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Tata Indica Vista - Hasta la Vista

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Before you even ask, here is the answer to your question:  Yes, the new Indica Vista is a huge improvement over the old one.  It is better built  It uses better quality materials  Shut-lines, panel gaps and integration of plastic with metal surfaces are now sorted  The Fiat-sourced engine and gearbox combination is proven  It handles much better and is much more confident on curves  It looks better too.

Obviously, if you are reading further, you want to know whether the Indica Vista can be compared to contemporary hatchbacks built by rival, ‘foreign’ manufacturers. And also whether Europeans will laugh it off or take to it when it reaches the continent six months down the line. Now, the latter especially is a critical question, given that people will have high expectations from the new Indian owners of Jaguar Land Rover. Well, you will have to read on then.Not many heads turn when I make my way through Pune’s traffic. Perhaps the people of this automotive hub are familiar with the Vista thanks to pre-production cars criss-crossing this city during trials. Or it could be that the Vista does not radically break out of the Indica design mould. Either way, Tata has played it safe with the Vista’s external appearance. 

Slaloming my way through Innovas and pedestrians and rickshaws and motorcyclists, I find that it is not too difficult with the Vista. Several reasons for this. One, it’s the first Tata passenger car in which the driver can be reasonably comfortable – ergonomics are good, pedal placement is just about right (packaging issues mean no dead pedal, though) and the steering wheel is adjustable for rake. Oh, and the top end Aura trim which I was piloting has seat height adjustment as well. Then, the Vista uses a subframe at the front, which, among other things allows for better steering precision and consequently, manoeuvrability. Thirdly, the Fiat drivetrain has been modified for driveability in the city. The ratios of the first three gears are close-set so that the urban commuter whose life usually revolves around 1st, 2nd and 3rd finds life easy on the way to work and back. For instance, if you were to drive the Maruti Suzuki Swift diesel back-to-back with the Vista, you would find that the Tata car would be easier on your left leg.   Why bring the Swift D here? If you didn’t know, you’ve probably just emerged from the Mars Pathfinder. Both cars use the same famous Fiat Multijet diesel engine (by the way, Fiat has also finally got around to using it in the Palio!). In the Vista however, Tata has borrowed a five-speed Fiat manual transmission as well. The Vista version that uses the Fiat drivetrain is called the Quadrajet, to distinguish it from the 1.4 TDi that uses Tata’s own turbodiesel engine and gearbox. And Tata claims to have worked closely with Fiat Powertrain to make the engine/gearbox combo suitable to the Vista and Indian driving conditions. 

The 1248cc four-cylinder 16-valve common-rail turbodiesel, as everybody knows, releases 74 bhp at 4000 rpm and 19.3 kgm of torque between 1750 and 3000 revs. Transferring that power to the front wheels is that five-speed Fiat gearbox that I mentioned above. Now, this diesel engine-gearbox combination is perhaps one of the best you can get for front-wheel driven hatchbacks and sedans anywhere in the world. The gearshift quality is positive, while the clutch pedal does not feel hard either – now that’s something Tata’s own TDi drivetrain could not boast of earlier. Reportedly, they have attended to it by incorporating a cable-shift mechanism and twin cone synchronisers, but we have to still test-drive the Vista TDi as also the 1.2-litre Safire petrol version, which also uses a Fiat drivetrain.

Back to the Quadrajet then. The engine is astonishingly compact, but the output it produces – especially that much torque low down in the rev range – makes any car that uses it enjoyable to drive. And in some cases, fun too, like in the Swift. I wouldn’t say the same about the Vista Quadrajet, as it is a bit heavier than the Suzuki. And it is not as breezy in performance either. Well, the numbers prove it. The Vista Quadrajet does the 0 to 60 kph dash in 6.41 seconds and touches 100 kph in 17.41 secs (6.01 and 14.35 for the Swift D respectively). Now it could be that the test car was fresh off the assembly line, I am sure with a few hundred kilometres under its belt, the Vista could do better. Still, in the quest for city driveability and fuel efficiency, the Indica Vista loses out on overall performance and that fun-to-drive factor. 

