Tata Punch First Drive Review: Ignis, S-Presso, Magnite, Kiger rival driven
India is in the midst of an SUV craze like nothing we’ve ever seen which means you would have to be crazy — or very brave — to launch anything but an SUV. It’s the reason why Tata Motors have been fuelling most of their resources into SUVs and with their latest offering, the Tata Punch, the company is set to enter this fiercely competitive segment. With rivals including hatchbacks like the S-Presso and compact-SUVs like the Magnite, it's time to find out whether Tata’s micro-SUV has what it takes to cut it in this segment.
Design of the Tata Punch
Remember the HBX concept at the 2020 Auto Expo? That’s where we first caught the first glimpse of the Tata Punch and with the production car, not much has changed on the design front. Of course, the Punch does not get all the concept car bling from the HBX like the bull bars and off-road tyres, but apart from that it looks very similar. Borrowing inspiration from Tata's other SUVs, the Nexon, Harrier and Safari, the Punch certainly feels like an SUV.The split headlights resemble those on the Harrier and Safari, as do the neatly integrated DRLs. The front bumper also features Y-design motifs while the bottom of the bumper neatly houses the fog lamps. The plastic cladding around the bumper also lends the Punch an unmistakably SUV character, which actually continues through with the rest of the body. The rear door handles of the Punch are hidden inside the rear doors, near the C pillar, adding to the styling front. You also get 16-inch diamond cut alloy wheels filling up the wheel arches nicely and run on meaty 195-section tyres. Move over to the rear and there are more similarities to the family SUV design language, such as the LED tail lights which remind you of the Nexon.
Interiors of the Tata Punch
On the inside too, the Tata Punch retains elements from the HBX concept, including the square AC vents and the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Developed in partnership with Harman, the unit is intuitive to use though there is a bit of lag while scrolling through the different menus and functions. It integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though neither is wireless, along with the usual host of connectivity features. The Punch also gets a good sound system, with four speakers and two tweeters. You also get Tata’s iRA connected car technology, which is a voice command function and has natural voice tech, to understand different accents. This cabin also bears familiarity with that of the Tata Altroz. There is plenty of space on offer in the Punch, with the front seats being nice and supportive while also getting adjustable height for the driver’s seat, allowing for a nice commanding position and great road visibility. This micro-SUV also gets plenty of headroom, legroom and shoulder room — to give you a sense of perspective, the Punch is almost as spacious as the Nissan Magnite and the Renault Kiger. You get a flat floor too, which makes seating three in the back all the more comfortable. In terms of creature comforts, you miss out on rear air con vents and USB charging slots. However, you do get 90-degree opening doors, making ingress and egress from the Punch an absolute breeze.
Engine of the Tata Punch
For now, the Tata Punch is only powered by the naturally aspirated 3-cylinder 1199cc Revotron petrol engine we’ve already seen in the Tiago and Altroz. The performance of this engine has never been particularly exciting, and it’s a similar story with the Punch as well. Power remains the same at 85bhp and and torque at 113Nm, but it now features what Tata Motors calls Dyna-Pro technology. This essentially is ram-air induction to provide the engine with more fresh (and cool) air, to deliver smoother power delivery along with better low end torque and better efficiency too. And, when compared to the Altroz, it actually does make a difference. You also get the option of an AMT with the Punch, in addition to the manual gearbox.
Performance of the Tata Punch
The Punch is no rocket out of the blocks, with a claimed 0-100kmph time of 16.5 seconds. However, it doesn’t feel too bad on the road. The power delivery is linear and the word that I can best use to describe the performance is ‘adequate’. The power delivery never feels urgent, with the engine chugging along in a relaxed manner instead, without feeling completely unresponsive. There’s enough torque throughout the powerband to keep you moving without the need to downshift very often, at least in regular traffic conditions. We drove the car on the outskirts of Mumbai with mostly flowing traffic and the Punch managed pretty well. Quick overtakes do require a downshift, but that’s the nature of a small-capacity petrol engine. The shift quality on the manual gearbox is pretty smooth and the ratios are well matched to this engine. What’s also a noticeably good thing is the lack of sound from the engine. Typically three-pot engines are a bit on the louder side, but the Punch manages to keep things pretty quiet until you go high up in the rev range. With the AMT, things get further relaxed as you drive the Punch. Throttle response is a bit delayed every time you put your foot down, but the Punch’s potential buyers are not likely to be the enthusiastic type – but rather someone who’ll want a relaxed commute. The AMT gearbox cannot match the shift speeds of a traditional torque converter, but it gets the job done. Tata Motors say they worked on the tuning of the AMT to ensure smoother shifts and it shows. The typical head toss effect associated with AMTs has been curbed to a large extent and shifts are pretty smooth for the most part. You also get a manual mode, but response in that mode is actually not as smooth. Both gearboxes get two driving modes, accompanied by the lovely lady from the voice command centre reminding you which mode you are in. If you haven’t heard her, check out our YouTube video review here. City mode is the default mode and you have the option of switching to Eco mode, which cuts some power and increases fuel efficiency. Unless you’re absolutely low on fuel and need to get to a petrol pump which isn’t too close, this mode is best avoided as it saps a lot of power from the engine. Additionally, the manual version of the Tata Punch gets an auto start-stop function which can turn off the engine while you wait in traffic, while keeping other car functions running. The AMT version does not get this, offering something that’s a first for a car in this segment and probably a segment above too — Traction Pro mode. What this does is, if you ever find yourself in a sticky situation where one wheel loses traction or grip, it gives you the option to lock that wheel and send power only to the wheel which has grip. This can be done very easily via the infotainment screen, which gives you a prompt once the ECU detects slip. You then need to keep your left foot on the brake, while gently accelerating. It does make a difference and Tata Motors had set up an off-road course on our first drive to demonstrate this and the other off-road abilities of the Punch.
