Entry Level Hatchback of the Year
Maruti Suzuki Alto 800
Bearing the names of two of the most loved and THE highest selling cars, not just from the Maruti-Suzuki stables, but also the whole of the Indian market, i.e. '800' and 'Alto', there was a lot of pressure on this little car to deliver. But deliver it has, and how. The boffins at Maruti Suzuki have taken the humble Alto and given it such a drastic makeover that it has pretty much become a whole new car, albeit one that carries the company's legacy of making a "peoples' car" effortlessly into the 21st century.
The slightly enlarged proportions boast significantly enhanced cabin space which is leaps and bounds over the older Alto. And while the overall cubic capacity of the little 3-cylinder engine might not have changed, little revisions throughout the drivetrain make for a throughly imrpoved driving experience. The reworked styling that is now much more reminiscent of Japanese 'Kei' cars might not appeal to everyone thanks to its quirks, but the Alto 800 certainly looks much more distinctive than the outgoing model, and makes it very clear that this in no mere facelift.
Although it might not have had any direct competition in its class for this year's Entry-level Hatchback of the Year award, it is a very potent product that is certainly capable of taking on its established competitors - especially when you consider that Maruti Suzuki has kept the pricing unchanged, making it great value for money. (Also read: New Maruti Alto 800 : First Drive)
Premium Hatchback of the Year
Chevrolet Sail U-VA
While it is true that the Premium Hatchback segment, which is definitely a favourite amongst Indian car buyers, didn't see too much action this year, there is no denying the strengths of the two cars that did come along in 2012. In the segment battle, both the Chevrolet Sail U-VA and Renault Pulse impressed the jury in equal, albeit different ways, which left them absolutely level on points. So our editor-in-chief, Adil, had to exercise his powers as the jury chair and deliver the the verdict in favour of the Sail.
The replacement to the Chevrolet Aveo U-VA doesn’t break any new ground as far as styling is concerned though it does look a lot fresher. The interiors are conventional but score high on space and comfort. It also has an impressive 248-litre boot space, making it one of the most spacious luggage haulers in its segment. Though it is available in both petrol and diesel mills, it is the diesel that holds an advantage in terms of performance and mileage. So at the end of the day, it came down to a simple matter of practicality for the buck, where by the slimmest of margins, the Sail managed to trump its only competition this year, the Pulse. But in a segment jam-packed with extremely sensible and competent hatches, whether the Sail will be able to make a name for itself is only something time will tell. (Also read: Chevrolet Sail UVA : First Drive)
Entry-level Sedan of the Year
Maruti Suzuki Dzire
Another segment, another tie. For a little while in the judging process this trend was a little worrying. So again it was left to Adil to decide between these two - the Maruti Suzuki Dzire and the Renault Scala. This decision was even tougher than the one between the two hatchbacks, considering that the larger Scala offers more space and hence is more practical, while the smaller Dzire costs lesser, so is more economical. But at the end of the day, the Dzire does manage to offer quite a lot at its significantly lower price point, which made it the winner of the 2012 Entry-level Sedan of the Year award.
Based on the new Swift which came last year, this new Dzire's magical under 5-lakh rupee starting price for the base model is the result of a smart chop-job. With this sedan's length now measuring under the 4-metre mark, Maruti Suzuki has been able to pass on the tax benefit it enjoyed on to the customer, making this car the very definition of an entry-level sedan. On top of that, the company not just offers the car with both petrol and diesel engines, it throws in an automatic gearbox option as well for the petrol model, which is a sure fire hit amongst the urban crowd. (Also read: New Swift Dzire: First Drive)
And all that coupled with the marque's legendary reliabilty and service record makes the Dzire a winner, even when you factor in the smaller cabin and lack of boot space.
Premium Sedan of the Year
The Elantra badge is back in the Indian market after an overly long hiatus and boy, is it on an absolute stunner of a car! The original car itself was quite impressive for its time, so this new one has a lot of expectations to live up to. Of course, there was nothing else launched in its segment this year, but that doesn't mean that the car has no competition. This premium sedan segment has a host of very competent cars, but the Hyundai really manages to hold its own amongst those as well.
The ‘neo Fludic’ design (as Hyundai calls it) has pretty much taken the automotive world (and we mean the whole world) by storm and has really changed the way we look at Korean cars. With copious curves and slashes, and those gorgeous lights (both at the front and rear) that stretch into the body work, the Elantra is one cool customer. And it’s much the same story on the inside as well. (Also read: Hyundai Elantra: First Drive)
If gadgets are what impress you most, then the Elantra’s cockpit is like a latest generation smart phone. You get keyless entry, a start-stop button, a reversing camera integrated into the rear-view mirror and our personal favourite, air-conditioned seats, the ultimate accessory for driving in the tropics.
