Tata Altroz 2019 Petrol & Diesel: First Drive

  • Dec 9, 2019
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Tata's new ALFA Arc platform begins it's baptism of fire in the competitive premium hatchback segment with the Altroz. Will this be a memorable first flight?

Update: The Tata Altroz has been launched at a starting price of Rs 5.29 lakh for the petrol and Rs 6.99 lakh for the diesel, ex-showroom pan-India. Read our launch story for more details.

What’s in a name? This question is raised by the arrival of Tata’s Altroz, which derives its name from the legendary bird, the Albatross. So, this big hatch is making a big promise, and why not? After all, the Altroz is a step towards an all-new Tata Motors, as it is underpinned by its next generation and all-new modular ALFA Arc platform, which also forms the base for the H2X small-SUV and other upcoming sedans and SUVs. The Altroz has to put its best foot forward because it will go up against formidable rivals like Maruti Suzuki’s Baleno and Hyundai’s i20. So, has it?

Sun on its wings

On the outskirts of Jaisalmer, we watch as the soft rays of the morning glance off the Altroz.  The signature golden shade shimmers elegantly, but it does little to soften this Tata’s assertive personality. There is also a dash of determination in the Altroz’s face, its forehead jutting out in a determined way while the halogen headlamps seem to lock in on you, or its prey. Interestingly, like the Albatross the Altroz also has prominent dark eyebrows for a stern look. The projector units for the low beam only highlight this sensation. The ORVMs, roof and the taillamps are finished in contrasting black which adds a touch of stealthiness. Also, like the Albatross which boasts a wingspan of 11 feet, the Altroz looks very confident. It is 10mm wider than the next widest car in the class, the Maruti Suzuki Baleno.

The Altroz' lines seem to be sculpted like a bird diving for prey. The hood and the blacked-out sash under the window line races towards the C-pillar making the Alroz look fast even at a standstill. The 16-inch dual-tone and laser cut alloys look cool on this top-end XZ variant. However, even the XT variant will come with alloy-like steel 16-inch wheels while the XE and XM variants will get 14-inch steel wheels.  The wind also seems to have knocked the rear door handle around too, pushing it up near the C-pillar. It is cool, but because of the mechanism being deeper in the recess, it is an awkward two-step process.

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However, the design flows seamlessly to the rear as the sharply cut tail lamps and creased boot pack into a tight, slipstreamed and dynamic shape. Look closely at the upper corners of the rear windscreen and you will spot additional elements that help improve aerodynamics. Interestingly, the Altroz name is written at the centre of the tailgate with the reversing camera sneaking in between.

Should it preen?

The Altroz’s wow quotient could have been a bit higher with a few tweaks. For instance, a shark-fin antenna would help. Also, some LED magic for the tail lamp would have been cool. Currently, the Altroz uses LEDs only for the DRLS that cradle the large fog lamps and also double up as cornering lamps; that too on the higher end XT and XZ variants only. More crucially, the generous helping of easy-to-scratch piano-black elements is a concern in our mercilessly dusty conditions. And yes, because of the obstinate forehead, the Altroz gets a slightly front-heavy look. In terms of overall proportions the wheelbase, 2501mm for the Tata compared to the i20’s 2570mm or Baleno’s 2520mm, is a bit short and exaggerates this sensation.

Well mannered? 

Not unlike the Albatross, the Altroz is quite a gracious creature. To welcome occupants it throws its doors open 90 degrees to makes it easier to get in and out for older occupants.  There is also a sense of solidity and sophistication in the way the doors open and shut with a satisfying “thwump”! The view from the cabin is wide and confidence-inspiring and that’s despite the A-pillars being a bit chunky. They have small little eyelets cut into them to help reduce visual mass, but these don’t really help improve visibility when peering into corners.  The well-bolstered seats hold you well and the cushioning is firm if a bit flat for the seatback. The underthigh support could have also been better, but the height-adjustable driver's seat helps out on that front. However, reach adjustable steering, aside from rake, would have allowed taller occupants and boy racers to set up the right low-slung driving position for them. 

In each segment Tata’s have offered uber generous levels of space and comfort, but there’s been a bit of a tradeoff here. The slinky stance seems to have compromised underthigh support to ensure adequate headroom. Also, the seat base length is pared back from typical Tata standards to make space for luggage. However, the rear seat occupants will enjoy their time here. Despite the narrowing window line, you don’t feel claustrophobic here as the windows stretch rearwards a fair bit. The wide cabin promises class-leading shoulder room and along with the nearly flat floor accommodating a third passenger in comfort will be no issue. However, the middle occupant doesn’t get any headrest at all.  Also, the rear bench isn’t split, which means when you have large or extra luggage you will have to fold the entire second row. Such occasions should be rare as the Altroz’ 345-litre boot will allow you to pack a surprising amount of luggage as it is wide, deep and tall. 

House proud?

The cabin invokes a few mixed reactions as the dash design seems a bit plain. The responsibility for this will have to be jointly shouldered by the dished out silver panel that extends onto the passenger-side if the dash, the 90’s layout, the design for the aircon switches, and the coarse leathery texture used for the lower half of the dash. Ergonomic gaffes, like the handbrake fouling with the armrest, come to attention too. Thankfully, none of these put you off but the Altroz won’t bowl you over with its newness or coolness factor. In terms of fit and finish, it’s a cliche, but it’s the best we have seen on a Tata till date. All the panels come together with greater consistency, but not perfectly. Thankfully, in typical Tata fashion, there is no shortage of storage space around the cabin, all four doors have practical storage spaces and the front doors even have umbrella holders.

