The last six months have seen 11 new compact SUV models making their global debut. It’s a segment that’s ramping up the sales due to the demand for cleaner burning, fuel efficient, easy to drive and relatively inexpensive SUVs.
The Audi Q5 is the latest entrant, and I am sure it will make its way to India as well. The car maker’s bigger SUV, the Q7, has been fairly popular, but its sheer bulk and pricey image deterred many. I find that most SUV buyers—even in the higher end of the market—prefer a slightly more manageable vehicle, and not necessarily a seven-seater. I would attribute the popularity of Honda’s CR-V to these preferences.
But today we are talking premium luxury—where everything from the Porsche Cayenne to the BMW X range operate. That is where the Q5 fits in. It looks a lot like the Q7, and with good reason, too. The Q7’s styling has attracted many, so Audi decided to design the new one on similar lines. The new Q5’s similarities with its larger sibling end here, though. It is built on the same sedan platform that currently houses the A4 and A5. So, this clearly means that the Q5 is not a hard-core off-roader. Audi prefers to call it a “performance SUV”. Or, in other words, it’s got the juice, but only to a point.
Now this may disappoint many hardcore off-roaders. But then, if you fall in that bracket, you won’t really go shopping for an Audi, would you? That is more Land Rover territory.
Speaking of Land Rover, the Freelander (or LR2) is the prime competitor for the Q5 in Europe. But besides the Rover, the Q5 has got a whole bunch of rivals all over the world. It will take on the Volvo’s soon-to-be-launched XC60, the Lexus RX and, of course, arch-rival BMW’s X3. The good news is that while the Beemer is already available in India, the others will be here by the end of 2009. Now, on to another vital point to keep in mind if you are planning to buy a Q5. Its rear legroom and overall cabin space is more than most of its rivals. The Q5 has a wheelbase of 2.81m. It has been unveiled with three engines. The petrol variant sports a 2 litre engine with 350Nm of torque and 211bhp of power. Indian buyers, I think, would be more interested in the frugal diesels. While the 2 litre turbocharged direct injection (TDI) delivers 350Nm of torque and 170bhp of power, the 3 litre V6 diesel is the brute in the pack with 240 horses on tap and an impressive 500Nm of torque. I expect the 2 litre TDI to be the standard engine on debut in India, since Audi claims a 15kmpl mileage.
So what’s the catch you might ask? Well, Audi is a premium car brand and so this one—even though it is a practical vehicle for India—will be priced up there in the stratosphere. I expect the range to start at about Rs32 lakh, and top off at nearly Rs50 lakh, depending on the specs Audi chooses for India. Clearly, the Q5 is not for everybody.
So, with Audi on overdrive in India, guess what the competition is up to? Well, BMW, which already offers the X3 in India, now wants to make a splash with a convertible. The car maker’s cabriolet or convertible version of the 3 series is all set to debut in India, and as a direct import, the price is expected to hover close to Rs50 lakh.
The 3 series convertible is available in various trims and engine options. The petrol range starts with the 320i and goes to the 335i—that’s 170bhp up to 306bhp covered. On the diesel side, there are three options, ranging from the 177bhp 320d to the 231bhp 330d.
The car is well finished with immaculate interiors. The rear seat, though, is best for kids. The car also has a retractable roof system.
But even with all these frills, BMW is only testing Indian waters, considering that convertibles have not been big news in India. After all, the car will cost ridiculously more than the hard-top, four-door sedan.
I am not sure if there is a market for this kind of a car here, but given the niche it serves, it is good to know that India will soon have options, even in the convertible space.
TASTE THE NEW THUNDER
Royal Enfield (RE) isn’t known for setting the market on fire with regular launches. Even with the all-new Thunderbird Twin Spark, the plan was part of a larger strategy to achieve significant growth without mega investments. The Thunderbird is essentially one more addition to the classic Bullet family of bikes, but it boasts a new engine. Called the UCE (unit construction engine), this is a big departure from the past. All RE bikes ride on a separate engine and gearbox, but the UCE’s combined unit breaks the traditional RE manufacturing mould.
All future products will sport this technology, and this includes the new versions of Machismo, Electra and Bullet 350. While RE insists there is nothing contentious about UCE, which is based on the twin spark plug technology, this writer feels Bajaj Auto Ltd might object to it just as it had to TVS Flame. The Thunderbird Twin Spark has all the features expected in this segment, such as electric start and disc brakes. It offers an easy ride and the ample mid-range torque is very satisfying. The new Thunderbird is a milestone for RE, but the engine could have been superior. The existing engine blocks have been modified for the UCE but a new engine platform may have been better. The use of an overhead cam could have also resulted in hassle-free use. Even so, the bike will attract the brand’s cult followers. At Rs95,000, sales will stay limited, which suits RE, since it is not chasing big volumes.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor, auto, NDTV