First Drives

21 April 2018

Review: Tata Nexon AMT

With both petrol and diesel AMT options, Tata boosts Nexon’s appeal. Should you be interested? It’s a 50:50 situation. Read on

Devesh Shobha
Car image

That Nexon has turned quite orangey. What’s cookin’?
Yeah, it’s a bright shade and we rather like it. Tata calls it ‘Etna orange’, a new shade that will help suspecting wives track down their husbands driving them even when viewed from the moon. But that’s not the real deal. The actual reason why we’re making you look at a bright orange Nexon is because Tata is all-set to launch automated manual transmission equipped variants of its compact SUV and this is one of them.

Oh great! But I’m surprised Tata is calling it AMT and not some fancy name.

You spoke too soon. How about HyprDrive Self-Shift Gears? I know, there’s a typo in there, but we’re told it’s intentional. Never mind. Besides the misspelled nomenclature, you should also note that the Nexon AMT is slated to be launched in a month’s time and will be available with both petrol and diesel engine options. Yes, that’s a segment-first, if you were wondering. So with the Tata Nexon HD SSG, what you get is a 6-speed AMT paired with either a 108bhp, 170Nm, 3cyl 1.2L petrol unit or a 108bhp, 260Nm, 4cyl 1.5L diesel motor. In both cases, it’s the same hardware with different tuning to better suit their respective power deliveries.
So are they any better than the other AMTs available in the market?
That’s a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’. Allow me to try and put forward my points. If you’re looking at buying a diesel automatic SUV of this size, there aren’t any other options available, and it wouldn’t be a wise idea to ignore the diesel Nexon AMT because it’s quite good for what it is. You do have to slightly alter your driving style to get used to the way any AMT works and this unit is no different. But once you get a hang of the diesel AMT, it almost feels like a conventional torque-convertor ’box.

Okay, there is a notable lag, especially with the petrol option, but cogs shift far quicker than I’d originally expected, at least in the diesel avatar. With 260 Newtons on tap, the AMT-diesel combination feels far more responsive to your power needs and gear shifts are way quicker compared to that in the petrol variant. Tata says their engineers have also worked on a special ‘kickdown’ feature to further boost responsiveness, which could explain the diesel AMT’s swiftness in changing gears. But I feel the engineers may have missed adding that feature to the petrol engine.

What do you mean by that?
Say you want to pull a fast overtaking maneuver, while you still have to plan it in advance in either of the cars, it’s just that the AMT in the diesel car would be relatively quicker to downshift and offer max pulling power. Reason being the difference in torque figures. So, while the AMT may downshift a single cog in the diesel variant, it may have to jump two or maybe three cogs in the petrol variant to get you the desired results and that’s the reason for the delay in response time. That is when you’re driving them aggressively. However, with a lighter foot on the accelerator pedal, both the petrol and diesel AMTs cope with changing driving conditions relatively better. Still, there’s no escaping the excessive nose-dive you experience on the petrol AMT while driving in city traffic, be it in Eco or City modes and that’s quite annoying after a point.

Are you suggesting the petrol feels sluggish?
Yes. In those very words. When driven aggressively, there are times when it doesn’t want to move. Like a steep incline. Or worst, a hairpin bend on a steep incline. A bunch of that put together would be the petrol Nexon AMT’s worst nightmares, even worse than overtaking a fast-paced car. You can try your luck in the Sport mode or the manual tip-tronic mode, where things do improve to an extent, but for me being at the wheel of the petrol AMT wasn’t exactly a thrilling experience. I would rather drive the diesel AMT and be happier as it feels better suited to varied driving conditions.

Wait, you mentioned driving modes. In an AMT. Is that a slip-up on your part?
Definitely not. The Nexon AMT is offered with three drive modes; Eco, City and Sport. And if you have trusting issues and want to take complete charge of the proceedings, there’s a manual mode too, where you can upshift and downshift at will. If you are wondering, yes, there is a slight difference in throttle and gearshift response in these modes, with Sport being my choice of weapon. Be it on the highway or in the city, I prefer the Sport’s relatively sharper response, although I can’t say the same when it comes to the petrol AMT. To be honest, the Nexon’s 3-cylinder petrol motor simply doesn’t have enough punch to haul a compact SUV of this size and it’s all the more evident in the AMT guise.

So then, the oil-burner is my pick here. Be it in urban settings, the motorways, or the twisties, the diesel Nexon AMT adapts to changing conditions rather well. Plus, the “creep” function works nicely in city traffic where the Nexon can safely crawl as soon as you are off the brake pedal, even without pressing on the right pedal. And then the Hill Assist function; a boon on the mountain roads we tested this bright orange specimen.

What about ride and handling?
Road dynamics have been Nexon’s strongest virtues and it continues to amaze in this department. Despite its size and shape, the Nexon feels quite positive around a set of twisties and stays glued to the tarmac on a straight line while comfortably doing triple digit speeds. Even road irregularities are dispatched with great flair and that reassuring flat ride is something neither of its key rivals, the Ford EcoSport or the Maruti Vitara Brezza, can even come close to. And for once, ergonomics in a small Tata car isn’t an issue and that makes me happy.

Any more happy notes to share?
Yes, the styling that continues to turn heads, the dashboard design is refreshing, there’s acres of space on the inside and don’t be fooled by its slopping roofline, there’s ample of headroom at the back too. Add to that, the AMT will only be available in the XZA+ trim that comes with all the bells and whistles Tata has to offer, which means dual airbags, ABS, projector headlamps, dual tone exteriors and a 6.5inch Harman infotainment system to name a few.

What’s the price tag going to be like?
As mentioned, the AMT will only be available in the top trim and that means the petrol could be priced at Rs 10.8 lakh, while the diesel could cost you around Rs 12 lakh, these being estimated on-road Mumbai prices. At that price, it may sound a bit expensive, but remember, it’s a full-blown Tata that comes with everything you could have asked for and more.

Your final thoughts on the Nexon AMT
Tata seems to have done a much better job of developing an automated manual transmission and the experience of being at the wheel of one isn’t as frustrating as it used to be a couple of years ago. When driven sedately, both the petrol and diesel AMTs won't give you many reasons to whine, except for the petrol’s obsession for nose-diving. It does hesitate for a moment when you demand instant performance and that’s the petrol AMT’s biggest negative. However, the diesel AMT impresses both in terms of city driveability and outright performance and if I were to pick one, that’s the car I would drive out of the showroom.

Petrol (6/10)
3cyl, 1198cc turbo-petrol, 108bhp, 170Nm, 6-speed AMT, 1252kg, fuel tank: 44 litres, ground clearance: 209mm, boot space: 350 litres, price: Rs 10.8 lakh, estimated, on-road, Mumbai

Diesel (8/10)
4cyl, 1497cc turbo-diesel, 108bhp, 260Nm, 6-speed AMT, 1305kg, fuel tank: 44 litres, ground clearance: 209mm, boot space: 350 litres, price: Rs 12 lakh, estimated, on-road, Mumbai

Tata has come a long way with its AMT tech and feels much better equipped this time around. While the diesel AMT is thoroughly impressive, the petrol variant still needs a lot of work in terms of driveability.

Tags: maruti, tata, ford, ecosport, nexon, brezza, amt

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