Then there are bits that feel so right, like the well-damped power window switches and the flat-bottom steering wheel that is wrapped in premium leather. The rubberised finish for the steering boss transports you to a richer world too. The 7-inch colour MID in the instrument cluster is large showing you the rev-counter, trip info, power and torque readouts, music information and navigation information if you have an Android Auto or Apple CarPlay enabled device plugged into the infotainment system.  

Safe and Sound? 

The infotainment system on the top-end XZ variant packs a 7-inch HD touchscreen that comes paired with four speakers and two tweeters from  JBL. The placement of the 7-inch touchscreen, when required, brings it into the driver’s eye line easily without being bothersome at other times. The graphics on the screen let you use quick peeks to get the desired information, for instance at the top right corner of the screen you get updates of changes to the air-con settings. The easy to reach physical buttons for the aircon, just ahead of the gear lever, make changing the settings on the go a breeze. You could use the on-screen menus easily as the system responds without a hint of lag now. However, the Altroz also packs voice commands so that you can change temperature or fan speed without getting your hands off the wheel, or your eyes off the road. 

The Altroz also offers all the equipment you would expect in a car of this class, like reversing camera with bending guidelines, a fully automatic air-conditioner, automatic headlamps, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, and a rear washer and wiper too.  Safety equipment is par for the course with ISOFIX mounts for child seats, height-adjustable seatbelts for the front seats, ABS with EBD, and dual-Airbags on offer. We can expect a six-airbag version to be introduced at a later point. 

Interestingly, Tata Motors will offer four different packs to add essential features to lower variants without needing to step up to the next variant. For instance, the Rhythm Pack adds a basic audio system on the XE and adds the 7-inch touchscreen, reversing camera and 6 speaker audio setup onto the XM. The Style pack on the XM, the Luxe on the XZ and the Urban pack for XZ variants, steps up the style quotient by adding LED DRLS, altering wheel sizes and wheel designs, roof colour and garnishes too.

Does it soar? 

Albatross’ have been known to fly for 16000kms without landing, talk about not taking a break! To attempt a feat like that in the the Altroz, you will have to choose from the 1.5-litre diesel and the 1.2-litre petrol engine. The petrol is the naturally aspirated 3-cylinder engine from the Tigor. However, the engine has been reworked extensively to meet BS6 emission norms. Variable valve timing for intake and exhaust and an integrated exhaust manifold are some of the notable changes. For now, this engine is offered with a 5-speed manual gearbox only. 

Just glide, the engine seems to suggest. It does so too; at speeds as low as 30kmph you can hold onto 4th gear without a hiccup. It will pull forward when asked in one steady and unhurried manner.  At highway speeds, overtaking other vehicles requires downshifting one or two gears, which is when you realise that the engine doesn’t like being revved hard. The Altroz’s 1036kg kerb weight blunts its punch. However, our grouse isn't with its performance, its with the lack of refinement. The engine is clattery and loud, like a diesel, and the rumble persists even on a light throttle. The sloppy gearshifts detract from the experience further. 

Thankfully, the 1.5-litre diesel feels a lot more enjoyable to drive. It has been detuned from the 110PS and 260Nm state of tune in the Nexon, to 90PS and 200Nm for the Altroz. The hatch also uses a 5-speed gearbox instead of the 6-speed unit on the compact-SUV. The torque peaks even lower in the rev range, which does wonders for the Altroz’s pace. It feels responsive right from 1500rpm and really starts to pull as you get close to 2000rpm. It is easy to drive at low speeds too thanks to the ultra-light clutch action. Thankfully, the gearshifts are much smoother on the diesel. We noted that even at 80kph the Altroz zooms ahead with just a tap of the accelerator. However, when making overtakes, revving engine past 4000rpm felt wasteful as it got loud and a bit rumbly. 

Tata Motors hasn’t announced any fuel efficiency figures for the Altroz, but it is interesting to note that the petrol uses idle start-stop technology to save fuel. Also, there are no automatic transmissions on offer for now. Yes, believe it. Tata will offer a dual-clutch automatic on the Altroz, albeit at a later stage. 

Unflappable as an Albatross?

It is true that Albatross can fly for hundreds of kilometres without flapping their wings. The Altroz has an “unflappable” quotient too, and that’s down to its chassis and suspension. The ALFA Arc platform has dangled the possibility of setting the best balance between comfort and confidence in this segment. Over poor surfaces the Altroz rapidly, yet quietly, keeps you from getting tossed around. The speed with which it settles down after hitting a ditch is impressive. Speaking of ditches, while the 165mm ground clearance is a bit lower than competition, the smaller wheelbase should help it clear obstacles just as easily.  

The Altroz’s dynamics make it a great companion on your journeys. Less like a hummingbird and, unsurprisingly, more like an Albatross, the Tata tracks rock steady. Even when it’s thrown hard into a corner, the body remains flat and the tyres always seem to have more grip in reserve. If you intend to drive hard, keep in mind that the diesel wears slightly taller tyres, 185/60 R16 for the diesel versus 195/55 R16 for the petrol, which makes it a bit lazier than the petrol to steer.     

Altroz or Albatross?

Tata’s Altroz has the potential to fly to the top of the segment. Head-turning design that also delivers family friendly cabin space is impressive. Quality improvements in terms of materials and finish, the better infotainment experience, and the long and healthy equipment list make this a very tempting Tata. Its planted attitude make it even more versatile and enjoyable. However, the lack of refinement in the petrol and the absence of automatic transmission options are disappointing. Also, while the in-cabin experience is acceptable, Tata needed to set new benchmarks considering this is an all-new and clean slate. Still, the right price tag could be just the wind the Altroz needs to set off on a long and legendary journey. 

Tata Altroz 2020-2023 Video Review

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