Tata Altoz

The Altroz is a key product in the Tata Motors’ path of reinventing itself. It is the latest offering in the new era of Tata products built from ground up and aims squarely at the premium hatchback segment dominated by the Baleno, i20, Jazz, Polo, Glanza etc. While the official launch will happen sometime in January, 2020, we got to sample one in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan and Unique Times readers will be among the first to read it this time.

This is a new platform for Tata Motors, which they call the ALFA architecture – short for Agile, Light, Flexible and Advanced. It will form the basis of many future cars in various body styles and has provisions for an electric power-train to be fitted in later. Making it light was one of the top priorities and the result is a body shell which weighs a lot less than that of the smaller Tiago. It uses a high grade of steel that makes it lighter without compromising on strength. Tata says it is their safest car yet and going by their recent crash test results, we have every reason to believe them. It feels very solidly built and there is a sense of robustness and indestructibility that is missing in others.

The Altroz looks the part and like most Tatas, hasn’t deviated much from its original concept form. The front end has a striking appearance that gets better, the more you look at it. The upward swept headlamps, the glossy black grille, the chrome line that runs underneath it and the foglamps with LED DRLs in the bumper are all very distinctive. The side profile has this uniquely placed turn signal on the fender and characteristic body lines that make the car look much lower. The rear door handles are hidden near the C pillar to give it a cleaner look to the overall body. The glossy black outline around the windows makes it look more dynamic without having to resort to a lower shoulder-line or a larger window. The rear gets more glossy black trim which along with the black tail lamp surrounds make it look like one solid piece of glass. The 16 inch polished alloy wheels look the part and the car looks very good from most angles. At 1755mm, it is the widest car in its class by a considerable margin. Incidentally, it also has the shortest wheelbase of all its rivals, although it is about the same four metre length.

Step inside and you are greeted by a cabin that is very generous in size. The dashboard layout is typically Tata in design, with well-made bits and a floating screen at the centre. The new flat bottom steering wheel is small and very nice to hold. The horn pad stretches all the way to the edges, so you don’t have to extend your fingers to the centre boss, to operate the horn. The downside is, all the buttons on the wheel are also mounted on this pad that it makes the whole set-up feel a bit wobbly when you first operate them.  We also feel the dashboard layout has a lot of vacant space, and that silver dashboard trim reflects light quite badly, when you have the sun shining behind you at an angle. Apart from this, there aren’t any issues to report. Tata has got most of the ergonomics right, this time round. The steering only adjusts for rake, but it is very easy to find a good seating position. The front seats have very good lateral support and so much room. The rear seat has decent width, adequate support, offers a comfortable posture and comes with a flat floor and its own AC vents. Also worth mentioning are the doors which open to 90 degrees making ingress, egress or loading something on the seats, so much easier. The boot is 340 litres and Tata’s attention to detail using colour coded mats for the car all round is top notch. The 7 inch touch screen infotainment system, which is by Harmon Kardon, doubles up as the display for the HVAC and also connects to the 7 inch driver information display for displaying song details and navigation info. You have to connect the phone for navigation, but it comes with Apple Car Play and Android Auto and gets six speakers including two tweeters on the A pillar. The sound quality is excellent, with good staging, clear vocals and tight bass.

The Altroz comes with two engine options – a 1.2 litre petrol and a 1.5 litre diesel – both BS6, coupled to 5 speed manual transmissions. As for the petrol, it is the only 3 cylinder engine in its class. With similar engine capacity, it makes 86bhp and 113Nm. It has a bit of a three cylinder thrum at certain rpms, but for most part, it feels smooth. The engine has good low end and mid-range power making driving much easier in city conditions. It feels adequate for the highways too, cruising effortlessly at triple digit speeds, although you don’t get much passing power for overtaking. The diesel on the other hand, has plenty of poke. It produces 90bhp and 200Nm torque. Even before the turbo spools up, there is adequate low down power making it better than most diesel cars in ‘stop and go’ traffic. Like in the petrol variant, the clutch is light and the gearshift action is positive, although we would have liked a shorter gear lever with a slightly lesser throws. The diesel sounds a lot coarser when revved hard, but for part throttle driving conditions, the refinement is decent.

The biggest improvement Tata has made in driving dynamics, is reflected in the Altroz’s handling. It is agile, eager to turn in and has good amount of grip. It feels very composed through most high speed corners and the choice of dampers for the suspension is excellent. It also rides well over broken roads and the suspension, like in most Tata cars, seems like it can take quite a beating. Even with relatively lower profile tyres, the car seems to ride well over potholes and ruts. Interestingly, Tata offers wider 195/55 R16 section tyres on the petrol Altroz and 185/60 R16 tyres on the diesel, while logically it should have been the other way around. We spoke to a few engineers around and they said this profile was chosen to give the diesel’s tyres more durability in the long run and this was the closest tyre size available in the market.

