Go big or go home | Tata Altroz diesel

Is a diesel hatchback still relevant on the modern expressways of India? We take the Altroz diesel to the Samruddhi Mahamarg to find out
Go big or go home | Tata Altroz diesel
Shot by Abhishek Benny

We are exploring two Indian rarities – a fast expressway and a diesel hatchback. We are taking the Tata Altroz diesel for a quick round trip on the newly built Samruddhi Mahamarg. We will be starting from Nagpur, the Nagpur-Shirdi patch is ready and fully functional. To bring you up to speed, once the expressway is fully constructed, it will connect Maharashtra’s summer capital, Mumbai, and its winter capital, Nagpur. With a total distance of about 700km, the expressway is massive – roughly 7.5 times longer than the Mumbai-Pune expressway. The Samuruddhi Mahamarg will make it easy to travel between the two cities and will give an impetus to logistics and trade. We chose the Altroz diesel because it makes perfect sense. Just like the expressway, the Tata Altroz breaks conventions. While the expressway will bring the travel time between the two cities down to just about six hours (from 15+ hours!), the Altroz diesel is the only diesel hatchback in the country today.

Shot by Abhishek Benny

The Altroz is easily one of the best-looking hatchbacks in India, however, we can’t draw the same parallel for the expressway. Unlike the Altroz, the expressway is purely functional. The Samurddhi Mahamarg is the fastest you can legally cover 700km in India. That means it is arrow straight wherever possible, and there’s not much to see around unless you decide to get off the highway. A casual motorist might find that incredibly boring and it is. Fortunately, the Altroz has a punchy motor, and the infotainment unit is sorted, which kept us entertained during our trip. The list doesn’t just end here. The Altroz has quite a few creature comforts to keep your mood up during a long road trip. One of its biggest features, according to Tata Motors, is iRA ― basically, the brand’s version of connected car tech. Right from locking and unlocking the car to vehicle diagnostics, it is aimed at enhancing the ownership experience. The Harman audio system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means you can play your favourite tunes and navigate seamlessly. Other features that make the Altroz more enjoyable to live with include 90-degree opening doors, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

Shot by Abhishek Benny

As for the expressway, we are sure the supporting infrastructure will come up in time, but for now, it is pretty bare-bones basic. There are surveillance cameras, road signs, access control and a smooth surface but nothing besides that to make the road trip a comfortable one. Unless you get off the highway, that is. It is crucial that you plan your journey well and fuel up completely the first chance you get – not so much a problem with the Altroz, a full tank will deliver close to 800km of range but you might want to if your car doesn’t. Due to the sheer function-over-form design on the highway, it can be mentally exhausting, and we all know how well it pairs with driving. So, take your time and your pace to enjoy the road and your car when you do it for the first few times, no matter how skilled you think you are. And carry a lot of strong coffee!

Tata Motors continues to champion the cause of diesels, even the small ones, and has made the Altroz diesel BS6.2-compliant. Not an easy task by any means and Tata Motors’ commitment is commendable considering all other diesel hatchbacks have taken a bow. To put things in perspective, no other car manufacturer in India has a diesel hatchback or a sedan at even four times the price of the Altroz. And before the environmentalists start screaming about diesel pollution, all BS6.2-compliant diesel cars are cleaner than the older petrol vehicles. BS6.2 emissions norms require vehicles to be equipped with more filters and selective catalytic reduction which decreases the tailpipe emissions. Parallels can be drawn to the Samruddhi Mahamarg, where it takes steps to preserve the environments it runs through. While the expressway passes through three wildlife sanctuaries and multiple animal habitats, it is India’s first expressway with wildlife corridors. These corridors will allow a safe passage for the animals to cross the expressway. The controlled access to the highway will also ensure animals don’t accidentally walk onto the tarmac. Win-win for all!

At the speeds you do on an expressway like this, safety is critical. The Altroz gets a five-star Global NCAP rating, making it one of the safest cars under `10 lakh and lending you plenty of peace of mind behind the wheel. But safety goes beyond just crash performance. Good dynamics are critical – after all, prevention is better than cure. The Tata Altroz sits unperturbed at 120kmph all day. The 88.7bhp, 200Nm, 1.5-litre turbo-diesel Revotorq motor makes it easy to reach triple-digit speeds and stay there. The gearbox is smooth which makes going through the gears easy as you pick up pace. The cabin NVH levels are quite low, and that is very important on journeys like this. The seats are well-designed to be comfortable over long distances and hold you well. The suspension ensures you are not bothered by the rather bumpy surface of the highway, and keeps the Altroz stable at speed. The steering has enough heft and inspires confidence. The seating position is comfortable with good adjustability. All the data and the controls are well within reach. Physical buttons and a knob for AC control make it easier to adjust the cabin temperature without much of a fuss.

Shot by Abhishek Benny

The semi-digital driver’s display shows everything you need without cluttering it up ― real-time fuel economy, average FE over a trip, distance to empty, the works. Not that you will have to worry about any of these with that frugal diesel engine. On the Samruddhi Mahamarg, belting the Altroz at 120kmph with cruise control on, at length, returned an economy of 20.25kmpl. Pretty impressive considering the speed, and we were out on a hot, sunny day in the peak of summer. Reduce the speed to a more relatable 80-100kmph, and you’ll see the fuel economy figure rising up easily by at least a couple of kmpl, if not more.

Shot by Abhishek Benny

The Altroz diesel gives us a third rarity - inexpensive road trips. It allows you to have a great road trip without burning a big hole in your pocket. If we were to look at the economy figures we were getting, it equates to a fuel cost of about `6500 for a 1400km return journey on this expressway in the Tata Altrol diesel. While talking costs, it is worth slipping in that at `55,335 crore, this is one of the most expensive road projects in Maharashtra.

Diesels are only getting better. Refinement levels have gone up, efficiency is easily 27 per cent better and diesel is cheaper compared to petrol. The more you drive your diesel car, the more rewarding it is. Top that up with buckets of torque compared to a petrol hatch and the Altroz makes a solid case for itself. The Altroz also comes with a three-year/1 lakh kilometre warranty, which can be increased by three more years and unlimited kilometres from 16,500, depending on when you buy it. That should make ownership that much more hassle-free.

Shot by Abhishek Benny

This road trip with the Altroz diesel was a timely reminder about the joys of owning a diesel. Efficient, cost-effective, but most importantly, fun to drive. A good diesel hatchback like the Altroz isn’t head over heart, or the other way around. It appeals to both, and that is what makes it so special.

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