The Tata Zest was the second car to arrive in our long term garage for 2015. Its compact proportions and peppy little 1.2-litre Revotron engine prompted me to cover over 700km in just 14 days. The car that we had got was pretty much new as it had just covered 778km before reaching our garage. This meant that the cabin or even the whole car for that matter had not yet got the ‘tough’ treatment meted to media fleet vehicles and it was up to us to get things going.
The Revotron engine is peppy and buzzes nicely when you push it hard almost making you feel like you are being propelled by a larger mill. I found the five-speed gearbox to be a little cumbersome as the first gear is too short and prompts you to shift up to second gear really quickly. While this is perfectly normal and improves the driving experience on big open roads, it feels a bit cumbersome in heavy traffic where you have to build up the revs to move forward, shift to second and then promptly go back to first once you halt the car completely. It is also a bit notchy as the throws do not feel precise.
The 700km that I covered in the Zest included four trips to South Mumbai as well as celebrity homes tour of Bandra on a Saturday night. The humid May nights meant we kept the climate control at a peppy 23c on for the entire duration of all the trips to SoBo. It is able to cope during the night thanks to the lower external temperatures but fell short of what I expected during the day as it took too long to cool the cabin properly. That being said, Tata has added a nice touch whereby the system blows a gust of wind thorough the vents and down below near the foot wells when you turn on the climate control.
The Zest is also the first car in the segment to get projector headlamps which make a big difference when you suddenly encounter a stretch of road without street lamps. Its major benefit is that it illuminates the road evenly whatever be the situation. On the plus side, it also gets you a lot of attention when you are in crowded areas, as I discovered while driving around the Worli Sea face.
On the fuel efficiency front, while Tata claims that it has an ARAI number of 17.6kmpl, the highest we were able to achieve was 12kmpl with an average of 10kmpl. The car is yet to undergo its first service and we suspect that post this, the number will definitely increase and this is something we will be able to give you in our third long term report. At the time of writing the report, the price of petrol in Mumbai is Rs 74 and with a 44-litre tank the total cost of filling up the Zest is Rs 3,256 making the cost per km approximately Rs 6.1.
One of the things that I really enjoyed while using the Zest was the Harman music system designed specially by the company for the Mumbai-based automaker. It offers a wide variety of options in terms of connectivity including an SD card reader. We suspect this has been kept as an option for people to review photos they take during their adventures with the Zest though it is put to better use in the Bolt where it can stream videos.
The sound quality from the four speakers is excellent and the clarity that it provides is well beyond what is expected from a music system of a car in this price range. However, two flaws I found with the system were that the touchscreen interface was not totally accurate and its visibility is reduced considerably when there is direct sunlight falling on it.
Tata, in recent times, has been making a great effort to move away from its fleet-friendly image and the Zest seems to be a pretty good effort. Its sharp curves, funky projector lamps and chrome in the right places certainly get you attention wherever you go with it. The high ground clearance of 175mm (in fact highest in class) means you never have to worry about potholes and large speed breakers. On the flip side, this makes the ride quite a bit bouncy. We suspect that Tata has done this keeping in mind the fact that the target buyers, will load up the car often. It is also quite easy to park as the sensors have a large margin for error thus allowing you to manoeuvre into tight spots without much difficulty.
It now moves on to my colleague Ninad Ambre who is a far more adventurous person than I am and should be able to give you an idea of what the Zest’s highway manners are like as well as what the car is like when you push it a bit hard in the corners.