Tata Motors’ journey as a car maker isn’t that old. But its utility-vehicle derived heritage nonetheless, Tata Motors has evolved into a maker of modern cars, fit for sale in markets around the world. In some ways, the Aria is the boldest statement from Tata yet, and is the biggest and most expensive passenger vehicle to emerge from its factories.
We’ve given the Tata Aria the full road test treatment, to see if it really is as capable both on and off-road as Tata would like us believe. With the Aria, Tata has made a very clear statement of intent – that of driving the Tata brand upwards in image and price point. Does the Aria have enough in its arsenal to battle the best?
The Aria is available in a total of 6 variants - three each in two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. We've road tested the top-of-the-line Tata Aria 4x4 Pride variant, which comes loaded with all the bells and whistles you could wish for, and then some.
Design & Engineering
The name ‘Aria’ was first used for a little two-door, two-seater roadster, displayed by Tata at the 2000 Geneva Motor Show. The Aria as we know it today has its genesis in the Crossover concept, displayed at the same venue in 2005.
Production Tata Aria almost identical to Crossover concept.
The design is very similar to the 2005 concept, but with a few changes, noticeably to the headlights and the addition of chrome striping on the sides. This side striping has alleviated some of the slab-sidedness, and given the car visual relief, especially when viewed from three-quarters. There’s no escaping the fact that it does seem to have borrowed some inspiration from Mercedes’ R-Class, visible notably in the treatment of the D-pillar and the alloy wheel design. The large 17” wheels themselves look good, and fill up the wheel arches substantially.
At the rear, the Christmas tree theme of the tail-lights continues, which immediately identifies it as a Tata. Overall, it’s a very modern looking and strong design, without the excessively rounded shapes one sees on utility vehicles otherwise.
The Tata Aria is constructed on a traditional frame-type chassis, on which the body is bolted. While such construction is simple, robust and relatively inexpensive, Tata’s engineers have lavished time and money on the Aria’s suspension. The front end features a double-wishbone layout, while at the rear the Tata Aria uses a multi-link arrangement with coil springs and oil-filled dampers. While this sophisticated suspension layout proves beneficial in the ride and handling departments, it is one of the reasons the Tata Aria is an expensive car.
Interiors & Comfort
The Tata Aria is a quantum leap ahead of the Safari, and much better than anything we’ve seen from Tata before. The design and layout of the dashboard is questionable in some areas, but the truth be told it is much better built than any other Tata to date. The fit, finish and feel are vastly superior, and the highest spec ‘Pride’ version we drove came with two-tone leather seats and leather trim on the dashboard. Of course, the plum and black combo isn’t to everybody’s taste, but then Tata could offer more than one colour option.
Clockwise from left: Vents in the B and C-pillars aid rear cooling; Sat-nav not the easiest to use; roof boxes are shallow and tend to loosen over time.
The infotainment system takes pride of place on the dashboard, and also acts as the screen for the reversing camera. The infotainment system is operated by buttons on the centre console, but the navigation option isn’t easy to use. It took more than a few tries for us to get it right. Tata should look at the interface and software navigation function to make this system more user-friendly. The steering wheel is strangely shaped, and doesn’t fit comfortably in your hand, with the steering-mounted buttons fouling with your palms. The front a/c vents are awkwardly placed, which means most of the draught is directed towards one’s knees and knuckles rather than cooling much else of the cabin. Higher placed vents would have been more useful, especially given the space available on the dashboard.
The front seats are ample and quite comfortable, and the middle row can seat three abreast with ease. The third row is a bit cramped though, and is best reserved for children or adults of small stature. The middle row can be adjusted back and forth too for more legroom.
Clockwise, from left: rear seat slides for more legroom; third row not very comfortable; flat-folding seats offer huge cargo area.
The row of storage boxes in the roof may attempt to add to practicality, but the reality is that they’re quite flat and shallow, and do not offer too much in way of storage. Over time, these roof cubbyholes may begin to rattle, or open on bumpy roads, which is not an exciting prospect.
The Aria boasts of good ride quality over broken tarmac, and the good ground clearance means it won’t be challenged even by a spot of off-roading. However, at speed the Aria has a tendency to feel like it’s boating a little bit, which can be disconcerting. True, it rides better with more people on board. Seat comfort is quite good, and you appreciate the driving position after longer stints at the wheel.
