Styling-wise, the Altroz remains the same
Styling-wise, the Altroz remains the sameShot by Rohit Mane for evo India

Tata Altroz iCNG first drive review

Tata Motors is betting big on CNG now with its innovative twin-cylinder CNG tanks. Should you buy one though? Read on to find out

When you research CNG hatchbacks in the country, amid the sea of Maruti Suzukis - everything from an Alto and an S-Presso to a Baleno, you will find a solitary Hyundai (Grand i10 Nios) and three Tata cars. The third Tata car here is the Altroz iCNG. The obvious question is - why don’t many manufacturers offer CNG vehicles, and especially among hatchbacks, why has everyone besides Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors stayed away? There are two simple reasons - boot space and long queues at CNG fuelling stations. While the government is addressing the latter, Tata Motors is the first to work on giving CNG hatchbacks their boot back.

Exterior styling of the Tata Altroz iCNG

Besides a badge on the boot, you don’t find any differences between the petrol/diesel Tata Altroz and the iCNG variant. The Altroz is the smartest looking hatchback in the segment in my opinion so Tata Motors didn’t have to change anything on the styling front. You get some really eye-catching colours, large 16-inch alloy wheels on the top variants, but even for the lower variants except for the base variant, you get 16 inch steel wheels, which gives the Altroz a nice stance. In profile you can see how this large hatchback manages space - a short engine bay allows for a large greenhouse and a generous boot.

The Altroz is a striking car to look at
The Altroz is a striking car to look atShot by Rohit Mane for evo India

Interior and features of the Tata Altroz iCNG

Step in and you are greeted with a large metallic silver paint on the dashboard that breaks the monotony of the interior. The layered dashboard still feels fresh however the gaps in the panels could be reduced. The screen is the same old display when competitors have moved to larger crisper displays. An update is due for the Altroz on the infotainment front and the iCNG should get it too this year. You will notice a few changes though - the Altroz iCNG gets wireless charging, however Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are still wired. You also get a sunroof that can operated by 26 English and Hindi voice commands. On the instrument cluster, you will see two fuel gauges - one for petrol and the other for CNG. The two tanks in the boot can store upto 10 kg of CNG. As you see the gauge run out of CNG, the fuel will automatically switch to petrol.

There’s an orange indicator on the cluster to indicate you are driving in CNG mode. Tata Motors should change the colour of the LED light as it looks like a warning light. There’s a switch on the right of the steering wheel to switch from CNG to petrol mode on the fly. You can also start the car in CNG mode, a feature you don’t get on any other CNG hatchback. This is possible because Tata Motors has engineered the car to run on one ECU instead of two. That makes the switch from CNG to Petrol also a seamless affair. 

The boot is where the magic happens. The Altroz iCNG gets two smaller CNG tanks instead of one. That means an additional connection and more weight in the boot but that also allowed Tata Motors to package the tanks neatly in the structure, and give a 210-litre boot with a flat floor. No manufacturer offers boot capacity numbers for the CNG hatchbacks as it is not possible to give enough space with a single tank. However with Tata Motors’ twin-cylinder technology, the boot space is usable, and is something every other manufacturer will try to replicate.

The Altroz iCNG gets a 210-litre boot with a flat floor
The Altroz iCNG gets a 210-litre boot with a flat floorShot by Rohit Mane for evo India

Chassis of the Tata Altroz iCNG

The rear structure of the Altroz iCNG had to be completely re-engineered to fit the two CNG tanks and ensure the crash-worthiness isn’t compromised. Tata Motors claims that the iCNG will also get 5 stars at the NCAP tests like the petrol/diesel Altroz. A lot of effort has gone into bolstering the monocoque around the tanks. We also like the way the enclosure is neatly tucked away. At first glance, you won’t even notice that there are CNG tanks under the floor. The other change Tata Motors have had to make is the access to the spare wheel, which now comes out from under the car. It’s neatly done with easy access from the boot of the car.

Engine, gearbox and performance of the Tata Altroz iCNG

The Altroz iCNG is powered by the same 3-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol motor that makes 87bhp and 115Nm of torque in petrol mode. In CNG mode, the figure drops to 72bhp and 103Nm. In city driving conditions, you don’t notice any lack of power. As you begin to pick up speed, above 80kmph is when there is noticeable lack of power. This car won’t set any thrill of driving benchmarks however as a city car for owners looking for low running costs, the iCNG doesn’t disappoint. The diesel engine in the Altroz will soon be axed with stricter emission norms coming in. The CNG Altroz is going to fill that gap in the portfolio, and Tata Motors is expecting 30 percent of the Altroz sales to come from the CNG variant. The 5-speed gearbox shifts well and the clutch is light, however you will be running through gears quite often to keep pace with traffic. If you are wondering why there is no automatic variant yet, that’s because the car is positioned to cater to the more economically conscious premium hatchback buyer. With the CNG variant already costing more than the petrol car, an automatic variant would price it out of contention.

Ride and handling of the Tata Altroz iCNG

With a full tank of petrol and a full tank of CNG, the weight in the back goes up considerably. When you go over speed breakers, in petrol/diesel hatchbacks, the front axle has to be taken at slow speed and then you accelerate knowing that the rear axle will lightly skip over the speed bump without creating a fuss about it. In CNG cars, since there is more weight on the rear axle, you need to be more gentle over speed breakers. You also need to be a bit more careful on bad roads and through potholes. Besides that, on the handling front, the Altroz has always been a nice car to hustle around bends. That doesn’t change with the CNG. Corner carving is a joy, the chassis feels tight and the steering feels eager to track a line through a corner. The Altroz is good fun on a winding road.

Altroz still offers a comfortable ride despite the added weight
Altroz still offers a comfortable ride despite the added weightShot by Rohit Mane for evo India

Fuel efficiency of the Tata Altroz iCNG

While official figures haven’t been announced, the company tells us that the Altroz iCNG will easily do over 600km on a full tank of petrol and CNG. That’s on par with what you’d get from a diesel Altroz. A recent Kirit Parikh panel recommendation led to a drop in CNG prices too, bringing down running costs of CNG cars considerably. The next pain point is the shortage of CNG stations in the country. The government is addressing this and has announced that by 2024, there will be over 8000 CNG fuelling stations in the country. Remember that back in 2014, there were less than 1000 such stations.

Should you buy the Tata Altroz iCNG

Prices start from Rs 7.55 lakh ex-showroom and go up to Rs 10.55 lakh for the top spec variant. Tata Motors has addressed the boot space issue in CNG cars with their neat packaging solution. Two tanks in the boot don’t just free up boot space, they also are well engineered and tucked away, and built to maintain the safety standards Tata Motors is known for. CNG car sales are rising with rising running costs and that brings it down to one simple question - would you buy a premium hatchback and still go CNG? If your answer is yes, the Altroz iCNG right now is the best offering out there.

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