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Review: Tata Hexa

Driven October 2016

Review: Tata Hexa

Tata isn’t new to making large utility vehicles that bordered on being ‘sporty’. In fact, it was a pioneer of sorts back in the 1990s when it introduced the Sierra. While not many of you would’ve experienced that, what you may have experienced is another evergreen SUV from its stable: the Safari. Despite this SUV’s old-school roots, it soldiers on even today and we have plenty of reasons to love it – its ride quality and off-road ability continue to impress. So when Tata comes out with another sporty ute – which happens to be the Hexa in this case – you must take note.

Derived from the commercially unsuccessful Aria, the Hexa drew a lot of attention at its earlier motor show outings. The butch styling – radically different from the Aria’s – is attributed to Tata’s ‘Impact’ design philosophy, which we first saw on the Tiago. Which is no bad thing, because the Tiago is easily one of the most modern-looking Tatas ever built. Unlike the Aria that looked more like an MPV, the Hexa is more SUV-like. The butch face helps matters and Tata’s design team has managed to execute a bold look to perfection, which will go down well with many. With its flat bonnet, a large mesh-type front grille, projector headlamps with DRLs, the Hexa looks imposing.

From the side is where the Hexa is least impressive mainly because of the Aria-like silhouette and doors. Large 19-inch wheels (the Aria had 18-inchers) add to the tall stance. As with most cars wearing the T badge, the glass area is huge and adds to the big-car feel on the inside. Its designers said that while they could have dropped the roofline at the back, it was left more or less untouched because Tata wanted adequate headroom for third-row passengers. However, they have tried to make it look neater by blacking out the pillar.

At first glance, the Hexa’s rear seems to have a hint of the new Ford Endeavour. Similarly placed rectangular tail-lamps are to be blamed, here. A huge chrome slab running horizontally is probably the least elegant part of the Hexa’s design but has been added purely because potential owners seem to like lots of shiny bits on their car.

But the shiniest bits on the Hexa have to be its engine and gearbox. It gets a 2.2-litre common-rail diesel unit borrowed from the Safari Varicor 400. It delivers 154 horses to the rear wheels. In the 4x4 version, some of this – ranging from 15 to 60bhp - can also be passed on to the front wheels when the need arises. This unit’s highlight, however, is the 400 Newton-metres of torque. There’s enough meat across the power band. Power comes in from low rpms and mid-range is punchy as well. As is the case with diesels, there isn’t much at the top, but what you will like is the practicality of this engine and the way the twist is delivered. A strategic partner in this linear delivery is the gearbox.

There are two transmissions on offer – a manual and an automatic. Both six-speeders and both new. The auto ’box is available only in the rear-wheel drive variant, and it’s a smart unit, despite the fact that it a first for Tata. There isn’t much heaving and puffing when you show it some urgency. Power builds up fairly easily and you can take the big Hexa upto three-digit speeds rather effortlessly. An important bit here is the ‘Sport’ mode where the revs are held for longer and the engine and gearbox “learn”, as Tata says, that you’re in a hurry. This works well. There is also an option to shift manually with the tiptronic feature.

On the manual, the Hexa comes with something called ‘Super Drive Modes’ which are essentially preset driving modes for every kind of situation. So by rotating a dial, you can choose between Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Rough Road. In Auto, the car pretty much adapts itself to the road and driving conditions. In Comfort, it slips into RWD and this is perfect for everyday use – better for efficiency, too. While the car’s ESP manages power to the wheels in ‘Auto’, it also can engage four-wheel drive. The Hexa features on-demand torque where power can be sent to all four wheels individually. This is more noticeable in Rough Road mode than in Auto because more power can be sent to the front.

As with any SUV, you sit high-up in a Hexa. The cabin is well-appointed and elegant with an array of soft-touch buttons and switches. Tata hasn’t gone in for anything fancy, here, but it still feels rich. Even the leather seats on this top model was nicely finished. Strangely, there are a few ergonomic issues – the front centre armrest is more useful as a storage bin than an armrest and the climate control display is oddly angled so the driver and co-driver can only see the bottom half. No dead pedal in the manual version will be bothersome over long distances. These issues apart, there is plenty of space.

When launched, the Hexa will come in six and seven-seater configurations. The seats are plush and well-bolstered. More importantly, the ride is sorted on the Hexa and you will not have any complaints there. In the six-seater variant, accessing the third row seats is best from the space between the second row captain seats. On the seven-seat version, the middle row slides and folds flat. It does not tumble forward, however, so be sure who to send back there. Most passengers won’t complain about lack of head or legroom. Thankfully, they’ve got rid of the roof-mounted storage boxes that stuck out grotesquely in the Aria.

The Hexa will take over from the Safari as Tata’s new flagship when it is launched in January 2017. While Tata is still mum on the price, it should hover around the Rs 15 lakh mark considering it has benchmarked this against the likes of the more expensive Toyota Innova Crysta and the Mahindra XUV500. Three variants are expected – two for the manual and one for the AT.

It looks the part of a plush, full-size SUV. It is powerful, great to drive, spacious and comfortable. To top it off, the Hexa goes up a few notches as an off-road car over its predecessor. Despite its size, it is no slouch thanks to the superb engine and gearbox combo, and keeps the driver engaged with a well-weighted steering feel. The 4x4 version fares pretty well off-road. Tata isn’t offering the automatic transmission with 4x4 yet to keep costs in check but we have to admit that the AT 4x2 version pretty much manages what most would want from an SUV of this size. Hopefully, unlike at the time of the Aria, Tata won’t get too ambitious with the Hexa’s price.

2179cc, 4cyl, diesel, 155bhp, 400Nm, 6M/ 6A, RWD/AWD (with 6M only),
LxWxH: 4788x1903x1791mm, wheelbase: 2850mm, ground clearance: 200mm
Tyres: 235/55 R19, fuel tank: 60 litres, boot space: 128 litres (all seats up), fuel efficiency: 12-14kpl (estimated)

Price: Rs 13-17 lakh (ex-showroom, estimated)

Girish Karkera

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