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‘Hairier’ times ahead for the competition

S Muralidhar | Updated on December 06, 2018 Published on December 07, 2018

Feature rich The top trim Harrier gets auto headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, six airbags, cornering fog lamps and reverse parking camera, but no sunroof option

New Tata Harrier delivers on multiple fronts and it feels like the game-changer that the brand needs now

Quite a few of the relics of the past were still there on campus; including the rickety Indigo XL, which I had just taken a ride in to reach Tata Motors’s sprawling Pune facility. The Tata-badged car that I tested on this track before the Harrier was the Nano. But the moment I set eyes on the orange Harrier that stood gleaming under the afternoon sun on the test track, all of Tata’s automotive misadventures of the past seemed to fade away.

Over the last few years, Tata Motors’s car business has risen from a low and the brand is back with a bang and in the reckoning. The Harrier though, promises to wield the power to really change your mind about the brand and its abilities; even more than the Tiago, Tigor and Nexon would have already. The Harrier isn’t just going to fill a gap in Tata’s portfolio, but will actually be the harbinger of a whole range of new vehicles that will be spawned from the OmegaArc platform (derived from the D8 architecture) that it has been built on. The Land Discovery uses the same basic architecture; and though some changes to the materials used have been made to keep costs down (like replacing aluminium with high-strength steel), essentially many of the underpinnings are identical in the Harrier too.

Design

Walking around the Harrier gives me a better perspective of the design integrity and consistency of this fairly large SUV. Said to have been conceived by the in-house design team, with a lot of help from Trilix, the company’s Italian design studio, the Harrier is the best looking Tata ever. There is just that hint of the Discovery at the rear, but the Harrier is very different from anything I have seen. It is also quite remarkable that the design manages to stay so close to the H5X concept.

The front is the unconventional side of the Harrier. The high-set bonnet line has allowed designers the freedom to play with the front profile. The thin DRLs with turn indicators seem to sit at the conventional position for the headlamps, while the HID projectors themselves have been positioned below. Yet, set at the top of the huge front fender, the headlamps are still higher than on most sedans. The Harrier gets its own version of the humanity line and the X-element in the way the front fender is constructed. At the side, the big flared wheel arches combined with the black body cladding give it a strong SUV profile. The chrome finisher tracing the top of the doorline and ending at the rear quarter glass lends some uniqueness to the design.

The rear is a more tight package. The integrated roof spoiler and the 3D, layered design for the tailgate captures the essence of a modern SUV. The rear fender gets a larger section in black in keeping with a gradient theme. The faux exhaust finishers on either side of the faux diffuser in the rear fender are just that; the exhaust pipe itself is a short tube ending behind the fender.

The LED tubes in the tail-lights and the DRLs in the front combine to give the Harrier an awesome light signature at night. Overall, the exterior design of the Harrier is very appealing. The shut lines are tight, there are no design excesses and the build quality is nearly as good as any other in the price segment just north of ₹15 lakhs. The bits I didn’t like were some of the chrome trim elements and the excessive branding on the outside.

Cabin

It is a fairly big SUV, and the Harrier’s cabin space reflects its body size. The first impression of the cabin’s build and quality is very good. There is a certain symmetry and clear design language to the dashboard layout. The curved design line that wraps on top of the dashboard running from one front door panel to the other communicates this consistency even better. The dashboard layout and ergonomics are spot on, the soft-touch top panel, the faux wood and aluminium inserts and the fake leather-wrapped bits are all excellent to touch and feel. Even some of the shiny plastic bits don’t feel cheap, but don’t feel too premium either. But on closer inspection, some of the knobs and handles feel a bit oversized or lacking in finesse like the rotary terrain response selector, the ‘aero-throttle’ style hand brake and the door handles.

The Harrier’s seats are great. The top trim I was testing sported the same Benecke Kaliko perforated leather-like upholstery. Nicely bolstered and with the right amount of firmness, they should be perfect for long journeys. The centre stack gives off the vibe of an SUV with its rotary knob, controls and thick handles on either side. The ‘floating island’ touchscreen infotainment system topping the stack is the most premium element in the cabin.

