Tata Nexon First Drive Review: Betting Big On Next-Gen Design
Tata’s new compact SUV, the Nexon, is expected to appeal to millennial buyers with its radical styling.
I had first seen the Tata Nexon as a concept vehicle at the Auto Expo in 2014. The futuristic-looking compact SUV, had cuts and curves that looked 10 years ahead of its time and drew plenty of appreciation from the critics and crowds.
Three years later, I’m in the driver’s seat of the Tata Nexon, and wonder of wonders, the vehicle looks almost exactly like the concept, save for a few practical touches that have been tweaked into the design. A hat tip to Pratap Bose, head of design at Tata Motors, and his team who designed the Tata Nexon. Usually, no one expects a production vehicle to look almost exactly like the concept.
The Quint was invited by Tata Motors to Kochi, Kerala, for a test drive of the Tata Nexon petrol and diesel variants. Our drive took us from the city roads of Kochi to the lush green hills around Idukki and back, dodging killer KSRTC buses, negotiating narrow roads and some steep hill climbs.
Design and Looks
The most striking thing about the Tata Nexon is its looks. It stands out and turns more than a few heads. Yet, Tata has managed to keep its design language intact (read smiley face – or what Tata calls the ‘humanity line’). The Nexon is loosely based on Tata’s X1 platform, which underpins the Tata Bolt and Zest, hence the vague familiarity in design. But the similarity ends there.
The front-end of the Tata Nexon is pleasant to look at –there is a hidden happiness in that smiley face grille, with a bold chrome strip running under it all the way around the headlamps. The headlamps on the XZ+ variant (the top-end version) of the Tata Nexon are twin-beam, projector units with LED daytime running lamps.
What’s interesting is the use of white-ceramic plastic to break the design monotony. This white strip extends all along the shoulder of the vehicle, ducks under the C-pillar and wraps on to the boot in an X-shape (the X-factor, as Tata calls it). This lends the rear a completely futuristic look – slightly inspired from the Range Rover Evoque. The roof on the top-end variant is a different colour from the body, separated by that white ceramic strip and matte-black around the window-line.
In profile, you will find muscular wheel arches with 16-inch alloys and 215/60 R16 tyres nicely filling up the wheel wells. What you will also notice is the enormous amount of ground clearance (209 mm) and short overhangs – which makes this a competent vehicle for most bad terrain.
And don’t miss some subtle design elements like a pair of tigresses in the rear window line and a tiger embossed in the glove box. (The Tata Tiago has a herd of elephants.)
Tata has come a long way in terms of interior design, with each of its products getting an even better interior than the previous one. The Nexon has a pleasant looking interior, with a lot of practical touches. The fit and finish of the black, grey, beige plastic paneling is good.
The fabric seats provide good support and the design is such that the cabin is fairly spacious even for tall adults in the rear seat. Knee room and head room is generous for four adults. A fifth passenger would have to deal with some intrusion from the rear AC panel and transmission tunnel in the middle. The rear seats are pretty soft, so you tend to sink into them.
However, in its quest for futuristic design, there are a couple of minor flaws. The view out of the rear window is pretty restricted, owing to the small rear windscreen. Thankfully, the top-end variants come with a reverse parking camera in the infotainment system – you will need it.
Secondly, the steering wheel, which is tilt adjustable drops down quite low, unlike earlier Tata cars that had a high-mounted steering wheel – which is great in helping find a good driving position. However, when it is at its lowest setting, it blocks a clear view of the instrument panel. These are minor aberrations, but it is overall very well put together.
Boot space is a generous 350 litres, which is about at par with the Ford EcoSport and bigger than the Maruti Brezza. The rear seats can flip down in a 60:40 split for a full-flat 690 litres of space, in case you want to carry extra luggage. The spare wheel is a full-size unit that sits under the boot floor.
Power and Performance
The Tata Nexon is offered with a choice of two engines – a 1.2 litre, turbo-charged three-cylinder petrol engine and a 1.5 litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that are completely new units developed by Tata. Both these motors are mated to six-speed manual transmissions driving the front wheels. At a later date a six-speed automated manual transmission (AMT) will also be offered. I got to spend about four hours with each of the Nexons – a petrol and a diesel.
Tata Nexon 1.2 XZ+ (Petrol)
The 1.2 Tata Nexon petrol motor is similar to the three-cylinder unit in the Tata Tiago, but with a turbo-charger added to boost power to 110PS at 5,000 rpm and torque to 170 Nm at 1,750-4,000 rpm. The engine sounds fairly refined at low rpm, but when you rev it hard, you can hear that distinct thrum from the engine. Sound does not intrude much into the cabin though as Tata has used plenty of sound insulation on the petrol Nexon as well.
The pick up from this turbo-charged engine is fairly linear. It comes with three drive modes - City, Eco and Sport - which you can change via the large Jaguar-inspired dial in the centre console. The engine behaviour changes completely with these modes. In Eco mode for instance, you don’t get much power, but a very linear pick up, which is good for fuel economy.
