They say a dog is man’s best friend, and if there’s a grain of truth to it, then it’s equally likely that an SUV is man’s best tool. As long as it’s equipped with four-wheel drive, low-range gearbox and loads of ground clearance, it can take a man to places otherwise unattainable on a soft-roader or a crossover. Rather worryingly, that thought did cross my mind while driving the Tata Hexa 4x4, a crossover, to our off-road venue in Lonavla.
The Hexa 4x4 appears promising for off-road, what with its enormous tyres, all-wheel drive and good clearance. But as I looked at my colleagues driving the purpose-built Isuzu V-Cross and the burly Toyota Fortuner, I began to have my doubts. Will this luxury people carrier with all-wheel drive and good clearance rise to the occasion and survive the excursions?
Let’s begin with how well the Hexa accelerates and stops over loose soil. Thanks to its 154bhp/400Nm diesel motor, it attains good speed on paved surfaces, but over a muddy track, things are considerably slower. In our 0-30kmph acceleration test, the Hexa took 9.68 seconds and travelled 46.78 m to hit the mark.
The Hexa gets an electronically-controlled AWD drive system that’s rear-biased. And that’s why, in all our acceleration tests, I noticed the rear wheels spinning viciously for a fraction of a second before the AWD sensed a wheel slip and sent torque to the front axle. What’s also worth noting is that, the ESP came in really handy as it prevented the vehicle from fishtailing under hard acceleration.
The Hexa has a Rough Road mode which is your go-to driving mode for everything off-road. Fortunately, it’s not all show and no go, as engaging the Rough Road mode meant there was slightly less intervention from the anti-lock braking system. All said and done, the Hexa’s four-wheel disc setup and recalibrated ABS (in Rough Road mode) brought it to a halt from 30kmph in 5.05 seconds and 20.53m.
Now I ought to make it clear that all manual gearbox vehicles were at a disadvantage over the slalom – automatics are always quicker off the line and are happy to crawl along at extremely slow speeds around the cones. In the stick shift Hexa, however, we ended up slipping the clutch several times to change directions.
At 2,280kg, the Hexa’s immense bulk played spoilsport while making quick direction changes. Also, the road-biased MRF Wanderers didn’t provide enough grip – the front-end seemed to wash out extra bit under power as the electronics channelled torque upfront. Couple this with the not so impressive limited-slip differentials on both axles and the Hexa often struggled to put its power down. All in all, it took its own sweet time of 48.69 seconds to complete the slalom.
In what turned out to be the most interesting test of the day, we had a beaker (filled with water) inside the car and as each vehicle moved along ,it started sloshing over the edges, which shows us how good (or bad) the suspension is at absorbing bumps and potholes. For this test, we scouted out a short route through a narrow terrain that allowed us to take the Hexa across deep ruts, rocky terrain and a few choppy ridges at a constant speed of 20kmph.
If there was ever any apprehension whether a vehicle could offer a comfortable ride over such terrain, the Hexa 4x4 proved that it is possible. As good as it behaves on tarmac, the Hexa’s ride offers that sense of composure that’s just as good off-road. It soaked up the rough terrain, whether it was the trail or the deep ruts, and this meant the water stayed within the beaker for the most part. Sure, there was more lateral movement than others as the suspension bottomed out but even then, the Hexa simply ironed out the trail and accounted for the least amount of water spillage at just 10ml.
Off-Road Hill Climb
For our final obstacle, we had the Hexa charging up a steep grade and over a field of loose rocks. This is where I got the final hint that this crossover cannot really be subjected to serious off-roading. The Hexa suffered from having no low range, its heavy kerb weight and road-biased MRF tyres.
Its electronically-controlled AWD system uses a clutch to send power up front. The system engages the clutch when it detects that the rear wheels are spinning. The big downside to this is that the constant clutch actuation generates heat and to protect the clutch, the AWD system eventually stops engaging it. This was particularly evident when we neared the top of the steep grade as the Hexa nearly refused to climb the last few meters. We ultimately had to let the clutch cool down before having another go at completing the climb.
At the end of the day, the Hexa 4x4 did survive all the excursions. It may have just about managed to overcome the hill climb, but the Hexa did well over the slush despite lacking a low-range transfer case. The lack of proper 4x4 hardware, however, meant that the Hexa had its work cut out while contending with serious off-roading. We scraped more over deep ruts, had to use more momentum than is ideal and had to move rocks out of the way quite often. In other words, the Hexa 4x4 may be a tough ladder-frame crossover, but it’s no serious off-roader.
Photos by Kapil Angane
Click here to read Carwale Off-Road Day 2017 introduction
Click here to read about the Spotter's View at the CarWale Off-Road Day 2017
Location courtesy: 19 Degree North
An adventure sports outfit located at Aamby Valley City near Lonavla that offers activities like riding ATVs, paintball shooting, Zorbing, and Jungle Safari among others.