Tata Altroz DCA review: Perfect automatic hatchback for the city

The Tata Altroz DCA may not be as enthusiastic as its rivals but it promises good value
The Tata Altroz finally gets an automatic gearbox
The Tata Altroz finally gets an automatic gearboxShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

It’s been two years since the Tata Altroz was first launched and it has been one of Tata’s most impressive hatchback offerings. It continues to be handsomely styled, there is a sporty variant for enthusiasts in the form of the i-Turbo and the Altroz is one of the safest cars made in India, scoring a full 5 Stars in the Global NCAP crash tests. Now it finally gets an automatic gearbox – say hello to the Altroz DCA. Could this just be the premium hatchback that you need?

New Opera Blue paint on the Altroz DCA
New Opera Blue paint on the Altroz DCAShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

Tata Altroz DCA design

Not much has changed on the styling front when it comes to the Altroz DCA, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the Altroz was first launched, it wowed us with its styling and it still turns heads as I drove it around Pune’s two-wheeler infested traffic. A big part of that is also down to the new Opera Blue paint job which looks really classy. Apart from that, there are not many changes to report on the exterior front. It continues to get the black contrast roof and 16-inch alloy wheels, same as before, and the only way to identify the Altroz DCA is the DCA badging on the tailgate.

There’s nothing to complain about on the styling front with the silhouette still remaining fresh, and if I had to nitpick, I hoped that Tata would have done a little bit more to differentiate the DCA from the manual-equipped Altroz. That said, the Altroz continues to be the most handsome hatchbacks on sale, despite its rivals, namely the i20, being updated more frequently. That said, while the i20’s styling may polarise opinion, the Altroz undoubtedly noses ahead when it comes to being the people’s favourite as far as looks are concerned. Oh, and you can have that Altroz in the Dark Edition trim too!

Interiors of the Altroz DCA identical to the manual's, save for the placement of the central lock switch near the gear lever
Interiors of the Altroz DCA identical to the manual's, save for the placement of the central lock switch near the gear leverShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

Tata Altroz DCA interiors

The cabin of the Altroz is where an owner would spend most of their time and on that front, not much has changed with the Altroz. Ingress and egress is superb, thanks to the doors which open 90 degrees, and once inside, you’ll be pleased to know that the cabin is a pleasant place to be in. Build quality is good, the interiors feel solid and everything is where you’d expect it to be. You get a black and grey colour scheme, the seats feature Tata’s tri-arrow pattern and the amount of kit on offer is impressive. I particularly like the serene blue ambient lighting which seeps in from behind the dash.

7-inch touchscreen gets Apple CarPlay
7-inch touchscreen gets Apple CarPlayShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

You get a 7-inch touchscreen for infotainment placed in your line of sight, and infotainment itself on par with the segment has to offer. You get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, albeit in wired form, and the Altroz DCA also gets Tata’s IRA connected car tech. And if you’re the type who really likes to crank up their tunes, the Altroz gets an 8-speaker sound system by Harman which did make the audiophile in me quite happy. And while you groove to your favourite tunes, the automatic climate control is keeping things cool and the Xpress cooling function is a very handy feature to have, given our Indian summers. The Altroz also gets rear AC vents.

The biggest change on the inside however is the gear shift. Instead of the spindly AMT shift-lever from the Tiago, you get a purposeful-looking one from the Safari / Harrier, and keen observers will notice that the central-locking switch now sits in the centre of the cabin, just ahead of the shifter on the Altroz DCA.

Gearshift lever identical to the Safari / Harrier
Gearshift lever identical to the Safari / HarrierShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

World’s first planetary DCT on the Tata Altroz

The Altroz DCA comes with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine and it has been mated to a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. This DCT gets a wet clutch and is built by Punch Powertrain but it has been developed specifically for India. As compared to a conventional DCT, the Altroz’s gearbox uses planetary gears, which in essence allow for the gearbox to be more compact while also making the use of fewer moving components. And unlike a dry clutch DCT where both clutches are packed together, Tata has separated the clutches to allow for better cooling and consequently, reliability.

This gearbox also comes with certain India-specific features. For instance, it comes with ‘self healing’ technology, with the ‘box vibrating the valves and accelerating oil through the system to get rid of dust particles, thus improving the longevity of the gearbox in our conditions. This DCT also gets active cooling, with the TCU sending oil to cool down the transmission should temperatures rise. Another very useful feature is the Park Lock function. In case you forget to put the vehicle in Park and leave it in neutral when you get down, the gearbox actually holds the vehicle.

1.2-litre nat-asp engine isn't the quickest off the block
1.2-litre nat-asp engine isn't the quickest off the blockShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

Tata Altroz DCA performance, ride and handling

The 1.2-litre engine of the Altroz continues to produce 85bhp of power and 113Nm, so don’t expect it to be a firecracker of a hatchback off the line. You can’t launch it hard off the line in any case, as the ‘box holds the revs at 2,200rpm when attempting a full bore start. This petrol engine isn’t as smooth or eager as its rivals and if you drive the Altroz like an enthu-cutlet, you do sense that it would prefer you to take things at a more relaxed pace. The six-speed DCT isn’t the quickest to shift, and while using the manual mode does give a bit more control over the engine, but you are still left wanting for more. I am still confused as to why Tata offered the DCT with the nat-asp engine and not the sportier i-Turbo variant, though fingers are crossed for a sportier variant in the future.

In any case, most Altroz owners won’t be doing track days with their cars and where the DCA actually shines is commuting in the city. My daily commute to evo India HQ isn’t the longest one but it does pack in a fair share of traffic and bad roads, and here the Altroz truly shines. The low-speed ride quality of the Altroz is really good and the way it just flattens bumps and speed breakers is sublime. And when you’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, you really appreciate the smoothness of this DCT. Unlike other DCTs, the Altroz’s gearbox never juddered at low speeds, although the creep function doesn’t have the strongest pull in stop-and-go traffic. But when you are driving it less enthusiastically, the Altroz DCA makes for a great city car.

The flat-bottomed steering is very light at city speeds, and while it doesn’t really weigh up or offer much feel as the speeds rise, the handling of the Altroz actually feels stable and secure. The brakes have a strong bite when you drop the anchors and when you chuck the Altroz into a corner, it eggs you on to push harder with its surefootedness. That it also gets a 5 Star Global NCAP crash test rating makes the Altroz a very secure and solid car to drive around town.

The Altroz DCA is a perfect commuter for the city
The Altroz DCA is a perfect commuter for the cityShot by Avdhoot A Kolhe for evo India

Like I said in the very beginning, the Altroz is one of the most impressive cars in the Tata Motors stable, and with the automatic transmission in the DCA, Tata has certainly increased the appeal of the Altroz. Most buyers won’t mind that it isn’t the most enthusiastic in its class but they will certainly take notice of the fact that the Altroz DCA is the most affordable DCT in India, with prices starting from Rs 8.09 lakh – undercutting the cheapest DCT variant of the Hyundai i20 by almost Rs 1.7 lakh! It’s hard not to recommend the Altroz DCA to anyone looking for a practical city commuter at this price point, considering the value and the safety that it offers, and if you’re looking for your family’s next urban runabout? The Altroz DCA just might be it.

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