Tata Punch vs Nissan Magnite vs Maruti Suzuki Ignis | Sub-compact SUV comparo
Tata Motors have been adamant about one thing — the Punch is not to be called a micro-SUV. They reckon their new baby is capable of carving a space of its own, kick-starting a new sub-compact SUV segment. Now we’re not going to debate the merits of that because this isn’t a magazine on marketing innovations; what we are here to find out is whether the Punch has enough differentiating factors to really enjoy a space of its own. And there’s nothing like a bit of perspective to make sense of things. Bookending the new Tata are the Maruti Suzuki Ignis which, despite claims to the contrary, represents the (tall-boy) hatchback end of the spectrum while at the other end we have the Nissan Magnite flying the flag for entry-compact SUVs. And right off the bat there’s a surprise, the Tata Punch is the tallest in this segment. For road presence the Punch isn’t lacking.
The face of it
What unites the three are their overlapping prices spread across variants. All three cost under Rs 10 lakh which puts them within a tightly packed space, one that caters to the meat of the market. And when that’s the case, styling and appearance are as important as how the car drives. In that aspect, I think it’s the Magnite that grabs eyeballs with its sleek LED headlamps and DRLs, large chrome grille and distinctive 16-inch alloy wheels. There’s also the dimensions and the Magnite is the longest of the three, a whisker under four meters while it is also the widest delivering the big-car look and feel that many buyers seek.
The Punch is the newest kid on the block and is also the funkiest looking. Lots of elements that make it unique — the split headlamp set up that mimics the Harrier, single-piece grille that’s again reminiscent of the bigger Tata SUVs, upright pillars, high ground clearance and the heavy cladding do give it that SUV feel. In fact the Punch looks more rugged than the Magnite and the bold creases across the panels are striking, the most prominent of which are the ones around the tri-arrow tail lamps. The heavy use of heavy black plastic cladding, especially around the rear bumper is debatable, but there’s no question the stylists have thrown every SUV cue they could find at the Punch.
As for the Ignis, it’s a shining example of the mass market’s reluctance for out-of-the-box. To our eye it is the best looking hatchback in its segment, cleverly disguising the tall-boy stance (delivering excellent ingress and egress) with cool, funky elements. But, for a Maruti Suzuki, it didn’t set sales charts on fire and that prompted the marketeers to slap on an SUV tag in the mid-life facelift focusing the noise around the faux skid plates, plastic cladding and roof rails. We still love the way it looks and on the styling we invite you to pick your winner, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that.
First thing you notice with the Ignis is that it has the smallest cabin of all three. The passenger, whether sitting shotgun or behind you is and feels much closer than in the other cars. The backseat is good for two, a proper squeeze for three. Headroom has never been a problem with tall boys and the same holds true here. In terms of features, your bases are covered with a 7-inch infotainment screen and automatic climate control with a rather cool looking control. Still, credit where credit’s due, there’s absolutely nothing to fault on the build quality front with consistent panel gaps and hard wearing materials that we are familiar with and know will survive a proper beating. Overall, for someone who is looking for a more styling alternative to regular city runabouts this still is highly recommended.
Then you step inside the Tata Punch and realise that in the five years that the Ignis was first launched the strides made in terms of packaging have been massive. Within a similar footprint the Punch offers a cabin that is half a step up above with more space and breezy ingress-egress thanks to doors that open at right angles to the body. Features include automatic headlamps, automatic wipers, a semi-digital instrument cluster. seven-inch infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, engine start/stop system, a push button start — all features that elevate the experience from the ordinary. The quality of materials feels richer, they have interesting contours and textures, everything has a solid feel to it and the cabin fit-finish has really gone up from what we know of Tata’s in the past. Space is generous for two in the back; three in here would be a bit of a squeeze but it’s much better than the Ignis. What also helps its case is the near-flat floor. What the Punch misses out on are rear AC vents and rear charging point. While the former can be overlooked because the air-con is extremely powerful, it's the latter that would worry the always-connected millennials this is targeted at.
The top-spec Nissan Magnite is just a few thousand rupees more than the Tata Punch and you feel your money’s worth as soon as you step inside. Nissan can afford to deck out the cabin in the more-premium feeling (and sporty) black without worrying about it compromising the sense of space because this cabin has plenty of space. And I mean plenty. More knee room, more elbow room, more in every direction — this might be the entry-level compact SUV but this is among the most spacious of this class. Then there are the features. In addition to what the Punch offers, the Magnite also gets a wireless charger, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (something we love!), a 360-degree camera, rear air-con vents and a full digital cluster. The Nissan makes a very strong case for itself!
