike. To create a bike that is compact, has racing bike ethos, is forward leaning in stance with a stand out strong design.

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For the enthusiast, I must mention that the extended fuel tank cowl is home to ram-air intakes. This cuts drag and controls the flow of cool air over the engine keeping the temperature in check letting the engine run efficiently.

The sharp design continues right up to the tail piece of the bike. The LED headlamps are also designed in a fashion, to make the RTR 160 look like a street fighter.

The motor in the RTR 160 4V is built around the new four-valve engine platform, which is what the 4V stands for. The 159.7cc single-cylinder produces 16.6 hp in the FI variant. The carburetted version makes 16.3 hp at 8000 rpm. Peak torque figure stands at 14.8 Nm for both bikes making it the most powerful bike in this segment.

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The Apache RTR 4V feels comfortable the moment you get on the bike. A smooth and fast pickup is something I have experienced in all the Apache’s I have ridden so far. The RTR 160 4V is no different. The 1st day I rode, it was a mix of all sorts of road and traffic conditions. Not once did the commute feel cumbersome. The RTR 160 is fast, extremely flickable, helping one manoeuvre easily in traffic. Cornering gets even better in this motorcycle. The disc brakes on this bike are sharp and responsive. The ride quality is very good, potholes, speed breakers and such, are handled quite adeptly. The power delivery across the band is uniform and linear. The single piece contoured seat is comfortable in traffic or while riding hard into corners.

The RTR 160 4V presents a strong case for young buyers looking for a first ride that is reasonable to buy, easy to maintain and awesome to ride. The RTR 160 4V is also a great bike for budding racers to learn on.  Take this out on a race track on track days. It will surely hold its own on the track. This is testimony to the numerous titles TVS Racing has won with the race spec version of the same motorcycle.

From commuting to riding fast on the track, this is the bike to start with! So, what you budding bikers/ to-be racers waiting for! Go to a TVS dealership now and check out the APACHE RTR 160 4V.

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Pricing for the Apache RTR 160 4V starts at Rs 81,800/- for the carburettor single disc version.  The carburettor dual disc version starts at Rs 84,800/-. The Fuel Injected Dual Disc version starts at 91,800/-

All prices are ex-showroom Mumbai.

LET’S RACE…

Fast cars zooming by…The smell of petrol in the air… Bunch of us from the media driving stock VW Ameo’s on the track… A track which has become synonymous with racing history in India. 18 drivers going hell for rubber in one of the best racing championships. Me getting access to drive the ITC VW Vento on track! If this feels like a dream every petrol head has, it sure was… A dream where I did all these things… Well, I didn’t race in the championships, but did everything else… So, without any further ado…

Thursday morning started in a spectacular way. 6 in the morning, I arrived at the Buddh International Circuit, India’s only F1 track in Greater Noida. We were invited by Volkswagen India to drive their stock Ameo’s on the track. This would give us a first-hand experience of the handling and performance of these vehicles, in an arena where you push the cars to the edge.

After the customary safety briefing by Rayomand Banajee and Karthik Tharani Singh, the two mentors/trainers of the VW Racing programme, we headed to the track.

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Paired in groups of 2 per car, we were to follow the lead cars being driven by Rayo and Karthik. I was paired with a very good friend, Ashish Jha a well-known print and TV journalist. Our lead car was being driven by Karthik. At the end of 2 laps the drivers would interchange places within the Ameo. Ashish took driving honours at the start. He has raced professionally long back which was evident in the way he kept pace with Karthik. Then came my turn. I was very lucky to have someone like Ashish who gave me a crash course in learning the racing lines. He was giving me instructions on when to brake, get on the throttle, turning hard into corners. By lap 3, I could see a marked improvement in following the racing lines.

By the time we finished, my smile refused to leave my face. Post our drive, we were taken for taxi drives in the VW Ameo cup cars by Rayo, Karthik and Sirish Vissa, Head Volkswagen Motorsport India. This was a complete contrast to our earlier drive, giving us a total perspective on how versatile and fast the Ameo can be.

This weekend was the final race weekend of the VW Ameo Cup 2018. The title was a foregone conclusion, barring a horrible and practically impossible result for the leader Dhruv Mohite. Dhruv had impressed all season and this weekend didn’t look any different. VW Motorsport India had invited 2 well known motoring journalists Dhruv Behl editor/publisher autoX and Cyrus Dhabhar Car & Bike Show, NDTV India to race during this weekend. Dhruv is undoubtedly the fastest driver amongst the automotive media fraternity in India. They were going to 3 free practice sessions and from session 1 the drivers went for it.