While one can nitpick about the lack of involvement in the driving experience, when you take into account the eye-catching design, the abundance of gadgets and features, the comfort levels, and when you factor in the not-so-steep price, as a complete package the Elantra is really hard to beat and really raises the bar in this segment. In fact, we even crowned it the king of the D-segment in a shootout we did a couple of months back.
Luxury Sedan of the Year
The BMW 3-Series is an entry-level luxury sedan that has been on Indian shores for quite sometime. In its sixth-gen avatar, the 3-Series has become a more formidable machine with an aggressive exterior, high-quality and spacious interiors, and retuned engines. Performance on the BMW 3-Series has also been tweaked with an eight speed automatic gearbox that delivers a more fun-filled drive while being frugal, especially the oil-burner. (Also read: New BMW 3 Series : First Drive)
Given the competition the new 3 Series is facing this year, one would think it be a really tough choice, and one would be correct to assume that. The new Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata are very capable cars indeed. But at the end of the day, it was the way the Beemer drove that really impressed the jury. Each time any jury member would return with the 3, his face would always be locked in a semi-silly grin. The 3 is an absolutely joy to drive and it really makes you believe BMW's 'Ultimate Driving Machine' tagline. And this is still the entry-level diesel, the 320d, that we're talking about. Get your hands on the 328i petrol model and you would probably need to be forcefully ejected from the driver's seat when you're done driving.
MPV of the Year
Maruti Suzuki Ertiga
This is the first time that Maruti Suzuki has ventured into the family MPV segment and boy has it got its priorities in order. Rather than mimic the most successful cars in this segment, the Ertiga sets itself apart by being based on the company's premium hatchback platform. Featuring a monocoque chassis and front wheel drive, the Ertiga pulls off a masterstroke of packaging by managing to accomodate three rows of seats (with a fair bit of space as well) in a compact design.
The other advantage the Ertiga offers thanks to the use of the Swift platform is that it also carries over quite a few underpinnings from the hatch, which translates into a fabulous driving experience that is barely different from any regular sedan. This ease of driving aspect should make it the car of choice for the Indian family which needs space for more than five members.
Available in either a 1.4-litre K-series petrol motor that offers superb refinement a fair bit of grunt or the well-established 1.3-litre MultiJet diesel that is a paragon of economy, the Ertiga is a clear winner from every aspect and left our jury members floored. (Also read: Maruti Suzuki Ertiga : First Drive)
Entry-level SUV of the Year
The Renault Duster is definitely the most impressive car to hit the Indian market this year, that is for sure. To be very honest, nobody was expecting much from this little entry-level SUV that's sold under the Dacia (that's Renault's budget brand for the old continent) banner in Europe. But carrying the Renault badge specially for India, the company did its best to spruce up this diminutive softroader and that has paid for in great dividends.
The first thing that strikes you about the Duster is simply the way it looks - like a full sized, macho SUV scaled down to more managable proportions, which makes the Duster extremely desirable. And when you factor in all that it offers apart from aesthetics, it's easy to see why it is such a clear winner. First off, thanks to its wide track and shortish wheel base, the Duster handles almost like a sedan, and a good one at that. Then there's the 1.5-litre DCi diesel mill under the hood, which on paper might seem a little weedy to power an SUV. (Also read: Renault Duster: First Drive)
But when you consider how light the Duster is on its feet, the performance figures are more than enough, and you get good fuel mileage to boot. On the insides, things are a bit Spartan, but the use of some good quality materials give a rich feeling to the interiors.
Overall, the Duster is a fantastic product that appeals to the love for SUVs that is every present in the Indian car buyer's psyche. And to top it off, a decent price point even makes it a good alternative to a lot of mid-level sedans. Perfect!
Premium SUV of the Year
Mahindra Ssangyong Rexton
The Ssangyong Rexton was really the biggest surprise of the year. It came from an almost unheard of (to most) company from Korea which had filed for bankruptcy before Mahindra acquired it a couple of years back, and now suddenly it's got an SUV aimed at some of the biggest players in the business in India. And if you look at the company's past portfolio, the quirky SUVs you'll see in there will really leave you doubting the Rexton.
But the Rexton is one of those vehicles that, though it doesn't offer anything groundbreaking, it'll simply blow your mind in the way it shatters your preconceived notions about it. In the flesh, its a properly good looking SUV that offers plenty of features, a comfortable ride, meaty engine and a surprisingly premium build quality both inside and out.
While this is no rock crawler or a corner carver by any means, what it does offer is a magic carpet ride over literally any road surface India can throw at it. Roads which will leave you seething in any other car are handled with the utmost of ease in the Rexton. And just for that, its easy to fall in love with it, especially when you factor in the price as well. (Also read: SsangYong Rexton W : First Drive)
Luxury SUV of the Year
Mercedes-Benz M Class
Now in its third generation avatar, the all new 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class has been transformed into a formidable package boasting of upgrades and improvements in just about every department. While its predecessor did face criticism for niggling quality related issues, Mercedes-Benz has obviously not taken the feedback lightly and the new luxury SUV is a testament to the quintessential build that one has come to expect from the three pointed star.
