FIRST DRIVE REVIEW: 2020 Tata Harrier Automatic, with more power to take on MG Hector
This is what the Tata Harrier should have had right at the start! In fact, Tata Motors’ marketing head Vivek Srivatsa minces no words when he tells me, “We want to recover on lost opportunities.” And the lost opportunity wasn’t so much the engine power as the inexplicable lack of an automatic gearbox. In fact, over the course of the day, I discover that Tata Motors is still holding bookings for the Harrier made in late 2018. No, that isn’t a typo! Apparently, people who booked the Harrier at the very start, before realising it only had a manual gearbox, told Tata Motors to keep their Rs 30,000 deposit on the condition that that they’d be at the head of the queue when the automatic eventually hit the showrooms.
I can confirm they made a wise decision. Tata Motors have used the opportunity forced on by the BS6 transition to comprehensively update the Harrier and the 2020 version not only gets the auto ’box and more features to compete with the MG Hector but also sorts out some product issues including NVH and the ergonomic glitches.
Check out the evo India Youtube video for the Tata Harrier here below
170PS and a 6-speed automatic gearbox
So why did Tata Motors opt for the 138bhp spec of the FCA-built 2-litre diesel engine in the first place? Turns out it was done to ensure good fuel efficiency though, also turns out, most Harrier owners are actually more concerned about power, especially since they all know this same engine is also there in the Jeep Compass and MG Hector. With the BS6 upgrade the Harrier will now only be available with the 168bhp (170PS) spec of the engine which makes a definite impression when you smash the throttle all the way down. Acceleration from a standing start is smart, with a 0-100kmph time in the region of 11.5 seconds with the auto 'box. In fact now there’s enough power to make the front wheels squirm with torque steer, even in second gear when the engine comes on boost. The torque steer is never unmanageable but it is a welcome addition, a clear indication that the 2020 Harrier is now a quick SUV.
While the torque remains the same at 350Nm, Tata Motors have addressed the NVH issues — something that we had highlighted as a negative when we compared it with the Hector. The noise levels have gone down significantly and cruising on the highway the engine is not at all intrusive. In fact it is only during hard acceleration that you can hear the engine, otherwise it is well isolated. And the only time I felt vibrations was when the auto ’box was in sport mode — with the foot on the brake as you would at the traffic lights there is a fair bit of vibrations through the steering wheel and seats, like the engine is straining at a leash.
The automatic gearbox is a 6-speed unit sourced from Hyundai, a unit that we have plenty of (positive) experience of from the Tucson. Now, of course, the Tucson gets an 8-speed ’box. The 6-speeder is well matched to the power delivery and torque curves so the Harrier never feels out of breath, never drops out of the meat of the power band and you’re never struggling for a downshift. It isn’t as quick as a twin-clutch DCT automatic but for an SUV of the Harrier’s positioning and get-go, it does everything asked of it. It doesn’t drain the engine of its power. You get a manual mode when you tip the gear lever to the left, which activates Sport mode (default is City and there’s also an Eco mode) that quickens throttle responses, lets revs go all the way to the redline, holds on to gears while attacking a set of corners and even downshifts smartly when you leave it to its own devices. In fact the shift speeds of the auto are on par with the manual with an identical 0-100kmph time of 11.5 seconds.
On the fuel efficiency front, the manual delivers 16.35kmpl while the automatic delivers 14.63kmpl. And there’s no sign of a petrol engine with Tata Motors officials pointing out “horror stories” around the fuel efficiency of small turbo-petrol engines in SUVs (no prizes for guessing who they are referring to).
