The Thrill of Diesel Part 2: Driving the Altroz, Nexon and Harrier on the road

How good are the diesel Tata Altroz, Nexon and Harrier in delivering the Thrill of Driving? We find out on a road trip to the home of Indian motorsport, the MMRT
Two full tanks were enough for the Pune to Chennai journey including the track day
Two full tanks were enough for the Pune to Chennai journey including the track dayShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

The one thing that Tata Motors have always done well is ride and handling. It’s probably down to Indian engineers working on Indian cars for us Indians to use on typical Indian roads but their cars have always dealt with Indian highways really well. And the Altroz, with its new Alfa architecture, continues in the same vein.

To start with, I was skeptical. Hatchbacks are meant for the city with the occasional Mumbai — Pune, Delhi — Jaipur or Bangalore — Chennai drive thrown in. In fact, I cannot even recall the last time I did a long drive in a hatchback, but by the time we finished the Pune to Kolhapur stretch I was convinced Tata Motors have nailed it with this new platform. This stretch of the NH4 has some terribly broken patches that assault you without warning and the first couple of times the suspension takes a solid whack before we slow down and keep our eyes peeled for the next moonscape section. But confirming our impressions from our recent comparison test (which it won, by the way), the Altroz soaks it all up very well, far better than any hatchback has any right to. There is a dynamic sophistication that not only delivers compliance but banishes audible thuds and thunks, all of which makes it feel safe. And it is safe, scoring a full 5 stars in the Global NCAP crash tests — a big, big reason to recommend it. This all-new platform has been lightened in keeping with trends but it doesn’t come at the expense of a planted and confident stance. There is no float and wallow over wavy patches and the steering weight is well-judged. The weightsaving also means the 89bhp Revotorq motor delivers quick acceleration on the highway and more importantly (for cruising), there is strong mid-range punch. We stick it in fifth gear, the engine silently spinning at around 2000rpm, maintains a double-digit cruise, and comfortably keeps pace with the SUVs.

Missed Part 1? Click here to find out what the Thrill of Diesel really is

'New Normal' means picnics by the side of the road
'New Normal' means picnics by the side of the roadShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

SUVs that feel like SUVs

What is an SUV supposed to feel like? To me, in the main, an SUV has to feel robust. Not that you will be taking your SUV off the road every day, but regular roads deliver plenty of offroad patches and with frightening regularity. An SUV needs to have the suspension compliance and ride sophistication to take a couple of whacks without feeling like the dampers are going to punch holes through their mounts. And of course, with average highway speeds having gone up, you don’t want a floaty, boat-y feel while gunning it in a straight line.

The Nexon, it feels like an SUV. This isn’t a 4x4 so don’t even go there, but it doesn’t feel like a re-engineered hatchback with raised ground clearance. In our comparison tests we placed the Nexon at the very top for dynamic ability, delivering a ride quality that bests not only its immediate rivals but also mid-size SUVs from a class above. It not only soaks in potholes but the secondary ride — small imperfections that you don’t notice from a moving car — is really very good and that means you just don’t get tired on long drives, aided also by a very good driving position, good visibility and comfortable seats.

The Revotorq, Tata Motors’ in-house engine, gets 108.5bhp while 260Nm of torque peaks at 1500rpm and stays flat till 2750rpm. Stick it in Sport and you are gently pushed into the seat when you floor it, the 10 extra horses delivering a noticeable difference in the turn of speed. The torque along with the 6-speed manual gearbox also delivers a long-legged feel for easy highway cruising.

I must also mention that the Nexon was the first Indian car to score a full 5 stars in the Global NCAP crash test ratings, backing up everything we said about it when we gave it the gold trophy at the 2017 Car of the Year awards. ESP is standard and includes traction control, roll-over mitigation, hill hold control and also emergency brake assist. And it is also feature loaded. You get an AMT, the largest spread of variants with the diesel engine and the most affordable variant with a sunroof that enhances the sense of space in the already generous cabin.

Land Rover genes!

Credibility, that’s what the Harrier has. The Omega architecture is derived from Land Rover’s D8 platform and if you had to borrow SUV genes you could hardly do any better than the Discovery Sport. Just before the lockdown kicked in, I did a Pune-Goa-Pune drive in the Disco Sport and was so impressed by it, I put together a video on how India is SUV country and the Land Rover fits the bill perfectly. The Harrier, it delivers nearly all of that at a third of the price!

The Tata Nexon offers a great driving position
The Tata Nexon offers a great driving positionShot by Rohit G Mane for evo India

The way the Harrier hammers over broken highways is absolutely astonishing. I thought the Nexon was good but in the Harrier, you don’t have to slow down. At all. You see premium ladder-frame SUVs slowing down, trying to weave around the potholes, but the Harrier… you just keep going. On the way back from Bangalore to Pune I wrote half this story in the passenger seat of the Harrier, and then drove it non-stop from Belgaum to Pune with a 20-minute chai, wada pav and fuel break at Kolhapur. No, this isn’t a testament to any driving skills but a showcase of how effortlessly excellent the Harrier is at mile munching. The headlights are fantastic (reinforcing my belief that regular halogens work best in India), the JBL sound system is punchy, and four days and 2800km later my enthusiasm for the Harrier has only gone up. My only real criticism is the brakes feel spongy and the steering is too light and lacking in feel but otherwise the Harrier is super-comfortable, visibility is great and the punch from the 168bhp engine is superb. Even the automatic gearbox is perfectly matched to the engine and the general character of the car, never delaying on downshifts and being very smooth and relaxed all the time.

Stay tuned for Part 3, to see how the Tata Altroz, Nexon and Harrier deliver thrills on a race and rally track.

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