Tata Zest - Introduction
One can say there has been much Great Expectation from Tata Motors, ever since it revealed its plans for an all-new compact sedan and hatchback at the Auto Expo this year. We’ve had a go in in this eagerly-awaited compact sedan at last. The Tata Zest is the first in a triumvirate of three exciting and relevant new cars from Tata Motors, the other two being the Tata Bolt hatch and the Nexon compact SUV. So, just how much zest does the little Tata pack?
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Tata Zest - Design & Engineering
One can say Tata Motors invented the compact sedan segment, a fair claim given the Indigo CS was the first within the 4,000 mm footprint specified by excise considerations. Since then, however, we’ve had a spate of compact sedans, and the Indigo CS today isn’t on the private car buyers shopping list, unfortunately.
But let this history lesson suffice to point at what Tata is trying to do, which is re-invent itself with the Tata Zest.
Much has been made about the new X1 platform. So what exactly is X1? It is a thoroughly revised and re-engineered version of the existing Vista platform. Tata Motors engineers under the able direction of Dr Timothy Leverton, have strived to optimize every aspect of the car. This man has exacting standards don’t forget, considering his antecedents as Chief Engineer of the Rolls Royce Phantom programme in 2003, and the JCB Dieselmax project.
A lot of time was spent analyzing the existing Vista platform, and optimizing it in a virtual environment. Using computer aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE), Tata Motors’ engineers reworked the sub-frames for the front and rear suspension, increased the structural rigidity of the body, and were able to reduce the weight as well.
Once that was done, the project progressed to the next phase, which included a lot of time on improving and refining the vehicle, with a particular focus on noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Powertrain teams were simultaneously developing the new Revotron petrol engine, and coordinating efforts with Fiat and its supplier Magneti Marrelli for the AMT transmission.
Inputs were taken from specialist suppliers around the globe, and the Tata Zest has suspension which has been honed in the UK, and the electric power assisted steering system comes from a supplier in Germany. Of course, integrating all these systems was done in India, in Pune, by a team led by Girish Wagh. If that’s isn’t all, the final dynamic validation and sign off was carried out by none other than Narain Karthikeyan, who needs no introduction.
To put it simply, in Tim Leverton’s own words: “We’ve re-engineered the way we design and build cars”.
Tata Motors has applied for a patent for the additional bracing between the boot and passenger compartment. The rear seat does not tumble however.
The aesthetics are the work of Tata’s in-house studio, with its various teams in 3 different locations across Pune, Coventry (UK) and Turin (Italy). While there has been a sincere effort to make it as pretty as possible, the Vista’s bulbous origins are hard to disguise. There are some nice details on the car, and the new ‘face’ is fresh and attractive.
The Zest's silhouette hints at the space inside. The Indica Vista heritage is most clearly defined from this angle too.
The rear too displays considerable character with the wrap-around tail lamps and the boot lid chrome garnish. The way the rear fog lamp breaks up the monotony of the rear bumper, while also being a functional element, is well executed. Where the Zest’s design does feel half-done however, is on the panel over the front wheels, the front ‘wing’ if you like. It’s a chunky panel with no visual detail and appears ungainly and unfinished. Pratap Bose, who heads up Tata Motors’ design, has admitted that the team are already aware of this and are looking at alleviating some of that heaviness, perhaps with a badge.
Tata is also banking on subtle visual differentiators for the petrol and diesel cars. One clue are the alloy wheels – 18-spoke items on the diesel and 8-spoke on the petrol. Tyre size remains the same however, at 185/60 R15.
Tata Zest - Interiors & Comfort
High-quality materials and good fit and finish make the Zest's interiors the best in its class.
Tata Motors has spent as much time working on things you can see, like the interiors of this car, as they have spent on engineering it. The Zest’s dashboard feels truly premium, with well-judged shapes and contours, excellent build quality and fit-and-finish that we haven’t seen on a Tata car before. I’d go so far as to say that the new Zest has the best interior of any car in this segment, which gives you a fair idea of just how well executed it is. The only shortcoming is the lack of cubbyholes within the cabin for stowage. There are no seat-back pockets behind the front seats either, something which can be easily rectified before the car is launched. You cannot fit a standard 1-litre water bottle in any of the door pads.
