What is it?
With the recent trend of segment-shift, car buyers are moving up to the premium B+ segment hatchbacks as they offer more bang for the money. The likes of the Hyundai Elite i20 and Maruti Suzuki Baleno have dominated this space for years. And the all-new Altroz is Tata’s take on this lucrative segment. We have driven it in both petrol and diesel guise on the beautiful straight roads of Jaisalmer. And the one that we are looking at here is the top-spec XZ petrol.
Under the skin, the new hatchback is the first product to be based on Tata's new modular platform called the ALFA. In terms of styling, Tata has tried to carry forward most of the radical design elements from the 45X Concept into the Altroz and they have pretty much succeeded at it. What specifically catches attention are those swept-back headlamps integrated with a dark-chrome slate above the grille. This is a new signature from Tata and we could expect a similar design in all their future vehicles.
In profile, the Altroz stands out with the quirky black-finished sills running below the windows called the ‘shooting star beltline’, and the hidden rear door handle. Also prominent are the well-defined front wheel arches and sharp shoulder creases running across the sides. At the back, the sharply raked and contoured tailgate has integrated wrap-around LED taillamps. In terms of dimensions, the Altroz is slightly wider and taller than its competitors but has a shorter wheelbase of 2500mm. There’s no rear overhang but the long bonnet and the well-proportioned silhouettemakes the Altroz look handsome and distinguish itself from its rivals.
How’s it on the inside?
Open the door to step inside and you realise how wide it opens. This is because all four doors of the Altroz are designed to open up to 90 degrees. This in turn makes it a struggle to pull them close once seated. But, getting in is easy and as you settle in, the dashboard looks well laid-out with its black-silver combination. There’s a floating infotainment screen on the centre dash and the instrument cluster is borrowed from the Harrier. There’s a new steering wheel design too but it can only be adjusted for height and not reach.
The driver’s seat gets height adjustment and while they are comfortable, it could have done with more support in the bolstering and under-thigh area. In terms of ergonomics, the slight offset of the steering wheel feels weird and the steering wheel-mounted stalks are oddly placed. But, apart from this, there’s nothing much to complain about. There’s soft-touch material on the driver’s armrest and the silver-finished inserts around the cabin look upmarket too. Meanwhile, there’s ample headroom and shoulder room in the front row while the rear bench too has sufficient space. Also adding to its sense of space is the flat floor at the back. You get a wide rear armrest but the rear seat doesn’t get split-fold.
Additionally, the boot space of around 340 litres is on par with its competition while being fairly usable thanks to the wide opening and low loading lip height. There are many storage areas all around the cabin too. The cooled glovebox has a capacity of 15 litres, there’s space on the centre console and the doors where apart from the bottle holder you also get an umbrella pocket.
In terms of equipment, the top-spec Altroz XZ gets single-zone climate control with rear vents, keyless entry and start button, auto headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, electrically adjustable and retractable ORVMs, cruise control, ambient lighting (not configurable), multiple drive modes, and Harman system with smartphone connectivity including Android Auto and Apple Carplay. On the safety front, you get dual airbags, seatbelt reminder, speed-sensing door locks, ISOFIX, cornering lamps, and child locks.
How does it drive?
Tata is currently offering the Altroz with two engine options. There’s a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel making 90bhp/200Nm and you can read about it over here. What we have here is a three-cylinder, 1.2-litre naturally-aspirated petrol putting out 85bhp at 6000rpm and 113Nm of peak torque at 3300rpm. Currently, it can only be had with a five-speed manual transmission. Upon starting, the noisy engine filters into the cabin but there are no vibrations that are usually associated with a three-cylinder engine on idle. The clutch is light and effortless to use and while the gearshifts are smooth and easy, it is not exactly slick.
On the move, you’d have to wring the engine to get going due to the lack of bottom-end grunt. However, the mid-range is where the motor feels best. It is in between 2500-4500rpm that there’s an instant response from the engine and we didn’t experience any lag between putting the foot down and the car pacing ahead. However, due to the broadly-spaced gear ratios, the revs take time to climb in higher gears as compared to the lower gears. And on full bore acceleration, the engine becomes noisier as the revs climb closer to the redline.
In terms of ride and handling, the Altroz’s stiffer suspension setup is evident. It does manage to flatten out road irregularities at higher speeds but the low-speed ride isn’t exactly plush. We could hear the suspension constantly working its way through the bad roads but the up-down movements on road undulations are well taken care of. No matter the speed, the Altroz feels planted thanks to its 1036kg of kerb weight. Even the steering response is great. But we’d have loved some more feel from the steering and a slightly improved body control since the Altroz tends to roll if shown some corners. That said, the brakes work great andinstills a lot of confidence in the driver.
Should I buy one?
At the end of the day, the Tata Altroz impresses with its radical design and a decent list of features. As a premium family hatchback, it checks all the right boxes with its spacious and practical cabin and quality that is on par with its rivals. In terms of driving dynamics too, it doesn't disappoint. But entering this late into the fray, where the Baleno and Elite i20 have established themselves as the strong guns, a little extra zing would have helped the Altroz stand ahead of the competition. Moreover, it also has a smaller footprint compared to the Baleno and Elite i20. Even the engine could have been improved in terms of the fun-to-drive factor. So, to make a mark in thiscut-throat segment, the Altroz would have to undercut its rivals by a considerable margin.
Where does it fit in?
Upon launch in January 2020, the Tata Altroz will compete against the likes of the Maruti Suzuki Baleno, Hyundai i20, and the Honda Jazz. We expect it to be priced in the range of Rs 6-8 lakhs (ex-showroom).
Pictures by - Kapil Angane