Once upon a time, Indian roads were all about Maruti 800, Ambassador and Fiat Padmini. The occasional change in the landscape was brought about by Tata Motors’ comparatively larger offering – Sierra. The ‘original Indian sports utility vehicle’ had quite the towering road presence and the 1.9-litre turbo charged engine provided a drive like no other. Get offers & discounts on Tata Hexa
The march of time affected markets. It is no secret that Tata Motors found the going increasingly tough in the passenger vehicle segment by the late 90s. Indica was its only passenger vehicle doing decent numbers.
Times changed and, thankfully, so did Tata Motors. In one of its strongest ever attempts to reclaim lost glory, the company in recent years took the covers off of a number of promising vehicles. And none may have as much potential as the Hexa. Here is a vehicle that seeks to be an all-rounder and (mostly) manages to pull it off effortlessly.
The Tata Hexa might be based on the Aria platform and possibly have similar lines but it’s a completely new vehicle. Where the Aria was curvy and a bit round, the Hexa is muscular, and in-your-face. It achieves this thanks to the chrome laced grille and gold coloured bumper. Complementing this is a modern looking lighting package comprising big headlamps and LED DRLs. The side reveals the MPV silhouette of the vehicle. However, it does get sharply raked A-pillars and really nice looking 19 inch wheels which increase the sporty quotient. The rear, despite having so many elements, looks too square but this is not such a bad thing as the boxy rear-end has been a defining trait of Tata’s SUVs over the ages
The dashboard layout of the Hexa looks premium thanks to the new design additions and controls made of fresh-looking materials like chrome trim used with glossy black and soft grain plastic. The instrument cluster is easy to read and except for the low-set air-con controls, all functions are easily accessible on the dash.
We however noticed that the centre console was devoid of storage spaces barring the cup holder behind the gear shifter and the centre armrest. The seats are draped in a leather look-alike upholstery with contrast stitching that feels rich. In fact the front seats offer a comfortable drive thanks to the ample contours with lumbar, good back and appropriate thigh suppo
Similarly, the middle row seats have identical contours and offer good support, headroom and lots of legroom for the occupants. Entry to the third row of seats is by tumbling the second row, and while the seats offer hardly any support, headroom and space for adults is also confined. With the last row up, the boot can only take a few soft bags and a thin suitcase at the most. To stuff anything more, the last row needs to be folded but it doesn’t fold flat either.
ENGINE AND PERFORMANCE ;
The Tata Hexa has a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine. This comes with two options – a 148bhp engine and 154bhp. The first one comes with a five-speed manual and the more powerful one has two options: six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The NVH levels on the engine are fairly low. The torque of this engine is more than sufficient for daily driving. One doesn’t require too many gear shifts in the city or highway driving.
The six-speed manual feels a bit notchy. It does take some getting used too. The manual comes with four driving modes in the 4×4. These are Auto, Rough Road, Comfort and Dynamic. The Auto and Rough Road are 4×4, while the other two work on 4×2. On the other hand, the automatic transmission is fabulous. The shifts are smooth even downshifts. Put it in the Sport mode and you shall be amazed in the manner it performs. There is also the tiptronic mode that responds well.
In terms of fuel efficiency, the Tata Hexa scores 10 km/l with the automatic in city and about 14 km/l on the highway. The manual version of the Tata Hexa will return an efficiency of 11 km/l in city and about 14.5 km/l on the highway. We haven’t driven the five-speed manual engine but the range will be between the six-speed manual and automatic.
DRIVING DYNAMICS ;
On the face of it, the Hexa has a number of things that could work against it on the dynamics front – its immense weight, ladder-frame chassis, long wheelbase, robust 4×4 system, 19-inch wheels – and those things considered, it really pulls off something impressive. The ride quality first; it is really good. You will get quite a bit of steering shock (although not the worst we’ve seen in this sort of car) that’s typical of ladder-frame SUVs when you hit a sharp bump. There’s an underlying firmness that you’re constantly aware of, but at very few points could you call it harsh or uncomfortable. The truth is, the Hexa’s variable-rate dampers do a phenomenal job of tackling various road conditions and keep things comfy in the cabin no matter what. It’s at its best out on the highway, with a supremely flat ride and very little movement. What you’ll also be impressed by is how silently it goes about its business; very little suspension, tyre and road noise makes it to the cabin.
Handling expectedly is not in the same league as an SUV with a monocoque chassis. The Hexa rolls around a lot, although, it has to be said that there is a lot of grip, especially in the 4×4 version. The bigger issue, however, is that it just feels too large and heavy for you to ever dream of pushing it even remotely hard around a corner. The hydraulic steering has a bit of slack at the centre position, and is really heavy at low speeds, making parking this big hulk quite a task. This is slightly less pronounced in the 4×2 version, likely because of the lack of front driveshafts. Also, the lack of reach adjustment for the steering is a bit annoying, and you do feel like the wheel is canted slightly forward on the whole.
Tata Motors haven’t compromised on safety this time and the Hexa is loaded with safety equipment. It comes with 6 airbags including dual front, curtain and side airbags. There is a 4 channel, 4 sensor ABS offered as standard along with Cornering Stability Control function. Other safety features include Traction Control System, Electronic Stability Program, Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control. The Hexa’s long term durability and cost of ownership is yet to be seen and Tata Motors needs to ensure stress-free ownership of the Hexa considering the unreliable nature of the Safari faced by some owners in the past.
The Aria’s quite a capable machine and Tata has done well to build on its strengths while making up for its shortcomings. The Hexa’s spacious cabin with three rows of seats, its ability to shrug off bad roads, commanding driving position and easy driving manners make for a great machine to cover long distances in. Yes, it will be a bit cumbersome to steer in the city and fit-finish of the interiors could be better. Nonetheless Tata look to tackle the Mahindra XUV500 head on with the Hexa and if priced right, the Hexa has not just the manners, but the look and the appeal to make it happen this time around. Quite simply, the Hexa is SUV enough, rich enough and fresh enough to deliver an overall experience that feels quite welcome for those looking for a rugged three-row SUV.