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Dhruv Mohite was setting the fastest times which wasn’t a surprise. The real surprise came from Dhruv Behl’s timings… He was just a second off Dhruv Mohite’s timings. Considering this was the 1st time he had tested and driven this car it was a phenomenal result. But those who know Dhruv’s Behl’s racing history know in the past he has started from the last place on the grid and landed up on the podium. Now the drivers had to contend with a journalist apart from their own. This was building up to an exciting qualifying session on Saturday.

DAY 2 started off with me riding around the pits on Ducati motorcycles. Yes you read it right! Apart from the excitement of the VW Ameo cup cars there was a Ducati Hypermotard, 848 Evo and Multistrada at the track. These belonged to Sirish Vissa Head, VW Motorsport India, Adhish Alawani Head Corporate Communications VW Motorsport India and Aaron Mendonza a sailor by profession. Adhish and Aaron along with a 3rd friend had ridden their Ducati’s from Pune to Delhi!

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This afternoon I was going to drive the VW ITC Vento around BIC! When I got into the Vento and started it…woaah!, This car was loud. Driving out of the pits and onto an empty track, well the fun had just begun. The education of learning the racing lines was very helpful (Thank you Ashish 🙂 ).

The ITC Volkswagen Vento race car is powered by a 1.8-litre TSI engine, mated to a 3MO sequential gearbox with a manual gearshift lever. Driving this on the track is challenging and exciting at the same time. The Vento has been designed to participate in the Indian Touring Championships. Thus the whole setup of the car is different from the Ameo Cup car. Its’s lighter than the Ameo the suspension is set up differently. Lap 1 in this car was all about learning the limits to which I could drive the car…

Lap 2 onwards I got more confident and comfortable, reflecting in the improvement in lap times (nowhere close to the times being set by the professional racers!) The few laps I drove the Vento around the BIC was enough to convince me, that this is what I am going to buy in the future for track days…

On discussing this with Sirish, he told me this is exactly what they want. They are looking to sell this car to prospective customers who want to buy a race car for track days. This is a first of sorts, as no other car track racing programme in India offers such an opportunity. If anyone is interested, please get in touch with Volkswagen Motorsport for the Vento. Believe me, you will not want to stop driving this car, that’s how good the Vento is!

By the time we headed to the hotel nothing could wipe the look of satisfaction off my face…

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THE AMEO CUP

Saturday arrived with a bang. For the 1st time in my life, I sat pillion on a superbike. Riding to the track on Adhish’s 848 Evo was one mad experience… Most people at the track felt I was crazy! Today’s agenda was the last practice of the season and then qualifying. The practice session went according to script, with the favourites clocking good times.

Post lunch when qualifying started all the predictions went out of the window. Pratik Sonawane drove like a man possessed. He was in the form of his life, reflected in the lap time he set. He set a time of 2:21:595 a good 0.6 seconds faster than favourite Dhruv Mohite. Dhruv Behl took the 3rd place on the grid, which wasn’t surprising, considering the pace he set in practice.

Would Pratik Sonawane upset Dhruv Mohite? Will Dhruv Behl be good enough to get on the podium. These questions and more were discussed over dinner and late into the night. The day finally arrived. Sunday was a packed race day. Apart from the 2 Ameo Cup races, there were 2-wheeler races as well.

The atmosphere in the pits was a mix of tension, uncertainty and anxiety for the drivers. The support crew and mechanics were happy at a successful season coming to an end. There was a substantial level of crowd support. This was very heartening to see. Motorsports is probably one of the most exciting sports to watch anywhere in the world.

India is still playing catch up, which is surprising as at one time race weekends attracted crowds in the thousands in the decades 70’s till the early 90’s…

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Race 1 started half an hour behind schedule. But the moment they went on their sighting lap, you could see these guys meant business. All the camaraderie in the pits was forgotten. Now it was each man/woman for himself/herself… The race started.

By lap 1 the pre-race script was thrown out of the window. Dhruv Mohite was immediately in the lead. However, later in the first lap he had an incident with Pratik Sonawane which pushed him down the order. This gave Dhruv Behl a chance to take the lead, followed by Pratik Sonawane and Saurav Bandyopadhyay. On the last corner of Lap 1 Arefeen Raafi Ahmed had an incident that caused the Safety Car to come out. Since, Arefeen’s car was stranded at the last corner so, the race had to be red flagged and restarted. Shortly after the restart, Shubhomoy Ball went off the third corner that forced the Safety Car to come back in again. Unfortunately for everyone concerned the rest of Race 1 was held under Safety Car. The top three drivers stayed in the same order till the chequered flag with the Safety Car going back into the pits only on the last lap.

