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Tata Nexon Diesel First Drive Review

What is it?

Why will I buy the Tata Nexon diesel? 

For the strong diesel engine, its sorted dynamics, the spacious cabin and catchy exterior design.

Why will I avoid the Nexon diesel?

Interior fit and finish could have been better and possibility of niggling quality issues is high.

 Tata motors has been on a roll lately. Since April 2016, the brand has come out with three new cars, which is incredible for any global company let alone an Indian one. Now, they are about to launch what could prove to be their most significant model, the Nexon. The Tata Nexon is a compact SUV/crossover that will compete against the highly capable Maruti Vitara Brezza and the segment inventor, the Ford EcoSport.  

 One glance is enough to establish the fact that the Nexon looks striking from any angle. Upfront, the large front grille flanked by the shapely headlamps give it ample presence. The thin chrome strip that runs along the bottom of the grille and merges into the headlamps makes the car look wider than it actually is. In profile, the Nexon looks spectacular, thanks to the swooping roof-line and the curvy glass area. Furthermore, what adds flair to the stylish silhouette is the pronounced crease, the heavily flared wheel arches and the tastefully designed 16 inch alloys. The white ceramic strip that highlights the shoulder-line may not appeal to everybody, but it definitely adds an element of distinctiveness to the exterior. If the profile is unique, the rear of the car is even more unconventional. The boot lid is dominated by a contrasting thick grey strip which if looked at closely, forms a distorted X (which according to Tata is inspired by the X-factor they sought while designing this car). The well-detailed tail-lamps too look really nice and the large bumper with blacked-out lower portion completes the look. Although the Nexon seems more like a prototype than a production ready vehicle, it doesn´t look overdone and somehow the battery of different elements and creases gel well together. 

The Nexon is mostly all-new except that the basis for this crossover comes from the Bolt/Indica Vista platform. Unfortunately like with the Bolt, the Nexon faces the same weighty issues, too. In the diesel guise, it weighs in at a hefty 1305kg which makes it the heaviest in the segment (if you leave the Mahindra Nuvosport and TUV300 out). Tata has made a lot of changes to the chassis to improve rigidity, which in turn should help refinement and dynamics.

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How is it on the inside?

On the inside, Tata has started with a clean slate and the Nexon´s cabin comes across as modern and something the company can use as a template for all future models. Ergonomically it is the best Tata we have come across, thanks to the well laid out dash and logical placement of important elements. The screen for example is placed high up, in the driver´s field of vision and all the buttons and controls fall to hand easily too. In terms of quality, the Nexon is definitely a step-up over the Tiago or the Tigor. Still, bits like the air-con controls, power window buttons, control stalks and the gloss black finish around the gearbox lever (which gets easily scratched) could have been better. Yet, it feels at par with the competition as both the Vitara Brezza and the EcoSport aren´t the best in terms of quality and finish themselves. What could be of greater concern, is the poor quality control that has plagued Tata cars. Even our brand-new test vehicles developed snags like the rubber cover for the brake pedal coming off and one of the tail lamps going off. 

Like with all new Tata cars, the Nexon gets the Harman developed infotainment system. But unlike its siblings, the system gets a high-res display and interestingly it resembles Audi´s MMI interface layout. Sure, it could use a faster processor and yes, it doesn´t function as smoothly as the unit installed on the Vitara Brezza. 

According to Tata, you get as many as 32 storage options in the Nexon. The most useful are the bottle holders in the front door pads, the massive cooled glove box, the deep centre storage box and the cup holders integrated into rear centre armrests. We did spot the odd few quirks though. For example, the storage under the front armrest is a little too deep especially towards the front where the cubby gets narrow. Even the glove box lid which gets two cup holders on the inside, is useless, as it fouls with the front passenger´s knees.

The front seats are big, have acres of legroom and the stiff side bolstering does a good job of keeping you in place. If we had to nitpick, we would have liked an adjustable lumbar and better thigh support. Driving position is not the most ideal, as the pedals are bit off-set and the steering feels a tad too close to the driver. At the rear, the Nexon is spacious and the wide cabin makes it a genuine five-seater. The bench itself is well shaped and the backrest angle is ideal too. The addition of air vents with speed control (these aren´t AC vents) and a 12V charging socket at the rear enhance the rear seat experience. The boot at 350-litres is big enough and the 60:40 split folding rear seats can increase the space up to 690-litres if and when needed.