In city mode, you get fairly good low-end torque, which helps the car pick up easily, but it doesn’t rev too hard, with power tapering off, so you don’t get top speed. In sport mode, the engine uses all its power, which is the mode to select for an overall engaging drive experience. After trying out the other two modes, I settled for sport for the better part of the drive.
With the petrol Nexon, you’ve got to get to above 1,500 rpm to feel the turbo kick in and deliver peak torque, although it’s not very prominent. This means early downshifts are needed, especially for hill climbs (like we did up the ghat road with 12 hairpins to Idukki). Thankfully, the six-speed gearbox is quite easy to slot, with a positive feel to the shifts. Reverse gear has a lift-to-shift lock, so you don’t accidentally mash gears.
Tata Nexon 1.5 XZ+ (Diesel)
If I had to put my money on a Tata Nexon, I would pick the diesel in a flash. Don’t get me wrong, the petrol is a competent vehicle, but the diesel excels in its power delivery. The Nexon diesel comes with a four-cylinder Revotorq 1.5 litre diesel engine that puts out 110PS of power at 3,750 rpm and 260 Nm of torque at 1,500-2,750 rpm. This motor too comes with three drive modes - City, Eco and Sport - and a six-speed manual transmission.
The only downside to the diesel is the NVH at high rpm. At city speeds and cruising speeds, when you keep the rpm below 2,500 there isn’t much noise in the cabin. However, when you rev to beyond 3,000 rpm, you get distinct diesel clatter. Thankfully, the tall gearing means you won’t hear it much, because of the speeds it can carry. At 70 kmph in 6th gear, the motor is lazily spinning away at just 1,300 rpm.
While official fuel economy figures have not been shared, our test cars’ information displays showed about 11 kmpl for the petrol and 17 kmpl for the diesel for the driving conditions we put them through, mainly in sport mode. That’s pretty much what you can expect in real-world conditions.
Like the petrol, it is best to drive the diesel Nexon in sport mode for an overall lively experience. The rush of torque is reassuring. For quick overtaking, just downshift, point and shoot, and the diesel Nexon is happy to shoot ahead.
Ride and Handling
Tata has done some serious work on the suspension and electric power steering system in the Nexon. Most SUVs with high ground clearance have a significant amount of body roll. But that is quite controlled in the Tata Nexon, even when taking turns at fairly high speeds. The steering offers a good amount of feedback, weighing up at higher speeds, but remaining light at slow speeds. That is commendable, because not many get that equation just right.
Features and Comfort
Tata has loaded up the Nexon with some interesting features. Like other new-age Tata cars, the vehicle seems as if it has been designed around the Harman music system, which is the highlight in the Nexon as well. The system has a 6.5-inch screen sitting atop the dash (like some German cars), which helps in better visibility. It is a touch-screen unit, which can also be operated with steering buttons or the buttons under the AC vents. It features Android Auto, Bluetooth, voice commands and acts as a display for the rear camera. It is mated to an 8-speaker system that has good sound quality.
However, it is not without its bugs. While the unit on the petrol Nexon I drove performed flawlessly, the diesel had some issues of the unit hanging, perhaps due to a faulty phone cable.
The Nexon features automatic climate control, with a really cold airconditioner. It also comes with rear AC vents with a separate blower control. It has plenty of storage spaces - including umbrella holders in the front door pads, for small umbrellas. The glove box is chilled and features additional cup holders too. The rear seat arm-rest also has cupholders. Seat belts in front are height adjustable.
In terms of safety the Nexon comes with two airbags and ABS with EBD as standard across the range. The top-end variant features parking sensors (with camera display) and keyless entry. It also boasts of a wearable key, which is like a fitness band. With that, you don’t need the key. Just wear it and operate the car.
What We think
Overall, the Tata Nexon brings a fresh perspective to compact SUVs. Its design is quite futuristic and sporty, which should appeal to a young audience. It is a competent performer as well, especially the diesel, which will appeal to those looking for a vehicle with high ground clearance and sporty handling characteristics.
Should the Ford EcoSport or Maruti Vitara Brezza be worried? I don’t think so. However, premium hatchbacks should be - because compact SUVs like the Tata Nexon offer the best of both worlds - good performance and handling, with the stance and looks of an SUV, and the ability to handle bad roads. Expect the Tata Nexon to be priced between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 8.75 lakh at launch in September 2017.
Tata Nexon Specifications
Length: 3,994 mm
Width: 1,811 mm
Height: 1,607 mm
Wheelbase: 2,498 mm
Ground clearance: 209 mm
Boot space: 350 litres
Petrol Engine: 1,198 cc, 3-cylinder turbo-charged (Revotron)
Power: 110 PS @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 170 Nm @ 1,750-4,000 rpm
Diesel Engine: 1,497 cc, 4-cylinder common-rail diesel (Revotorq)
Power: 110 PS @ 3,750 rpm
Torque: 260 Nm @ 1,500-2,750 rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
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