The Tiago iCNG now gets an automated manual transmission
The Tiago iCNG now gets an automated manual transmissionShot by Sachin Khot for evo India

Tata Tiago iCNG AMT first drive review

Tata Motors is betting big on alternative fuels by offering the Tiago iCNG with the option of an AMT. But can it realistically compete with ICE or EV vehicles?

The Tata Tiago EV is by far one of our favourite city runabouts; it's peppy, compact, and kind to your left foot. But if you can't get over the range anxiety and still want to do your part for the environment, CNG-powered vehicles offer an excellent alternative. Until now, the absence of an automatic transmission option has hindered their appeal for urban use. Tata Motors is hoping to rectify this by offering the Tiago iCNG and Tigor iCNG with an automated manual transmission – a first for a CNG vehicle in India. We took the Tiago iCNG AMT for a spin to see if it could finally bring CNG vehicles from the niche to the mainstream.

Tata Tiago iCNG AMT styling

The Tata Tiago has been on sale since 2016, but updates and revisions have kept the overall design looking fresh. The front end remains a highlight with its sharknose-style nose, now adorned with Tata Motors' new 2D logo. Lighting is provided by projector-style headlamps, while fog lamps and DRLs sit on the lower half of the bumper.

In profile, the Tiago looks handsome with its traditional two-box hatchback shape, but the black sticker job on the C-pillar is not my favourite piece of design. It rides on 14-inch wheels, which look like alloys at first glance, but are cleverly designed 4-spoke wheel caps on steel rims. Around the back, the Tiago looks pretty familiar, but the tailgate carries a tiny iCNG badge, the only exterior hint that this vehicle is powered by an alternative fuel.

Tata Tiago iCNG AMT interior and equipment

Inside, there are a few more telltale signs that this is indeed a Tiago iCNG. The instrument cluster has two fuel gauges — one for petrol and one for CNG — and the dashboard has a button to switch between. The big news this time around is the lack of a clutch pedal and the presence of an AMT shift lever on the centre console. The shift lever itself is oddly shaped, almost like a pistol grip shifter from a muscle car, but it fits nicely into the hand.

On the tech front, the Tiago is reasonably well-equipped with a Harman 7-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, four speakers, and four tweeters. Additionally, it also gets automatic climate control, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and steering-mounted controls.

The luggage compartment of a CNG vehicle is usually taken up by the CNG tank and its paraphernalia, but Tata Motors has ingeniously employed two smaller tanks instead of one large one. These tanks sit low in the boot, allowing for a reasonably sized boot above, albeit with a high load lip, while the spare tire sits underneath the vehicle. Despite dividing the tank into two, the combined capacity of 60-litres is the same as before.

Tata Tiago iCNG AMT engine and drivetrain

The Tata Tiago iCNG is powered by the 1.2-liter 3-cyl engine that produces 72bhp and 95Nm when running on CNG. Switch to petrol power and the figures rise to 85bhp and 113Nm, but truth be told, the performance difference is not as significant as the numbers suggest. In day-to-day driving, the Tiago feels nearly as peppy in CNG mode as it does in petrol. Push beyond half throttle, and the Tiago is definitely faster when powered by petrol. Revving the engine out, however, isn't the most pleasant experience as the engine feels fairly strained and sounds gruff. The Tiago iCNG has a single ECU controlling both the petrol and CNG sides, allowing it to start up in CNG by default. This also makes the switch between petrol and CNG seamless.

To mate the CNG powertrain to an AMT, Tata Motors has paid special attention to the calibration of the throttle and transmission modules. The result is a transmission that does a respectable job of shifting up and down, albeit with a noticeable pause between shifts. The transmission is rarely left hunting for gears and copes with city traffic with ease. The Tiago’s AMT creeps forward with a fair bit of urgency when you release the brakes, which is helpful when negotiating stop-and-go traffic. The odd judder does slip through, but the overall experience is par for the course for AMTs.

The twin tanks should hold roughly 9 kilograms of CNG depending on pressure and ambient temperature. With the ARAI certified mileage of 28.06 km per kg, that should result in a theoretical range of approximately 252-kilometres. Not class-leading, but impressive nonetheless.

The Tiago iCNG soaks up bumps with aplomb
The Tiago iCNG soaks up bumps with aplomb Shot by Sachin Khot for evo India

Tata Tiago iCNG AMT ride and handling

The CNG tanks and their associated equipment add around 100 kilograms to the Tiago's kerb weight. To counter this, Tata Motors has reworked the spring rates on the suspension to retain the Tiago's excellent ride quality. The Tiago feels solid and planted as you tackle the worst our roads have to offer. The suspension effectively absorbs the majority of bumps and undulations, with only occasional sharp impacts noticeable — a minor flaw that's forgivable for a car in its segment.

The handling remains composed and predictable, while the compact footprint makes it fun to chuck around the city streets. A particular highlight is the steering. In addition to being comfortable to hold with its pronounced thumb grips, the steering finds a good balance between lightness and responsiveness – an uncommon quality in this segment.

Tata Tiago iCNG AMT verdict

Prices for the Tata Tiago iCNG AMT range from Rs 7.90 lakh to Rs 8.90 lakh (ex-showroom), which is a Rs 55,000 premium on the manual variant. The ease of use and negligible performance deficit alone make the Tiago iCNG AMT a compelling proposition. Add to that the lower operating costs and the eco credentials, and the Tiago iCNG AMT makes an excellent case for itself.

A CNG vehicle used to require a fair few compromises from the owner. In addition to being limited to lower-spec variants with manual transmissions, buyers also had long queues at filling stations to contend with. Not having a boot to do airport runs was also not a great way to make friends. Tata Motors has addressed all these issues with its current lineup of iCNG vehicles. The availability of an AMT option further enhances the appeal, especially for urban runabouts like the Tiago iCNG.

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