One of the secrets to getting the equation right with hatchbacks is apparently to ensure that there is a top-end variant which is much better value than the lower priced, lower-spec variants. The great value makes buyers gravitate towards the top-trim variant. And the ones that can’t afford the price differential will still end up buying the lower-trim due to the rub-off effect from the sporty, desirable variant that they had to forgo.

Tata Motors has decided to play that card again for the Vista, sales of which hasn’t been really perky in the last few months. Five years after a model’s launch many car makers tend to go for a generation change, but with the Indica Vista having undergone a significant design overhaul fairly recently (about 14 months ago), infusing some desirability factor into it has to be more of an under-the-skin job.

The new Indica Vista D90 packages just that. A more powerful engine, better quality interiors and a sportier ride, without any change to the exterior.

Exterior design

The Vista’s design was already one of the best from out of Tata’s passenger car stable. Compared to the Indica, the Vista featured cleaner, tighter shut lines, more elegant body panels and simply much better finished parts on the outside. The changes to the front and rear fenders, the headlamps and the tail-lamps and the grille also made the Vista look more upmarket. None of these features have been changed in the new Vista D90. In fact, the only differentiator when you step up to the car is the D90 badge at the rear on the hatch.

There are a few options though, which if chosen, can add some unique bits to the D90. They are dealer fitment options and include features like wings onto the front fender, an infinity contrast roof (essentially the roof panel in a different colour and not a sunroof) and a new rear spoiler. The new Vista D90 is also offered with a new body colour called Ultraviolet.

The significance of the D90’s badge, of course, comes from the engine’s higher power output. Essentially, Tata engineers have picked out the same Suzuki-Fiat-GM alliance engine called the Quadrajet by Tata, Multijet by Fiat and DDiS by Maruti-Suzuki and tweaked its power output up to 90 PS. The same engine’s lower powered version in the existing Vista 75 generates a sixth lesser as peak power.

The same 1,248cc Quadrajet engine in the D90 manages to get to 90PS largely with the help of a new variable geometry turbocharger. The Quadrajet75 featured a fixed geometry turbocharger. Apart from the addition of the VGT tech, there has been some work done on tuning the engine to ensure that the extra power is delivered right.

Interiors from Manza

Stepping into the new Indica Vista D90 and revving the engine immediately gives you a taste of the increased prowess, but it also wakes you up, not because of the noise in the cabin, rather the lack of it. Tata engineers have done a superb job of eliminating engine noise and road noise ingress. New insulation materials have significantly improved the sound-deadening in the cabin. There is much lesser road noise and combined with the firmer suspension, the cabin stay quiet and confident even over bad roads.

The next most impressive feature in the new D90’s cabin is the interior quality. Tata engineers have simply borrowed the dashboard and door panels from the Manza and plonked it into the D90. But the result is a huge jump in the perceived quality of the new Vista D90. The panels are cleaner cut, the plastic quality is better and the fit and finish levels suddenly seem better than the average hatchback in this price segment.

Now, the instrument cluster is finally back behind the slightly over-sized steering wheel, instead of the centre-mounted display in the Vista 75. The entire centre console topped by the digital info display is much better finished. To increase the desirability factor, the new D90’s top-end ZX+ variant also gets a 6.7-inch touchscreen multimedia system complete with media compatibility of pretty much every kind (USB, aux-in, VCD, CD, DVD, SDHC). It also features a radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a voice-enabled GPS navigation system. The lower trim VX variant gets a regular 2-DIN music system.

The familiar Vista characteristic of space in the cabin hasn’t been changed in any way and there is loads of leg room and headroom in the D90 too. The cabin certainly feels better kitted out and plusher to sit in now, though there are a couple of knobs and controls that feel a little flimsy. One other crib of mine will be about the chunky steering column jutting out of the dash that makes it a bit tough to get the perfect sitting posture despite there being so many adjustments possible to the seat.

Performance

The Vista D90’s engine is also identical in terms of its characteristics to the same engine’s performance in the Manza sedan. The D90 is however, about 100kgs lighter than the Manza. Though it is heavier than the Suzuki Swift, with the higher power output on its side, the D90 manages to deliver 76.3 PS of power per tonne, compared to the Swift’s 69.4 PS per tonne.

The engine delivers 90 PS of power at 4,000 rpm and peak torque is also marginally up to 200 Nm compared to the Quadrajet 75’s 190Nm. In both cases, peak torque is available within the rpm-band of 1,750 to 3,000. But the new D90 behaves differently, not just because of the higher power.

With that many more horses on tap, the D90 does seem more agile. But, the story is not one where the boost to the engine has led to run away acceleration. The VGT tech does add dollops of power on tap, but it is not unleashed from the word go. There is still turbolag and despite the numbers on the spec-sheet a considerable amount of torque gets delivered only after the engine has crossed the 2,200 rpm mark. Then all too suddenly, there is too much torque to handle.

Power delivery is more linear and not bunched together at the top-end of the rev-band, but it does drop off pretty quick once the needle crosses the 5,000 rpm mark. Incidentally, the transparent rpm meter needle starts to glow red when it reaches the redline. So, on the road, the new D90 feels quicker and yet, not as swift or agile as the Swift. The Swift still features the lower power (75 PS) version of the same engine.

But, there is more to the D90’s VGT engine and that bit comes in slow moving traffic. This is where the amount of low-end torque available makes it extremely easy to keep driving without having to shift gears all too often. I went all the way down to about 38 kmph on fifth gear without any engine knocking setting in. The five-speed manual gearbox continues to be mated to this engine.

The D90 also drives better because of a stiffened chassis and a retuned suspension set up. Bad roads and undulations on the road don’t seem to unsettle the D90 as much as they would have the Quatrajet 75. The better NVH packaging also means that the D90 feels more solid, as there is no rattle or other worrying road noise. Body roll is also minimal, so ride quality is good overall. But, there is still room for improvement in the handling department. The D90 also gets a larger 44-litre fuel tank.

Bottomline

By adding the D90 to the Vista’s current portfolio of three models, Tata has flanked what was already a great value for money car with a new more desirable option. There is a lot going for the new D90 and that includes fuel efficiency that has only been affected marginally by the increase in power. The ARAI rated combined cycle mileage for the D90 is 21.1 kmpl.

At Rs 6 lakh and Rs 6.83 lakh for the VX and the ZX+, the Indica Vista D90 is simply good value. There are compromises to be made in some of the design and handling departments, but finally the Vista can hold its own against the other premium hatches in the market.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 5, 2013)
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