Before the end of the year, two new auto manufacturers will be selling their cars in India. The first off the blocks will be Europe’s biggest automaker, Volkswagen (VW), which will be launching its high-end sedan, Passat, in September. Swedish car-maker Volvo, still part of the Ford Group, is coming to India before the end of the year with its S80 sedan, a Mercedes E-Class competitor (not featured here) and the XC90 Sports-Utility Vehicle.
So what is the big deal?
The Passat is VW’s contender at the higher end of the market in India and will be competing directly against the Mercedes C-Class, the BMW 3-series and the Audi A4. Unlike previous generations of Passats, this car does not share a platform with the Audi A4. The Skoda Superb was based on the previous generation Passat (2001); this new model was introduced in 2006.
The car uses elements of VW’s new design philosophy, evident in the Phaeton luxury sedan and Toureg SUV, and while the looks have disappointed conservative buyers, sales have been brisk in Europe, because the car appeals to a younger set of buyers. But, most importantly, the engine on the Passat is very good. VW is expected to enter India with just the 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine which produces 140 or 170 horsepower (depending on the variant), and the car is expected to be priced at Rs 25-30 lakh. But given a price tag that’s similar to that of a Mercedes and a BMW, which have better brand-pull, and being more expensive than the Skoda Superb, which might be a generation old, the Passat has a long road ahead of it in India.
Volvos are famous for being safe but in the ’80s and ’90s, they acquired a reputation of being dowdy. Not any more though; the new Volvos have edgier designs and much better performance. That is not to say that Volvo cars are not “safe” anymore. In fact, with several active and passive safety features, Volvo cars are possibly still among the safest cars built—the XC90 has a host of safety acronyms—ROPS, RSC, DSTC and SIPS— all designed to save the lives of passengers in case something does go wrong.
But when you look at the XC90, safety is not what you are thinking about. This is a true off-roader that has proven itself over and over. Heck, even that most acerbic of car critics, Jeremy Clarkson, bought one, and that in itself is a great vote of confidence. Not only that, this car can effectively seat seven people, or if you don’t use the third row, carry a lot of stuff. Even two big dogs will pose no problem at all.
Volvo is expected to bring the XC90 to India and offer a choice of three engines—a 210 horsepower 2.5 litre petrol, a 238 horsepower 3.2 litre petrol, and a 2.4 litre diesel engine with 185 horsepower, which, one assumes, will outsell the first two. The XC90 will be priced in the Rs 55-60 lakh range. Volvo is setting up shop in India before the end of the year with dealerships in Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh. Watch this space for reviews.