Words - Mohit Bharadwaj
Tata Motors started its hatchback innings with the frugal and spacious Indica, a car that was a jack-of-all-trades but failed to impress any with its looks. To kick up the design game a notch against its competition, Tata cars have now started to adopt the manufacturer’s latest Impact Design Language and its lineup’s elegance now speaks for itself. The latest premium-hatchback offering from the manufacturer is called Altroz. However, before you scratch your head and asking yourself, why Altroz? Let us explain. Suzuki named its legendary superbike Hayabusa after a species of bird and similarly, the Altroz is inspired by the legendary Albatross. That name further establishes its connection with agility and performance. Another interesting bit of trivia is that Tata hired the expertise of Namzya, a naming agency based out of turkey to find a name for its new Baleno and Elite i20 rival. Moving further, now that you know how and why Tata named the car, let’s move on to how the Altroz stacks up against its competition.
Every new car from a manufacturer starts its life as a concept car and naturally, so did the Altroz. It was first showcased at the 2018 Auto Expo in India as the 45X concept and then later made its global appearance at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. Now that we have the final production version of the Tata Altroz in front of us, the first thought that struck our mind was, Tata has once again nailed it on the design front. Stylised as a spitting image of the 45X concept, you’ll notice its prominent front fascia, pronounced side profile and a head-turning rear-end.
Looking at the Altroz’s nose, there is a distinct reminder of Tata’s latest family design language AKA Impact design language 2.0. However, Tata has put in a lot of effort to keep the design resemblance to other Tata model but gets distinct design cues to freshen up overall appeal. The Tata Altroz’s sharp nose is also enhanced by the pronounced lines of the bonnet. However, the centre of attraction here is the seamless integration of the headlamps and grille. They appear as one-piece strip of cladding surrounded by a single chrome trim on the lower-end and piano-black finish at the top.
The headlamps, on the other hand, are designed sharper than any previously seen on a Tata. Finished with a modern smoked-out effect, they definitely do look menacing. The DRLs on the Altroz are integrated into the fog lamp housing, mounted higher than usual, right below the headlamps. The lower part of the bumper gets another grille, which serves the purpose of providing ventilation to the engine. Keeping the premium-hatchback values in mind, the Altroz is free from any back cladding on the bumper.
Walking past the nose to the Altroz’s side profile, there was one design cue that makes the Altroz stand out - its butch stance. The car gets a low height of 1523mm and an overall length of 3990mm. Along with that, the nose looks sleek while its shoulder lines look broad and flared. Apart from the silhouette, there are a lot of more interesting and subtle design elements that make the Altroz look even more splendid when looked from sides. The diamond-cut four-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels, stylish ORVMs with sleek, supercar-like thin stalks, piano-black plastic inserts below the window belt-line and hidden door handles for the rear doors, all add up to make the Tata Altroz a unique proposition in the market.
The situation at the rear takes an even more stylish turn. The tailgate is finished in black and so are the tail lamps, giving the tailgate an all-glass look, but it actually is just the paint doing all the magic. However, the contrast black paint job fails to gel well with the car painted in the shade of gold, while the test cars that were finished in red looked the best. The tail lamps are all-LED units and form an interesting light pattern, which looks the most attractive at night.
In the design department, the Tata Altroz is as fancy as its name. Contrast black roof and a lot of piano-black finishes around the windows, nose and tail. One thing we are definitely thankful for is that the car manages to part ways from the age-old Indian tradition of chrome overload, and that is what makes it look absolutely radical.
Turning our focus to the Altroz’s interior, there is one feature that manages to woo us even before we’ve even stepped in - its doors! No, the fact that they open isn’t the impressive bit but what does is the angle at what they do. There are no two ways about it, they open wide, very wide. At an angle of 90-degrees, to be precise. Not only is this a practical feature good for loading large objects into the car but will also be a hit with every aged passenger that wishes to step in.
Coming to the cabin, the interior seems a fairly familiar place with a lot of shared Tata components on offer. To start with, the power window switches are a direct lift from the Tigor and Nexon. The floating-type infotainment system screen is inspired by the Nexon, while the part-digital part-analogue instrument cluster is reminiscent of what you get in the Harrier. However, the Altroz gets a new design for the steering wheel which will also be seen on the Nexon facelift.
The interior is finished in a contrast black and grey finish. The colourway gives the cabin a dark, classy appeal but doesn’t feel claustrophobic at all. The dashboard has a flat top, finished in soft-touch plastic, also good for placing stuff when the car is at a halt. The dark grey plastic panel seen in the centre of the dash gets a 3D effect and that helps in breaking up the entire mass. To spruce up the design, you also get multi-coloured ambient lighting hidden behind this panel. The centre stack houses the 7-inch floating touchscreen for the Harman-sourced infotainment system which supports connectivity via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Below the infotainment screen, you’ll find the AC vents and controls for the same.