Off-road with the Tata Punch
Before talking about the on road manners of the Punch, let me tell you about what’s really going to make this little SUV stand out from the competition. And that’s the way it can hold its own when off-road. With an approach angle of 20.3 degrees and departure angle of 37.6 degrees, The Punch can do stuff that you wouldn’t expect a little car to ever be put through. Skeptical old me had to admit that the ‘DNA of an SUV’ is not mere marketing speak, with the Punch coming across as uncommonly versatile for a vehicle of this type. We tackled some pretty steep gradients and the Punch just sailed through it all. Even the water wading capability is 370mm, which is much better than similarly-sized cars. All this-off road ability will translate to the Punch being a really versatile little thing in real world conditions, especially in rural parts. No doubt the generous 187mm ground clearance is another factor that contributes to the Punch’s SUV credentials.
Driving the Tata Punch
Most buyers of the Punch would be spending their time in the urban jungle and that’s where the ride and handling package really stands out. The Punch is built on the same ALFA architecture as the Altroz and we’ve already seen how well it handles our roads. With the added SUV-tweaks, the Punch takes things a step forward. Although it will sit at the entry point of the range, the Punch rarely makes you feel you’re driving something that has been built to a cost. It rides with the same balance and poise as bigger vehicles, absorbing bumps and undulations with relative ease while transmitting very little into the cabin. This is also thanks to those 16-inch alloy wheels which are wrapped in high profile tyres. There is a bit of road noise that enters the cabin once you pick up some speed, but it’s nothing that causes concern. Out on the highway, the Punch rides with the maturity and sophistication of a much bigger car. It feels extremely stable even as you cross triple digit speeds. This is something we’ve come to love from all Tata Motors cars — their excellent highway manners — and the Punch definitely carries this legacy forward. That said, you do have to work the engine and gearbox to ensure you can keep up decent speeds once you get going. The good thing is, the excellent suspension allows you to carry speed even on bad patches of roads and this capability will be a draw for many potential buyers.
As for the handling it is what you’d expect from a tall boy like the Punch. It has been softly sprung to give it great ride quality and that obviously means a little compromise in terms of the way it handles. The SUV heritage does come into play here too, but not necessarily in a positive way this time. There is plenty of body roll as you enter a corner, though the Punch does not feel unstable unless really provoked. Another thing I must point out is that the thick A-pillars are set a fair way forward, which can create a blind spot on tight corners. And the driving position itself doesn’t encourage you to be too aggressive. This makes the Punch feel more like an easy rider and so does the light steering action, which makes it easy to drive. The steering is linear, but devoid of much feel or feedback, while the brakes are pleasantly firm and don’t have the overly sensitive feel that a lot of modern-day cars tend to have. To sum up the handling, I would say it’s more functional than entertaining, getting the job done, without much fuss.
As a small family car for mostly urban use and the occasional trip out of town, the Tata Punch makes a very good case for itself. Though looks are a matter of personal taste, we think the aggressive SUV styling works really well and gets away from the small car status quo. It is, from most angles, a good looking SUV and has loads of space despite the compact footprint. The rear seat is accommodating and will be comfortable for adults even on longer journeys, even if they may complain about the lack of air vents. But nobody is going to complain about the way it rides and handles on our roads. As for its competition, the Punch will sit in a sweet spot rivalling cars starting from the Maruti Suzuki S-Presso, Swift and Ignis at one end and going all the way up to the Renault Kiger, Nissan Magnite and maybe even someone looking at Tata’s own Nexon. Tata Motors will reveal prices for the Punch on 28th October, and our guess is that it would be priced aggressively, at just above ₹5 lakh for the base model.