The Indian automotive market is abuzz. No one’s talking slowdown any more and that is even more apparent with the slew of launches we’ve seen of late: Bajaj has a new Pulsar 220, Toyota’s Land Cruiser is here, Tata has introduced Jaguar and Land Rover, and there’s more.
Honda has once again moved segment benchmarks upwards by bringing in the very capable Jazz hatch. It is spacious, stylish and well-appointed, but also pricey. The for-India-only 1.2 litre engine helps Honda stay within excise regulations for small cars. The engine is surprisingly peppy and eager to perform. Its pickup is decent, though there is only so much this 88 bhp tyke can do. After all, Jazz in most markets is powered by the 115 bhp, 1.5 litre engine we have in the City. Its strengths are in its handling and its suspension, which help it stand apart from the other hatches. This is not a small car by any standard and so you get ample space: The Jazz’s “magic” seats help create lots of space and storage combinations.
Larger hatches such as Hyundai’s i20, Skoda’s Fabia, et al, mean that Indian consumers are finally being treated at par with their European counterparts. But the price sensitivity of the market will be a bigger battle for Honda: Starting at Rs7 lakh, the Jazz is not cheap.
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Fiat’s Grande Punto
This is where the Fiat Grande Punto steps in. Another roomy and capable hatch, Punto also fires the diesel-petrol salvo. And the prices are a lot more attractive: between Rs3.9 lakh and Rs6.11 lakh. The Punto is in many ways the hero of Fiat’s remarkable turnaround globally in the last decade. I first drove the Grande Punto way back in January 2007 and I remain just as impressed with its sharp Italian style as its build quality. When you get the 75 bhp, 1.3 litre diesel Punto out on the road, it is responsive and high on torque, though there is a split-second delay in initial pickup. Get into the 88 bhp, 1.4 petrol and the response is electric and frankly, great fun. The 1.2 with 66 bhp on tap is no joy and frankly, is only there to impress with an entry price tag. The 1.2 isn’t even readily available just yet.
Raising benchmarks: The Honda Jazz.
The Jazz and Punto will knock the competition, especially Skoda Fabia and Maruti Swift. What really pleases me is that we are finally getting the true “hot” hatches—cars that don’t compromise on space, performance and even features—just because there is no boot. I also believe that just as in Europe, here too it will be cars such as these that people will buy more and more, simply because they are practical. I am now waiting for the Volkswagen Polo and Nissan’s Micra to join the party.
Impressive off-roader: Skoda Yeti.
The SUV is perhaps the most aspirational segment in any market. Everyone wants one and that is precisely what the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Chevrolet Captiva have cashed in on. So it’s a great opportunity for Skoda to bring in its next, a compact 4x4 called Yeti, which as I found is anything but abominable!
Impressive in its off-roading skills, the Yeti is also reasonably spacious, with plenty of cargo space configurations. There are two petrol and diesel options with varying power outputs available in Europe, along with the choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. I recently drove three variants in Slovenia, though I expect only the base 1.2 litre TSI petrol (103 bhp) and the 2 litre common rail diesel (109/138 bhp) to make it to India. The launch is scheduled for January and the indicative price tag is Rs14-17 lakh. This means that the Yeti will give stiff competition to the soft-roaders mentioned earlier and is an exciting prospect for the Indian market.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor (auto), NDTV. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org