This new model has definitely taken the M-Class brand name up a notch. It’s well built, elite, comfortable and extremely capable. Adding to its credentials is its drive quality which isn’t the most engaging but still comes across as more dynamic than its predecessor. A complete throwback to the solid tank like build quality that Mercedes-Benz is known for, the M-Class is an impressive package that comes at a rather decent price point and is worth considering if you happen to be in the market for a luxury SUV. And for some extra moolah, the stellar On & Off Road package option has the capability of changing you and your M-Class forever. And Merc even offers two diesel engine options, both of which are fairly frugal, in this opulent SUV. (Also read: Mercedes-Benz ML 350 CDI: Road Test)
Even though this was the default winner of this segment, there is no denying that this is a helluva impressive car. But the fact that got all the jury members' attention was that this luxurious beast is now being assembled in India at the company's Chakan plant near Pune, making it the first M-Class ever to be offered from a local production outside Mercedes-Benz’s SUV plant in Tuscaloosa, USA.
CBU Hatchback of the Year
With the launch of its flagship touring class vehicle, the B-Class, Mercedes-Benz is seriously looking at catering to a new kind of luxury car segment in India. Touted as a Sports Tourer, the B-Class is the first of its kind to be launched here and is also the most affordable Mercedes here in India. With the B-Class, Mercedes-Benz has given a ticket to the aspirational youth of this country to enter the premium Mercedes-Benz world. Powering the B-Class is a 1.6 litre petrol engine that churns out 122PS of power. (Also read: Mercedes-Benz B-Class: Exclusive First Drive)
The engine is mated to Merc’s 7-speed dual clutch gearbox with 3 driving modes. The gearbox is linked to paddle shifters for sporty gear changes. Suitable for urban driving conditions thanks to its compact dimensions, the B-Class is ideal for highway blasts during weekends. The compact Benz makes a lot of sense offering space, practicality and value for money.
CBU Sedan of the Year
BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe
The most awaited BMW of the year its finally out! As a response to models like the Mercedes CLS-Class and the Porsche Panamera, BMW has launched the 6-Series Gran Coupe - a production version of the Gran Coupe concept unveiled at the beginning of 2010. The new Gran Coupe will be immediately recognized as a 6-Series, but adding a unique combination of top-class sporting dynamics, stunning design, and luxurious touring comfort. However, compared to a standard 6-Series coupe, the new Gran Coupe version was built on a wheelbase that is 4.5 inches longer and its distinctive profile is dominated by its four-door, elegantly stretched roof line.
The 6 series Gran uses a TwinPower Turbo diesel engine offering a whopping 317PS @ 4400rpm and a solid 630 Nm of torque between 1,500-2,500rpm. Mated to an 8 speed automatic gearbox it can hit a limited top speed of 250 km/h. Loaded with gizmos, safety features and a powerful engine that trumps its rivals in the performance department, the new 6-Series Gran Coupe promises to be a strong contender in the four-door coupe segment in India. (Also read: BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe : First Drive)
CBU Sports Car of the Year
Porsche has spent years working on their 911, but while that might be their ultimate sports car, it’s the Boxster that is one of their best sellers. The Boxster has been around since 1996 and has been updated through the years. Now the Boxster has been updated one more time and is looking better than ever. Although the new Boxster might look like the current model at first sight, when seen in detail, its not difficult to notice that every panel is all new.
Both models, the Boxster and Boxster S, are powered by a flat-six engine with direct petrol injection. In the base version the engine has a displacement of 2.7 litres and delivers a total of 265 PS, while the S version gets a 3.4 litre version with 315 PS. Manual gearbox options are there but India gets the ultra-slick, super-quick 7-speed PDK dual clutch. For the money you will get a practical two-seater sportscar that has the ground clearance, quietness of cabin with the roof up, reliability and appeal to be a good buy even in our sometimes haphazard conditions. (Also read: 2013 Porsche Boxster S : First Drive)
CBU SUVs of the Year
With the launch of the Audi Q3, the German luxury car maker has made an earnest attempt at encouraging the country's ambitious younger generation into its Q family, and offering them a realistic chance at experiencing the comfort, convenience and stature that one associates with owning an Audi. (Also read: Audi Q3 : First Drive)
The compact SUV is packed to the hilt with technology, the likes of Audi's patented all-wheel-drive quattro system, despite being one of the more frugally priced luxury SUV's in the market. Audi has already posted tremendous growth in the luxury segment and it’s not difficult to see why. The Q3 then is another feather in the cap for the brand with four rings and is sure to take it straight to the top.