India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world - one indicator is that the Indian market has more than 160 car models on sale, with total sales growing at a healthy clip every year.
Take, for instance, the mid-size sedan segment, in which the typical car is pegged at around Rs 10 lakh. Among your primary options here are the Maruti SX4, VW Vento, Skoda Rapid, Nissan Sunny, Renault Scala, Mitsubishi Cedia, Chevy Optra, Fiat Linea, Honda City, Hyundai Verna and Tata Manza.
Because of all the competition, each of those carmakers has numerous variations on their basic sedan. And to make sure it's heard in that variant-spec-engine cacophony, Tata has launched the Manza Club Class. What's new is that it's got a bunch of added features.
Exterior changes include a contrast-shade roof, new alloys and a couple of chrome strips running around the car. Inside is where you'll notice lots of changes. You get a new dual-tone black-and-purple dash, a multimedia system with touchscreen display and Bluetooth connectivity, and leather seats. The cow-skin-wrapped seats look nice, but they lack under-thigh support and tend to tire you out over long journeys. You also get a new automatic climate control system, which takes a while to cool the huge cabin.
The rear seat is nice and roomy; three adults can fit in without elbows poking into ribs. The boot is big enough to swallow luggage for four without a fuss. What's surprisingly missing is a reverse camera and even parking sensors (\\!) - expected in a car that is otherwise well-loaded.
Under the hood is the same Quadrajet engine that powers a bunch of other hatchbacks and sedans in the market. Only in the Manza, it's noisier - the diesel clatter seeps into the cabin even at lower revs. It churns out 89bhp and 200Nm - that's 15 horses more than it does in, say, a Swift or a Vista. The power boost comes from the bigger turbo coupled to the motor. But there's a problem with that - with bigger turbo comes bigger turbo lag. You need to keep the engine on the boil to keep the juice flowing. And the juice starts coming in only after 2200rpm. After that though, life is sweet.
The gearing is short, to minimise lag at highway cruising speeds, but quick overtaking needs a fair amount of planning and you need to downshift a gear or two before you get past that truck.
Even in city traffic, you need to hold on to the gear a bit longer than you otherwise would. You may have to wrestle with the clucky gears a bit before they slot into the gate. The engine is frugal and keeps running costs low. It'll go a good 16km to a litre on the highway, and just under 12km in town.
The Club Class, like the regular Manza, has an appetite for bad roads. It won't let your spine feel a thing unless the pothole is crater-sized. But it does roll a bit if you let out the Sebastien Loeb in you. The 15-inch 8-spoke alloys are wrapped in Apollo Acelere rubber that bites into tarmac quite nicely, and puts some really expensive cars to shame with its stopping distance under panic braking.
The steering, loaded with audio controls, is not too light even at crawling speeds but it does return decent feedback as you speed up. It's satisfactory if you're not expecting Honda-level agility.
The Club Class starts at Rs 8.26 lakh (on-road, Mumbai), and the top-end Club Class - at Rs 10.44 lakh (on-road, Mumbai) - costs Rs 90,000 more than the regular top-end Manza. The extra ninety grand feels a bit steep for the number of features that you get.
The Manza has never been the first thing to cross your mind in the Rs 10 lakh category. The Club Class now offers some features that its rivals don't. But even with the added features and slightly improved aesthetics, it doesn't give you a good enough reason to walk away from its competition. Tata will have to sort out the vehicle's dynamics and the pricing before it hits that sweet spot.
The numbers4cyl, 1248cc, diesel, 89bhp, 200Nm, 5M, FWD, 0-100kph - 14.22sec, 30-50kph (3rd) - 4.04sec, 30-50kph (4th) - 6.78sec, 50-70kph (5th) - 8.20sec, 80-0kph - 25.14m, 160kph, 14kpl, Rs 10.44 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)The verdictGood in-cabin space and some segment-first features, but a long way to go before it scares the Japs and the Germans.