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The power to ‘Altroz’ perceptions

S Muralidhar | Updated on December 12, 2019 Published on December 12, 2019

During my test drive on the empty roads surrounding Jaisalmer, I got over 12kmpl from the petrol variant and over 14kmpl from the diesel. Rated mileage hasn’t been announced

Toggling the menu button on the steering gets you to switch between screens that display real-time mileage, average mileage, distance to empty and an interesting representation of the power and torque in use and available real-time.

Tata Motors‘ new premium hatch will bring a breath of fresh air to the segment and make you rethink the decision to look elsewhere

Tata Motors is being bitten by the very bugs that were its allies in the past. Overwhelmed by the hype, and feeling underwhelmed by its cars of a decade ago, customers continue to be wary of buying Tata’s models of today. Its vehicles on sale now are a bunch of healthy, relatively reliable, well-designed products that have been awarded high ratings for safety by global agencies. Yet, the market’s response has been lukewarm.

Tata models of the past five years, including the Tiago/Tigor, the Hexa, Nexon and the Harrier, have been pointers to the level of maturity that the brand has reached as a car maker. There are still some areas where Tata cars need to catch up, but with each new model that gap is being bridged. The latest model to join the lineup will be the Altroz, which when launched next month will help Tata fill another yawning gap in its portfolio. I drove the Altroz last week and I think it represents the culmination of a decade of concerted efforts at improving the refinement and dynamics of their cars. It is time to give Tata a second chance.

Design

The B+ segment (premium hatch) has seen very few recent additions and the Altroz promises to inject some freshness into the category. The design of this new hatch stands out from the current crop, which should work in its favour. The cab forward design that has been a regular from Tata is still very much alive in the Altroz too. But, the design is a nice mix of elements that makes the hatch look like it also has the flavour of a high-set crossover.

The steeply sloped bonnet starts with the signature Humanity line which we have seen in all of the last five cars from the brand. The nose is extremely prominent thanks to the glossy black band that runs across the top of the bonnet grille and over the headlamps like a brow. To shake off that attention-grabbing feature, it gets chrome under-lipping that runs the width of the grille and wraps around the bottom edge of the headlamps. The chunky front fender with what looks like a large airdam, also houses the cornering fog lamps. The simple, elegantly designed bonnet merges into a slim A-pillar (on the outside) and a steeply raked roofline. The bulging wheel arches are big contributors to the crossover hints in the Altroz’s design. Following a family design language, the front window has a kink where the waistline dips right after the quarter glass and rises up to follow a straight line to the rear. But the thick A-pillar does take away the advantage of improved blind-spot visibility.

The rear of the Altroz features a three-dimensional, layered design. The tail-lamps are sort of bug-eyed protrusions from the body of the car and the fender is shaped into two chiseled layers. In the top trim variant that I was testing, there was a glossy black panel adorning the portion of the tailgate between and over the top of the two tail-lamps, to create a sort of matching theme to the front. The rear design makes the Altroz look wide and squat, while the rising belt-line continues to give it crossover traits. The ground clearance is 165mm, though from the pictures it’ll seem like the car is sprung higher. With the rear seats in place, the boot space is 345 litres. Viewed from the side, the windows are nicely framed by the thick, glossy black window graphic trim, somewhat like the Nexon’s white stripe.

Cabin

The fit and finish, and quality of materials on the outside is really good, with excellently painted panels and consistently tight shutlines. So, the expectations from the cabin are already heightened as I step in. The competition is intense with cars like the Hyundai i20, in which the cabin feels as good or better than many sedans. So, the Altroz’s cabin has to match these benchmarks. Slipping behind the wheel, I discover that the interior features a pleasing mix of materials and features that are modern and match most, if not all, of the other cars in the segment in terms of quality. The layout of the dashboard is fairly conventional, though the design manages to highlight each of the elements in it. Matt grey panels at the top and glossy silver panels at the front give the dash contrasting elements. Hidden LED ambient lighting gives some more character to the cabin and highlight features like the floating panel at the top of the centre stack, which houses the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

