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| | Updated on: Dec 10, 2015
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Can the new Zica help Tata Motors claw back some of its lost market share and mend its image?

Tata Motors’ passenger car division needs a blockbuster. The Bolt and the Zest brought some much needed freshness to the company’s portfolio. They also managed to convince that Tata Motors is getting the hang over the close collaboration that is needed between design and engineering; and that its Indica hangover is a thing of the past.

Yet, the Zest and the Bolt just haven’t been able to rack up the numbers for Tata Motors. This could have been influenced by the Bolt design’s over-familiarity and the sour experiences of previous Tata owners. Tata Motors really needs a clean break from the past.

The new Tata Zica could then be just what the doctor ordered. Tata Motors’ new design team has started from scratch to create a car that has a completely new profile and face, though some of Tata Motors’ lineage is still visible in areas like the grille design.

Design

The Zica’s design is as modern as current day hatchback design gets. The wheels at the extremes to maximize interior space, compact bonnet, an aerodynamically optimized roofline and clean, tight shut lines. A sharp sloping bonnet means that the Zica gets a sharp nose; and with Tata Motors’ trademark humanity line framing the black honey-comb grille, the car gets a smiling face. Both the headlamps and the tail-lamps feature a peeled back design, so viewed straight from the front and from the rear the Zica seems more compact than when viewed from the side.

We don’t think Tata cars of the past lacked in practicality and the Zica is not an exception, but the difference is the refinement in its design. Every line, save a couple, is there for a purpose. The tiny lip-like protrusion on the rear fender and at the end of the wheel arch is meant to cut the water spray on a rainy day. Overall, the Zica is by far the best designed production car to have come out of the Tata stable.

Interiors

The cabin of the Zica is a big change from the past too, but doesn’t get as many marks as the exterior design. However, it is one of the best that Tata Motors has ever come up with. Every knob and control is in the right place, featuring materials that are close to the best in the segment and the design of the dashboard is clean and tasteful. The seats have fat supportive squabs and the only crib was that the driver seat is still set high even at the lowest adjustment level. The short gear stick is a bit of a stretch to reach when it is in forward gear slots. The centre console, the door pockets and the cooled glove box offer a number of storage options. The highlight of the interior is the new Harman infotainment system with its acoustically optimised 8-speaker package and smartphone-enabled turn-by-turn navigation. The cabin gets a few other nifty features like a driver’s side coin storage and toll ticket holder, steering mounted controls and colour-coordinated aircon vent trim. Boot area is a slightly restrictive 240 litres, but it is squarish and should be entirely usable. The dashboard features a layered design concept and gets a grey and black dual-tone theme. There is a considerable amount of plastic around the car, but the quality of materials used softens the impact.

With features like the moulded roof liner in knitted fabric and the premium seat upholstery, the general take away from the Zica’s cabin is that the fit and finish, and perceived quality is very good. But there are still some minor ergonomics issues. The edges of some of the plastic parts are sharp, a couple of manual adjustments weren’t consistent during use. Some of the nicer touches though, were the engine-rpm needle lighting up red when it goes past the peak power level, and the shopping bag hooks with weight marking.

Performance

The Zica will be offered with one petrol and one diesel engine – both of them are three cylinder units. The Revotron nomenclature continues for the petrol engine, which is now a 1,199cc, all-aluminium mill. The engine produces 85PS of peak power and 114Nm of peak torque. The three-cylinder engine’s characteristic roughness comes through during the initial idling cycle. On the run, the engine feels like a free-revving unit and though the noise levels are higher than 4-cylinder units, there is no sluggishness.

Tata engineers have worked extensively in containing the NVH characteristics of the Zica. But the 3-cylinder petrol engine still does sound a bit noisy in the cabin, especially at higher revs and ‘vibey’ during idling. But, overall refinement is not bad at all and in terms of on-road results, we don’t see why buyers should be too worried whether this is a 3-cylinder or a 4-cylinder. The shift quality of the 5-speed gearbox is excellent and above par for this segment.

The same goes for the new 3-cylinder Revotorq diesel engine. It is a one-litre engine (1,047cc) which delivers a peak power of 70PS at 4,000rpm and a healthy peak torque of 140Nm between 1,800-3,000rpm. Compared to the 3-cylinder petrol engine, the one-litre diesel engine seems relatively less noisy, partly because we were expecting it to be a loud diesel. The compact turbocharger has a bit of initial lag, but once the needle crosses the 1,500rpm mark, a steady rise in torque availability can be felt.

Fuel efficiency numbers for the two engines haven’t been revealed yet, but the real-time FE read out in the instrument cluster of the diesel variant said that we’d got about 13.8kmpl after our zippy drive.

Bottomline

The Tata Zica’s ride quality is excellent and is its standout feature on the road. A dual-path suspension and 9th-gen ABS with EBD (anti-lock brakes) system delivers a stiff, but non-jarring ride. Steering feel, precision and cornering abilities felt like they’d be on a par with the segment benchmark – Hyundai i10 Grande.

The Zica will be launched next month, and prices and other details will be revealed then. This represents a clean departure in design, engineering quality and performance for Tata Motors. This car should truly represent a turning point for the brand.

The Zica can confidently take on the likes of the Maruti Suzuki Celerio and the Hyundai Grande i10. But we still believe Tata should look at disruptively pricing the car in the Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 5.5 lakh price range.

Published on March 10, 2018

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