Behind the ’wheel
Let’s start with the Magnite because we have spent the most time with it. As a daily driver in the city the Magnite offers great comfort and is very easy to manoeuvre, but the steering is too light in our opinion and the light-weight platform makes itself felt when you go through a larger pothole and thuds are audibly communicated to the occupants.
Where the Magnite claws back the points — big time! — is with the powertrain. This has the only turbo-petrol engine here delivering the most enthusiastic figures — 98bhp and 160Nm — and consequently the most energetic performance. The difference in acceleration times isn’t in the tenths, it is in full seconds. To top that this engine gets the option of a CVT gearbox and no matter how you slice it this is way — way! — superior to the AMT of the other two. The power delivery is smooth, uninterrupted and absolute jerk and head-toss free. In fact the contrast to the AMT is so stark that you won’t even complain about the rubber-band effect characteristic to this type of auto box. And if you want to effect an overtake in the Nissan you don’t have to think twice, there’s always power on tap.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Magnite does get a naturally-aspirated engine, making it a lot more accessible and even cheaper than a similarly-specced Tata Punch. However there’s no automatic transmission available for that 1.0-litre B4D unit, and that engine is also quite far off in terms of refinement when compared to the Punch and the Ignis. Plus, with only 71bhp on offer, it feels underpowered and strained.
I hope you’re sitting down for what I’m going to tell you next. The Ignis is where you should go looking for driving thrills. Equipped with the 1.2-litre four-cylinder K-series engine, the Ignis offers the most fun-to-drive experience — the rev-happy naturally-aspirated unit enjoying being pulled right up to its redline. The five-speed manual gearbox is an absolutely joy to operate and combined with the light clutch action is super-easy to drive. It all makes for a very involving car, and that’s despite making the least power of the three. Also, the Ignis is the only car here with a four-cylinder engine and that immediately makes it the most refined. Where the Ignis falls short is on days when you hit the expressway or when you encounter bad roads and realise it has the least compliant suspension along with the least confidence at speed.
One thing I haven’t addressed so far is safety. The Punch is India’s safest car with five-stars in the Global-NCAP crash test for adults and four stars for child safety. If you care for safety buy the Punch, don’t even think twice. The Magnite hasn't been tested by G-NCAP but it scored a respectable four stars in the ASEAN NCAP crash test rating. The Ignis has not been tested either but the Swift, with which shares the same HEARTECT platform, scored two stars in the G-NCAP crash test rating so that’s the only assumption we can go by.
Corroboration of facts
If you want some SUV credentials you might not be convinced by the Ignis because, for all intents and purposes, it is a hatchback. A very nice hatch, very good for the city commute, even fun to drive but a tall hatch. So should you drop an additional Rs 1.92 lakh for the Tata Punch? When you weigh in the considerably more features, fresh pseudo-SUV styling, and excellent ride comfort our recommendation has to be a yes.
The tougher question is Punch vs Magnite, particularly since the Nissan is terrifically price, the fully-loaded turbo-petrol with the CVT being Rs 60,000 more than the slower and AMT equipped Tata. The Magnite also offers more in terms of space along with features and is definitely better suited to frequent highway runs. So a clear winner then?
Not really, and it boils down to perspective. If, as with the majority of these cars, you too will spend most of your time in the city then the Punch works really well, particularly with the robust ride quality. You get better fuel economy with a naturally-aspirated engine and it’s no different with the Punch. And the space is not that far off the Magnite. Our only real criticism of the Punch is that it could do with more power, everything else is truly spot on.
Now in terms of pricing, for the cost of the top-spec Ignis (Alpha, AMT) you could get yourself a mid-spec Punch (Adventure, Rhythm Pack, AMT) that gets you features such as touchscreen, six-speakers and reverse parking camera. Similarly, the top-of-the line Punch without the iRA connectivity pack (Creative, AMT) costs around a lakh of rupees less than the top-shelf Nissan Magnite (XV Premium Turbo, CVT). The Punch, then, does suit a wider array of pockets and sits in its own, neat, sub-segment. And the fact that it is India’s safest car with five stars in the crash tests means we have to crown the Punch the winner of this test.
If you're interested, the comparison of the Tata Punch vs Maruti Suzuki Ignis vs Nissan Magnite is also live on our YouTube channel — just click above to watch the video, and comment down below which one would be your pick!