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A mention here for Saurav Bandyopadhyay who had just recovered from dengue. He had missed most of the free practice sessions earlier in the week. This didn’t stop him from taking the third position. Hats off to his resilience and passion for racing.

Race 2 started off with Jeet in the pole position, Dhruv Mohite in the second position and Anmol Singh in the third position. On the second lap of the race Akshay Bhivshet and Tauhid Anwar spun off in the first corner bringing out the Safety Car. Unlike the first race though, the Safety Car went back in after two laps and the drivers got back on to race pace. On the fifth lap, Affan challenged Anmol for the third position, got past him and held his position till the last lap. Anmol didn’t give up till the end and made his move on Affan on the last lap to clinch the final spot on the podium.

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With Dhruv Mohite finishing second in the race, he secured enough points to win the Ameo Cup 2018 title with a strong lead over Saurav Bandyopadhyay. The battle for the second position in the final standings was a tight one between Saurav and Jeet, with Jeet having to settle in third position overall. The Junior star of the Ameo Cup 2018 was Shubhomoy Ball who showed terrific dedication throughout the season. With a gap of over 92 points in the final standings of the Junior category, it was a clear win for Shubhomoy.

Sirish and his team had once again run a fantastic season. The Ameo Cup is one of the finest in the country and doing so much to unearth racing talent in India. Now it was time for the after party and celebrations.

Driving various cars on tracks, racing Ducati’s, it was one crazy adrenaline fuelled adventure. A big thank you to everyone at Volkswagen Motor Sport for inviting me for this event. Can’t wait for the next season of the Ameo Cup to start…

See you at the VW Ameo Cup in 2019…

Driving down memory lane with Srinivas Krishnan

My first memories of cars and bikes in the family starts with trucks, actually. Transportation – cars, trucks, buses and driving – was always in the blood, as I am the third generation of a family which had a business in bulk and passenger transport, with our headquarters in Mettur Dam near Salem, in Tamil Nadu. So, the very first memories are of a GMC truck with our company logo on the doors: the letters MKS stylised in a circle. MDY 3758 was purchased second-hand from Mysore state, sometime around 1958. This historic truck with which my grandfather started the transport business was like the venerable grandpa among the other Tatas and Ashok Leylands. It stood apart even when I was a child – so it’s no wonder that it’s imprinted in my mind. Among cars there was a dark blue Plymouth Savoy which too was purchased second-hand. Exclusively driven by the cantankerous, lungi-clad Abbasbhai, the Plymouth inevitably received a diesel engine transplant in our spacious workshop in Mettur. It was the special car compared to the other chubby Ambassadors around.

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The one we had in Mumbai was a Hindustan Motors Ambassador Mark II, stylishly finished in a green-and-cream dual tone. MMB 4856 was the first one we had in the city. I remember being ferried around in Chembur – where I have been staying all my life – sitting on my dad’s lap while he was driving. Today, when I see other dads doing the same, I dissuade them – it’s so dangerous. But in those days…

I was caught by the cops while learning to drive. Because I didn’t have a learner’s license. And why didn’t I have one? Because I was only thirteen years old. In my defence, I was not driving alone – my driver was teaching me to drive in MMB 4856. It so happened that I couldn’t get the hang of shifting gears and stalled the car on the road near Deonar. It came to the attention of some cops who were passing by. I think they took the driver’s licence away and my father had to pay a fine. I think it was around 750 bucks, which was pretty hefty in those days. My father also told me that I was going to be thrown in jail. I protested, saying that he was the one who allowed me to go! So, the point I am making is that: 1. I was underage, but I was ‘officially’ allowed to learn to drive.
2. As mentioned, it was in our blood. Even if my father didn’t allow me, I would have sneaked out with the car – driver or no driver.

I added the finishing touches to my basic driving skills in the car that replaced the faithful Ambassador. Sorry, not car, but jeep. It was a Mahindra Commander. Which was just as well, because column-shifts were giving way to floor-shifts. And SUVs would eventually become trendy (after two-three decades, of course, but it’s nice to think we were ahead of the curve). Well before the time I turned 18 I was pretty competent in my driving skills and giving the driving test was just a formality. In fact, the RTO officer actually complimented me on my driving and familiarity with all the road signs – unlike academics, it was the one of the few tests I passed with flying colours.

