Sophisticated design, quality cabin and generous equipment give the Tata Aria an upmarket look, says Shapur Kotwal

The Aria crossover has been built at the other end of the Tata Motors model spectrum to give the brand an upmarket image. The design of the Aria crossover is an amalgam of a car, MPV and SUV. The front end resembles a Tata car with its Indica-like grille and central bonnet crease as does the vertical tail-light. The large 235/65 R17 tyres and muscular arches and the Aria's long wheelbase has well-balanced proportions.

The twin barrelled headlamps and the well-chiselled headlight assembly looks fantastic, but doesn't offer as good illumination as the Safari's lamps. Tata has managed to camouflage the mass of the car cleverly with the use of blacked-out rear pillars and a roof panel that swoops into the D-pillar. The swooped-back roofline styling can be seen on cars such as like the Mercedes R-class too.

Panel gaps are quite big in some places, but the deep-gloss paint job and ample use of chrome give the Aria an attractive premium look. Under the skin, the Aria is completely new. The Aria's modern X2 chassis is Tata's first all-new ladder frame in 22 years. Tata has stuck to a ladder frame rather than a lighter, unibody or monocoque as the company feels this tried-and-tested structure delivers the strength and rigidity demanded by our roads in the long run. Also, the Aria's hydroformed chassis, the first for an Indian car, is lighter and stronger than a conventional frame.

The Aria's front suspension is all new. A coil spring set-up with wishbones instead of a torsion bar layout, used in the Safari, makes space for front driveshafts. The rear suspension is similar to the Safari's five-link design but rear discs brakes are standard. It gets a new all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that automatically switches from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive when it senses slippery conditions. In two-wheel-drive mode though, power is sent to the rear wheels and not the front ones. The top-of-the-line variant gets traction control and ESP as standard. All the equipment and 4X4 hardware adds to the weight of the car tipping the scales at 2.2 tonnes.

Interiors

Since the compnay is positioning the Aria as a luxury crossover, it comes brimming with features — a built-in Sat-Nav, cruise control, Bluetooth pairing for five phones, reversing camera and screen, sliding second row seats, electrically retractable rear-view mirrors, glovebox chiller and even rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights. The GPS, though, feels out-of-date.

The effort put into building quality interiors is evident. Fit and finish is the best on any Tata product yet. Materials are high quality for a Tata, but aren't up to standards for a vehicle costing Rs. 15 lakh. There are a few ergonomic issues that need to be addressed — such as the steering position that's too close to the driver and the high pedals. Where the Aria aces is space. The dash is very functional and the seats are padded well. They feel a bit hard but it suits long drives. However, the seats are not powered, which is a big omission for such an expensive car. Space at the rear is also ample and the flat floor makes it easy to move around. The middle seat slides to make space for the third row if occupied, but it is best-suited for children. Even without folding the third row though, there is decent space in the rear for luggage. Fold the middle and rear seats and you can get a large loading area but folding them down takes some effort.

Storage space inside the cabin is quite generous. There are numerous cubby-holes and two gloveboxes (one of them is cooled). There are seven roof mounted boxes.

The soft suspension set-up of the Aria does a good job of cushioning its passengers from poor patches of road. Low speed ride is excellent. You can feel that occasional thump over sharper potholes but otherwise the ride quality feels quite plush. At high speeds though, you will experience some vertical movement on undulating surfaces as the nose constantly bobs and the car does not feel as planted as you would expect. Tata needs to sort out the damping to give the Aria better high speed manners. Steering lacks feel like most Tata cars but you can dart into a series of corners fairly accurately. But it is best to drive the Aria in a relaxed manner.

Ride and handling

Driving such a huge car in the city isn't as difficult as you would imagine. Controls are light and visibility is excellent due to huge windows. Parking the Aria requires some serious effort because of its size but the reverse camera standard on the Pride version makes it much easier.

Although the Aria gets an AWD system, it is at best an off-roader. Hardcore offroading is better avoided because there is no low range transmission and ground clearance isn't that high. The Aria manages slippery conditions without much fuss and feels surefooted on slushy roads. In the city, it returned 9.8kpl and on the highway it gave 13.8kpl. The Tata Aria is a likeable car and will impress many

Keywords: Tata AriaMPVSUV