Best of 2020: Ten best cars of the year
2020 was a roller coaster of a ride and the automotive sector took a big hit. Nevertheless, we got to see plenty of good cars and here’s our pick
Even though everyone faced a tough time due to the global pandemic, it really was inspiring to see automobile manufacturers cope with the new normal and keep the car industry alive. Despite a few delayed launches and pauses in manufacturing, we saw really good cars in 2020 and here’s our take on the top ten best cars we’ve driven so far this year, in alphabetical order.
With the first-gen Honda City being an enthusiasts’ favourite and a benchmark in its segment, the fifth-gen sibling had great expectations to live up to. Even in the super competitive C-segment cars, the latest Honda City managed to remain the benchmark.
The prominent spoiler integrated to its boot and well defined shoulder lines give it a sporty character. In a time where all cars get bigger and wider grilles, the City’s sleek grille was a refresher. On the inside, it still has the most spacious cabin in the segment and the most comfortable seats as well. And this meant it can seat five adults comfortably.
Although it got both petrol and diesel engine options, it was the petrol 1.5-litre i-VTEC unit that we particularly liked. It makes 119bhp and 145Nm of torque and is mated to either a 6-speed manual or a CVT. The 1.5-litre i-DTEC on the other hand, made 89bhp and 200Nm of torque and sadly, doesn't get the option of an automatic transmission. Although the diesel engine is extremely fuel efficient, it is the i-VTEC unit that truly encapsulates the essence of a Honda City.
When our Ed Sirish Chandran got his hands on the Honda City, this is what he had to say: Honda City First drive review. All in all, the City met our expectations and went beyond it. More importantly, it to be the benchmark in its segment.
The Hyundai Creta is solely responsible for the genesis of the mid-size SUV segment in India. After the arrival of SUVs like the Kia Seltos, MG Hector and the updated Renault Duster, the Creta had to up its game in 2020.
For 2020, the Creta got a new, radical design language, a more SUV- like ride height, better interiors and many segment first features like a panoramic sunroof and paddle shifters. It has more of a luxurious and relaxed appearance, which is the exact opposite of, its main rival, the Seltos’ sporty appearance.
The Creta comes with three engine options: a 1.5-litre diesel unit that makes 113bhp and 245Nm of torque, a 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine that makes 138bhp and 242Nm of torque and a 1.5-litre nat-asp petrol engine that makes 113bhp and 144Nm of torque. The turbocharged petrol engine would be our pick. What is truly impressive about the Creta is how refined and easy it is to drive.
Even though it was released in a very difficult time, in the middle of a pandemic, the Creta saw incredible sales figures and regained the top spot in the mid-size SUV sales.
The fourth generation i20 was yet another much awaited update for the Indian market. It has always been a popular hatchback in the country, thanks to its feature list and Hyundai’s increasingly refined drivetrains. However, with competition like the Tata Altroz taking the game to the next level, the all-new i20 couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Hyundai i20, like the new Creta, receives a radical design makeover and it now sports a large grille and the headlights integrated into it, it has a more pronounced shoulder line and with simple chrome treatment, the rear looks good as well. On the inside, you get an all-black theme, and the AC vents appear to run across the width of the car giving the illusion of a more spacious cabin. It also replaces the old analogue dials with a fully digital instrument cluster and has a 10.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
The i20 is available with three engine options: a 1-litre turbocharged petrol engine that makes 118bhp and 171Nm of torque, a 1.2-litre nat-asp petrol engine that makes 81bhp and 171Nm of torque and a 1.5-litre diesel engine that makes 98bhp and 114Nm of torque. Across the range, the i20 is also offered with various transmissions, a manual, DCT and an iMT.
The suspension offers a great balance between a comfortable and sporty ride. This in turn complements the car’s handling, which is why we even made a ‘how to drift’ tutorial in it. Yet again, in terms of refinement in its new cars, Hyundai has definitely set the bar high. So it has great looks, it’s packed with features, has a powerful engine, comfortable ride and sporty handling, and is very refined. What more could you want in a hatchback?
