THE SKODA SUPERB
The hills are alive...with ‘The Sound of Music’. Julie Andrews made that song famous, but in a land known for its musical greats such as Johann Strauss and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is interesting to see a new symphony being penned by a Czech car maker, Škoda Auto. I was in Austria to drive the latest from the Škoda stable—the all-new second generation Superb (it was unveiled at Geneva in March).
The car has a lot to live up to—its predecessor earned a reputation for being luxurious, spacious, efficient, and affordable.
We were given our cars at the Salzburg airport, and given a choice of routes to drive around the pretty Austrian countryside. The car is available in a number of engine and trim options—there are three petrol and two diesel engines on offer, and this includes a V6.
I picked the 2-litre PD diesel and drove out to the Lake District outside Salzburg, with the Wolfgang Lake providing a great backdrop. The winding roads in the area, dotted with hills, were a good test for the car’s handling and ride feel. It was perky, with good engine response. The manual transmission was easy to use, and even though it lacked the electric nature of a sportier gearbox, it was quite satisfactory for a car this size.
As for the Superb’s looks, its design is very much Škoda, and yet has been enhanced with some good use of contemporary touches, such as the non-rectangular head and tail-lamp clusters. I was told that the design team went through various ideas, and finally settled on shapes and lines that were not overtly muscular or aggressive, yet modern, all the while maintaining an elegant stance.
The engineers have also thrown in a surprise. The Octavia was a first of its kind: a sedan-shaped hatch. But while it was very practical, with extra space for luggage, many preferred a sedan to be just a sedan. So, in the Superb, you have the option of opening just the boot lid, or the entire hatch, depending on the button you press on the tail-gate. The “twin doors” are very innovative, and you have the flexibility of either using just the boot or the entire hatch according to your space requirements. The rear seats can collapse, giving you cavernous cargo room.
Škoda has gone into such detail to demonstrate two things: that the company is not just targeting value-for-money buyers or the taxi market with this car, and that it has the engineering prowess and design strengths to deliver world-class products.
So, the Superb is fully loaded with goodies such as headlamp washers and parking sensors. Inside too, the feeling of luxury continues, though in typical VW group style—it’s not in-your-face, but rather subtle and effective.
The Superb has also got some fancy gadgetry on board. The car can park itself, using its parking sensors. It also has adaptive lighting, which means the headlights adjust intensity and reach, based on the requirement, visibility levels and driving style of individual drivers.
With the new generation Superb, Škoda also plans a station wagon or “Combi” version for the first time, though it is not expected to come to India.
The Superb goes on sale in India by the end of this year or early 2009, with an expected price tag of Rs22-25 lakh.
Toyota may be spearheading the campaign on popularizing hybrid technology in many markets around the world but in India, it is going to be Honda that makes the first move. The company’s best-selling Civic mid-size sedan will soon be available in its hybrid variant (Honda first launched a hybrid version of the Civic with the previous generation in 2003). Hybrid essentially means that the vehicle drives on a fossil-fuel-burning engine, coupled with a regenerative electric motor. What particularly excites me is that we are getting the second generation Civic Hybrid with Honda’s latest hybrid technology—which has smart energy saving features such as the idle stop. It shuts off the petrol engine when the car comes to a halt at, say, a traffic light, and restarts as you touch the accelerator pedal. The US spec Civic Hybrid sports a 110bhp, 1.3 litre petrol engine, paired with a lightweight, high-output electric motor, which adds extra power when needed. The specs of the Indian car will be announced at launch, though the same version is expected.
Honda will launch this car in limited volumes in India, and only in white. The Civic Hybrid returns figures of approximately 20km per litre.
This may have got your attention, but do keep one important thing in mind: Honda only makes the Civic Hybrid in Japan, and so it will be fully imported. As a result, I expect it to be priced in the Rs20-22 lakh range.
When Nissan’s Skyline GT-R (1969-1974 and 1989- 2002) went out of production, many speed enthusiasts thought it had died for good. But in late 2007, Nissan’s legend took birth again, as the all-new GT-R. Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn knows this car will set the benchmark in many ways—that is why the best efforts, the best learnings, and the best people were put on this project. And the car has lived up to many expectations. The GT-R has been developed with some key attributes in mind. It was expected to be the epitome of engineering, and still maintain good driving characteristics and control, even at very high speeds. And Nissan has delivered a true blue sports car.
I drove the GT-R at the Estoril circuit just outside Lisbon in Portugal. Driving on a track was a good choice: It allowed me to experience the thrill of the high speeds (topping off at 310 kmph) and the rush of the car’s excellent handling and control first hand. The GT-R is indeed blisteringly fast, and the pickup outstanding. The dual clutch transmission is quick in both manual and automatic modes. Yes, it has Formula-One style gearbox with a paddle shift. The engine is a 3.8 litre twin-turbo charged V6. And it has three drive modes—it lets you adjust gear change time, suspension and traction control.
Nissan launched the car in Japan in December and deliveries in the US and Canada begin this July. Bookings have opened in Europe, too, with deliveries expected by March next year. Can we hope for such a car here in India? Not for a while. But once Nissan achieves its eight model portfolio by 2012, the company says it will consider the niche high-end models for India as well.
Amara Raja Batteries has launched its first batteries for two-wheelers. The Amaron Pro Bike Rider batteries have valve-regulated lead acid technology which the company claims, will provide 30% higher cranking power than batteries currently on offer. Lead acid technology has been more prevalent in batteries for cars and other four-wheelers. These are claimed to be maintenance free and even spill-proof. There is an additional USP: a 60-month warranty. The choice of battery in a two-wheeler was never given much importance. But nowadays buyers are conscious of the product since most scooters and even bikes are self-start. Pro Bike Rider batteries are available in three variants of 2.5 ampere hour (Rs761), 5 ampere hour (Rs1,097) and 9 ampere hour (Rs1,525).
(Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is editor, auto, NDTV)