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Review: Tata Harrier

We've finally gotten our hands at Tata's soon-to-be flagship SUV that has its origins with Land Rover

What is it?
If you’re asking that question, you’ve either just discovered the internet in the last hour or you’ve got short-term memory loss. Either way, get yourself checked. The Tata Harrier is everywhere! But since you’ve asked, I’m obligated to tell you because it is quite literally my job to do so. The Harrier is Tata’s latest SUV — one that slots in right in to Jeep Compass territory.

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Is it all-new?
For Tata, yes. In the grand scheme of things, not so much. But that’s more a good thing than bad. When Tata Motors bought Jaguar Land Rover from Ford back in 2008, technology from these two legendary marques trickling down to their cars here in India was imminent. However, it’s a slow process. And it starts in the shadows. Things did change at Tata Motors — the processes in manufacturing, quality control, checkpoints at every stage right from concept to production were being drawn from JLR, and it showed. The current crop of Tata cars — right from the Tiago to the Hexa — are so far beyond anything they made before and really forced us to look at the brand differently. But now, 10 years on, we finally have a product directly based on a JLR platform.

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What? You’re saying this is based directly on something from JLR?
That’s exactly what I’m saying. the Harrier is based on the same platform that underpins the Land Rover Discovery Sport. Tata has been willy-waving about this fact for a while and for good reason – it's a proven platform and well, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. The D8 platform has obviously been ‘Indianised’, meaning they’ve tweaked it specifically for this car, optimised it for cost and renamed it OmegaArc. So out goes all the aluminium bits that the D8 gets, and instead, this gets a host of other materials including around 30-35 per cent high strength steel.

The rear section of the chassis has been tweaked, while the front and underbody has remained the same for the most part. ‘#BornOfPedigree’ is what they were pushing on social media, and there’s no denying the pedigree of the platform – the D8 also underpins the Range Rover Evoque and the Jaguar E-Pace. But it goes deeper than that. The origins of the D8 lie in Land Rover’s days with Ford, as the D8 is actually a heavily modified version of the Ford EUCD platform. Does this pedigree get richer? Yes, the EUCD underpinned a lot of unfamiliar Fords and a few familiar Volvos. The previous gen XC60? That had its origins here as well.

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Whoa. That’s huge, those are all great SUVs! I’m interested now. What about the engine?
What is under the hood is no real secret either. The 2-litre diesel motor from FCA is one that we are familiar with – we’ve driven it around plenty in the Jeep Compass. In this tune, it makes 138bhp and 350Nm and comes mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Nope, there’s no automatic at the time of launch and you’re going to have to wait a little longer for that.

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You’ve driven it, haven’t you? What did you like about it?
The ride quality of the Harrier is phenomenal. NASA could have faked the moon landings on some of the bad stretches of road I drove this on, but nothing fazed the Harrier. On the sections that are slightly broken, you can just keep it pinned and the suspension flattens everything out. The SUV doesn’t cry out for you to take it easy, but to push harder. Even at slower speeds, damping is well controlled and it doesn’t wallow as it goes over breakers and other large bumps. The front suspension has been carried over as is from the D8 – an independent unit with a lower wishbone, a McPherson strut with a coil spring and an anti-roll bar.

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The modifications to the rear of the monocoque allowed for a new suspension set up here – a semi-independent twist blade set up, that was designed by Lotus Engineering in the UK. An isolated subframe design keeps harshness of suspension noise out, lending a feeling of being elevated from the road. It all comes together rather well, and when you’re in the driver’s seat you can tell you’re riding on something that is properly robust.

What about the engine? Does it gel well with the chassis?
Look, the outputs it makes aren’t particularly high – the same engine makes a good 33bhp more in the Compass – but they are just about adequate for the Harrier. It never feels underpowered, but this motor sits in such a well-set-up chassis that can handle a lot more punch. While I was hustling it around, there was sufficient go to maintain good speeds on narrower roads. Out on the big highways, you can overtake with ease and maintain a fair clip in sixth, but having more power in reserve would have made the driving all the more effortless. Peak torque kicks in as low as 1750rpm, and though it revs to over 5,000rpm, you’re better off short shifting and making use of the strong midrange. 

Hey, what about AWD and the Terrain Response System? Does the Harrier inherit that too?
Err… not quite. Remember I said that the rear of the monocoque has been tweaked? Well, that was possible because the Harrier will only be a front-wheel drive SUV. So no all-wheel drive. What it does get is an ESC Terrain Response dial.

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The Harrier has a couple of driving modes that set up the engine and electronics to deal with varying conditions. On the dash, you’ve got an Eco and Sport mode, while a rotary dial on the centre console has the default City mode, along with a Wet Road mode and Rough Road mode. For the life of me, I cannot understand why they are not all available on one dial instead of two separate places. Eco dulls the throttle response to save fuel, while sport makes it more aggressive. I didn’t get to test how much fuel Eco saves over Sport, but unless you’re in a pinch, you’re better off leaving it in Sport and enjoying the sprightlier powertrain.