Panoramic sunroof and ergonomic issues addressed
Going by the current trends, it seems nothing will sell in India without a panoramic sunroof! This in a country where the summers are endless as they are blazing! The ways of the Indian customer are baffling to say the least, but Tata Motors have listened to their customers and given the Harrier the largest sunroof in its class. They claim it is even bigger than the Hector’s and it does make the Harrier far more airy and seem more spacious. There is no voice activation like on the Hector but it does get anti-pinch, a tint to shield the cabin from the Indian sun, rain sensors to shut it in the rain and auto close when you lock the doors and forget to shut the sunroof. The fact that the Harrier has noticeably better NVH is all the more commendable considering a big sunroof does let a fair bit of noise enter the cabin. However it is stuff like this, sourced from suppliers in China, that has slowed down production of the Harrier as supplies of components to the entire Indian automotive industry have been hit by the Corona virus.
Now to the ergonomics. The USB socket has been repositioned so you don’t have to engage in gymnastics to plug in your phone, though that does restrict access to the tray ahead of the gear lever. The wing mirrors on the Harrier were enormous, elephant ears as some called it, resulting in massive blind spots in your peripheral vision, sometimes even completely hiding bikes in your immediate vicinity. Those mirrors have now been reduced in size, without really compromising on rear visibility, and the blind spots, while not eliminated, have been reduced to a large extent. The driver’s seat now has power adjust and mated to the excellent driving position you do get excellent visibility that makes city driving far easier than before.
The things they’ve left untouched is the aircraft-style handbrake lever which is still a pain to operate and has a mat underneath it that looks like it has been cut by hand. Your knees are ever-so-slightly twisted to the left, something you get used to very quickly, and the footwell doesn’t have enough space for a dead pedal on the manual. And it cannot match up to the massive infotainment screen on its main rival. In fact the space given to Apple CarPlay on the touch screen is so small that all the icons become too tiny to operate easily — the proportions of the screen don’t match with what Apple uses so there’s a lot of dead space on either side of the screen.
Excellent ride and handling balance
The thing I always liked about the Harrier was its balance of ride and handling and that continues unchanged with the 2020 Harrier. The ground clearance has gone down due to shifting of some components in the BS6 transformation though I didn’t find any issues with the clearance when we went off-road to get some of the pictures you see here.
The Harrier still delivers the best ride quality in this segment, a little firm at low speeds but once you pick up speed it steamrolls over everything. In fact we had the Mercedes GLE on test at the same time as the Harrier and the Tata rode over potholes and broken patches even better than the steel-sprung Merc, which really amazed us! You can carry huge speeds over typically broken Indian state highways without either the Harrier or your passengers screaming at you to slow down. There is no pitch and wallow and even the steering, while not overflowing with feel, does deliver some degree of feedback and doesn’t feel overly weighted.
All of this doesn’t mean the Harrier freezes at the sight of a corner. There is body roll, a fair bit of it, but there is also good grip and you can carry rather high speeds through bends. The only downside are the brakes. On our test car the spongy feel robbed you of confidence, repeated heavy braking resulted in significant brake fade, and the actual braking distances should have been shorter too. On the upside all variants of the Harrier get ESP as standard and then there’s that Terrain Mode dial which delivers different engine maps for wet roads and off-road terrain, though this remains a FWD SUV with no sign of 4x4 in the foreseeable future.
20 lakh rupees ex-showroom
Is a lot of money for the top-end automatic Harrier and, I fear, that could be pushing the affordability envelope for a Harrier customer. That said, the 2020 Tata Harrier is finally sorted. This is what it should have been right at the start but then again, better late than never, and the fact that the Harrier never really took off means it still looks fresh. In fact this is still the best looking SUV in the segment and the red, even more so the black, makes it properly stunning. The 2020 Harrier, especially with the automatic, is now an excellent SUV to do long distances in India with — comfortable, fatigue-free, excellent visibility and the robust Land Rover-derived underpinnings to fly over the speed breakers and potholes that come at you unannounced. And on the peace of mind front, Tata Motors will also extend the standard two-year / unlimited mileage warranty to five years and unlimited kilometres for just Rs 25,690. No reason not to recommend a Harrier any more!
Here is the walk around video for the Tata Harrier here below