The Hexa seems capable enough to win a few battles on the road. But can-it win any on the showroom floor?
This does not augur well. I had thought those cones placed on the side of the dust track were just that. Cones. Some sort of a caution marker. Turns out, they aren’t. The cones are marked to denote the acceleration and braking points. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s routine. Checking how quickly a car accelerates and brakes. But there are two things that deter me from doing it. One, the surface is unpaved dust. Two, I am in a Tata passenger car. The all-new Tata Hexa. For platform number enthusiasts, the Hexa is based on the X2 platform.
Does it share something with the Aria MPV? I remember asking this question, but can’t quite remember what the answer was. Because while the kind gentleman from Tata was telling me a yes or a no or the percentage of shared or unshared components, my mind meandered to how they come up with platform names.
Coming back to that perilous task at hand. Accelerating isn’t a problem really. But I don’t want to slam on the brakes at some 60kph on this narrow, barren, dust-laden surface. I don’t have a choice, though. Apparently, this particular Hexa I am driving has been doing this off-road taming and accelerating and braking exercise for about ten days on the trot – from sunrise to sunset. And before I came to this perplexing point, I have already negotiated wheel-articulation pits, driven along inclines, climbed up steep slopes, used hill descent control and driven down those very slopes. To make things even more interesting, Tata has even embedded massive ice-blocks up an ascent to showcase the Hexa’s ability to handle varied levels of traction along different wheels. Hand on heart, the machine handles everything incredibly well.
But that doesn’t mean I am going to do any brake slamming stunts on a narrow dirt road and get intimate with the bushes. Well, guess what. I actually do. The braking is quick, smooth and free of unnecessary drama. T hen I shift the Hexa from Auto to Off-road mode,which is said to have ‘torque-on-demand’. And I accelerate quicker and stop much earlier. Which is when I realise, Tata is on to something big.
Before this entire off-road experience with the six-speed manual, all-wheel- drive Hexa, I spent the entire morning driving the rear-wheel-drive, six-speed automatic. Long story short, if you’re looking for a six/seven-seater dirt roader, I’d recommend the Hexa over the XUV500 and even the legendary Toyota Innova. Or the Crysta like they call the new one these days.
If you have just stood up in shock, please. Sit down, and allow me to elaborate. Tata’s Hexa isn’t perfect. Its front looks good,but the rear is distastefully blinged up. The problem with that, though, is that doesn’t terribly put off customers… the bling. In fact, the bling may cause more to flockin hordes towards the Hexa. And there are some rather silly ergonomic issues in the Hexa. The doors, for starters. Passengers cannot simply pull the handle and open the door. They have to pinch at the tiny knob by the window sill. Which makes the door lock handles redundant. This Hexa comes with automatic climate control.
But there’s something wrong with the sensors. Because even as I set the climate control to 28 deg Celsius, the vents are blowing rather strongly, cold air, with the ambient temperature hovering around the mid-30s. Besides, with auto climate control, it’d make more sense to have the temperature control knob on the driver’s side. But in the Hexa, it’s on the passenger’s side. So, if you’re in the driver’s seat, you will have to stretch your hand much further than you’d like.
But the biggest ergonomic glitch is the climate control screen itself. It sits so low down in the centre console, you can’t see the top half of the screen that shows the fan-speed, AC temperature and some very basic info. Oh, and the rear left door required a thorough shove to have it properly shut. You’d also find the massive A-pillar along with a rather wide quarter-glass impeding your vision around corners.
This about sums up the silliness of the Hexa. Silly because these are schoolboy errors that don’t need major re-engineering to correct but are glaringly visible. And Tata chose not to set these things right. What Tata also chose to do is arm the Hexa with incredible ride quality. And this ride quality is half the reason I’d recommend the Hexa over a lot of other cars. The Hexa smoothly, gracefully, calmly subdues the most terrible of road surfaces that Hyderabad and its periphery had on offer. This may sound morbid, but the Hexa remains as flat as a dead man’s pulse over bad roads. And unlike the Innova Crysta, Tata has not resorted to softness and a whale-like demeanour to the suspension setup. The Hexa feels extremely planted and firm,yet comfortable over bad roads. Nothing in this world is perfect. But the Hexa’s ride quality comes rather close.
The chassis has a bit of roll. Understandable. What’s not understandable is the steering set-up.
Tata has set it up to be able to take extremely tight turns. Which is good. But the result of this obsession for a tight turning radius means three things. One, taking routine corners or 90-degree turns require a lot more steering input. Two, anything at parking speeds beyond a U-turn require a lot of steering input. Three, there’s not much of feel or heft from the steering at high speeds.
In fact, the chassis seems willing to take tight corners in away no body-on-chassis, comfortable, high-off-the-ground SUV should. But the steering in those tight corners doesn’t reflect the chassis’ confidence. However, this is still a better set-up than the Innova Crysta, which is too soft and the XUV500, which is er… extremely… well, let’s just say doesn’t set any bench marks.
Now, I wasn’t there for that part of the show where the marketing geniuses and product engineers show us powerpoints and videos and charts and tell us how much toil, effort, complications and broken marriages they have had to endure to see the Hexa project come to fruition. I don’t know what smart, techno, cost-cutting things they have done to sheet metal and the bolt sizes to ensure homogenous manufacturing practices. And I don’t know what the Hexa will be priced at. Not because I skipped the powerpoint. That’s just because Tata will not reveal that until January, 2017.
But I do know this. The Hexahas serious talent. It has quality interiors, a few ergonomic quirks, a thoroughly set-up ride quality, the ability to seat six or seven, and some serious off-road cred. On the road, it beats the Innova Crysta and XUV500. But then, it’s a Tata. It would really help if the manufacturer doesn’t get over-ambitous and price the Hexa beyond the XUV and Innova. For a company that owns Jaguar and Land Rover, it doesn’t know what it wants cars with the T badges to be. The people in the company understand that. They admit they have to fight perception more than they have to fight competition. All they say is they hope the product speaks for itself.
Price: To be announced
Engine: 2179cc, 4cyl, turbo diesel
Transmission: 6A, RWD
Ground clearance: 200mm
Fuel capacity: 60litres
Pros: Ride quality, cabin quality, off-road ability
Cons: Ergonomics, steering feel, drony, slow automatic, no dead pedal in manual
Bottom line: A neatly designed, comfortable riding, people-carrying SUV with minor ergonomic irritants