Volkswagen's new SUV is set to lock horns with half a dozen rivals, says Pavan Lall.
Ever since it got here, nearly 15 years ago, Volkswagen has looked to belt out a smash hit car that would put it on the fast track of growth in the complex and highly competitive market that is India.
While its smaller cars like the Vento and the Polo have had some modest success, their overall premium positioning, cost of ownership and high prices always prevented them from catching the fancy of the masses.
The newly launched Taigun is the car that the company hopes will start boosting volumes.
VW's latest SUV is built on the Volkswagen Group's MQB A0 IN platform that is geared for the Indian market and also shared with its sister badge Skoda, which has just rolled out its mid-size SUV -- the Kushaq.
The Taigun is the third SUV from the Volkswagen stable.
The other two are the T-Roc and, prior to that, the Tiguan, which was a larger car.
The Taigun represents an effort to shore up market share in a manner like, say, a Kia has. That may happen if the price is right.
It may as well, given that its levels of local components, at around 95 per cent, is its highest ever, and that it's also been designed keeping the frugal Indian audience in mind.
The Taigun shows no sign of cost-cutting, and features smart interiors, high-grade plastics, an elegant dashboard and a suspension and ride quality that is all German.
But it is important to remember that this model will come in a few different variants, the lower end one of which is expected to be priced at around Rs 11 lakh, making it a formidable rival to any manufacturer.
Of course the bells and whistles will be much reduced on entry level variants but the suspension, ride quality and drivetrain will remain the same.
The gearshift on the top-end variant that I drove is derived from the 7-speed DSG -- also in use in VW's other cars.
As I take the Taigun for a spin, it hums as it throws up a smooth linear acceleration at low to medium speeds.
It drives well, corners well and seats well.
Neatly designed inside and on the exterior, and equipped with smart spaces, compartments and accessories, the Taigun is most presentable as a mid-level SUV and doesn't seem cheap from any angle.
After a test ride each of Taigun and Kushaq, one immediately discerns the difference between the two peers.
The Skoda is a tougher, “harder” car in terms of its design, drive and overall appeal.
If the Kushaq packs a punch like Tyson, the Taigun floats like Ali.
The Taigun is clearly more focused on softer touches, design elements and drive experience that range from ambient lighting to brighter shades such as the yellow and red that it is being sold in.
So what does the Taigun offer to drivers that most cars don't? That's a tricky question to answer because the great commoditisation of automobiles has come to mean that almost all cars in a certain price range have features that include cruise control, paddle shift gears for more spirited driving, electric sunroof, heated seats and the like.
Of course, the Taigun comes with all of that backed by the German promise of superior brand quality.
So does it entail cutting any corners? It's hard to spot, since safety for example is still a core focus with thickness of the sheet metal and the number of airbags (the Taigun features six), engineering appears superior and passenger comfort is top-notch.
The Taigun will have competition. And lots of it.
The car is eventually going up against the likes of the Hyundai Creta, Kia Seltos, Tata Harrier, Mahindra XUV 700, Ford Ecosport, and the Skoda Kushaq.
While its global prowess is unquestionable, the VW badge has been seen as an expensive, high-maintenance proposition in India.
And that's a hurdle the Taigun will have to jump over if it is ever to better its rivals.
Then again, with the price to be announced in a few days, the company may well be turning the bend to make that leap.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com