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Review: Tata Nexon

Maruti Vitara Brezza, Ford Ecosport, a handful of pseudo crossover hatchbacks, bare-bones versions of the Duster and Creta…the list is endless. Everyone wants a slice of the ever-increasing pie that all Indians, and the world, are biting into. Compact SUVs have arrived, and a car maker would be foolish not to be seen in the middle of this action.

In 2014, Tata unveiled a concept that would soon father its small SUV. Based on a fresh platform it would lead the new-age Tata cars. Nexon, as we see here, is the execution of that idea. While the concepts weren’t actually running prototypes, this here is the closest it has ever come to a production model. We are given to understand that the vehicles we tested were pre-production models. The launch is still almost two months away.

Last year, Tata, amongst all its management turmoil also began its passenger carline’s resurrection with brand new models that had little or no connection to its then existing line-up. Nexon carries forward the tradition. In terms of looks, this one doesn’t take the traditional SUV look. This isn’t a smaller version of say, the Safari or the Hexa. While it positions it as an SUV, this is more crossover in design. Less boxy, more sweepy lines with an array of design cues to make the car look as close to the futuristic-looking concept it is derived from. The front is dominated by the massive black grille and swept-back headlamps, complete with daytime running lights for effect.

A high waistline with bulging wheel arches, housing machine-cut 16-inch alloy wheels add to the vehicle's presence. The window sill gets a unique cladding finished in white for a “ceramic-like” finish. The rear also looks busy and concept-like with a curvaceous hatch finishing into a chunky bumper. The white cladding continues to the rear after breaking up shortly for a blacked-out, massive C-pillar. It does look like it's trying too hard to garner eyeballs, yet the Nexon is striking. A fact proved by the constant second glances it kept getting around the roads of Cochin where we ended up driving it.

There are going to be two new engine options. On the petrol front, Tata has added another 1.2-litre, three-cylinder aluminium unit to the Revotron family. This makes 108bhp and 170Nm in the Nexon. For diesel, it has got a bigger 4-cylinder 1.5-litre for the Revotorq range that also makes 108bhp but more potent 260Nm of torque which suits much better for this car. Engineers have managed to mask noise and vibrations reaching inside the cabin quite well. The torque spread is quite flat with it peaking at as low as 1500rpm and staying put till 2750rpm. This where you need to be most of the time anyways. Even when you have to push it beyond, the Nexon manages to carry on gingerly helped by a sorted set-up (more on that below later).

The petrol needs some more time to wake up at the lower end of the rev band. Before the torque kicks in, it is as helpless as the floating tiger in Life of Pi. It seems to be able to rev freely but not as smoothly as its Jap counterparts that we Indians are so used to. Vibrations exist when pushed to the limit due to the inherent nature of being a 3-cylinder unit. Either engine can be mated to a new 6-speed manual gearbox. For a modern unit this could do with a slicker throw. We felt it more of an irritant on the petrol version simply because of the extra shift work it needs to do to maintain the Nexon’s momentum. The diesel with its meatier mid range means lesser shifts needed, which is more to our liking. Tata said it is working on an “automatic” version too although this won’t be available at launch.

Ride and dynamics
The Nexon is a supremely comfortable car possibly beaten only by the mighty Safari from amongst its stablemates. Unlike the newer smaller cars that have preceded it, this compact vehicle stays true to its SUV acronym to provide an appropriately supple ride. The suspension and thick 215/60 R16 Goodyears on our test car were doing magic on Kochi roads. However, the roads are much better surfaced here than the average Indian ones. Still the typical potholes were dispatched with the same flair as Saurav Ganguly played his classic cover drives. Large tyres manage to barrel over smaller potholes while the suspension set-up comfortably soaks up bigger ones. Ride is firm but you won’t be bouncing all around in the cabin. Even when at the rear. The car manages to stay stable with not as much body roll as a conventional SUV with a higher centre of gravity.

The steering feel swings between being confident in the diesel version to almost lifeless on the petrol. The wheel itself, as you see, is a carry over from the Tiago/Tigor. It’s small and multi-functional. On the diesel, it feels better weighed which could also be due to the inherent higher load at the front. The assistance at slow speed is adequate and the slightly heavy set-up works well when you push the Nexon for quick lane changes or fast corners. On the petrol, the loss of weight at the front seems to have put it off the grid. It is a bit too light than needed and requires you to keep correcting it. Spoils the drive feel which is so much better in the diesel.

Ergonomics, for some reason, remains a bane for most Indian auto makers. On the Nexon, Tata has managed to improve some of the bits but have also sneaked in oddities that look like an afterthought. Like the umbrella holder in the front doors. Great idea and reminds you of expensive car brands to do that, however, it is such a snug fit that pulling out the umbrella is a tricky exercise. The centre armrest gets storage space but is a bit complicated where you get some cup holders below a sliding panel which is accessed better by lifting the pad to rest your elbow on. I nitpick here though. What definitely could make more sense is to offer a better angled steering wheel. It is tiltable but getting an appropriate angle was turning out to be a bit of a struggle because a more comfortable position also meant a partly visible instrument cluster. Yes, there is seat height adjust but it is not enough as you are always reaching out to the Nexon’s steering wheel rather than the other way round.

Having said that, Nexon does offer an elegant-looking cabin in terms of plastics, their surface patterns and the fabric. No leather interiors yet and it is generally a nice place to be in. Seats are well bolstered and angled. Especially so at the rear where the backrest angle is just perfect for both short and long-distance journeys. Despite the sloping roof at the rear, headroom is adequate to give an airy feeling. The chunky C-pillar provides just the right amount of cover to hide behind without making you feel claustrophobic. More importantly, look ahead and you get a big car feel, which is important especially if you are in what is supposed to be an SUV.

Summing it up
The Nexon looks the part of a cool, new-gen crossover. Maybe a tad too funky but the vehicle, especially in diesel guise is a decent drive and comes across as massively practical despite the minor ergo niggles. On the driving front, while it doesn’t offer goodies such as an automatic gearbox or off-road gizmos, it does come with the Drive Select mode which allows choosing between three different power deliveries – City, Eco and Sport. While this has been available on earlier Tata cars too, the performance differences are much more evident in the Nexon than it has ever been. We would, however, do away with the vehicle’s pleasantries of announcing the mode selected every time you turn the dial.

The Harman music system is top notch and the touchscreen feels much better than what you get in say a Scorpio or Duster. The interface is easy to navigate through. It already comes with Android Auto. Tata says Apple Car Play will also be offered soon, hopefully, around the launch time. On the safety front, Nexon will come with twin front airbags and ABS as standard across the range. While no price has been indicated, we can safely estimate it to get an on-road sticker range of Rs 8-11 lakh. That is Vitara Brezza and Ecosport territory but also the arena of maximum action with “cross” hatches and smalls sedans. Despite its own unconventional crossover origins, the Nexon does make a case as an SUV with a supreme ride and ability to rubbish bad roads. More so in diesel guise, where it is a better drive too.

Diesel: 8/10
Displacement: 1497cc/4-cylinder, Power/Torque: 108bhp/260Nm, Gearbox: 6M, Weight: 1305kg, Tyres: 215/60 R16, LxWxH: 3994x1811x1607mm, Ground clearance: 209mm, Fuel tank: 44L
Petrol: 6/10
Displacement: 1198cc/3-cylinder, Power/Torque: 108bhp/170Nm, Gearbox: 6M, Weight: 1237kg, Tyres: 215/60 R16, LxWxH: 3994x1811x1607mm, Ground clearance: 209mm, Fuel tank: 44L
Price: TBA
Launch date: September 2017

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