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Review: Tata Zest
Driven August 2014
The last time we were so impressed with a Tata product, it was back in 2011. It was a crossover, called the Aria, and unlike any other Tata on sale, it had impressive cabin quality, fit and finish was remarkable and best-in-class ride quality. And it’s after three years that we have driven a Tata that has come very close to being that impressive.
And why not. Tata has taken them 40 months of hardship to churn out a brand new product. And after having a go in the Zest, it seems their efforts have finally paid off. The engineers have done a stellar job, not just with the aesthetics, but on technology and mechanical grounds too.
Although based on the Vista platform, Tata has completely modified the underpinnings to make sure it doesn’t even share a single bolt with the old car. And the efforts gone into getting things right from the start are evident. The exterior design is refreshing, looks compact and dynamic, plus that stubby boot section doesn’t seem like an afterthought. It may look a bit odd from certain angles, though.
It’s not just the exteriors that manage to get our thumbs up. The cabin too is bloody impressive. It’s a refreshing design, and with no component being shared with any of the older Tatas, the Zest’s cabin looks striking, in fact the best looking Tata cabin currently. There’s a significant improvement in quality of materials, the dashboard layout is attractive, segment-first touch-screen infotainment and voice command are quite thoughtful, and the cabin is spacious enough for average Indian family. However, the boot section at 390 litres, isn’t the biggest amongst its rivals and the suspension eats up into the boot space.
At the heart of this Tata are two engine options. The tried and tested 1.3-litre Quadrajet motor and a segment-first 1.2-litre Revotron turbo-charged petrol engine. Teamed with a 5 speed manual at the launch, all the 89bhp and 140Nm of torque will be sent to the front wheels. Another segment-first are the multi-drive modes that lets you choose from three settings - Eco, City and Sport – which can be accessed via click of a couple of buttons.
These modes do make a difference and come in quite handy in our driving conditions. And while we are still at it, the Zest will surprise you with its overall driving dynamics. Acceleration in Sport mode is sharp with turbo kicking in at around 1800rpm and pulling cleanly till 6000rpm. The gearbox too is butter smooth with short and precise throws teamed with well spaced out ratios to aid city and highway driving.
Those hoping for an AMT, need not worry. The diesel motor is also offered with an automated manual transmission called the F-tronic. Offered with a variable geometry turbo, the diesel unit churns out 89bhp and 200Nm of torque. The gearbox has been optimised for the diesel motor with timely gearshifts and it does obey to your right foot inputs pretty well, but shift can be a bit jerky at time. Plus, there’s a Sport mode that revs to a higher rpm before upshifting gears. The mid-spec XMA variant comes with hill-start assist and a ‘crawl’ function that can help you move at a snail's pace in traffic conditions.
What further accentuates the overall experience is the suspension setup. The Zest eats potholes for breakfast, irons out road undulations without making any fuss and offers a good backseat ride. But since it is tuned to be on the softer side, there is a bit of body roll around corners. Then there is the new electric power steering that offers positive feedback and works well when pushed hard with good levels of grip from the tyres too.
A close look at its feature list reveals this is one Tata that’s come well prepared to take on its Asian rivals. The carmaker has bravely managed to stuff the Zest up to the brim, with many of them being segment-firsts. It’s a great package, a car capable enough to pull customers back to Tata showrooms. It’s attractive both inside and out, quality, although not consistent, is up by a notch and the new 1.2 turbo-petrol unit is now a match to the competition. Not to forget its excellent ride, handling and spacious cabin.
Finally, with the Zest, Tata has announced its grand return to the volume segment. All that remains to be seen is how well Tata positions the Zest. Going by the track records, Tata is known to price its products aggressively, and we hope it continues to do so. A range starting from Rs 5 lakh, stretching up to Rs 7.5 lakh sounds promising for a compact sedan with bucket list comfort features. And if that happens, there’s no stopping this home-grown auto giant to crawl its way up the sales chart.
Tata Zest XT
1193cc, turbo-petrol, FWD, 89bhp, 140Nm, 5-speed Manual, Ground clearance: 175mm, Boot space: 390 litres, Fuel tank: 44 litres, Kerb weight: 1135kg, Tyres: 185/60 R15
Tata Zest Diesel XMA
1248cc, turbo-diesel, FWD, 89bhp, 200Nm, Automated Manual Transmission, Ground clearance: 165mm, Fuel Tank: 44 litres, Boot space: 390 litres, Kerb weight: 1170kg, Tyres: 185/60 R15
Finally, an impressive product from Tata with best-in-class features, space and comfort. The Revotron engine is a gem. Also, a much-need mass market diesel automatic now in town. Engine and gearbox combination offers good driveability. Stellar ride and handling