What is it?
The Tata Hexa is the Indian carmaker's new flagship. Built on the same platform as the now discontinued Aria, the Hexa has seen a sea of revisions that should make it a way more enticing buy. Given Tata prices it right.
For starters, the design is dramatically different, and all for the better. Continuing on Tata's Impact design philosophy first seen on the Tiago, the Hexa has tremendous road presence. The bold and upright grille, the muscular bumper, the flared wheel arches and those gorgeous looking 19-inch wheels add a sense of drama that's hard to ignore.
It still has the same Aria silhouette, so it is more MPV than SUV in profile, but Tata has done well to add bits of chrome and plastic cladding to give the Hexa a richer feel. If there's one thing we didn't like about the design, it is the rear end styling. It's too staid and boxy – healthy dose of chrome notwithstanding – which takes away from its contemporary appeal.
The Hexa, says Tata, is for the young, outgoing, style conscious buyer. And to that effect, the Hexa does tick the right boxes.
How is it on the inside?
Even though the dash layout broadly reminds one of the Aria, there's enough newness to the material, details and controls, to make the interiors look all-new. The choice of materials and the finish, in particular, deserves kudos. There are chrome outlines and gloss black finish; soft grain plastic and rubberised controls; and even the dull black plastic doesn't look cheap or out of place. Then there are the seats. Perforated leather-like material, contrasting white stitching, and just the right size and shape adds to the luxury feel.
The seats are comfortable too. There's good side bolstering along with enough support for the back and thighs, which should make long journeys a relaxed affair. The second row of seats isn’t as supportive even though these are large and accommodating; we found the seat cushioning a little firm for our tastes. As for the last row, which isn't too difficult to access thanks to the tumble fold function of the second row, is the least comfortable. The seats are small and though Tata Motors has added more cushioning (and has lowered the H point) compared to the Aria, these could still be more supportive and accommodating.
The space in the last row isn't great either; particularly the headroom. Second row though can seat three without a problem. There's enough shoulder and headroom and with the sliding function, even six footers won't find it cramped for their legs. Boot space with all three rows of seats in place can hold a couple of backpacks and maybe a really slender travel bag, but fold the last row and the depth increases many fold. The overall height for the boot, though, much like the Aria, still isn't SUV like. And the loading lip remains high.
Besides space and quality, feature list is another crucial consideration for cars in this class and at this price point. And on that front, the Hexa begins well. For safety it gets front two air bags, side airbags for the front passengers and curtain airbags as well. It also has the latest four-channel ABS along with ESP. And for those stormy evenings, auto headlamps and wipers as well.
It gets an 8-way adjustable driver's seat albeit without electric function; a multifunctional steering wheel with controls for the audio, voice commands and cruise control; a two zone climate control system with AC vents for all three rows; cooled glovebox; rear window blinds; a reversing camera with beeping sensors; and a lovely sounding audio system. There's a driver information system as part of the instrumentation as well; a 3.5-inch colour TFT screen. It throws up info on trip distances, economy and range and active driving modes.
What the Hexa lacks though is keyless entry and start, stowage spaces in and around the central tunnel, and usable armrests at the front.
How does it drive?
The Tata Hexa comes with just one diesel engine. But, one can have it with either a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. The engine is the same 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, diesel that powers that Safari Storme. But unlike the Storme the Aria only gets the more powerful Varicor 400 version. It makes 156bhp and 400Nm of torque and as the figures suggest there’s no dearth of pulling power.
The only catch is – and we are talking about the manual here – the lag before the variable geometry turbocharger reaches maximum boost. The manual Hexa feels lethargic and heavy and unwilling till the rpm needle crosses the 2,000rpm mark.
Beyond this, and before the engine hits 3,500rpm, the Hexa is on song. It pulls strongly, reacts well to throttle inputs and the engine sounds and feels reasonably refined. Past 3,500rpm, however, things get loud and a bit vibey. The good news is, the acceleration still refuses to let off, and the Hexa continues to gather momentum without bother very close to its redline. It’s not a character one generally associates with large, heavy SUVs. It was pleasantly surprising.
The automatic sounds and feels exactly the same in the mid and top end. But, it’s at slow speeds that the auto beats the manual version hollow. First, the gear shifts on the manual are notchy, long in the throw, and not very precise. The automatic’s shifts in contrast are smooth, predictable, well judged and barely cause any shift shock. But, it is the way the auto ‘box covers for the turbo lag that had us impressed. It just makes the Hexa feel more alive and quicker on its feet.
It is also a smart auto ‘box this. It learns your style of driving, ensures there’s hardly any lag between throttle input and response, and in manual mode and Sport modes, it feels as connected as a manual equipped car should. But, because it doesn’t come with the four driving modes the manual gets – Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Rough Road – it isn’t the one for the serious adventure seeker.
More on the Tata Hexa’s Super Drive Modes here
The manual with its Rough Road mode that alters ESP and ABS responses and gets customisable hill descent program just makes more sense when the road runs out. It also has a smart all-wheel-drive that can send up to 40 per cent of the torque to the front wheels if the rear axle begins to lose grip.
As far as ride and handling go, Tata Motors has revised the dampers on the Hexa giving it a more settled ride. The Hexa might feel a little stiff at slow speeds now but nothing that will put you off. The upside is, there’s reduced side-to-side movement, the rear is more planted over broken surfaces and while exiting undulations, no matter what speed.
And when you throw the Hexa into a corner, it does roll and pitch – one cant run away from the weight – but it isn’t exaggerated in your old-school SUV way. In fact, the Hexa loads up on its side in a linear and predictable fashion when in a corner, never feeling hairy or sloppy. It is also willing to make direction changes without throwing too much of a tantrum.
Should buy one?
There are clearly more reasons to buy the Tata Hexa than to avoid it. The only real negatives that come to mind are poor stowage options upfront, no keyless start, and possibly for city dwellers, the sheer length of the car. It measures almost 4.8 metres. The positives – road presence, ride and handling, feature list, safety kit, and a nice sounding audio system, besides technology that includes driving modes, all wheel drive and an up-to-date automatic gearbox. So, yes, the Tata Hexa is certainly worth buying.
Where does it fit in?
The Tata Hexa arrives in a space that has a total of one challenger. The Mahindra XUV500. But, the Hexa should also work as an alternative to D-segment sedans, the likes of the Hyundai Elantra and the Toyota Corolla. Now, as a product, the Hexa has things going for it, no doubt – space, comfort, butch appeal, flexibility and features. But, it isn’t the best crossover or SUV out there, or the perfect sedan alternative. However, Tata Motors can certainly make it very enticing and a brilliant value proposition but pricing it well. So, for both Tata and Hexa’s sake, I hope the carmaker plays the right price card.
Photos: Kapil Angane