The seats, the firm cushioning and the fabric upholstery feel good to sit on. Legroom is adequate both at the front and the rear even for tall passengers, though I suspect that the Baleno and Jazz may have a bit more kneeroom. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find a dead pedal in the Altroz. Also, the choice of material for the textured dashboard plastic panels is good, though there is still considerable glare on the windscreen. Fit and finish of the switches, knobs and controls are also good. The Altroz’s cabin (top trim) also gets all the latest features like auto headlamps, auto wipers etc. Instrument cluster features a combination of an analog speedo, and a digital info and tachometer. The sporty flat-bottomed, multi-function steering wheel also felt great to hold and use. A Harman music system, a dual-shelf glovebox and an umbrella holder in the front door panels are some of the other interesting features in the cabin.

Performance

The Altroz is being offered with the petrol and diesel engines that we have already seen in the Tigor and Nexon, but at different output levels. The 3-cylinder, 1,199cc Revotron petrol engine in the Altroz is BS6 compliant, and generates a peak power of 86PS and peak torque of 113Nm. The engine is paired with a 5-speed manual transmission. The diesel unit is the Revotorq, 4-cylinder, 1,497cc, turbocharged and intercooled engine. This engine is also BS6 compliant, and without the need for an ammonia tank. In the Altroz, this engine delivers a peak output of 90PS and a peak torque of 200Nm. A 5-speed manual gearbox is the choice here too. Both the engines are likely to get automatic transmissions soon and the choice may be DCTs (dual clutch); whether they’d be wearing a JTP badge is something we are going to have to wait to see.

The engines are both good choices for the Altroz and both fairly peppy units. The three-pot petrol is the surprise here, delivering a fairly sprightly performance once it gets on the go. The only bit that is a dampener is throttle response which feels a bit muted in the Eco driving cycle and is only a shade better in the City mode. A Sport mode would have been a welcome addition, though I think it is probably being saved for the DCT endowed variant. There is some amount of transmission noise that gets into the cabin and in the diesel variant had a bit of vibration at the steering too. The manual gearbox shift quality is good, though with the tall stick, the throw is fairly long and really quick shifts aren’t it’s forte. Noise levels inside the cabin have been contained. Powertrain noise inside the cabin is not intrusive, and though I could hear the engine even at mid-revs, unlike some of the other gruff 3-cylinders, this one sounds good.

Brake setup features discs at the front and drums at the rear, and ABS with EBD is standard fitment across variants. Braking is progressive and the Altroz feels stable under hard emergency braking.

The ride quality is as good as competitors like Maruti Suzuki Baleno and Honda Jazz, thanks to a fairly sorted suspension setup. The Altroz feels light and easy to turn at slow speeds and very planted at high speeds with the steering weighing up nicely too. There is no loss of composure or edgy feeling even when it is being pushed at its limits. However, it doesn’t feel as planted and its handling isn’t as confidence inspiring as the segment benchmark - the Volkswagen Polo. The Goodyear rubber that my test mules came shod with had high grip limits, so there was no squealing even when taking corners at high speed. Both the diesel and petrol versions sported 16-inch rims, but the petrol was shod with wider and slightly lower profile 195/55 tyres.

Bottom Line

The Altroz has been built on a brand new modular platform called ALFA which is likely to spawn more models with different body styles over the next few years, including electrics. While the architecture’s overall strengths look promising based on the Altroz’s performance, it also delivers some structural benefits to the new premium hatch. These include the wide, 90-degree opening of all four doors and the flat (no transmission tunnel) floor at the rear of the Altroz.

There are minor ergonomics issues inside the cabin that can be overlooked. But, the overall refinement levels of the Altroz is still lower than the i20 and the Jazz. The Altroz will be offered with four trim variants and customers can apparently customise their cars irrespective of which variant they have chosen.

The Altroz’s potential for consistent performance and long term reliability looks promising. But, I think to bridge the trust deficit Tata Motors should consider conquest pricing when its first premium hatch is launched next month.

Published on December 12, 2019
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