It’s that time of the year again. 2022 is coming to a close and we have had some exceptional automobiles make their way to us this year. A few of them have redefined the segments that they were launched in, and some even rekindled our love for vehicles in categories that had seen little to no action in the last few years. EVs continued their march, but the renewed focus on hybrids was refreshing to witness. With several categories witnessing several strong contenders, our focus has been to look at overall excellence rather than just the odd stand out feature. The automotive landscape is changing, and it is heartening to see how a large number of cars and bikes from multinational companies have been engineered for India, many of whom have made into our list below:
So much has been said about the Mahindra Scorpio-N that it seems almost unnecessary to explain why it is our pick for the best car this year. However, just for the sake of those of us who haven’t been as clued in to the developments of the automotive world, here’s why. The Mahindra Scorpio-N has received a massive update that has made it incredibly better than its predecessor in just about every regard. It is more modern when it comes to the tech on offer, it has perfectly judged ride and handling, and it gets a host of really good drivetrain options. The result is an SUV that soaks up all of the bumps that our roads have to offer while keeping the occupants extremely comfortable. And when you do take the wheel, the sophisticated five-link suspension with Watt’s linkage and frequency dependent dampers make it very good around the bends as well. On the inside, you get all the toys that you can expect from a body-on-frame SUV in this segment. And while it misses out on the ADAS features that the XUV700 gets, it does have serious off-road ability. The Scorpio-N is also lighter, larger, extremely safe, and much better looking than its predecessor. The long waiting periods have also started coming down now.
TOYOTA URBAN CRUISER HYRYDER
Maruti Suzuki and Toyota are a partnership that we didn’t know we needed. The Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara and the Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder are products that simply couldn’t have existed otherwise. Armed with Toyota’s strong hybrid tech and Suzuki’s global C platform, the Urban Cruiser Hyryder makes a serious case for hybrid tech. The hybrid drivetrain is extremely fuel efficient and you can expect to get more than 20kmpl in everyday driving which is remarkable for such a large car. It is also spacious on the inside, especially in the rear with good support from the seats all around to boot. The large panoramic sunroof only adds to the feeling of roominess in the cabin. Toyota’s most recent offering in India has good looks, an extremely efficient hybrid powertrain, an optional all-wheel drive system, a long list of features, and very good ride and handling. It is also, in every way, a serious step up when it comes to the quality on offer. While it is a bit more expensive than its competitors, it has enough and more to stand out. In addition, the fact that the Urban Cruiser Hyryder along with the Grand Vitara is being built at Toyota’s Bengaluru plant should mean good levels of fit and finish overall.
VOLVO XC40 RECHARGE
When other luxury carmakers have opted to introduce EVs at the very top of their model line-ups, Volvo took a different approach, and offered the XC40 Recharge. Ever since it launched, the Volvo XC40 Recharge has swept away the competition with what it offers. It is the definition of a pocket rocket with a 0-100kmph time of under five seconds along with its fairly compact dimensions. The ride, although on the firmer side, does iron out sharp bumps well and does ensure that the car stays planted at high speeds. Even with a relatively large battery in such a small car, the XC40 Recharge handles very well. The two motors (one on each axle) produce a combined 408hp and 660Nm of power and torque respectively with the 78kWh battery good for a WLTP range figure of 418km. On the inside, the all-black minimalist theme stands out from the German competition and the high-quality materials feel great to the touch as well. The in-built Google integration into the infotainment is something other manufacturers should definitely think about as it makes it easier to meaningfully engage with the car’s infotainment without the use of a smartphone.
MARUTI SUZUKI BREZZA
For the past couple of years, Maruti Suzuki has been playing catchup with the other players in the compact SUV segment. While the Brezza remained a good choice, it felt lacking especially when it came to the features it had. With this new iteration, Maruti Suzuki has addressed all those concerns, and then some. The Brezza has a sunroof, a larger touchscreen, HUD, 360-degree camera, six airbags, wireless charging, and more. The interiors have received a complete overhaul. The materials are a lot more premium, and fit and finish have improved as well. The dash itself gets a dual tone layered design that incorporates a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system at the center, with a new steering wheel and a HUD giving it company. The solitary 1.5-litre petrol motor can be had with the choice of either a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed torque converter gearbox. While performance hasn’t improved much, refinement levels are best in class. The engine might not be as punchy as some of its rivals, but the Maruti Suzuki Brezza has excellent low-speed ride quality, and is significantly roomier all around.