Tata has got almost everything right with the Altroz. It has the styling, well-built feel, space, ride quality, safety, equipment levels and good road manners. The engines are a bit pedestrian and we wish they had offered it with the 1.2 litre turbo petrol in the Tiago JTP and Nexon. A dual clutch automatic for the petrol is on its way, but there should have been an automatic variant, right from the start. It comes loaded with keyless entry, push button start, climate control, cooled glovebox, ambient lighting, rear AC vents, stop/start, 7 inch touch screen Harmon Karon audio system. While it misses out on LED headlamps and auto-dimming mirrors, it also gets several segment first features like Cruise control, wide opening doors, flat floor etc. Tata also offers several ways of customising one with selected features from the model above, without having to spend for a higher trim level. With rivals like Jazz, i20 and Polo showing their age, the Altroz’s timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Tata Nexon EV

This may very well be India’s first affordable EV – and a proper one at that. Yes, there has been the E2O along with many other Mahindras, and the cheaper Tiago, but those had minuscule range and old battery technology. For it to be called a proper EV in our books, it has to have a high voltage setup and energy dense Lithium ion batteries. The Hyundai Kona was the first attempt at a proper EV we got, followed by the MG eZS and now we have a Tata that looks very promising.

On the face of it, it looks like any other facelifted Nexon. Tata has gone for blue highlights to differentiate the EV from the regular internal combustion engined Nexons. The refreshed styling looks better with less rounded elements and a flatter bonnet. The 16 inch wheels are also new and Tata says they are one kilogram lighter at each corner. It’s odd that Tata hasn’t offered LED headlamps or tail lamps in the EV and it is an eyesore to see inefficient, incandescent bulbs on what is otherwise a very high tech modern day EV.

The interiors of the Nexon EV are very similar to that of the standard car, with good amount of space, decent quality cabin and comfortable seats. The gear selector is now a Land Rover style rotary dial. What gets you every time is that it’s a bit slow to engage drive or reverse, which is annoying considering it’s an EV and that there are no mechanical parts to engage. The instrument console has the same 7 inch display as the Altroz but has EV specific graphics and look nice. The seats are comfortable and supportive, with good visibility, all around. There is a top of the line Lux variant which gets an off-white interior in faux leather, a sun roof, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers etc. The car also gets most of the connectivity features for location based services, vehicle security, remote commands etc.

The 30.2kWh T shaped battery pack sits towards the centre of the car and under the rear seat, taking up the space of the fuel tank. As a result, the boot space remains unchanged at 350 litres. The battery pack adds quite a lot of weight to the Nexon and the EV weighs 150kgs more than the diesel Nexon. The battery pack has an IP67 rating and can go underwater for up to one metre not exceeding 30 minutes. It has also conformed to rigorous other tests such as crushing, fire, nail penetration etc to have an AIS 48 rating. Tata offers a warranty of 8 years or 160,000 km on the battery and the motor. Because of the positioning of the battery, the Nexon EV has a 50:50 weight distribution and a much lower centre of gravity than the standard IC engined car, although the ground clearance is just 4mm lower.

Under the hood, you will find an electric motor that is good for 129bhp and 245Nm. Press the throttle and the Nexon EV responds quite well. The power delivery is quite linear and you can drive around without using too much throttle. You can keep up with other cars easily and the smooth, silent nature of the EV is quite relaxing. If you are in a bit of a hurry and want to close the gaps in traffic quickly, select Sport on the gear lever. Now the throttle feels very enthusiastic and you get a lot of power for even a little bit of pedal travel. The car feels extremely lively and with no traction control or ESP, you tend to spin the wheels when all that torque comes in one bit. It takes some getting used to the electric motor’s instant power delivery and quick throttle response when coming off a petrol/diesel car. Acceleration is very strong and the Nexon EV manages 0-100kmph in 9.6 seconds. Like most EVs it feels much faster than it is because of the way it delivers its output. Top speed is limited to 120kmph though.

The Nexon has retuned suspension with stiffer springs and dampers to suit the EV’s extra weight. It feels firmer on broken roads, but overall it isn’t far removed from the standard Nexon’s. Where it gets a lot better is in the dynamics front. The car feels much tauter and goes into corners better. The lower centre of gravity and the near 50:50 weight distribution helps here, but it is also down to the fact that the strong battery casing acts as a load bearing member, which also makes the overall chassis much stiffer. Select S on the drive, and you can surely have some fun with this EV.

So, what did we not like about the Nexon EV? It does consume a lot of energy in S and you will not get anywhere close to the 312kms ARAI certified range. And once the charge drops below 25 percent, it will not allow you to be in Sport anymore and there is a drastic reduction in available power to get you home. This is an oversight, because even if you know there is a charging station only two kilometres away, you still have to drive slowly to get there, which is bad if you are in an emergency.

Another gripe is that, although the car has hill start assist, there is a momentary delay before that gets activated and the Nexon EV rolls back a fair bit before it can move forwards. Pressing the brakes to stop it rolling backwards, will only delay things further and make matters worse and this can get confusing. You would also wish the amount of regeneration was variable to suit driver preferences, because out on the highway, you may want less re-gen to be able to coast more with a light throttle.

These things aside, the Nexon EV is quite a promising SUV for the price. While building a totally new skate board chassis with hub motors is the best way to build an EV, Tata’s approach is much simpler and very cost effective. Taking an existing production car platform and turning it into an EV, by fitting the electric motor and controllers under the hood where the engine used to be, is much simpler from a manufacturing perspective. That Tata chose to go with the Nexon – a well-received compact SUV, is pure genius. Prices start from around Rs.14 lakhs and if you want to be one of those early EV adopters, be sure to give this one a look.