Kia usually seems to nail the design of their cars and with the Sonet, it was no different. The compact SUV segment has now become very competitive and the Kia Sonet is equipped to take on the challenge.
The Kia mass market cars share their underpinnings with Hyundai. It is this cost saving strategy between the two companies that allows them to offer more in terms of engine and gearbox options and even offer more in terms of features and tech as well. The Sonet is also the only car in the segment to offer a proper automatic transmission with its diesel engine as well.
On the inside, the Sonet borrows a lot of components from the Seltos and hence, the cabin always felt more plush compared to its rivals. It comes with ‘Hello Kia’ service in the UVO-connect app to deliver voice commands and so on. The Sonet's small boot is where it loses points to its rivals, but that is compensated with the long list of features.
The Kia Sonet is available with three engine options: a 1.5-litre diesel engine that makes 98bhp and 240Nm of torque, a 1.2-litre nat-asp petrol engine with 81bhp and 166Nm of torque and a 1-litre turbocharged engine which makes 118bhp and 172Nm of torque. The Turbocharged petrol engine was the one that caught our attention but surprisingly, Kia decided not to offer a manual transmission with it. Instead, the turbo petrol got DCT and iMT options and the other two engine options got a six speed manual.
The Kia Sonet, even with all the features and various engine options, was the most affordable compact SUV in India until the recent arrival of the Nissan Magnite. It still feels more premium and loaded compared to its rivals.
The all-new Mahindra Thar has been a huge hit since its launch earlier this year. The Thar was always a hardcore adventure vehicle which appealed to people who go off-road every once in a while or to people who live in places where a rugged SUV is necessary. The goal for Mahindra was simple with the new Thar: they wanted an SUV that can be a car for most of the time and for the few occasions you took it off-road, it had to be as good as its predecessors.
The Thar’s greatest upgrade was the coilover suspension which replaced the rigid leaf spring system to make the ride more comfortable. It now gets a hardtop option straight from the factory. The interiors are no more barebones and just functional. It now has touchscreen display, power windows, AC and all the creature comforts one looks for in a daily car. The interiors are entirely waterproof as well so you can drive across a river or hose it down after a muddy weekend without the worry of damaging all the gadgets.
The biggest surprise was the 2-litre turbo petrol engine which came with manual and automatic transmissions. The engine makes 150bhp and 320Nm of torque. The 2.2-litre diesel engine makes 130bhp and 300Nm of torque. Both the engines get a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes and are equipped with a low ratio 4-low transfer box as standard.
The Thar even scored a solid four-star rating in the Global NCAP crash test, making it the safest ladder-frame chassis SUV in India. The fact that Mahindra managed to bridge the gap between daily usability and off-road capability while maintaining the original Jeep design goes on to show how well planned the product is. The Thar has managed to live up to the hype Mahindra created before its launch and it has proven to be the ideal single car garage. All in all, if you are a person who wants a car but also wants to explore the countryside on weekends, the new Thar is quite simply the most complete package available in India right now.
Here's a two-part video of our adventures with the Thar in Thar
How does an SUV go up against giants like Toyota Fortuner and Ford Endeavour? Surprisingly, the Gloster had all the right bits and more to put up a good fight. In fact, size-wise, it is slightly bigger than the Fortuner and the Endeavour.
It came equipped with first-in-segment Level 1 autonomous driving which includes autonomous emergency braking. The Gloster has a 12.3-inch infotainment screen and an 8-inch multi-information display in the cluster along with analogue dials for the speedo and tachometer. It also has three-zone climate control, 64 colour ambient lighting, a 12-speaker sound system and it accepts voice commands just like the Hector. On paper, when it comes to features, it has everything and more to compete against its rivals.
The Gloster gets a twin-turbo 2-litre diesel engine which makes 215bhp and 480Nm of torque. It also gets an 8-speed automatic gearbox as standard. Apart from being a comfortable mile-muncher, it gets a ground clearance of 210mm and with water wading depth of 550mm, make the Gloster a very capable SUV off-road.
Although one may not take the Gloster off-road very often, it is good to know what it is capable of. The sheer comfort and size and overall capability is what makes the Gloster shine in the full-size SUV segment.
