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Tata Indigo - Beauty'n the boot

So four years after they launched it, they’ve finally given the Indica the boot! That, I admit, is what I thought when we got an invite to attend the media launch of the Indigo, Tata’s new C-segment sedan. They have, after all, sold more than two lakh Indica hatchbacks in the last few years, and what better way to get into the next higher class (where a boot is essential) than by tacking on a boot to their existing car. And hence we have the new Indigo, a ‘booted’ Indica. 

Pre-conceived notions are often proved wrong, and so it was – to a large extent – in this case. On the day of the launch, when we actually got to spend some time driving the new Indigo, the new car came across as much more than just “an Indica with a boot”. Almost two years in the making, the Indigo has some sound engineering behind it if nothing else. Styling is a matter of personal preference, and I still do think that the boot looks like an afterthought. The front end looks rather bulbous compared with the more svelte rear, and the two ends look like they belong to different cars, but then that’s just my opinion. Srini, our ‘Beetle Man’, says that the Indigo’s styling is quite okay, and if anything, the car looks better than either the Siena or the Ikon. So let the great debate begin!

But coming back to what is perhaps more important than the styling, the Indigo certainly seems to have substantial engineering thought behind it. This is no crude hatchback-to-sedan conversion, and everything – from the packaging to the supension to the powertrain – has been suitably refined and modified. For starters, the wheelbase, at 2,450mm, is longer than the Indica’s by 50mm and the extra length has been used to give more space to rear seat occupants. Tata engineers were at pains to point out that occupant comfort was a design priority with the Indigo, and that not only does the Indigo have class-leading leg and head room, even the doors open a full ninety-degrees to allow people to get in and out easily. 

At the front, the Indigo continues with the Indica’s McPherson strut set-up, but there’s an all-new independent multi-link set-up at the back. And finally, the engines – the Indigo has been launched in petrol and diesel versions. The Indica’s 1405 CC diesel engine has been turbocharged (which makes this the only turbodiesel in this segment) and makes 62 horses, and 12.9 kgm at 2500 revs. The old 1405 CC MPFI petrol engine has also been reworked, and now makes 85 bhp (a 10 bhp increase) and 11.4 kgm of torque at 3000 rpm. So with all these tweaks, how is the Indigo to drive? You’ll still have to wait for a complete road-test, but we gathered some favourable impressions of the Indigo duo while blasting up and down the Tata test-track near Pune. 

First up was the petrol-engined GLX and inside, the first thing to catch my eye was the carbonfibre-effect plastic trim on the instrument console. Fake carbon is very 1990s, and to me, looks rather tacky. But there was also the 200 kph speedo, and the rev-counter which was marked all the way to 8000! Hmm... looked like there was some excitement in store! And indeed, flooring the pedal got the petrol Indigo off to a brisk wheelspinning start, and the car accelerated to 120 in about the same time it would have taken an Accent (no stopwatch here, hence no timing figures) or maybe an Esteem to get there. The steering was precise, and not vague or over-modulated (2.8 turns lock to lock as against 3.2 in the Indica), which was a blessing! The only sticking point seemed to be the five-speed gearbox, which was a bit rubbery and tended to baulk while shifting quickly. The car, riding on its 14-inch wheels, could be thrown around with abandon, without fear of losing the plot, but the 175/65 MRF ZVTS radials had more squeal than a bunch of teenage girls catching their first glimpse of Brad Pitt. But that didn’t stop editor Bijoy from putting in a couple of scary-hot laps in the GLX, complete with scads of smoke coming off the squealing MRFs, and with the rear inner wheel lifting clean off the ground – and staying there for a couple of seconds – while he took one roundabout at full tilt!

Later, as I got into the act, the suspension felt taut and the car remained composed while cornering at high speeds. Most of the time, you only get safe understeer, but if you are looking for some sideways action, the car can be made to perform – a violent twirl of the steering, plus a quick lift of the throttle mid-corner and/or a jab at the brakes will get the back end to step out. Nothing spectacular, and whiff of opposite lock brings it right back. So I’d say that the car would be pretty safe in panic situations (I guess the target audience of the Indigo would prefer a giant-wheel to such antics, but still). 

Also, when it is time to put a stop to all the action, the Indigo’s brakes are well up to it. Braking hard from 100 kph produced no untoward drama, and the car stopped without veering too far off a straight line. That the Indigo has good handling/cornering/braking characteristics should perhaps not be such a surprise, given that a team from Tata Engineering spent many months honing these aspects at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) testing/R&D facilities in England. 

It was time to get out of the petrol GLX and get into the diesel LX. Being two dozen horses down on the petrol, this car felt decidedly sluggish in comparison – but that is to be expected. Economy would be the LX’s forte, and I suppose it has the potential to do well on that front. The car’s speedo is marked only up to 180 kph and the rev-counter shows a max of 6000 revs. The good thing about this turbodiesel is that the overall NVH factor has been attended to and you are a tad more detached from diesel clatter and the world outside. Like the petrol, the diesel car’s gearshift was again rubbery, and did not encourage speedy shifts, but the car accelerated quickly and cleanly enough for our liking. It certainly does not have the performance edge of the Accent CRDi, but then that car has a slightly larger engine, and the more contemporary common rail direct injection technology which the Indigo doesn’t. On the flip side, the Indigo’s mill does not quake and tremble as much as the Accent CRDi’s, and vibration is considerably less. Also, the Indigo’s diesel engine is reasonably tractable, and the 62 bhp it produces is adequate if not brilliant. 

We are scheduled to get test cars in the next few weeks, so a more comprehensive report will have to wait till then, but for now, I’d say I’m impressed. The Indigo might not be the flashiest, fastest or best-looking car in its category, but it complies with at least some of the European crash test norms. Also, starting at Rs. 4.38 lakh for the petrol, and Rs. 4.80 lakh for the diesel, the pricing seems to be about right. Yes, the Indigo, which is certainly not just an Indica with a boot,  could well be Tata’s next big success story...

SECOND OPINION

As one of the early buyers of the Indica Diesel (the DLE version), I have driven the car for nearly 67,000 km in the last three-and-a-half years. I think the car delivers tremendous value, is very cheap to run, and feels extremely safe and steady. On the downside, I think the car should have been better designed in terms of noise insulation, and fit-and-finish. The car has also occasionally given me repair worries, but these have not been more than the kind of problems I had with a Maruti 800 earlier. Since the Indica delivered on the larger value-for-money issues, I was willing to put up with these niggling problems. Am I ready to switch to the Indigo? On the presumption that most of the problem areas with the Indica have been sorted out by now, I would certainly say yes.
- R Jagannathan
(Editor, Indian Management)