Tata has ditched the central instrument cluster in favour of one in the right place – in front of the driver. It is, again, inspired from the Manza’s interiors and this is no bad thing. The steering wheel is a new one, which is smaller, and had controls mounted on it for the audio system, phone and voice commands. It even has a couple of toggle-style buttons that aren’t present on any car cheaper than a Nissan Sunny at the moment. The instrument cluster is a much better design with white backlighting, which ignores the current fashion, blue backlighting. It is a clearer cluster, and opts for a twin pod design with the tachometer on the left, speedo on the right and multi-function display in the centre. There is a bar-style instantaneous consumption indicator at the bottom much like the Hondas have. The information displayed is comprehensive, and includes a gearshift indicator that tells you which gear you should be in for maximum efficiency. In the automatic, it shows which mode is selected, including sport mode. As in the Manza, the redline isn’t marked on either cluster, but the tacho needle turns red when it is reached, which is a nice touch.
The asymmetric design of the central vents seem to be a conscious decision to ignore cost in the favour of feel-good factor. They have a thin chrome strip running around them as well, and the hazard lamp switch is placed in between them. Below the vents sits the new Harman-designed audio head unit. It is a comprehensive system, which will support all audio input, even SD cards, which is rare. The diesel had a screen that was slightly smaller, while the petrol had the full-fat large touchscreen that also displayed the climate control settings whenever they were adjusted. Surprisingly, once those settings are on the screen, you can use the touchscreen itself to adjust them – again, something that isn’t available even in a segment above. There was no obvious way to access this screen using only the head unit, but we’ll try it out when we have the car back for a full review. The quality of the audio itself is really very good, especially in the touch screen version. The mirrors are electrically adjustable, and the windows all have power adjustment with the switches in the traditional places. Again, our petrol Zest had one-touch down for the driver’s window while the diesel didn’t.
The AC controls are traditional rotary knobs, and the recirculation toggle is now an electronic switch. There is a similar layout for the climate control controls. Below these controls lie another row of buttons which house the controls for the parking sensors, front and rear fog lamps, and in the case of the Revotron, the different modes of operation for the engine.
On the horizontal section, there is a single cup holder on the driver’s side with the left one blanked out in favour of a 12V charging socket. There is a cubbyhole between the gear lever and the handbrake mount, but nothing behind it.
The seats are large and comfortable, as Tata seats have always been. The Zest is also the widest car in its class, so three abreast at the back isn’t an impossible proposition. The petrol has height adjustment for the driver’s seat. The pedals are not offset any more – something that traditional Tata owners always had a problem with. The boot is big enough to swallow a weekend hoilday’s worth of luggage, which is great. NVH is one area where the Zest is a paradigm shift – Tata has put in a lot of work (not to mention sound deadening) and the Zest has emerged as good as, if not better than, the average in the segment.
Tata has also installed two airbags and ABS, EBD and what they call Corner Stability Control for safety. Tata also claims that the Zest can be installed with dual-stage airbags if necessary, and meets the upcoming Indian frontal offset crash requirements already.
Tata has paid attention to small things like the chrome bezel for the central AC vents, the follow-me-home headlamps whose on-time you can program and the way the gear shift levers look, which makes the Zest’s interiors feel a lot more upmarket than a standard Tata. However, there are a few negative points, like the fit and finish of some bits like the edges not matching between swooping panel that starts out above the centre console and ends on the right side of the instrument cluster.
There is no way to adjust the amount of air flowing through the AC vents; you can only adjust the direction of the air. The door handles have been left matt black and therefore look downmarket. Finally, there is no place to keep a 1-litre bottle anywhere in the Zest. The front door pockets and cupholder can hold 500ml bottles at best. When cars at similar prices are talking about more than five cupholders including bottle holders that can hold bottles bigger than a traditional one-litre bottle, this is a major oversight. The quality of some bits still needs improvement, like the roof liner around the dome light switch that gives the impression that it will crack if you press it too hard. The fog lamp buttons should be higher – to operate them the driver has to take his eyes off the road completely, and a safe assumption to make would be that they will be turned on in low-visibility conditions, so you don’t want the driver to take his eyes off the road at all. There is also no dead pedal for either variant. In the case of the manuals, there simply isn’t any space in the driver footwell, but for the automatic variants, there needs to be a dead pedal for the driver’s foot.
The AMT lever is an electronic switch, and Tata hasn’t put a physical restriction on its movement, either. This can get very confusing for the first few minutes – put the lever in ‘D’ without putting your foot on the brake pedal, and the lever will move to that position but the indicator remains ‘N’ on the instrument cluster. This is something that needs to change; at the very least, there has to be a notification to put it in neutral and the foot on the brake before the car has to be started.