However I would like to add though we may think of ourselves as expert drivers, learning to drive never ends. Each day is different, as driving situations change every single time you get behind the wheel. Though I am lucky to have attended advanced driver training schools as part of my motoring journalism career, one should never take one’s capabilities for granted. Always exercise a sense of caution, especially on the unpredictable conditions of our Indian roads.

My first wife is Miriam, my 1960 Volkswagen Beetle and she is also my first car. I knew it all the while that my first car had to be something special, something different. So Miriam has been part of my life over the last twenty-plus years. I shall shamefacedly admit for half of that time, she was either parked in my building stilts or in a garage. But now she gets out more frequently, at least once a week. Though she is not in great condition, she at least starts quickly and runs on her own power. And she wears the brightest yellow on the planet – a paint scheme that is luminous even after ten-plus years, so she is pretty hard to miss on the roads.

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For a daily driver, I have a 1.3 Suzuki S-Cross. It fits my needs perfectly – it’s of the right height so that my parents find it easy to get in and out. Also it has a massive boot so that Aditya Bengali – that crack photographer – can comfortably take tracking shots of me driving other old cars. While on the inside, three adults can sit comfortably abreast in the rear seat, and with good leg room too. I could have done with some additional torque and horses, but other than that, the S-Cross drives well, build quality is good and it is easily the best Suzuki in the market today when it comes to ride quality.

There is no doubt that, I would give little parts of my body to own a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. To me, no car comes close to it. It is the pinnacle when it comes to my automotive desires, though I wouldn’t pass up the offer to acquire the legendary Uhlenhaut coupe if it was possible (only two were produced). The Gullwing is like one of God’s creations because everything about it was functional but that’s exactly what made it so visceral in appearance. Like a shark which is designed down to its dermal denticles to be an apex predator, the Gullwing was designed to be the most affordable way to get closest to breaking the speed of sound back in the 1950s. Well, you get what I mean. And here’s my favourite factoid about the 300 SL – the road-going car that customers could buy was even more powerful than the thoroughbred race car it was based on! Other than my Beetle, it has also the best butt in the business. Oh, I could go on and on…

Here’s what’s interesting about my relationship with the Gullwing but, it’s a bit of a soppy and sentimental story, so if you want to skip it, please do…
When I started life as a motoring journalist, I had decided that if I ever get the chance to drive a Gullwing, that would be my acme. I will have no reason to be a motoring journalist anymore because that would be my singular achievement. Well what do you know, it took 15 years to realise that dream. Yes, a decade and a half. So on June 30, 2012, the exact day I completed 15 years at Business Standard, I drove the Gullwing. It happened during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and I must thank Mercedes-Benz for that. And also Autocar India’s rough diamond Shapur Kotwal – a slightly unhinged but supremely knowledgeable petrolhead (aviationfuelhead and metalhead) – for making it happen for me.

It so happened that in the morning leading up to the drive, I was all excited that my dream was going to become real. But as the day progressed, the chance seemed more and more remote. Several Japanese journalists commandeered the most iconic cars of Mercedes-Benz’s historic fleet and wouldn’t let go of the Museum’s road-worthy Silver Arrow. Seeing me coming close to committing hara-kiri using a sword forged in the hottest flames of disappointment, he decided to take them on to ensure I got around driving the what was arguably world’s first supercar. He abused the Japanese media and the Mercedes-Benz Japan PR in the choicest language only rabid Bawajis can summon and was just about prevented by other media persons from punching them. I do think however that he managed to land a blow or two.

Sometime later, I was drowning my sorrows in scoops of Blackforest cake when a discreet tap on my shoulder indicated I should step outside with Shapur. At a corner of the Goodwood estate, just where all the big rigs were being loaded to take the cars back to Germany, the Gullwing was standing there. It was for me to drive, and the truck was being held back till I finished with it! The instructions being told to me by the car’s caretaker were all a blur as I eased myself inside via that iconic high sill.
It was the quickest minutes of my life (read about it here). I got out of the car and watched it being loaded onto the car carriers. It happened. I think there were two or three people who spotted a grown man sob silently in Goodwood.

I think being a motoring journalist gives you the opportunity to drive on roads others can only dream of. So, I consider myself lucky as a well as been given the privilege to have driven in some of the most fascinating ribbons of tarmac around the world. And in some cases not just tarmac, but packed ice, desert sands, rock-strewn rivers and slippery mud. So rather than tell you where I have already been to, I would like to put out my wishlist: Iceland, the roads of New Zealand, the route of the Carrera Panamericana, Mille Miglia and Targa Florio and of course more of Ladakh, Ladakh and Ladakh.