Sedans were dead. Sales numbers were falling year after year, and even manufacturers were not giving them any attention. That is, until the Volkswagen Virtus and Skoda Slavia turned up. Both are extremely good and are very similarly feature-rich, but the pliant ride and lower NVH levels on the Virtus see it win out here. Skoda-VW have engineered a very competent platform for the two sedans, and that shows in the rave reviews they have been receiving from both the automotive media and the general public. The 1.5-litre turbo-petrol unit is the one to have for an effortless yet fun drive. With 150hp of power and 250Nm of torque, the Virtus is indeed very enthusiastic, especially with the larger 1.5-litre engine. The Virtus looks decidedly sporty and Jetta-like in its styling which is only a good thing. Build quality too, as you’d expect from a VW, is top notch. Quality of materials could have been improved in some places but even the hard-wearing plastics have been put together well. The Virtus handles well and is certainly fun-to-drive while retaining some suppleness in the suspension damping. On the inside, it isn’t as plush as you’d expect but it gets all the kit you’d need and looks good to boot.
MERCEDES-BENZ C 300D
For the longest time, the C-Class has been in the S-Class’ shadow. Understandably so — the ‘best car in the world’ moniker is a hard one to compete with, and Mercedes- Benz has played into that by making the C-Class more and more like a baby S-Class with each iteration. But now, even though the C-Class is very similar when it comes to design both inside and out, it is significantly different in character. And that is even more evident in the C 300d. Unlike the S-Class with its supple, cloud-like ride quality, the C-Class is a lot firmer and sportier in the way it rides. It is quick and effortless to drive fast, especially around a set of twisties. The engine makes 265hp of power and 550Nm of torque and gets to a ton in under six seconds. Space on the inside has gone up and the materials and construction inside is seriously impressive. Then there’s the ADAS features, the latest gen MBUX system with biometric authentication, 3D maps, and more that make it very well equipped indeed.
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER
Almost every other category here is a contest between some pretty good automobiles. But the Range Rover is head and shoulders above the rest. The job that Land Rover designers and product engineers had was an unenviable one – create a new Range Rover from scratch for 2022 and beyond without deviating with the time-honed silhouette and identity of the nameplate. The Range Rover then retains the classic shape and design while modernising the details. The flush door handles, fewer cuts and creases and slimmer lighting elements make their presence felt, but remain tastefully subtle Step inside, and you can tell that the Land Rover designers have outdone themselves. Everything inside is of the highest quality, from the endless swathes of leather, to the plush floor mats, to the metal trim around the dash. The rear seats come with 24-way power adjust along with a one-touch function that sets your seat up for maximum comfort – the front passenger seat slides forward, with a foot rest dropping down, leg cushion raising up and the backrest reclining. In addition the centre console in the rear too is electrically operated along with the cup-holders. Then there is the Pivi Pro infotainment system with a 13.1-inch central display with haptic display alongside a 13.7-inch instrument display. There is a state-of-the-art 34-speaker, 1,600W Meridian Signature sound system with active noise cancellation to drown out the little external noise that does make its way inside the superbly insulated cabin. Ride quality is unlike anything else in the automotive world and the throne-like seats give you a perfect view of the world around you.
MERCEDES-AMG EQS 53 4MATIC+
A few years ago, an electric car would struggle to be in contention here, forget about us calling it the performance car of the year. To be fair, it is an odd contender for the title. You’d expect a performance car to be a low-slung sports car or even a hot hatch for that matter, But such is the sheer performance on tap in the EQS 53 that it is hard to look past it. 761hp and 1020Nm of power and torque respectively are straight out of a supercar’s spec sheet. They come together to produce a 0-100kmph time of 3.4 seconds that will leave a number of high-performance cars in the dust. While faster acceleration in itself is not the barometer for how good a performance car is, the electrifying acceleration in the EQS 53 4Matic+ is bound to leave you stunned. It is something that has to be experienced and an ICE car can never give you the same sensation of raw power when you floor the pedal at a standstill. It is mind-bendingly quick and especially so for a 2.6-tonne car. The hefty weight doesn’t mean that it is slow around corners either. You can lean harder and harder on the tyres and they just don’t seem to break traction.
