The Altroz looks about as striking as any new car that’s hit the streets in a long time. But can its engineering match its looks?
Over the past two decades, the Indian automotive market has been a rollercoaster ride in many aspects. From the number of products available to the number of segments and manufacturers, the last 20 odd years have indeed been a momentous journey for the Indian automotive market.
But, in all these years, hatchbacks have remained the car of choice for Indian customers. In fact, according to a recent statistical study, 48% of the total car sales in India are hatchbacks. Now, obviously, the value proposition is the main reason behind this, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we love our hatchbacks.
With increasing incomes, the premium hatchback segment has emerged as one of the most exciting segments of the Indian automotive market.
Hyundai, to give credit where it’s due, started this segment with the i20, and Maruti Suzuki followed suit with the Baleno. The success of both these cars (around 300,000 units of the i20 and Baleno together are sold in India every year) is a testament to the fact that the attitude of Indian customers is changing – they are now willing to pay a premium for quality, style and features.
No wonder, then, that Tata Motors is targeting this coveted segment with its latest product – the Altroz. Coveted not only because customers are now willing to pay a premium for luxury but also because success in this segment has a rub-off effect on the brand as a whole.
Based on the brand-new ALFA platform, the Altroz offers lots of benefits to customers. For instance, all doors of the Altroz open a full 90-degrees – making getting in and out of the car a breeze.
Similarly, its rather deep boot, which offers 345 litres of storage, makes it a very practical car. Tata also claims that its rigid structure will allow the Altroz – and future products based on the same platform – to meet all the upcoming safety regulations, and do even better than the Nexon’s 5-star safety rating.
Looks maketh the machine
The most striking aspect of the Altroz is its design. Tata Motors’ chief designer Pratap Bose and his team have done a brilliant job with its design. With its unique identity – the large pieces of Piano Black trim all across the car make a big impact here – the wide stance of the ALFA platform, and the sharp shark-nose front end design, the Altroz makes a very strong case for itself in terms of design and overall appearance.
The details of the design – such as the darkened & well-integrated tail lights, large headlights, and fog lamps – are really impressive. Pair that with the large 16-inch wheels, fitted with 195/55 tyres – like on our test car – and what you have is a very aesthetically pleasing product.
The interior of the Altroz also works quite well. The first impression is that of functionality – I really like the clean layout of the interior. The lack of excessive buttons or controls makes the interior functional and user-friendly.
The 7-inch multimedia touchscreen system works well and features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The sound system, a custom Harman system, is easily the best sounding audio system in its class.
Drives like a dream
In terms of ride quality, the Altroz has an edge over most of its competitors. Given the stiffness of the ALFA platform, the Altroz rides brilliantly. In fact, you can drive it quite quickly across broken terrain and feel virtually nothing inside the cabin.
However, I can’t say the same about the engines of the Altroz. When launched, the Altroz will be offered with a 1.2-litre 3-cylinder petrol and a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder diesel – both paired to a 5-speed manual gearbox.
The 1.2-litre petrol engine actually shocks you with its noise – both inside and outside the car. It’s simply too loud, and Tata really needs to fix this before they officially launch the Altroz in the market.
In terms of power delivery, the 85bhp and 113Nm of the petrol engine is adequate on flat roads, but on a full load, the 1.2 turbo petrol of the Nexon would have been a better choice.
The 1.5-litre diesel, however, feels much better from behind the wheel – with peak torque arriving at just 1,250rpm, which makes it a much more responsive and tractable unit. With a seamless flow of torque, the quick acceleration and immediate throttle response of the engine makes it a pleasure to drive, especially at high speeds.
Between the two engine options, the diesel engine is what I’d choose, given its power and great throttle response. However, the NVH levels of the diesel engine are also too loud and need to be tamed before launch.
A highlight of the Altroz, though, is its handling. With its wide track, the Altroz feels extremely planted and stable at high speeds. The turn-in and general responsiveness of the steering is also very good.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it is perhaps the first Tata car that I’ve driven in a long time that has a steering that actually feels linear, direct and is eager to turn into corners.
Nevertheless, the Altroz needs some work in a few areas before its launch. First up, some of the finer details of the Altroz need to be fine-tuned. For instance, the gap between the handbrake lever and the plastic panel next to it ensures that you will skin your fingers every time you release the handbrake. Paying attention to the finer points such as these is imperative, especially in today’s market where customers demand extreme attention to detail.
Second, the warning lights in the instrument cluster are so small that they’re pretty much unreadable. In fact, while driving at night around Jaisalmer, I wanted to know whether I had the headlights on low beam or high, but the indicator was so small that I simply couldn’t make out one way or the other!
Overall, the Altroz is a very competitive package. With a fantastically sorted chassis, two airbags, ABS and EBD on all versions, excellent ride quality and comfort, it ticks most of the boxes, if not all. Pair all this with two engine options and four trim levels, and it has all the makings of an exciting product.
However, it’s not without a few flaws. One, the refinement of the Altroz is something that Tata Motors must seriously work on before they launch the car. The NVH levels in our test cars were simply unacceptable.
Two, the lack of any automatic gearbox options at launch is a really bad move. Tata wants to offer a brand-new dual-clutch gearbox instead of an AMT to better match the Altroz’s premium positioning, and that’s fair, but making customers wait is not going to do the brand any favours.
Now, to be honest, the Altroz has many advantages as a product. It looks absolutely smashing and like nothing else on the market. The interior is functional, and the chassis seems to be solid. But some of the finer points still need to be ironed out.
That being said, if you want a manual hatchback that’s spacious, exceedingly comfortable, and looks absolutely smashing, the Altroz is the one for you. All told, the Altroz is a highly competitive product and a worthy challenger in the premium hatchback segment – it’s just not a class-leading one. Yet!