The Nexon we drove was the top-spec XZ variant and it came loaded with features. Primary among them was a touchscreen infotainment system which houses Android Auto(Apple CarPlay will soon be added) and a sweet sounding 8 speaker Harman music system. Apart from this, the Nexon gets all the basics like climate control, key-less go, reverse camera with guidance and daytime running lamps. What adds to the feel-good factor is the fact that Tata will offer all variants with two airbags and ABS as standard. The feature we most loved though is that the XZ variant also comes equipped with a water-proof wrist band which acts like a key. This is a great feature for people who often go running and swimming and don´t want the hassle of carrying the key fob. 

How does it drive?

 We are just going to talk about the new 1.5-litre, common-rail diesel motor in this review. Displacing 1497cc, this diesel unit is based on the three-cylinder motor found in the Tiago. However, Tata engineers have put in a bigger turbo-charger and the internals have been strengthened to handle the extra power and torque. They have also used an aluminium oil sump to keep weight in check and frictional losses have been reduced as compared to the Tiago motor. Producing best in segment 108bhp and 260Nm of torque, this iron block diesel motor is coupled to a newly developed 6-speed manual gearbox.

Thanks to the surplus of power, the Nexon moves off the block with ease and drivability is its biggest strength. Power delivery is pretty seamless and you can barely feel the turbo kicking in. There´s a gentle surge at around 1600rpm, followed by a strong push all the way to its 4500rpm redline. You get three drive modes and in any given ECU map, the Nexon has enough grunt for most conditions. Although, in Eco mode responses are subdued, it offers enough go, especially encountering low speed traffic. In City or in Power mode, the Nexon really shines and on first impressions, the Nexon definitely felt more responsive and faster than the Vitara Brezza or the Ford EcoSport. The Nexon cruises well too and the strong mid-range makes overtaking easy. The good drivability also means you don´t have to constantly work the gearbox to make quick progress, which is a good thing as the gearshifts are a bit notchy and the clutch is on the heavier side. Refinement of this diesel motor is quite impressive and Tata engineers have done a really good job with this diesel motor. 

Like the engine, the Nexon´s ride and handling is impressive too. At any given speed, the Nexon always feels supple and it retains remarkable composure over worst of roads. The ride is quite flat too and except for getting caught-out by sudden sharp bumps, there is not much to complain. Its handling is sorted too and it always feels safe and predictable and the compact dimensions make it easy to drive on narrow roads. The steering is quite direct and body-roll is well contained and there is loads of grip from the 205 section tyres. But when compared to the Vitara Brezza, it lacks finesse while tackling corners. Quick change of direction is where the Nexon struggles as it feels heavy, steering feels inert and it lacks Maruti´s fluidity. Even the brakes could have been better with better pedal feel and sharper initial bite.

Should I buy one?

It is hard not to recommend the Nexon, especially in this diesel variant. The stand-out exterior, comfortable cabin, long-list of features, potent diesel motor and sorted dynamics definitely makes this compact SUV very alluring. Even though cabin quality could have been better, the fact that its competitors also don´t fare well in this matter makes it something of a moot point. But there are two major things that can really affect this impressive product. The first and foremost is the price, which Tata needs to desperately get right and undercut its rivals by at least Rs 20-30,000 (we think the high-price was the tumbling block in case of the now slow selling Tigor). The second aspect is Tata´s quality control issues which will be unacceptable, especially in a premium product like the Nexon. The ball then is in Tata´s court to not let a potential winner down.

Where does it fit in?

The Tata Nexon will compete in the highly competitive sub-four meter compact SUV segment. It will share market space with the likes of Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Ford EcoSport, Honda WR-V and Hyundai i20 Active.

Pictures by: Kapil Angane

Click here for Tata Nexon Photo gallery

Click here for Maruti Brezza vs Ford EcoSport vs Honda WR-V comparison

Click here for Tata Nexon vs Maruti Vitara Brezza spec comparison

 

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Tata Nexon Price in India

CityOn-Road Prices
Mumbai₹ 7.87 Lakhs onwards
Bangalore₹ 8.24 Lakhs onwards
New Delhi₹ 7.6 Lakhs onwards
Pune₹ 7.83 Lakhs onwards
Hyderabad₹ 7.98 Lakhs onwards
Ahmedabad₹ 7.82 Lakhs onwards
Chennai₹ 8.01 Lakhs onwards
Kolkata₹ 7.66 Lakhs onwards
Chandigarh₹ 7.44 Lakhs onwards
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