This all-new offering from Tata has come out of nowhere and, and as we found out after driving it, the Punch is already punching above its weight.
Just like how every teenager’s dream is to become an influencer in life these days, every car wants to be an SUV. It’s getting crazy, really. But then you’ve to understand that this is what the market wants. So, why blame a carmaker – or an influencer for that matter – when they decide to market themselves as something that they aren’t.
The latest product that wants to join the long line of SUVs in the country is the all-new Tata Punch. Inherently, it’s a jacked-up hatchback, but more importantly, it’s an interesting proposition. In usual fashion, Tata has loaded it to the gills; it’s a funky design, and our guess is that it will be priced aggressively when it goes on sale later. But, for now, let’s find out if the Punch can walk the talk.
Based on the same ALFA-ARC platform as the Altroz, the Punch follows the company's Impact 2.0 design language. There's no denying that modern Tatas are anything but boring, and the Punch cements this belief further. Measuring in at 3.8m, the Punch is super compact, but it's got the right proportions and short overhangs. In profile, it does look like a micro-SUV, but it's more puffed up from the sides. The front end takes clear inspiration from the Harrier as it features a split headlamp setup with DRLs running on the top and the main unit is housed in the bumper. In the top-end Creative version, the headlamps feature projectors while there are also fog lamps at the bottom of the bumper. The side profile of the Punch is all about its muscles and sharp creases. 16-inch dual-tone alloy wheels look good and thanks to its ground clearance of 190mm, it definitely has a purposeful look. The door handles are hidden beautifully behind the recesses on the top of the door and it's a neat touch. At 2,445mm, its wheelbase is shorter than both the Maruti Suzuki Swift and Hyundai Grand i10 Nios, but it still manages to look imposing thanks to the tall-boy design. The rear-end, when viewed dead-on, is perhaps the only odd bit in its design. The Punch looks too narrow and stubby with a raised rear end. The rear bumper, too, looks as if someone has pasted a big block of plastic on the car. That said, I love the tail-lamp design as they look quite smart and contemporary. Similarly, there are around 7 funky colour options available with the car with single and dual-tone finishes, all of which make it look quite funky. It's a good-looking vehicle and I feel it'll appeal to people of all age groups.
Step inside and you'll see a familiar cabin that immediately reminds you of the Altroz. There are a lot of hard plastics, of course, but the overall fit and finish and quality levels are more than decent. The dashboard features a Harman 7-inch infotainment touchscreen that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Not the slickest of units, but it's bright and easily readable even under direct sunlight. There are no quick access physical buttons for the display menu and that makes navigating through different settings a little difficult. That said, you do get chunky buttons on the lower half of the dashboard. These are for defogger, fan blower speed, and temperature control.
There are a lot of variants and packages that are on offer with the Punch. The car is decently kitted out as the one we were driving came equipped with automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, electronically foldable ORVMs, and more creature comforts. The front seats are spacious and there's a decent amount of headroom and legroom. Since this is a tall car, you sit in an upright position, which is quite comfortable. Like the Altroz, the doors open at a full 90-degree tilt, meaning getting in and out of car is a breeze. That said, you got to do a bit of yoga stretch to get hold of the door to shut it.
Thanks to its small footprint, the rear bench is quite tight. You'll however notice there's ample knee room and the seats offer great under-thigh support. With a flat floor, 3 adults can sit on the backbench, but the narrow width of the car can be a limitation. You also get a rear armrest in this Creative trim. There are no rear AC vents though, but I don't think they'll be missed because the car's main unit chills the cabin pretty quickly.
The Punch's boot space is 366 litres, which is quite big for a car of its size. The luggage compartment is deep, meaning you can load it up with big suitcases easily.
Packs a Punch?
Powering the Punch is the same 1.2-litre three-cylinder Revotron petrol motor as the Tiago and Altroz. It's a non-turbo unit that develops 85bhp and 113Nm of torque. Power transmission duties are carried out by either a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed AMT. And it's FWD like all the modern pseudo SUVs.
Right after you crank the engine, it impresses you with its refinement. Even at idle, the motor doesn't thrum like a typical 3-pot motor. NVH levels are controlled well. On the go, it's smooth and offers decent performance in the low- and mid-range. Rev it past 4,000rpm though and you can clearly make out that it doesn't like to be thrashed. Progress is slow and the engine starts wheezing and whining if you keep the throttle pinned.
The 5-speed gearbox is another surprise. Unlike the Tiago, the gear lever doesn't shake at idle, while shifts are smooth. It has slightly long throws, but it slots in cleanly. The clutch action is also light and combined with the easy-going nature of the engine, it makes up for an effortless drive.
We also got to test the AMT version, it's the same ratios but does the shifting by itself. Like any AMT, it is jerky when you drive it enthusiastically and there's a long pause between each gearshift.
3rd, 4th and 5th gears are also quite tall in both the manual and AMT versions, meaning the acceleration takes a hit at speeds over 80km/h. You wish the engine had a little more punch - just for its namesake if not anything else.
It’s the matured ride-and-handling of the Punch that impressed me the most about this car. The suspension feels taut, but not excessively firm. The ride quality is supple at all times and hardly anything filters into the cabin. Only when you hit a sharp at high speeds is when the suspension bottoms out, otherwise, most of the time you’ll have no complaints from this setup. What’s more, the Punch feels planted around corners too, and that’s despite its raised suspension. It doesn’t roll excessively or feel wayward. The steering is well-weighted too and offers decent feedback. High-speed stability –up to 120km/h – is impressive, and brakes offer ample bite and feedback.
On the whole, the Punch is a mighty package and one that's going to put the sales charts on fire. The engine performance may be a little lukewarm, but customers aren't expecting a firebreather in this segment. In all the other areas, the Punch definitely punches above its weight.
Its direct rivals include the Mahindra KUV100 and Maruti Suzuki Ignis, but given its size and pricing (expected to be between 5-8 lakh), it's also going to eat into the sales of the Grand i10 Nios and Swift, as well as the non-turbo versions of the Renault Kiger and Nissan Magnite. All in all, it's going to get all feisty this festive season when the Punch enters the market.
Engine: 1,199cc / 3-Cylinder
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual & AMT / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 85bhp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 113Nm @ 3,300rpm
X-Factor: A butch-looking premium micro-SUV with an effortless drivetrain & balanced ride-and-handling.
Engine lacks outright ‘punch’