The closely-set gear ratios mean that you redline the tacho in the first three gears in what feels like no time – it’s quite peculiar, out of character for a diesel powertrain. The fourth and fifth gears are more for cruising and highway driving. And it is in fifth that it touches its top speed of 162 kph. The easy access to a decent amount of torque also means that the Vista recovers from lower speeds quite quickly. This means that overtaking in this car is not much of an issue. Besides that, the car has an ability to pick up even if you are in fourth. This amazing flexibility is what makes the engine so brilliant. Well, compared to the Swift D’s 80-120 kph mid-range timing of 15.3 seconds, the Vista does it in 14.5. So there.   Okay, so now you know that the Vista’s engine and gearbox have some very strong points, what about the rest of the package then... you know, the real Tata end of things? Firstly, the Vista could do with some added noise insulation on the firewall. Though it is a refined powerplant out in the front, at start-up and at higher speeds, there is no mistaking that there is a diesel engine up front. And at three-digit speeds, vibes seep through the steering wheel, this despite the steering rack being mounted on the subframe. A little more attention here would help the Vista, especially if the car is going be sent to distant shores.

Getting off the highway and on to some twisties, I am impressed with the levels of handling the new Indica is now capable of. The subframe combined with the independent suspension at the front, featuring McPherson struts, gives the car levels of steering and driving precision not seen in a Tata passenger car before. The carmaker is especially proud of the fact that the Vista uses high strength steel panels which improves body torsional and bending stiffness, while also incorporating tailor-welded blanks in its construction – now this keeps the car’s weight low without compromising on safety and body rigidity. By using equal length drive shafts, Tata has managed to dramatically reduce torque steer. Now, in a torquey, front-wheel drive diesel motor, this allows for more precision and control, which can only be a good thing. 

 

The steering wheel is of the right size, and though feedback and control is not as good as, let’s say, the old Fiat Palio, it is indeed a leap forward. At the rear, the Vista uses a new twist beam suspension versus the semi-trailing arms of its predecessor. This, plus the fact that the Vista wears nice, broad 175/65 R14 tubeless radials, means the car feels much more surefooted and confident. Ride quality was always an Indica strong point, and it’s the case over here as well, as the Vista uses gas-charged shock absorbers. It can sail over bad roads without a fuss, but has a tendency to bottom out when subjected to a particularly bad pothole or two. So when it comes to dynamics, the Indica Vista is a substantial improvement over its predecessor, yet it would not make the grade for a driving enthusiast,  who wouldn’t mind putting in some more money (and hopefully waiting for some more time) for the Swift diesel. 

But where the Swift cannot even compare is with the interior room on offer. The Vista boasts of a wheelbase that’s more than the Indigo – okay, it’s 20 mm more, but every mm counts, right? It can seat five in comfort and has plenty of headroom as well. Though in the effort to liberate passenger room, luggage space, I feel, has been slightly compromised. The rear strut towers also intrude into this space. The Vista is just slightly wider and taller than the Indica, and heavier by about 40 to 50 kilos. The interiors are also a dramatic break from the Indica. Quality materials are used and the sea of grey plastic that one has been used to for over 10 years now has been replaced by better looking, and softer to touch plastics. Finally, Tata has made its vendors work for their car! The dashboard has a centrally mounted display like in the Chevrolet Spark and the Nissan X-Trail. All the better for left-hand drive versions. It takes time to get used to, but that’s all right. An LCD display spews out some information, but it’s a bit difficult to see in broad daylight. Overall, it is a much better place to live in. 

Most importantly, the Indica Vista has been comprehensively crash-tested. It does not come with ABS and airbags at present, but once Tata starts exporting the car in about six months, we can expect those to be offered in India as well. While at it, I might as well tell you that alloy wheels are not in the options list, for some reason. The car that you see here has the top-end Aura trim, which retails for Rs 4.99 lakh for the Quadrajet. As expected, it is great value for money, and with an overall fuel economy of 16 kpl, the Indica Vista is a persuasive buy. If only this was the car that Tata had brought out ten years ago.