Motoring

Tata Altroz review: There’s much to like about the drive

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A peppier petrol engine, more refinement and a greater focus on connectivity would make the hatchback easier to recommend

In a nutshell, the Altroz is Tata’s answer to the Maruti Suzuki Baleno, Hyundai i20 and Honda Jazz. The Altroz not only marks Tata’s entry into the competitive premium hatchback segment, but is also the launch vehicle for their all-new modular ALFA (Agile, Light, Flexible, Advanced) architecture that will form the basis for a slew of new Tatas to come. The Altroz also happens to be the first Tata to get BS-VI-compliant engines — a 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated petrol and a 1.5-litre turbo-diesel — paired with manual gearboxes for now.

While the Altroz’s silhouette is conventional hatchback, the multiple stylistic flourishes on the body work cohesively to elevate the overall look of the car. The shark nose-like front end, the black-finished sleek grille, the swept-back headlights and high-set fog lamps (also home to the LED DRLs) give the Altroz its distinctive face.

Moving to the sides, the upswept windows come underlined by a black embellishment that tapers towards the rear, in effect, giving the illusion of a car with a sporty tipped-forward stance. What is sure to be a bit polarising is the placement of the rear door handles on the C-pillar.

Round the back, the Altroz gets a dual-tone theme, with the spoiler, tail-light surround and upper tail gate finished in black. Buyers also have the option of a black roof for the full effect (XZ trim only).

Each of the Altroz’s four doors opens to 90 degrees, and getting into the front section of the cabin is particularly easy. The Altroz’s dash has a layered look to it, with the centre console featuring turquoise back-lighting. The free-standing 7.0-inch touchscreen is positioned atop the dashboard (in clear sight), and material quality is good by class standards. However, there are places where the panel gaps aren’t consistent.

Large seats mean comfort up front is well taken care of, while the flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering feels great to hold. Frontal visibility is good, though the thick A-pillars do create blind spots. The part-digital instrumentation also requires some getting used to. The squared-out dials aren’t easy enough to follow and the digital tacho — displayed on a 7.0-inch display — only highlights an engine speed range, rather than a specific rpm. The digital screen also houses an informative multi-information display, and what’s nice is that it even relays navigation instructions from a connected smartphone.

The cabin also scores well on storage space and gets plenty of cupholders — including within the glovebox, which also has a compartment to stow your tablet — a storage bay under the driver’s armrest and even an umbrella holder on each of the front doors.

Getting into the back seat is not as comfy as it’s made out to be. The doors open wide, but the aperture between the seat and B-pillar isn’t the largest. The rear cabin doesn’t feel as airy or spacious as some rivals, but you really won’t have reason to complain on either count. There’s enough knee room for six-footers to sit in comfort, and if you sit bolt upright, you will find headroom just about adequate. The relatively high-set rear seat also offers a fairly good view out the windows. There is enough shoulder room to seat three abreast at the back. What also helps is the flat floor, which will be a trait on all ALFA architecture Tata cars.

The high loading lip for the 345-litre boot can make it difficult to load heavy luggage, but the well-shaped boot means you can fit in plenty of stuff. The single-piece rear seat backrest can also be folded to increase room.

Where the Altroz lags behind the curve is in connectivity. There’s no eSIM-based connected tech, and even the 7.0-inch screen doesn’t work as slick as you’d like it to. The Harman sound system does deliver fair sound quality though.

There’s much to like about the way the Altroz drives. The new platform shines immediately, with a great ride and handling balance. The suspension manages to absorb the rough stuff at low speeds with ease, and the ride improves the faster you go, with the car feeling comfortable and sure-footed at triple-digit speeds. There’s a confidence in the way the Altroz changes direction too. Turn-in is slick (better so on the heavier diesel) and there’s a lovely feeling of connect at the steering, which is light at low speeds but weights up effectively as speeds increase.

Moving to the petrol engine, the unit is essentially an updated version of the Tigor’s 1.2-litre, three-cylinder unit featuring dual variable valve timing and a higher compression ratio. Resultantly, power is up to 86hp while max torque is 113Nm. The figures are par for the course, but overall performance does leave you wanting. Part-throttle responses are pleasant and the engine is earnest at low speeds, but it lacks the pep you get in a Baleno. The engine also doesn’t have much to give at the top end and the three-cylinder thrum becomes audible as you rev harder. The 5-speed gearbox isn’t the slickest, though a light clutch does make the car easy to live with in town.

It’s the diesel that feels like the more complete package. The 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine is from the Nexon, albeit in a lower 90hp/200Nm state of tune. It can feel a bit hesitant in on-off throttle driving, but it’s quick to settle into a rhythm too. The build-up of power is linear from low down, and there’s a mild step up closer to 1,800rpm. You’ll like the easy access to power and the comfort with which the diesel gets to cruising speeds. Again, this isn’t an engine to wind hard — it gets gravelly beyond 3,000rpm — but keep it in its comfort zone and you’ll manage to rake up the kilometres without much fuss. A point worth highlighting is that the diesel test cars were running on BS-VI-grade diesel brought in from Delhi. The 5-speed gearbox, here too, feels its best with gentle inputs, and the clutch is light enough.

The Altroz makes an immediate impression because of the way it looks. It’s got a show value that no other car in this class can match. And that counts for a lot today. It makes for a practical family car too, with a cabin that offers enough by way of space and comfort. As an added plus, it is also good to drive, with arguably the best dynamics among premium hatchbacks.

A peppier petrol engine, better refinement and a greater focus on connectivity are things on our wish list, and are elements that would make the Altroz easier to recommend. What’s also a question mark for now is fuel economy. All said, the Tata Altroz has some solid positives and has the potential to make its place in the premium hatchback segment. All that’s left is for Tata to price it well. With a price tag between ₹5-8 lakh (estimated, ex-showroom), the Altroz could just upset the apple cart.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:47:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/trying-out-the-tata-altroz/article30275452.ece

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