Facing the challenges brought up during the year — a devastating pandemic that continues to wreak havoc, an economic slowdown, dwindling sales and more — the automotive industry took one on the chin, but staggered back to its feet. The show must go on, and it did. New cars were launched, new sales and marketing strategies were implemented, and customers were somehow persuaded to continue buying. The gloom and doom prophecies notwithstanding, the Indian automotive industry displayed commendable resilience and as a result thereof, here are some pretty remarkable cars that were launched during the year.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER
Land Rover is an iconic brand when it comes to off-roaders, and the new Defender not only keeps the legacy going, but also amps it up a notch or two. While the slightly smaller two-door, four-seater Defender 90 will come to India next year, the Defender 110 (four-door, 5+2 seats) is already here, and looks set to give some much-needed competition to the German trifecta of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. While it’s priced at around seven times as much as a Thar, the Defender 110 has the power, on/off-road capability, and driving dynamics to match. With its high levels of build quality, luxurious cabin, and full suite of electronics that boost safety and drivability, the Defender is pretty much cutting edge in every which way you can think of. For our money — and yours — the Defender 110 is the best premium SUV of 2020.
The Mahindra Thar is the undisputed breakout Indian SUV of 2020. While its predecessor catered only to a narrow niche of ‘Jeep’ enthusiasts and people who require serious off-road capability, the new Thar is being appreciated by a much wider audience. It still has only two doors, but the rear seats are frontfacing this time, the updated interiors are plush and modern, fit and finish is much better, and onroad driving behaviour has been vastly improved. Available with a choice of powerful and efficient petrol and diesel engines, manual, and automatic transmissions, hardtop and soft-top options and 4WD, the Thar is a thoroughly contemporary four-seater SUV, which is also equipped with a host of electronic safety equipment, including airbags, ABS, and ESP. The best two-door, allround capable, mass-market SUV in 2020? The new Mahindra Thar, no question.
MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS
Traffic woes. Parking troubles. High insurance premiums. Rising fuel prices. The list of things that make owning and driving a car seem like a miserable experience, can be endless. And then something like the MINI John Cooper Works limited edition comes along, and once again, puts a smile on your face. The 2020-spec MINI John Cooper Works is a limited-edition hot hatch; a mere 15 units are being imported to India, each priced at an eye-watering Rs 47 lakh, which makes it a bit unlikely that many of us will drive one. However, for the lucky few, this MINI is a fire-breathing, rubber-burning, corner carving missile on four wheels that reawakens the senses. It’s the best premium, high performance hot hatch of 2020.
With the Altroz, Tata Motors has accomplished what no American, European, Japanese, or Korean car manufacturer has managed to do — build a mainstream/ mass-market family hatchback that has a 5-star safety rating from Global NCAP. That takes some doing, we can assure you, and Tata Motors deserves a round of applause for this. But, of course, the Altroz is about much more than just its safety rating; it’s also a very well designed, good-looking, spacious, and comfortable hatchback, which is available with a choice of petrol and turbodiesel engines, with a 5-speed manual transmission in either case. A turbo-petrol engine and an automatic transmission are expected to join the line-up early next year. With its sharp, modern styling, well-appointed interiors, wide and spacious cabin, good ride quality, competent on-road behaviour and reasonable pricing, the Altroz is our pick for the best family hatchback of 2020.
BMW 2 SERIES GRAN COUPÉ
The BMW 2 Series is for those who have just made their first crore, and are looking to move up from mass-market cars, and enter the world of luxury brands for the first time. Priced at more than three times as much as, say, a base model Honda City, the 2 Series Gran Coupé is expensive, but still relatively affordable for well-paid young professionals and businessmen. With its taut, sporty styling, powerful turbodiesel engine (mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission), and the driving dynamics and handling prowess you’d expect from a BMW, the 2 Series Gran Coupé is a good entry point into owning a BMW. Sure, it doesn’t have rear-wheel-drive, but then most drivers don’t have Tiff Needell’s drifting skills either. And, in any case, the 2 Series employs advanced electronic wizardry to ensure there’s no understeer despite the front-wheel-drive setup — the 2 Series is as much a blast to drive as some of its bigger brothers. And, yes, the 2 Series is definitely meant for those who like to take the wheel themselves — please look elsewhere if you’re chauffeur-driven, since there are other, better options if you intend to spend most of your time in the car in the back seat. For young families though, who may be looking for a compact, sporty, premium family sedan, the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé might just be your best bet.
A four-door, five-seater family sedan that’s safe, stylish, comfortable, and efficient — that’s the new Hyundai Verna for you. But it’s that little extra that Hyundai offers, which ensures the Verna stays a cut above the competition. For starters, the Verna is available with the widest range of engines and transmissions in its class. Choose between 1.5-litre petrol and common-rail turbo-diesel engines, and a 1.0-litre turbo-petrol. Transmission options include 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. That, combined with snazzy styling, plush interiors, a host of infotainment and connectivity features, full suite of safety equipment, and high comfort levels (though a bit more space at the back would have made things even better) make this car the ultimate winner. We reckon the Verna is the best mass market family sedan of 2020.
