Tata Motors is attempting to reinvent itself – starting with the Tata Zest compact sedan. We drive it in picturesque Goa for our Tata Zest and to find out if it can actually shake the status quo for the brand.
To understand the importance of the launch of the Zest for Tata Motors, you have to backtrack a little and look at the brand’s current status in the market. The manufacturer, despite being a part of the massive Tata conglomerate, doesn’t quite enjoy the market image and reputation that the rest of the group does. It’s been losing money for a while now, and its market share continues to drop.
If you’re a keen follower of the Indian automotive market, most of this isn’t news to you. Tata Motors started manufacturing passenger vehicles with massive hype and expectation surrounding their products. But, over time, it became clear that they simply didn’t have the expertise to manufacture products that could compete with the automotive behemoths from overseas – most notably the Japanese and Korean manufacturers.
Being well aware of this scenario, it was a pleasant surprise to see the top honchos of the brand being willing to admit, publically at that, the fact there were issues – both with the brand, as well as their products, which need to be addressed immediately. Their aim is to provide a clear vision for the future path of the company. That realisation, along with an endeavour to rebuild the brand, is leading to a complete reengineering of the product line-up and a range of all-new products – the first of which is the Tata Zest compact sedan. So we couldn't help but bring you our Tata Zest to help you know how does this actually fare.
Featuring brand new styling, the sedan gets a distinctive look that borrows little from earlier Tata products – other than its relative size. The styling of the car we had for our Zest was quite pleasing, with a really striking front end and sharp sides. A strong shoulder line, as well as another styling line towards the bottom of the doors, makes it quite attractive. The rear is pretty well executed too, but looks too narrow when viewed directly from behind. In Tata vehicles, however, the devil always lay in the details – not in a good way unfortunately. In the Tata Zest, on the other hand, the panel gaps were consistent and the shut lines were accurate – demonstrating a keener engineering focus than ever before. Of particular note are the front headlights, which now feature projectors – a first for the segment – as well as LED daytime running lights and LED taillights. All these improvements indicate that Tata is investing heavily in new technology to make their vehicles competitive once again.
The interiors too have been given a massive upgrade – with a radical change in the styling, and, more importantly, in the fit-and-finish. The new design seems very cohesive – with the instrument cluster now back in front of the driver rather than in the middle of the dash. Sizeable work has also gone into improving the ergonomics and the interior in general. Not only has fit-and-finish improved, but so has component quality – which means that the Tata Zest has, by far, the finest interiors that Tata has ever produced. Tata has also worked with audio giant Harman to deliver a completely new user experience as far as the technology and infotainment is concerned. So, the top model of the Tata Zest features a touchscreen audio system with Bluetooth functionality and voice controls that actually works really well (as confirmed by our Zest). In fact, much attention has been paid to audio quality too – with the Harman system in the Zest delivering excellent sound quality. Sure, there are still elements that can be improved on, but it is extremely competent for its segment and is actually ahead of most in terms of look and feel.
The improvements continue when it comes to the powertrain too, which features two engine options. First is the ubiquitous 1.3-litre diesel engine sourced from Fiat, which is in 90bhp trim, and the second is the brand new 1.2-litre Revotron turbocharged petrol that has been freshly developed by Tata. While we know much about the driveability, efficiency, and refinement of the diesel, it makes a fresh case for itself with the AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) that it comes with. The Tata Zest is the first car in its class to feature a diesel automatic. And this information is based on what we feel after a very extensive Tata Motors Zest.
From behind the wheel, the engine is quite pleasing – giving the car enough poke for everyday use. However, in regular auto mode, the gearbox seems to throttle the engine’s response – perhaps the gearshift points have been programmed to maximise fuel efficiency, and so it felt a bit slow to respond during our Tata Zest. Things, however, improve massively when you switch to Sport mode – with response improving significantly since shifts take place at a higher rpm’s.
However, it’s the petrol Revotron engine that is a complete revelation. The Revotron engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, and it’s an extremely impressive motor. It’s very refined, powerful, eager to rev, and it certainly enhances the driving appeal of the Tata Zest. Throttle response is immediate, and while there are three driving modes – City, Eco and Sport – we preferred to stay in Sport as that delivered the best throttle response. Of course, if you value fuel efficiency more than driving pleasure, there’s always the option of switching to Eco mode. Whichever mode you prefer, what’s clear is that the Revotron engine is the most impressive passenger car engine that Tata Motors has even developed. Are you beginning to spot a trend?
Of course, being a Tata product the Tata Zest has two major strengths – one is the interior space, which is impressive, and the second are the seats, which are immensely comfortable. Additionally, there’s also a clear focus on safety with the Tata Zest – since ABS with EBD, and dual front airbags are part of standard equipment. The ride and handling setup has also seen massive improvement, as the Tata Zest feels very sure-footed and delivers excellent ride quality. And while the electric power steering doesn’t deliver much feel, the overall driving experience is far superior to anything that we’ve seen from Tata in the past.
But, it’s not all perfect news for the Tata Zest. There are still a few niggles that the company needs to sort out. For example, when accelerating hard with the petrol engine in sport mode, the engine seemed to develop a mild stutter that can be a bit annoying. And the gearshift points on the diesel engine, mated to the AMT, could do with some fine-tuning. Similarly, certain aspects of the interiors could also use further work.
Overall, though, the biggest impression one gets with the Tata Zest is one of improved quality and attention to detail – both points regarding which we feared that Tata would miss the mark once again. But they haven’t! So, for the first time, here’s a Tata product that’s been engineered with a clear focus on consumers – and with quality levels to justify its price and positioning. The design, class-leading equipment levels, refinement, suspension setup, build quality, and space make the Tata Zest a very appropriate vehicle with which to reinvent a brand and its reputation. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but the important thing is the commitment that Tata Motors has demonstrated towards improving its future products – it hints towards a bright future not only for the Tata Zest, but also for the products to follow.
Of course, reviving the Tata Motors brand won’t happen overnight. It takes more than just an improved product to appeal to consumers. But, it appears that the folks at Tata Motors are serious about this revival and are working on improving the total customer experience. And if the Tata Zest is anything to go by, then the brand appears to be in good hands. The Tata Zest is just what Tata Motors needs – figuratively and literally!
- F-TRONIC DIESEL
- REVOTRON PETROL
Engine: 1,248 CC / 4 cylinders / turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed automated manual / front-wheel drive
Power: 89 BHP @ 4000 RPM
Torque: 200 NM @ 1750 - 3000 RPM
Price: 6.27-7.37 lakhs (ex-showroom, Delhi)
Engine: 1,193 CC / 4 cylinders / turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual / front-wheel drive
Power: 89 BHP @ 5000 RPM
Torque: 140 NM @ 1750 - 3500 RPM