Test drive review: Tata Motors’ sporty Tiago JTP and Tigor JTP
Enthusiasts rejoice! For the first time in India a mainstream mass-manufacturer is getting serious about performance and Tata Motors is going the full nine yards setting up a separate company, JT Special Vehicles, a joint venture with Coimbatore-based automotive testing specialists Jayem Automobiles. And these are their first two cars, the Tata Tiago JTP and Tata Tigor JTP. The obvious rivals are few and far between, the VW Polo GT TSI, the first turbo-petrol hatchback; the Punto Abarth that, you will be surprised to note, is still on sale and the third turbo-petrol hatchback, the Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS. The Ford Figo S would also be a rival on the fun to drive front except Ford have discontinued that car. However when you consider the prices, Rs 6.39 lakh for the Tiago JTP and Rs 7.49 lakh for the Tigor JTP it emerges that there are no real rivals to JTSV’s first cars. Forget undercutting the Polo GT TSI, Baleno RS and Abarth Punto, the Tiago JTP undercuts the similarly-equipped (but far less powerful) Swift by nearly a lakh of rupees. The era of affordable performance is finally upon us Indians!
“Total power has increased by 25bhp over the standard petrol Tiago and Tigor”
Turbo petrols star in the JTP story of Tata Tiago and Tigor
JTSV’s mandate is clear – evaluate existing product lines, rummage through the parts bin and deliver ‘more joy, more torque, more performance’. JTP. Get it. Nagbhushan Gubbi, CEO of JTSV is very clear when he says, “We don’t want to create a brand new product”. What J Anand did was shoehorn the Nexon’s 1.2-litre 3-cylinder turbo-petrol engine into the Tiago and Tigor, not an easy task which we will come to later. With power bumped up to 112.4bhp thanks to completely revised intake, exhaust and ECU mapping the total power has increased by 25bhp over the standard petrol Tiago and Tigor.
Torque gone up significantly over the standard cars to 150Nm, but this is lower than the Nexon’s 170Nm. The latter makes no sense to me but the justification is 170Nm results in lots of wheel spin and – I’m assuming here – the loads are too much for the drivetrain and suspension components. These JTP cars are products of JTSV and the warranty (same as the regular Tiago and Tigor) will be honoured by JTSV – they’re being really careful that claims don’t bust the new baby.
With a kerb weight of 1016kg the power to weight is 110.6 bhp-per-tonne, 100kmph takes 10 seconds and top speed is in the region of 170kmph – none of which are earth shattering if we’re being very honest. But with the Tiago JTP undercutting the similarly equipped Swift petrol by a fair margin (and the Baleno RS massively) the the game changes completely. At this price the only thing that will come anywhere close to making you smile is the Figo S – and that has been discontinued!
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Styling led by Pratap Bose and his team
Being partial to the hot hatch genre I first take the wheel of the Tiago JTP. There’s actually no difference between the JTP versions of the Tiago and Tigor, apart from the boot (of course) and climate control on the latter. To my eye, at least, the JTP’d Tigor looks really, really good. Done under the supervision of Pratap Bose’s design team (Pratap sits on the board of JTSV) the new bumpers have developed appropriately swollen nostrils while the gloss black inserts and grille contrast very well with the appropriately red launch colour. There are side skits, contrast colours on the wing mirrors, twin exhaust tips and a (faux) diffuser on the rear bumper but sadly, for the boy racer in me, no obnoxious rear wing. The bonnet has an air vent and so too do the front wings, both serve a genuine purpose of extracting hot air. The wheels have been upsized to 15 inches and are a wider 185-section so they fill out the arches much better, and look meaty. The ride height though remains the same, the gap from the top of the wheel arch to the tyre is a tad too much, and visually it does ride too high.
On the interiors not much has changed. There are new seats with JTP logos that aren’t good at all, digging into the top of my back, and the seating position is way too high. The clocks have JTP logos on them, the steering wheel is fatter, leather wrapped and gets subtle red stitching, the dash has red inserts, the pedals are aluminium, the Tiago gets the Tigor’s infotainment (not available on the regular Tiago), and that’s about it. It needs more va-va-voom, definitely needs to look and feel more sporty on the inside.