The launch of the Nissan Magnite quite simply disrupted the pricing in the compact SUV segment. You can now have one for the price of a hatchback. However, it isn’t just the aggressive pricing that makes it good.
The Nissan Magnite is well equipped with cruise control, a digital instrument cluster, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and even 360-degree cameras, among many others. It also gets rear parking sensors, a tyre pressure monitor, and a 360-degree camera system which is a segment first feature. The infotainment system is an 8-inch touchscreen display, which is the second largest infotainment system in its segment. If we consider features in the top-end variant, the Magnite is better equipped than the Tata Nexon and Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza.
The Magnite gets a 1-litre turbocharged petrol engine which makes 98bhp and 160Nm of torque and is available with CVT as well. It also gets a 1-litre nat-asp petrol engine which makes 71bhp and 96Nm of torque and is available only with a manual transmission. The biggest drawback of the Magnite is that it does not get a diesel engine.
The Magnite may not be the fastest or the most loaded car in the segment but as far as value for money goes, it’s a clear winner. The Magnite is a make or break car for Nissan in India and with its aggressive pricing and decent overall appeal, it is sure to attract many buyers.
Tata Altroz is the safest hatchback in India so far as tested by the Global NCAP. After ages, Tata finally had a strong premium hatchback in the Altroz and could go up against Hyundai i20, Volkswagen Polo and so on.
The Tata Altroz was a strong benchmark at least as far as the design goes and was only rivaled recently by the new i20. The blacked-out honeycomb grille with sleek headlights and taillamps and sharp angles all around looks absolutely stunning. On the inside, the fit and finish was far from Tata’s poor-quality predecessors. The doors open all the way up to 90 degrees and the cabin feels airy and spacious. It has a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system taken from the Nexon and has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The top-end variant even gets a 6-speaker Harman sound system.
The Tata Altroz gets two engine options: a 1.2-litre nat-asp petrol engine which makes 84bhp and 113Nm of torque and a 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel engine that makes 88bhp and 200Nm of torque. The diesel engine with its high torque figure makes it the better choice of the two as it is more spirited and fun to drive.
The major strong point for the Altroz is the way it handles bad roads. The ride quality is impressive and it gives you confidence to not slow down for bumps and potholes. The Altroz is an especially important car for Tata in 2020 as it has put the company in a commanding place in the premium hatchback segment.
The Tata Harrier was launched back in 2019 but received major upgrades in 2020 in the form of an automatic transmission and a much-needed increase in power. Apart from the powertrain, Tata even fixed the NVH and ergonomic issues.
The 2020 Tata Harrier gets a 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine which makes 168bhp and 350Nm of torque and apart from the six-speed manual, it got a six-speed automatic gearbox as well. This made the Harrier quicker and more importantly, it appealed to a larger customer base.
The Harrier even got the segment-best panoramic sunroof which makes the interior appear more airy and spacious. Even with the addition of the sunroof, Tata has managed to significantly lower NVH levels in comparison with the 2019 Harrier. Coming to ergodynamics, the USB slot has been repositioned, the outside rear view mirrors are now smaller and the driver’s seat is electronically adjustable. As was the case with the Altroz, the Harrier’s robust ride quality is what impressed us the most.
Tata Nexon EV:
Tata’s first compact SUV, the Nexon has been increasingly popular over the last few years. The Nexon is the first car in India to get a five star rating in the Global NCAP crash test. So it was only logical to use the proven SUV to improve the EV segment of the company.
The Nexon EV is powered by a 30.2kWH battery that makes 127bhp and 245Nm of torque and is limited to a top speed of 120kmph. The electric powertrain adds an additional 95kg but the instant throttle response, like in every EV, doesn’t let you feel the extra kilos. The ARAI certified range of the EV is 312km and the battery can be charged fully in just eight hours. It doesn’t sound like much but it is more than enough for your daily city commutes.
The Nexon EV may not have a very impressive range like the Hyundai Kona. But again, it is priced way lesser. With the space, styling, features and now, the added advantage of being an EV, the Nexon is definitely paving the way for Tata as an early player in the EV market.