This HMI combo features a 8.8-inch, high-res (1600X600) infotainment touch screen and a seven-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster that displays key drive-related information. The media system is a significant step up for Tata Motors and even for the segment.

It features an eight-speaker JBL set up with an external amplifier and sub-woofer producing an impressive output of 320 RMS. There is no embedded Nav system, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, using your smartphone for multiple functions including navigation won’t be a problem.

Mirroring between the infotainment and instrument cluster displays also makes it more versatile. Tata Motors is also offering an exclusive app called DrivePro, which is safety and efficiency focussed, and is expected to help drivers get an idea about how good their driving habits are.

For this, the system depends on reinterpreting ECU data for visually representing performance compared to benchmarks.

Performance

The Harrier is powered by the Fiat-derived Kryotec Diesel engine. There is no petrol engine on offer, for now. And the transmission choice is also only the six-speed manual (basically the Fiat C635), with individualised gear ratios and gating character compared to the Fiat gearbox. The two-litre diesel engine delivers 140 PS of power and 350 Nm of torque. This is inherently a quiet, refined engine with an uncharacteristically low diesel clatter even on the outside. There have been additional inputs for improving NVH characteristics, including hydra mounts for the engine and front suspension, auxiliary isolation panels have also been used for the firewall, and an isolated front suspension subframe further reduces suspension related noise. There is also more technology in the engine like the light weight, low friction valve train to lower operational noises.

Even at peak revs, the powertrain feels agile and isn’t sluggish like a mis-paired underpowered unit struggling to pull a behemoth. The electronically controlled variable geometry turbocharger does its job, ensuring that power and torque delivery are quite linear with only just a hint of lag. The gearbox has been given tall lower gears, so fewer gear shifts may be needed. The shift feel is also good with none of the rubbery, notchy gating that the previous cars suffered from.

 

 

 

The Harrier gets both Drive modes and Terrain modes. Like in the case of the Nexon, the drives modes are Eco and Sport, with the City mode being the default selection. Mapping is similar in character to the other models, though it has been customised to suit the Harrier and its Kryotec engine and the Fiat gearbox. The Sport mode seems to be the most suitable, with its mapping allowing the Harrier to breathe better and take quicker strides. Terrain modes only use a mix of assistance provided by the electronic aids in the Harrier to just marginally alter its response to changes in driving conditions. They include Normal, Rough Road and Wet. Since there is no four-wheel drive option being offered at the moment (Tata officials say that there will be a 4X4 version later in the Harrier’s life-cycle), the drive modes simply depend on a varying cocktail of assistance from electronic stability control, cornering control and electronic brakeforce distribution to improve response. There is no change to the suspension or steering response. But the interesting bits are the inclusion of brake disc wiping to avoid fade and the fact that the Harrier gets an impressive 450 mm of water wading capability.

Bottom Line

The Harrier’s suspension geometry is very similar to the Discovery Sport’s. The front is almost identical, but rear suspension set up has been changed to make it hardier and focussed for the rough and tumble of Indian driving conditions. Tata engineers got considerable assistance from Lotus Engineering of UK for tuning the rear suspension. I found the ride quality to be a bit over-pliant, even wallowy at times. There is a bit of body roll, but it is clear that the Harrier benefits immensely from the monocoque construction and inherently rigid structure of the D8 platform. Handling is still good, though not in the same league as some of the SUVs in the ₹20-lakh plus category. I’d have liked the Harrier’s steering to offer more centre weight; but the chunky wheel offers a nice grip and is adequately precise around corners. The Harrier’s top speed has been restricted to 170 kmph. During my drive, the test mule’s real-time mileage display showed a fuel efficiency range from about 8.9 kmpl to about 13.1 kmpl. The Harrier is by far the best that has rolled out of Tata’s stables. It has a long list of additional safety and convenience features including hill-hold control and off-road ABS. As a package, it is compelling, despite some of the rough edges in the cabin and handling characteristics. But Tata shouldn’t out-price the Harrier. My estimate for it would be an ex-showroom price range of ₹12-16 lakhs.

Published on December 07, 2018
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