Tata has also spent a lot of time on the in-car entertainment system. The Zest’s stereo has been developed in conjunction with specialists Harman (of Harman & Kardon), and features USB and Bluetooth connectivity, steering-mounted audio controls and 8-speakers as standard, even on the mid-spec XM variant. The higher XT grade of the new Zest gets a colour touchscreen, SD card compatibility, voice command feature and a higher-spec digital signal processor and amplifier for the stereo. To its credit, Tata has not scrimped on the basics, but certain other features like navigation are missing with this unit. Tata claims that this is deliberate strategy and that the unit is future proof and they will add navigation to the Zest in future. They are presently analyzing map data and navigation from certain third-party suppliers, including MapMyIndia and Google Maps.
Coming to seat comfort, the Zest has more than adequate interior space, in every dimension. The tall body pays dividends in equipping the Zest with a commodious interior. It really has space for 5 adults, which no other compact sedan in India can provide today. The seats are also well-bolstered and supportive, but I found the cushioning slightly on the softer side. Under-thigh support is superb both front and rear.
The much improved NVH adds to the plushness inside the cabin. The petrol Zest of course boasts superior refinement of the two. In the diesel Zest, the engine noise is audible inside the cabin, although all vibrations have been admirably kept at bay. You begin to appreciate the quietude inside the cabin, and Tata Motors’ claim that it has the best articulation index (ability to have a conversation inside the car, without having to raise your voice), seems entirely believable.
Zest has 390 litres of luggage space. The wide opening boot makes it easy to fit in large bags. You will notice the high load lip though.
Tata Zest - Performance & Handling
The new Tata Zest will be available with both a diesel and a petrol engine option, right from launch. The diesel unit is the tried and trusted Fiat-sourced Multijet diesel, which Tata Motors call Quadrajet. It produces 90 PS and 200 Nm of torque, figures that almost put it on par with the Honda Amaze diesel, which has 100 PS and 200 Nm. (The Maruti Dzire and Hyundai Xcent have less power and torque). The diesel Zest that we test drove was mated to an automated manual transmission, developed by Fiat subsidiary Magneti Marelli.
The Zest AMT drives smoothly for the most part. You do feel some shift shock, especially in the shift from first to second gear, but then that is the nature of the beast. Drive it normally in traffic, and the diesel Zest AMT motors without a hiccup. It also has a ’sports’ mode, activated by a button marked ‘S’ on the shifter. In sports mode, upshift take place closer to the redline, giving you extra punch. However, you can drive this car like a manual as well by tapping the gearlever to the side and then tapping it forward or back to change gears. This gives you a little more control, and you appreciate it especially when you’re planning an overtaking manoeuvre on narrow roads. The diesel Zest’s AMT gearbox does not have a ‘hold’ function, nor a ‘park’ function, so you need to keep your foot on the brake when stopped on an incline, and you have to use the handbrake at all times when you park.
Tata Motors will also be launching the diesel Zest with a conventional manual transmission, but we did not drive that version.
What we did drive though was the new Revotron petrol Zest. Revotron is Tata’s name for this new 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. The turbo has been developed by Honeywell technologies, and the injectors have 8-hole nozzles for better atomisation and therefore more efficient combustion. The manual gearbox the Zest comes fitted with shifts smoothly, and although there is a slight hint of notchiness, this gearbox is light years removed from anything else I’ve driven from Tata.
Diesel Zest boasts 165 mm of ground clearance; petrol has 175 mm. The Zest takes the rough with the smoooth with aplomb.
The Revotron engine has a pleasing engine note too, and the performance is more than acceptable. Don’t forget it’s the torque that gets the job done, and with 140 Nm of it from just 1,750 rpm onwards, the Zest is the new king of the hill in the drivability stakes among compact sedans. Performance is unruffled, and you can pick up speed in fourth gear from as low as 35 km/h. Unfortunately, it was pouring buckets when we got behind the wheel of the petrol Zest, and so we were a little cautious with the throttle, but the strong midrange gave us a fair indicator of this motor’s potential. The Revotron motor has three driving modes – City (default), ECO and Sport. As the names suggest, the different modes alter the engine mapping and throttle response. We’d like to do a detailed instrumented test on the Zest to see just how much of a difference there is. However, we were able to coax some details from Dr Leverton, who hinted that there was about a 10 percent difference between the ECO and Sport modes in terms of absolute horsepower, although he was loathe to divulge further details.