Talking about the features on offer, the Tata Altroz is well loaded. It gets keyless entry & go with push-button start, activity band for keyless entry, umbrella holders integrated into the door panel, steering adjustment for rake, voice commands, eco and city driving modes, cruise control, front centre armrest, 15-litre cooled glovebox, auto-headlamps, reverse parking sensors and camera, ABS with EBD assistance and corner stability control, ambient lighting, and rain-sensing wipers. Also, there are steering mounted controls for audio and cruise control.
The space offered inside is nothing sort of generous, just like the features on offer. The front-row seats are designed for comfortable city and long-haul travel, thus there’s ample legroom on offer in both rows. There’s also sufficient headroom and shoulder room in the second-row, while seating three abreast is not as tough as the competition. This is indicative of the fact that the Altroz is the widest car in its segment. To help enhance rear legroom, it also gets a flat floor at the rear. Thus, having a 3rd occupant on the rear seats is not cumbersome at all. Talking about boot space, the Tata Altroz benefits from a measured volume of 340 litres and that is higher than what the competition offers.
The Tata Altroz is offered with a 1.2-litre petrol engine and a 1.5-litre diesel engine, both currently available with a 5-speed manual transmission. That said, there’s no automatic transmission on offer as of now but a DCT is in the pipeline. Talking of the engine performance, let’s start with the smaller 1.2-litre petrol unit. It is the same 3-cylinder unit that does duty on the Tiago and Tigor twins. Here, it does a little better in terms of performance thanks to a bumped-up compression ratio and two different valve profiles, which are accessed by the variable valve timing mechanism. Aided by these mechanical advantages, the engine produces 86PS and 113Nm of torque.
The power figures are adequate, but the 3-cylinder petrol unit does leave you wanting more refinement. It does suffer from excessive judder when the auto-start-stop function intervenes and also tends to be quite vocal under heavy. While the power does shine through in a linear fashion, its peak performance is concentrated at the very top of the rev range. While all this can be forgiven, the main gripe we had with this engine was its incapability of being very involving, Maruti Baleno’s K12M petrol unit fares much better in this comparison.
The 1.5-litre diesel engine of the Tata Altroz is a Nexon-derived unit and is detuned to produce 90PS and 200Nm in this state of tune. The drivability and tractability factor feels better in the diesel unit as compared to the petrol unit. Unlike the petrol, it doesn’t have to be wrung hard to get the best from it; instead, it picks up the pace well in an overall relaxed manner and rewards you with dollops of power from the start.
The engine’s performance is sufficient enough to lug around 1.2 tons of car plus passengers thanks to adequate low-end torque and a powerband which starts from just 1600rpm to get things going. Yes! That’s where the turbo spools up to give you all the 200Nm of twisting force to reach triple digits speeds with ease. However, it is only after the 4000rpm mark that the engine runs out of breath and urges you to relax. Despite this, sitting at triple-digit speeds all day long is no problem at all for this nugget.
The gearbox is a far cry from being a fast-shifting unit, but the gear ratios are perfectly designed for city driving purposes and the occasional bout of highway running. However, the ratios have been kept short, which helps in fuel efficiency but requires frequent shifts to keep it in the right powerband. Folks at Tata motors seem to have got their hands on an exclusive version of the usual engineering data handbook while tuning the gearbox. The gearbox does feel more than capable of handling a life filled with city running but will not completely disappoint in an outright pursuit of performance.
The suspension is something that Tata nails every time with its new cars and the case with the Tata Atroz is the same. Thanks to its new ALFA arc platform, the car is stable at high speeds and gains a lot of mechanical grip when it comes to performance. The car is set up on the softer side though and thus, takes bumps and potholes at high speeds in its stride. Around the twisties, the Altroz does manage to remain planted but a heavy dose of body roll inevitably rears its ugly head when you tend to go overboard. Fast manoeuvres and lane splitting is also dealt with in a composed manner.
The steering geometry has been tuned to provide the optimum balance of performance and lightness. On the mechanical front, it sends back a lot more feedback than what Hyundai Elite i20 or Maruti Suzuki Baleno offers. Comparing the dynamics of the petrol and diesel units, the latter feels a lot more planted while changing direction due to its front=-end weight bias.
With a brand-centric design language comes the monotony of design among cars under one stable but the folks at Tata Motors have infuses a distinction with the Altroz’s design and character while also managing a hint of similarity between them. That said, the Tata Altroz scores really well on the design front for both the exterior and interior. The all-new model is also loaded to the brim, barring a few features like the telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel and an auto-dimming IRVM. In terms of performance, the engine options currently on offer are on-par with the competition in terms of refinement and power figures.
To give the car an edge, Tata Motors also plans on introducing a turbo-petrol engine at a later with an option of a dual-clutch transmission. With a supple, planted ride at high speeds and composed driving dynamics around corners, the Altroz comes up as a good option for families wanting a spacious, feature-laden car for the city- and highway-use alike. However, we do wish the quality and fit-and-finish levels were a notch higher than what they currently are. Prices of the car have not yet been revealed and will come to light at its launch sometime around late-January. We expect the Tata Altroz to be priced between INR 5 lakh - INR 8 Lakh, which will also help attract a lot more potential buyers for the all-new Tata Altroz.