The Hyundai Tucson has long had the reputation in India of being a great family SUV, albeit with a hefty price tag. The new-gen Tucson still gets all the ingredients that together built up that reputation – a punchy 2.0-litre diesel, AWD, and loads of features. But, things are a little different this time around. To start with, the Tucson is no longer an SUV with a conservative design. In fact, it is easily the most radical in the current Hyundai India line-up. While that might push away some buyers, the sharp cuts and creases all over the body might endear it to some others. The new grille is bound to be an easy way to identify the Tucson from our distance on our crowded roads, while the distinctive lighting elements do their bit to add to the drama as well. On the inside, the dash layout is similar to the Creta and the instrument cluster is similar to the Alcazar, but the execution is a little different with a far richer set of materials and more premium construction. The Level 2 ADAS features stand out and the Tucson comes across as the best-equipped car in the price range when it comes to active safety. There is a petrol-powered option as well, but it doesn’t get AWD. The diesel powertrain (bound to be the choice of many) produces 186hp and 416Nm of power and torque respectively to give the SUV more than adequate performance. As with Tucsons before it, comfort is a strong suit for this iteration as well. It very well might even be the most comfortable in the segment.
MARUTI SUZUKI BALENO
At first glance, the new Maruti Suzuki Baleno looks very similar to the last gen model, so much so that you’d be forgiven for mistaking it to be a facelift. But it is so much more. It is entirely new from the ground-up with improved safety, a longer equipment list and more. On the looks front, there is far more definition to the bodywork and there’s new LED lighting elements both at the front as well as the rear. The interiors have gone through a major transformation, most prominent among them being the upgraded infotainment system. The 9-inch unit is responsive and features sharper graphics and animations that come with the Smartplay Pro+ system. There are voice commands, connected car tech, an AMT gearbox and it is far more efficient than before. The updated 1.2-litre K12N engine and the AMT work together to produce a refined driving experience. The ride is far more sophisticated and gobbles up bad roads without being unnerved as in the past. This is achieved with no downgrade in the handling department. The Baleno still handles well with little body roll to speak of. There are improvements to the steering as well, and it weighs up more naturally and is a quicker unit overall. On the safety front, there’s now six airbags and ESP with hill hold on all AMT variants.
ROYAL ENFIELD HUNTER 350
The Royal Enfield Hunter 350 is unlike any other RE before it. A retro roadster, it is lighter, more agile, more compact, and now easily the most affordable in RE’s lineup. It is powered by the same 350cc motor on the Classic and the Meteor — similar in character and is slow-revving with a torquey low to mid-range. This, coupled with an aggressive chassis and suspension setup makes for an unexpectedly fun motorcycle. It is intended for riders looking for enthusiastic handling coupled with an easy-going motor. The suspension is setup on the firmer side, and it isn’t exactly the most pliant when it comes to ride quality, but that is something that you might be willing to sacrifice for the composure that it retains at highway speeds. Quality, as we have seen over the last couple of years, is impressive from this RE as well. Most impressive, however is the price tag which makes it very accessible. The shorter seat height, shorter wheelbase, lighter weight and an aggressive steering rake make it accessible in other aspects as well and should bring in riders who’d otherwise be intimidated by RE’s other bikes.
TRIUMPH TIGER SPORT 660
The Triumph Tiger Sport 660 might not be an out-and-out ADV but it does come across as a capable tourer that can handle most of what our roads present us with. Based on the Trident 660, it gets the same 660cc inline-triple engine that produces 80hp of power and 64Nm of torque. It has solid mid and low range performance and you can cruise at triple digit speeds all-day long without the engine feeling stressed. And while the chassis remains essentially the same as on the Trident 660, here there’s Showa Separate Function forks at the front and a rear monoshock with remote preload adjust. The ride is significantly softer and the Tiger Sport 660 takes bumps and potholes in its stride really well. It still remains just as sporty as the Trident 660 and gives all its competitors a run for their money as well. The Tiger Sport 660 has more performance on tap, more gear and weighs considerably less than its rivals, making it easy to recommend even if it is a tad more expensive.
VIDA V1 PRO
Vida is Hero’s premium EV sub-brand with its first product, the V1, already making waves in the increasingly crowded Indian electric scooter space. The V1 Pro features a radical (even by electric scooter standards) design with an aggressive front fascia and substantial bodywork. It gets a large side panel and a split seat setup with an unusual rear section as well. The most talked about aspect of the Vida V1 Pro is the split, removable battery setup which houses two battery packs with a total capacity of 3.94kWh. Each battery weighs 11kg but it could be useful for cases when there is no charging point nearby. Hero claims a 165km range for the Vida V1 Pro which on paper is among the very best. The motor powering the V1 Pro has a peak power of 6KW and it makes the scooter sufficiently quick as it accelerates to about 80kmph. There is a 7-inch TFT touchscreen display, cruise control, keyless go, and LED lights all around that should draw buyers in.
Images: Hero Motocorp, Triumph, Mercedes-Benz India, Range Rover, Royal Enfield, Maruti Suzuki India Limited, Hyundai Motor India, Škoda Auto Volkswagen India, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, Toyota Kirloskar Motor, Volvo