Braking is an area which is greatly improved on the Zest. This of course isn’t simply because of a reworked braking system but has much to do with the revised suspension. The Zest’s surefootedness pays dividends under braking, and despite the ultra-slick surface, we never had a moment’s concern.
Tata Zest - Fuel Efficiency
Green enough to meet requisite emission norms. Zest boasts of good mileage, but not class-leading.
Fuel economy is absolutely critical, especially in the compact sedan segment, with car buyers being increasingly demanding. Tata claims the diesel Zest equipped with the AMT gearbox will manage more than 22 km/l under ideal test conditions. In city driving, we expect the figure will be less. Tata’s quoted figures under standard test conditions is also less than what Maruti, Honda and Hyundai claim for the Dzire, Amaze and Xcent respectively. The petrol Zest has a claimed mileage of little over 18 km/l, which again is slightly less than the competition. Don’t forget that the Zest is a heavier vehicle though, tipping the scales at between 1,135 – 1,170 kgs.
Tata Zest - Safety
Tata Motors has equipped the Zest with ABS and cornering brake control (CBC). ELR seatbelts, engine immobilizer and impact beams are standard equipment too. However, the mid-spec XM variant does not get airbags, which are only offered on the top-of-the-line XT grade.
Tata Zest - Verdict
AMT 'F-Tronic' transmission will be offered on the XMA mid-spec version. Top-spec XTA will come later.
After having spent the better part of a day in both the petrol and diesel Zest, I must admit I came away mighty impressed. Tata Motors has really moved the game forward from where it used to be, and the new Zest feels good enough to compete and hold its own against the worthy competition in its class.
Great ride without any compromise in handling, a top-notch interior with a superb infotainment system and much-improved build quality all point in the right direction. However, Tata Motors faltering sales and reputation weren’t only the fault of the products, but of the company’s approach to sales and after-sales service. Tata Motors’ President Ranjit Yadav was candid enough to admit as much, saying: “We had a reputation of launching first and fixing it later. That has changed with Zest.”
The company has employed and trained 3,000 personnel across the country to really up its game and delight the customer with sales and service.
The new Tata Zest is a rebirth and re-invention of the company, and it is fitting that this rebirth is heralded by a car which pioneered a segment. It isn’t perfect, and there is still some ground to be made, particularly in the areas of brand building, sales and service, all of which will be an uphill climb for Tata Motors.
Tata’s trump card will undoubtedly be the diesel AMT. It will be the only diesel ‘automatic’ offering in the compact sedan segment, and for convenience it is hard to touch.
Pricing is expected to range from between Rs 5 lakh for the base XE petrol variant, to Rs 8 lakh for the top-spec XT grade diesel. Tata has the opportunity to start a pricing war, especially given the level of features on offer. On merit alone, the Zest scores high marks.
Tata Zest - Competition Check
Maruti Swift Dzire, Honda Amaze, Hyundai Xcent, Toyota Etios, Mahindra Verito
|Length x Width x Height (mm)||3995 x 1706 x 1570|
|Ground clearance (mm)||175|
|Turning circle dia (m)||5.1|
|Kerb weight (kg)||1115-1135 (Revotron 1.2T), 1152 (Quadrajet 75 PS), 1155-1170 (Quadrajet 90 PS)|
|Fuel tank capacity (lt)||44|
|Engine & Transmission|
|No of cylinder & configuration||4|
|Capacity (cc)||1193 (Diesel), 1248 (Petrol)|
|Power (PS @ rpm)||90 @ 5000 (Petrol, Revotron 1.2T), 75 @ 4000 (Diesel, Quadrajet 75 PS), 90 @ 4000 (Diesel, Quadrajet 90 PS)|
|Torque (Nm @ rpm)||140 @ 1750-3500 (Petrol), 190 @ 1750-3000 (Diesel)|
|Wheels & Tyres|
|Tyre size and type||185/60 R15 + tubeless|
|Wheel size and type||15 inch alloy|
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