Performance & Handling
The Tata Aria can tends slide, with a lot of understeer. Body roll is substantial, but well controlled, and it doesn't feel like it will topple. ESP cuts power.
The 2.2-litre engine is the same as we’ve seen on the Safari DiCOR, producing an identical 140PS and 320Nm of torque. It copes well enough with the weight of the vehicle, which when fully loaded is north of 2.7 tonnes. There’s a slight bit of lag low down the rev range, but disappears quickly enough, meaning the Aria motors competently. It gets to 100 km/h in approximately 15 seconds, which is impressive for a vehicle this size. The drivability is pretty good too, and the engine doesn’t feel too stressed on the highway. The gears shift smoothly, better than in the Safari in fact. Braking is very composed, and the Aria stops dead from 100 km/h in less than 50 metres, tracking straight. The ESP or electronic stability programme definitely plays a part here.
One of the Aria’s unique features is that its default mode is four-wheel drive, with a torque vectoring system which automatically directs torque to the front wheels as and when required (Tata has dubbed this system ‘Adapterra’). Two-wheel drive can be selected by a button on the dashboard, which decouples the output to the front wheels, making for better fuel economy. We’d suggest you use this setting for the most part, switching to all-wheel drive only while on loose surfaces, or when driving in the rain.
We took the Aria off-road for a bit, along a dried up canal and it managed negotiating the stretch of loose mud quite easily. But one must bear in mind that the Aria is not a true-blue off-roader, so there’s no low-range gearbox or winch to pull you out if you get too optimistic.
The ESP also comes into play when cornering hard on gravel-strewn roads, with the electronic management over-riding the driver’s inputs by cutting the throttle.
The driver ergonomics can be slightly improved though, and we wish Tata’s engineers had incorporated a dead pedal for the left foot. The footwell can feel a little cramped otherwise.
The Aria manages a respectable 9 kpl in city driving, which is very good when you consider the size and weight of the vehicle. On the highways, this figure should rise to 12 or 13 kpl. The real-time four-wheel drive does impact fuel efficiency to some extent, but the feeling of security and cornering stability achieved with it makes it worthwhile leaving the system “on”. Switching it off should improve the fuel economy, and we’ll let you know the figure when we get the Tata Aria for a long term test.
The 60-litre fuel tank means you can cover substantial distances before needing to stop for fuel, providing you with a safe range of about 650 kilometres between fill-ups.
Solid construction and a host of active and passive safety features make the Tata Aria a safe car. Not too shabby off-road either!
The Aria comes with a host of safety features, including six airbags, electronic stability programme (ESP) and traction control (TC), which together make it one of the safest vehicles in its class. The ESP and TC should ensure you never get into a tight spot, but if you do, you have the reassurance on six airbags, including curtain bags which stretch the length of the cabin.
All four wheels are equipped with disc brakes, with ABS and EBD, on all the variants of the Tata Aria. The base ‘Pure’ variant does not have airbags, while the mid-spec Pleasure and Prestige variants are equipped with two front airbags. The top-of-the-range Pride variant is equipped with 6 airbags, plus ESP and Traction Control. Overall, we rate the safety of the Aria quite high.
The Tata Aria is a premium utility vehicle, and its price reflects this. At 17.6 lakhs, on the road, the top-of-the-line Tata Aria Pride 4x4 we tested does come with a lot of equipment however, which justifies the high price tag. For your money, you get a fully loaded vehicle, boasting leather interiors, dual-zone climate control, in-built stereo and GPS navigation, Traction Control, ESP, Cruise control, reverse camera, a cooled glovebox and six airbags. That’s a lot of equipment, leaving owners little reason to complain. Given the recent price hikes for the Toyota Innova, which has been the undisputed segment leader, the Tata Aria no longer seems too expensive by comparison.
This is the best made Tata to date, with a level of workmanship we haven’t seen before from this manufacturer. Even then, it falls short in some areas, but there’s nothing which is not easily rectified. Yes, the Aria does drive the Tata brand upwards in image, and it is a product which will feature prominently in the company’s export plans.
However, Tata Motors has a lot of work to do to promote the Aria as a premium vehicle, which is something most buyers do not associate with it as a car company. Selling the Aria is a true challenge for Tata’s marketing department.