The modes like Wet and Rough Roads, in addition to tweaking the way the throttle behaves adjusts bits like the ABS, traction control and some 12 other functions to make the car safer and more effective in these conditions. A lot of times, these modes are nothing but a gimmick, but you can actually feel the changes to the throttle (and hope the electronics are changing as well) when you switch things around.

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Okay, I’ve been holding off this question for a while, but I might as well get to it. What’s with the styling?
You like it? Look styling is a subjective thing, so if you don’t like what you see, it’s on you. I personally love it. I think it’s tremendously bold and definitely makes a statement. Called Impact 2.0, this is the first product to follow this design language. The biggest draw are the headlamps that sit lower than the grille, with the DRL/ indicator sitting above it. We first got wind of this design back at Auto Expo 2018 when Tata showcased the H5X concept that eventually became this. Unlike concepts that tend to get watered down and rationalised before they go in to production, the Harrier stays rather true to what was shown back then. The nose and bum are rounded off, but the lamps break it up in to nice-looking proportions. The taillamps flow nicely from the rear on to the side of the car, and a black strip connects the two lamps. What the Harrier has in plenty is presence, and though the design is polarising, it cannot be ignored.

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And the interiors, are they comfortable?
Oh yeah. They look good for starters. You’ve got a dash with faux wood and metal, soft touch leather and piano black panels everywhere. The tactility of everything is great — it feels premium and worthy of the money you’d have to shell out to buy one. Bits like the 8.8-inch infotainment system and the digital display alongside the analogue speedo do wonders to uplift the cabin. The view is great out of the cabin too, you can see the flanks of the bonnet that angle upwards and it gives you a nice commanding view of the road. The steering wheel is chunky, and so are the door handles and it all adds to nice heft in the cabin. At rear too, the legroom is plenty and it’s a fairly nice car to be driven around in.

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Okay, and what didn’t you like?
NVH levels. There’s a fair amount of noise from the engine inside the cabin. The chassis does so well to give you that feeling of isolation from the outside, but the engine’s constant drone lets it down. You can also hear the gears engage and disengage every time you use them. You can drown it all out with the JBL sound system, but it’s always going to bug you. The steering — it is well weighted at speed, and light enough to use in the city but it lacks a little bit of feedback. Now I’m not saying it is bad, but Tata really set the bar high for themselves when they nailed the Nexon’s steering. The Harrier will not be a bother on ninety-nine days out of a hundred, but that one day you decide to go for an enthusiastic drive through the hills, you’ll feel it.

Something that still gets to me about Tata’s are the ergonomics. The Harrier probably has the best ones so for — plenty of adjustability for the seats and steering. They’ve even used the same mounting points as they have on the Discovery Sport so all is well and good here. They’ve really thought out their storage spaces too, after the disaster that the Nexon was. However, that struggle between providing good ergos versus a clean design has clearly gone to the favour of design with some bits, much to my ire.

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To keep the dash looking clean, the USB port has been shoved in to some deep recess that you can’t access unless you have spindly long fingers. There’s one at the back too, but again out of sight so you’re left fiddling with the thing until it slots in. I’m nitpicking, I know, but then again that fact that it’s the little things that are bothering me means the rest of it is pretty sorted.

Anything else I need to know?
It doesn’t get a sunroof, but apart from that, it is pretty loaded with features. This is the top-of-the-line XZ variant (XE, XM and XT sit below it) and it comes with automatic Xenon HID headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and a cooled storage box. It also gets plenty by way of safety with six airbags, hill hold control, hill descent control and a fair few other electronic aids including cruise control. The boot is large, a whole 425 litres with the seats up and 810-litres with them folded. It also gets a spare, but it is mounted on the underbody just like on the Discovery Sport. Stuff like the Terrain Response modes only come on this variant, as does the larger infotainment system and digital instrument cluster.

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Right, so what’s all this going to cost me?
Prices aren’t out yet but if Tata manages to prices it such that it undercuts the Jeep Compass, it should do well for itself. Rs 15-19 lakh ex-showroom depending on the variant should allow it to draw in interest. The launch is slated for early next year though you can already book one if you’re really keen. Should you get one? I certainly think the Harrier has potential. It feels solidly built, and it makes for a great car to do long distances in. It's packed with features and though the powertrain does dull the sheen of it slightly, it still makes for a brilliant all-round package. Then there’s the way it looks, you will certainly stand out from the crowd.

Verdict: A properly international product from Tata, with solid underpinnings, out-there styling and loads of features
Rating: 8/10
Specs:
Drivetrain: 1956cc, in-line 4-cyl engine, 138bhp @ 3750rpm, 350Nm @ 1750-2500rpm, 6-speed manual
LxWxH: 4598x1894x1706mm
Wheelbase: 2741mm
Ground Clearance: 205mm
Kerb weight: 1675kg
Fuel tank capacity: 50 litres
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