The last time I drove a Tata Motors vehicle, it refused to cross 105 kph. Even while going downhill and with me on my knees and pleading.
Things were quite different this time around, I told myself, as I watched the speedometer of the Indigo Manza cross the 160 kph mark. And it was still climbing with the ‘chameleon’ tacho needle yet to turn red to indicate that it has used up the revs. The VBox records suggested that we touched 165.6 kph before we aborted the run. Impressed? That is the fastest I have been in a Tata vehicle (Okay, I ran out of road with the Tata Safari Petrol).
More than the top speed, what gave me the kicks was the surefooted, refined manner in which the variable geometry turbodiesel laid the power down. We have seen everything from the Fiat 500 to the Suzuki Swift being powered by the Fiat derived 1.3 litre Multijet diesel (Quadrajet in Tata applications) and the Manza seems to have benefited the most. Gone are an array of NVH and power delivery issues that plagued the home-bred TDI and Dicor units and in comes 20.4 kgm of effortless torque and 88.7 bhp of seamless power – most of which I summoned in that 165 kph top-speed run.
While it is easy to deploy a good engine that is quick and fast, what matters more is to make the rest of the car keep pace. The new Indigo Manza is very similar to the Indica Vista from the B-pillar forward, except for the front bumpers. As most of you are aware, the Vista won the BSM Jury award last year not for nothing – it was a much better engineered product than the last generation car. This well put-together feeling continues with the Manza despite the added wheelbase and additional sheet metal. Mind you, it does not feel lithe-on-the-move the way a Honda City does. Not yet. Wait a minute? Did we just compare the Manza to a City? Hmm. I realise it is not very nice to invoke comparisons at this stage (before we drive the cars back to back), but the target that the Manza is up against is the Maruti Suzuki Dzire. And it looks like Tata has covered most grounds as far as the Dzire goes. To begin with, the Manza manages to look better (despite the loooong rear overhang) and does not have the ‘Look ma, they have given me a boot!’ image. Nice design detailing and some nifty work with clear lens lighting ensure that this is a handsome car from most angles. The tall ground clearance gives the car a purposeful stance in the Indian context. This feature also makes it easy to get in and out of the car – an attribute loved by the average Indian buyer. And then, when it comes to the powerplant, Tata Motors has opted for the 88.7 bhp application, instead of the 70 bhp unit preferred by Suzuki. Our road test figures suggest that this was a wise move, with 60 kph coming in under 7 seconds and a sub 17-second run to 100 kph. Very agreeable figures indeed for a diesel sedan in this league.
We have to check the fuel consumption figures in a real-world test but going by our experience with this engine, you can safely expect 14 kpl in traffic and close to 18 kpl in highway driving conditions. Careful drivers may extract 20 kpl plus too.
Ride quality has never been an issue with Tata vehicles as the firm understood Indian terrain better than most established car companies. While slow speed ride is not a worry, with the car handling potholes really well, slightly stiffer suspension is called for to ensure that the Manza handles the speeds its engine is capable of propelling it to. While still on the dynamic front, the Manza steering gets indifferent at speeds above 140 kph, leaving you unsure about traction levels and minor steering corrections. According to Tata R&D (a very enthusiastic, proud and relatively young bunch of gentlemen), this is not a bad idea since Indian drivers tend to over-react to situations and a firmer steering is better than a more active steering. Well, we do have our doubts on this. A lot of people who will spend money on the Manza may use the services of a chauffeur and the interior of the car mirrors this fact. The rear bench is set a few inches back with a slanting back rest to give the rear passenger a very comfortable posture. The front seats are even more comfortable and the instrument control is stylishly designed. Glitches include the visible rubber bit beneath the adjustable steering and switchgear that will be all right in the 207 and not in a passenger car. The essential dials are brilliantly designed; they could do a Swiss watch proud and proved absolutely true during our tests. Tata is still coming to terms with the idea of using different textures of plastic inside the car and the end result is not exactly in the Japanese car league – but their suppliers are reaching there for sure. There was some criticism about the telephone interface from the younger journalists and justifiably so, since it looked out of place in an otherwise stylish interior. The steering controls worked well though larger, easy-to-operate switches would have been preferable.
Before we wound up the test drive, we got to sample the 1.4 Safire petrol powered Indigo Manza around the Tata Motors test track. The initial impression is that this is a very refined sedan that can give the smartly priced Dzire petrol a good run for its money.