Auto focus

More power, just not intoxicating

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 21, 2021 Published on January 21, 2021

Tata turbocharges the Altroz; it is quicker, but output is still measured and not a heady rush. Is it right for you?

The Tata Altroz is one of the nicest looking premium hatches in the market. It is unique, with a very modern design, and it also manages to deliver on Tata’s age-old promise of “more car per car”. Unsurprisingly, it has done well for itself in a market that has a raft of aggressive competitors like the Maruti Suzuki Baleno, Hyundai i20 and the Volkswagen Polo. The advantage that the Altroz also enjoyed came in the form of the 1.5-litre, Revotorq Diesel engine that quickly became the default choice for a lot of buyers who still wanted the everyday usability of an oil burner.

Of course, the other engine was the 1.2-litre, Revotron petrol option, which being a naturally aspirated, 3-cylinder engine generating 86PS of power and 113Nm of torque was clearly not the most peppy unit in its size class. Given the size and weight of the Altroz, this engine did feel underpowered, especially by drivers who are uninhibited by the consequences of a heavy right foot. This is quite the contrast to the diesel mill, which delivers 90PS of power and 200Nm of torque.

Tata officials tell me that petrol has become the majority choice amongst Altroz buyers. So, the naturally-aspirated 3-pot mill would undoubtedly have felt underwhelming on the highway; though once it got going, the Altroz’s ride quality, straight-line stability and road holding were all great for a car in this segment.

The trouble with the naturally-aspirated, 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine is its relatively rough character, making it fairly raspy and less refined compared to some of the competitors’ direct-injected, turbocharged 3-cylinders. The character is sort of heightened by the fact that peak torque gets delivered well into the middle of the rev-band, making frequent gear shifts inevitable in slow-moving traffic, especially when there is a need for intermittent short bursts of speed — the kind of driving condition that we see in almost all of our cities now. Turbocharged, small displacement petrol engines are all the rage amongst the major car makers of the world today due to their ability to mimic the diesel engine’s low speed drivability, while also helping cut down on emissions to meet the more stringent current standards. So, in a manner of speaking, Tata Motors is following a global trend, but what is going to be different is the approach towards positioning the turbocharged Altroz. Company officials call it the democratisation of the turbocharged engine. But, before we get to the powertrain, first a bit about its design and interior.

Build and cabin

The design of the Altroz already presents an air of premiumness to the onlooker. The layered, chiselled face and the deeply carved rear design come together to create a unique hatch design that is hard not to like. Intelligent use of black accents and a contrast black roof make this stand out amongst other small cars in the segment. The new iTurbo XZ variant gets the contrast roof, though the same variant with the naturally-aspirated petrol engine doesn’t. There are no special design changes in the iTurbo variant to identify it, except for the badging at the rear. However, there is the choice of a new signature colour — Harbour Blue — for the new iTurbo variants.

The cabin of the Altroz iTurbo is again identical to the other two engine versions of the car, depending on the trim level chosen. Some of the changes and additions to the 2021 Altroz, which the new iTurbo variants also get, include leatherette seats, auto up power windows, the addition of an ‘xpress cool’ option to speed up the air-conditioner’s ability to cool the cabin, and an extra pair of tweeters for the audio system.

The Altroz’s cabin was already one of the most spacious in the segment with enough legroom and headroom at the rear. A flat floor at the rear and a boot space of 345-litres were the other points that make its cabin practical and comfortable. Build quality has been nearly on a par with competitors in the segment; that continues. The new 2021 Altroz’s cabin colour theme is black and light grey, and this works to brighten the cabin in the absence of a sunroof. The iTurbo variants also get the new ‘intelligent real time assist’ (IRA) connected car tech that offers a suite of usable features, including remote commands, security, location-based services like geo-fencing, social networking options and live vehicle diagnosis.

Performance

Unlike the other car brands who have chosen to go with a combination of direct injection, turbocharging and a dual-clutch transmission in an attempt at creating a sort of halo variant, Tata Motors has decided to, what it calls, democratise the turbo petrol engine. So, the same 1,199cc Revotron petrol engine has been carried over. But now it is being force-fed though a wastegate turbocharger, and the same mill manages to deliver a 28 per cent boost in power output at 110PS and about a 24 per cent jump in peak torque at 140Nm. The democratising part that Tata is referring to is the missing bits. There is no direct injection tech in the new iTurbo version. Direct injection is usually chosen as an option to reduce the poor refinement that usually plagues 3-cylinder engines. Of course, other benefits from better combustion are to be had too. To reduce the possibility of even further perceived shortfall in refinement, manufacturers chose to pair these engines with quick-shifting dual-clutch gearboxes.

Tata Motors has avoided these expensive additions and yet attempted to improve the 1.2L Revotron’s perceived quality. For one, power delivered is clearly more generous, though it is not overwhelming and bunched together at the front. The same 5-speed manual gearbox from the naturally-aspirated sibling has been carried over, but taller second and third gears in the iTurbo make it extremely drivable; you could, for example go from about 25kmph to 110kmph in third. There is a lot of low-end torque; peak is delivered from a low 1,500rpm. The result of these changes is that there are fewer and fewer reasons why one would need to let the rpm needle travel well past the midrange. Even in slow-moving traffic, the need to shift gears often is reduced.

The Altroz iTurbo gets the same on-road character as its other engine versions. A good stable ride, with a suspension that keeps occupants comfortable and road-manners that inspire confidence while travelling at speed. Compared to the naturally-aspirated variant and its Eco and City drive modes, the iTurbo gets Sport and City modes. Fuel efficiency at 18.13 kmpl is only marginally lesser than the regular version.

Bottom line

I, for one, am all for what Tata Motors has done with the Altroz iTurbo. It is more mass-market focused and will fill a clearly perceived need for making the hatch more drivable everyday, while it can still be a mild adrenaline rush while climbing the ghat-section.

Petrol-heads don’t ‘maketh’ the majority, so this could well be a winning strategy to extend the appeal of the Altroz.

Yes, if you are looking for the kind of excitement that the short-lived JTP versions of the Tiago and Tigor delivered, then the Altroz iTurbo would disappoint you. But, if the 3-pot petrol had seemed underwhelming on the road for you before, this new turbocharged version will make you change your mind.

With a significant number of buyers now choosing automatic transmissions, it is an option that will be missed in the Altroz iTurbo.

Hopefully, Tata Motors will bring one soon as part of the Altroz’s portfolio of variants (a DCT is rumoured to be in the works). In the meantime, the fact that the iTurbo’s variant strategy includes a XT that sits in the middle of the price range makes it more affordable. And since there is no direct injection tech or a dual-clutch gearbox that could make even the top-end XZ and XZ+ variants expensive, the new iTurbo should be much more approachable.

A petrol engine with the inherent advantages of turbocharging and without the added cost of a dual clutch transmission is the crux of this offering from Tata. It is targeted at the customer who is less conscious about the refinement of the powertrain and more concerned about the price point and cost of ownership. Expect competitive pricing for the new iTurbo variants.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on January 21, 2021
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor