Why would I buy it?
- Ride quality
- Rear seat comfort
Why would I avoid it?
- Weak bottom end performance
- Tight shoulder room for three at the back
Forget the Nexon, the Harrier or even the notable 2021 Safari; this little munchkin may well be the most important model for Tata Motors in years. It’s the all-new Punch, a micro SUV that is here to take on the likes of the Swift, the Grand i10 Nios, the Triber and so on. It will also rival jacked up hatchbacks like the Ignis along with VFM champs including the Magnite and the Kiger. Clearly, Tata has got to play across a crowded field of varying body styles at different price points and a good look at the Punch will tell you that the brand has come well prepared. In this review we will cover all the crucial bits like performance, space, quality and refinement so let’s get to it.
Engine and Performance
The Punch is pretty simple on the drivetrain front. There is no diesel or electric option for this micro SUV though there will be an electric Punch eventually, that’s for sure. At the moment, you get a 1.2-litre petrol engine with either a five speed manual or AMT and that’s about it. It’s the same naturally aspirated ‘Revotron’ engine that we have seen in the Altroz and the Tiago. Here, it makes 84bhp of power and 113Nm of torque – decent figures for the class.
Though not the most refined or free-revving in its class, this engine in the Punch offers a strong whoosh of mid-range pulling power and is surprisingly eager to deliver the ‘punch’ on the top-end, too. However, it lacks torque below 3,000rpm and progress at low revs is quite weak, often resulting in slow take-offs. It’s not something you want in a city car which ideally operates at low to medium revs for the most part. The Punch starts to get more fun as speeds rise and as long as you keep it above 3,000rpm and between traffic lights and wide city streets it’s fine. It’s just that the kerb weight of around 1,000kg and a weak bottom-end can, at times, make for an unsatisfying drive, especially with a full load.
There are two drive modes on offer – City and Eco though it’s best to leave it in City mode as default if you want the Punch to feel zippy. Speaking of which, it managed to complete the 0-60kmph sprint in 6.47 seconds and 0-100kmph in 15.23 seconds during our performance tests using specialist timing gear. Its in-gear time of 14.76 seconds to do 20-80kmph in third gear isn’t too bad either but then it’s noticeably slower as speeds rise and if you are in a high gear. For instance, it took 22.12 seconds to do the 40-100kmph run in fourth which is nearly five seconds slower than the Swift. The five speed gearbox is smooth and the shift action is also fairly light. We also like how light the clutch pedal is but then it’s completely devoid of feel and would be difficult to modulate for many users.
Ride and Handling
The Punch drives like a true Tata vehicle. Now it may seem like an obvious statement, but the fact remains that all Tata cars have a certain feel to the way they drive and respond to your inputs and this little crossover drives similar to other members of the Tata’s SUV range and they are all larger vehicles. That’s something we like the most about the Punch - there’s an underlying sense of maturity and smoothness to the way it deals with big bumps and sharp-edged pot holes. The suspension is surprisingly quiet and really well sorted as we found out throughout our drive across rough and fidgety streets of Mumbai. As long as you are doing city speeds, the ride quality is extremely pliant and supple, so much so that it gives you an impression of riding in a much bigger car.
Sure at highway speeds it does bob and move around a bit mainly because of how softly sprung the car is, but then again it’s not to the point of discomfort and nor is it unusually loud. As for the handling, the steering has a nice weight to it but it’s not progressive as you move in either direction – you are likely to be second-guessing with regards to positioning the car as you put more and more lock. The overall grip, on the other hand, is more than adequate for the power on offer and the Punch will stick to its line commendably with hardly any skittishness.
Interior Space and Quality
The Punch may have been built to a price but its interior is nowhere near as basic as you might expect considering the expected price range. It’s smartly designed and for a Tata, the layout is quite ergonomically sound with everything falling to hand. We reckon many buyers would be amazed to have a cabin with interesting touches, a modern dash with a floating touch screen and decent plastics at this price point. We like how solid the air vents feel when you adjust them and how nicely the seats are upholstered. The window switches and the glove box also operate with a certain heft that we feel is missing in many cars in this segment. We just wish there was a dedicated switch on the center of the dash to lock and unlock the doors. Currently, the central locking feature works via the driver’s side door handle only which is hardly convenient.
Access to the cabin is extremely easy thanks to the high ingress and also because of the 90-degree opening doors. Once inside, finding the right driving position is fairly easy thanks to the height adjustable seat and rake adjustment for the steering column. The glass area is decently big and visibility is also superb, meaning it’s a matter of seconds for any experienced driver to jump in and be fully at ease manoeuvring the Punch through heavy traffic.
The Punch hardly takes up any road space yet you would be genuinely surprised by the space and comfort levels it has to offer for rear seat passengers. With the front seat set to my position (I am 5’ 8”), I had plenty of legroom and headroom to be comfortable. Better still, the seat itself is nicely contoured and has ample amount of under thigh support. What’s not so good is the limited shoulder room especially if you have more than two people at the back. Also, storage space at the back is minimal – there are map pockets behind the front seats and slim door pockets and that’s about it. There are no rear AC vents and even though you get an arm rest, it misses out on integrated cup holders.
Features and Equipment
The Punch has plenty to boast about when it comes to equipment. All the basics are covered – you get climate control, steering mounted controls, electrically foldable mirrors, touchscreen infotainment system, alloy wheels, reversing camera with guidelines, front fog lights, LED taillights, dual air bags and ABS with EBD. Additionally, the top-end Creative trim adds a lot of nice, usable features such as automatic headlights, cruise control, rain sensing wipers, projector headlights, cooled glove-box, puddle lamps, engine start-stop function and so much more. The only thing it misses out on is LED lighting up front and a dedicated switch for the central locking.
Micro SUVs aren’t exactly in trend in the current market but if there’s any upcoming vehicle that can shake things up in the sub Rs 10 lakh space it’s the new Tata Punch. Let’s just cut to the chase – it’s a genuinely impressive compact vehicle, one that’s big on style, ride comfort, features and practicality. Sure, the engine could have been fruiter on the bottom-end and also, we would have liked if the steering and gearbox felt more immediate but then these blemishes aren’t deal breakers in any way. Tata is targeting multiple segments with the Punch and if the brand can manage to price it aggressively (Read: between Rs 5.5 to Rs 8.5 lakh ex-showroom), there is no stopping this micro SUV from becoming a runaway hit.
Pictures by Kapil Angane