MERCEDES-BENZ AMG GT R
The tagline that Mercedes-Benz uses for the AMG GT R is, ‘developed by the racers, for the racers’, which probably provides a hint of what you can expect. Not that the GT R is about subtle hints. No, it’s more like a knockout punch from Anthony Joshua, the two-time heavyweight boxing world champ who stands 6ft 6in tall and weighs 110 kilos. Like Joshua, the AMG GT R hits really, really hard; with 585 horsepower from its twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 (mated to a 7-speed dualclutch automatic transmission), the GT R goes from 0-100kph in 3.6 seconds and hits a top speed of 318kph. It costs all of Rs 2.48 crore (ex-showroom) but if money is no objection, the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT R is the best high-performance luxury sports coupe for 2020.
AUDI RS 7 SPORTBACK
We love Audis for their high levels of tech, aggressive styling, powerful engines, and high-speed handling. And all these elements are best embodied in the RS 7 Sportback, which looks stunning, and is powered by a twin-turbo 4.0-litre, 592bhp V8. The pumped-up bodywork boasts Olympic-level athleticism and, at full chat, the V8 sounds like a rock concert on the move. Bits like LED laser headlamps, optional 22-inch alloy wheels, quattro AWD, 8-speed transmission, optional ceramic brakes, and a high-tech virtual cockpit (with class-leading digital instrumentation and navigation, which has subsequently “inspired” other manufacturers to implement similar tech in their own cars) all make the RS 7 a bit special. It costs serious money — close to Rs 2 crore — but for those who can afford to buy one, the Audi RS 7 is MW’s choice for the best high-performance sedan of 2020.
Toyota, which already has its bestselling Innova Crysta MPV in its India line-up, decided that it needed to also offer a luxury MPV that’s better suited to the needs of those who have homes in Malabar Hill in Mumbai, Gulmohar Park in New Delhi, and similarly affluent neighbourhoods elsewhere in the country. Powered by a 2.4-litre petrol engine that’s complemented by an electric motor (yes, this is a hybrid powertrain), with e-CVT transmission, the Vellfire boasts Lexus-levels of luxury and refinement that no other MPV in India can match. Think premium leather and wood interiors, plush and refined ride quality, and business-class seating for up to seven occupants. It costs close to a crore, but for those who want the ultimate no-compromises luxury MPV, the Vellfire is simply unbeatable.
The Kia Carnival is one MPV that believes in the ‘go big or go home’ adage. Indeed, the Carnival can be had in 7-, 8-, and even 9-seater versions, so if you want space — lots and lots of space — this is the Kia you need to get. Powered by a 2.2-litre turbodiesel that makes 200 horsepower, with the power being meted out via an 8-speed automatic, this Kia isn’t exactly a sporty drive. But, of course, its talents lie elsewhere — the cavernous cabin, generous seats, and softly-sprung suspension invite you to forget about booking air tickets, and hit the expressway instead, the next time you plan to travel from Mumbai to Delhi with the entire family in tow. It’s not cheap — ex-showroom prices range between Rs 25-34 lakh — but for ferrying your extended group of family and friends in laidback luxury, the Carnival may well be your best choice. It’s certainly MW’s choice for the best MPV for 2020.
Feeling a bit guilty about splurging on a large, petrol burning, nitrogen dioxide-spewing luxury SUV? The Mercedes-Benz EQC might help assuage that guilt a bit, since it does away with the age-old internal combustion engine, and is, instead, propelled by twin electric motors, which together produce 300kW (408bhp) and 765Nm of torque. Performance has not been compromised upon; zero to 100kph comes up in 5.1 seconds, and top speed is a reasonable 180kph. Going from zero to fully charged can take up to 20 hours (or, just 10 hours if you choose to get Mercedes-Benz’s 7.4kW ‘wallbox’ charger installed in your home or office) and, on a full charge, the range is an impressive 450km. Inside the EQC’s cabin, it’s Mercedes-spec luxury as usual, with generously proportioned seats, highgrade materials, and impeccable fit and finish. Ex-showroom price is close to about a crore, so the EQC isn’t exactly the best value for money, but for those who want to go electric now, it’s MW’s choice for the best electric vehicle of 2020.
FERRARI F8 TRIBUTO
The F8 Tributo is the latest in a long line of V8-engined Ferraris, and it may well be the best ever, as well. Powered by a 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8, the Ferrari F8 packs a 720-horsepower punch that pushes it from zero to 100 kph in 2.9 seconds, and on to a top speed of 340kph. With its divine looks and the latest in braking and suspension tech, along with the very best of electronic driver aids (which allow even average drivers to extract maximum performance from the car, without ending up in a ditch), this is the quintessential Italian supercar, done the way only the Italians know-how. It does carry an ex-showroom price tag of Rs 4 crore but if you want the best supercar money can buy right now, in India, the Ferrari F8 Tributo is the one.