“Coimbatore even gets representation on the JTP logo, outline of the Kari Motor Speedway forming the background”
Coimbatore, the home and heart of JTP
Jayem Automobiles are based in Coimbatore and the Kari Motor Speedway was used extensively in development of the cars. Coimbatore even gets representation on the JTP logo, outline of the Kari Motor Speedway forming the background. For now though the complete logo is only visible on the engine valve cover but I’ve made a strong enough pitch for it to replace the Tata ‘T’ on the steering wheel. “We used the motorsport rally roads, the winding roads near Palladam (the iconic windmill rally stage), and the race track”, says Anand. “What can happen on the torture track, it can happen here much quicker.”
Nagbhushan Gubbi, CEO of JTSV points out that while development happened at the track the intent was always to make a road car hence the ground clearance that only went down by 4mm so that speedbreakers and bad roads aren’t a problem, while the stiffer suspension didn’t compromise on ride quality.
“There is urgency, enthusiasm and a sense that everything has been done by enthusiasts. I genuinely mean that”
The JTP cars, in a word, feel alive
Put in into Sport mode (default City mode is too mild) and the revised mapping and throttle responses completely change the character of the Tiago. There is urgency, enthusiasm and a sense that everything has been done by enthusiasts. I genuinely mean that; I’m not being an over-excited puppy. Third gear is where the greatest joys lie, riding the torque and pulling hard and strong from 40 all the way to 120kmph, hints of turbo whistle permeating into the cabin above the (uninspiring) mechanical noises.
The gearbox is the old 5-speed ’box from the Bolt, the Nexon’s 6-speeder doesn’t fit. And in any case Anand wanted low-down punch, not sixth gear efficiency, the ratios of the 5-speeder being altered (read, lowered) to deliver low-down urgency. Anand has also tightened the linkages and eliminated Tata’s typical play to deliver a shift action that is positive, precise and direct. Anand shrugs when I ask why can’t all Tata gearboxes be like this.
I’d have liked more power
I definitely would like to have 500 more revs to play with as the limiter cuts in too early at 5800rpm. And I definitely, definitely want more exhaust noise. The latter, Anand says, he cannot do as now that he is a proper manufacturer making properly homologated cars he has to pass all the noise and sound regulations. Of course this engine is not as smooth, refined or creamy as the Polo GT TSI or Baleno RS. The gearbox is not as slick as the Suzuki either. But you don’t have to make excuses for the JTP, especially since the handling has transformed the car.
“The chassis never gets remotely close to tying itself in knots, the front end is more direct and responsive, and the grip levels are really high”
Motorsport-inspired lessons transform the handling
It is the magic done to the suspension that truly makes the car come alive. The suspension geometry – toe-in, caster, camber – all have been revised, the dampers have revised valving making it stiffer and tyre suppliers like MRF went through 7 iterations before delivering exactly what Anand and his band of Coimbatore testers (including an ex-F1 driver) demanded. Both the Tigor and Tiago sit beautifully on the road at top speed, it rides bumps at top speed with a firm hand, the chassis never gets remotely close to tying itself in knots, the front end is more direct and responsive, and the grip levels are really high.
Available now from 32 dealers
JTP cars will be the halo around Tata Motors and will be sold via select Tata Motors dealerships, 32 for now. The warranty and service costs will remain the same as regular Tata Motors cars and the idea is not to make something hardcore for the enthusiast and in the bargain lose the regular car buyer who might be tempted by the added power of the Tigor JTP (lack of power has been a big complaint of Tigor customers) or the improved styling of the Tiago JTP. We want to bring the joy back into motoring says Vivek Srivatsa, board member of JTSV and marketing head at Tata Motors.
Fact is both the JTP cars feel remarkably different from their donors, and if you’re muttering under your breath that that’s not saying much, I’ll add that you will not find a car that comes close to matching its smiles-per-rupee ratio.