Tata looks beyond the horizon with its new Zest sedan and Bolt hatchback. Ouseph Chacko gets the first look

Tata Motors’ latest two cars represent the beginning of a sea change at the company. The Zest sub-four-metre saloon and the Bolt hatchback are the first cars to reveal Tata Motors’ intention to inject big doses of desirability into its products. Both cars were unveiled in the run up to the Auto Expo.

At first glance, both have the unmistakable silhouette of the Vista and are based on that very car’s X1 platform. But look closely and you will see that the two new cars have been extensively re-engineered.

Tata Motors is keen to move away from the un-aspirational image that the Vista and Manza presented and make its new cars appeal to a younger set of people — it’s what Tata’s ‘Horizonext’ strategy is all about.

The noses of both the Bolt and Zest are aggressive, with a heavily sculpted front bumper, smart, stretched headlamps that incorporate projectors, a new grille that flows seamlessly into the headlamps and even a mild power bulge on the bonnet. There are differences between the two — the Zest gets LED daytime running lamps and an additional chrome strip bordering its grille, while the insides of the Bolt’s headlamps are blacked out. It’s past the rear doors that the most obvious differences lie — the Bolt gets the ‘floating roof’ effect via blacked out C-pillars, and it loses the Indica’s signature vertical tail-lamps for a more conventional design, which does look quite attractive.

As for the Zest, the rear windshield flows smoothly into the stubby boot and the wraparound tail-lamps are, again, a distinctive feature. And, though the boot is attractive, it isn’t smoothly integrated with the rest of the design. The biggest problem, though, is that the high cowl or firewall of the Vista is carried forward, and that makes it difficult to get that rising window line or a tipped-forward stance that is a trademark of all good-looking saloons. Also, the Zest was shod with 16-inch wheels that added to its tall stance and made it look like it was standing on tip-toes.

Size wise, the Bolt is as wide and tall as the Vista, but has grown 30mm in length (thanks mostly to a longer front overhang) while the Zest qualifies as a small car thanks to its 3,995mm length. The wheelbase of both cars is identical to the Vista’s 2470mm, but the track is wider.

New steering rack

A big part of the chassis improvements were aimed at reducing the noise, vibration and harshness entering the cabin. There is, for example, a new steering rack mounted on a new sub-frame, the hard points of which were optimised to transmit the fewest shocks to the steering wheel. The steering mechanism itself is a shift from the Vista’s hydraulic power steering to a ZF-designed electrically assisted. Even the engine mount bushes have been optimised to isolate engine vibrations from the cabin occupants.

The talking point of the Bolt and the Zest is the new Revotron engine. It’s a 1.2-litre turbocharged, multi-point fuel-injected petrol motor that makes 84bhp. While that might not sound particularly impressive, the Revotron’s USP is the meaty 14.3kgm of turbo-aided torque it makes right from 1750rpm. The Revotron also features a first-in-segment ‘Sport’ mode, accessed via a button on the dash that switches to a different ECU map, altering the fuelling and other parameters. The main focus for this engine, though, was fuel efficiency and noise reduction.

The diesel engine is the tried and tested Fiat-licensed, 1.3-litre Multijet and Tata claims to have reduced weight on this by around 50kg.

The Bolt will get the Multijet with the fixed-geometry turbo that amounts to 74bhp and the Zest will get the variable-geometry turbo (VGT) that helps bump up power to 89bhp. The Zest diesel will also come with the Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) jointly developed by Tata, Fiat and Magneti Marelli.

As with the Vista, the Bolt and the Zest remain spacious on the inside. But what’s most striking is the entirely new dashboard and the obvious improvement to the fit and finish. It’s clear that careful attention has been paid to everything that you touch and move – the switches for the new infotainment system, the knurled finish on the air-con knobs, and the steering wheel have a nice quality feel to them. The only bits that resemble what was once on the Vista are the headlight and wiper stalks and the doorpads. The Bolt’s interiors feature a sportier theme with plenty of black offset by the slab of white that runs across the dashboard.

As for storage space, the door pockets remain slim, there’s a cupholder next to the gearlever and a massive glovebox to make up for the lack of cubbyholes in the cabin. Also, like the Vista, neither the Zest nor the Bolt has a dead pedal — the big air-conditioning unit that sits behind the centre console eats into the driver footwell.

The front seats, however, are excellent. They are accommodating and snug at the same time, and Tata engineers spent a lot of time optimising the side bolsters, the seat base bolsters and even the cushioning. The attention to detail even extends to the seat belt webbing and the retractor mechanism that have been designed to feel smoother and richer in the way they operate.

Rear seat comfort

The rear seats are comfortable too – there’s good headroom, and with the scooped out rear of the front seats, there’s even more kneeroom than before. With the Zest, Tata has improved the rear seat angle and contours of the seat – it was just a question of balancing boot space and rear seat comfort, whereas in the Bolt, the rear seat angle remains the same as the Vista’s.

The Zest’s 360-litre boot is smaller than the Amaze’s 400 litres and it isn’t as well shaped either – there’s quite a lot of suspension intrusion into luggage space.

Tata hasn’t announced how many variants there will be yet, but it’s clear that the cars we had were fully loaded. They came with projector lamps and a touchscreen infotainment system developed in conjunction with Harman that features voice controls and navigation. You also get Bluetooth connectivity, an SD card reader, USB and aux-in, along with a trip computer, power windows, power mirrors, parking sensors and climate control.

Both cars are expected to hit showrooms in the latter half of 2014.

Tata has not announced prices yet, but seeing how keen they are on improving sales, as well as Tata’s history of offering ‘more car per car’, we expect them to be priced competitively.

There’s no doubt that Tata has taken a huge step forward with the Bolt and the Zest. It remains to be seen how good these cars are on the road and how well they perform against a new lot of rivals.

But the Tata Motors is finally looking beyond the horizon.