The Tata’s Nex(t)on test – Can they capture the compact SUV market?

Today Tata Motors is not even a fly in the ointment of India’s favourite automobile segment – the compact SUV. But it has decided that enough is enough and aims to alter this scenario in their favour with the launch of their own compact SUV, the Nexon. Karthick Annamalai drove the Nexon and filed this report…

It is easy to forget that once upon a time in India, the SUV space was ruled by Tata Motors – They had a monopoly and with the Sierra, then the Sumo and the Safari and ruled the roost in a barren SUV landscape. But that is history. The Tatas werepushed into oblivion by the flurry of SUV’s from both the home-grown and MNCnewbies in the automobile industry in India. These are compact comfortable frugal and affordable – from the mighty Fortuner to the KUV 100 and even the tiny Ignis, not forgetting the latest entrant – the Jeep Compass which has stolen a march over its rivals with its styling, handling and aggressive pricing. First it was Mahindra and Mahindra that pushed it to the wall with its Scorpio range and later on the other automobile manufacturers cashed in on the growing craze for SUV’s and pushed them over the edge. Tata Motors gave up and went completely on to the back foot.

It took some time for them to realize that the consumer’s love for ladder frame and rugged SUVs is over, and that the pseudo SUV’s that are half cars and half carriers are the flavour of the season. Once this realization dawned, the Tata’s did not leave any stone unturned to produce one these favourites and they might just have come up with a winner with their newest offering – the Tata Nexon following winner in the Tiago and Tigor hatchbacks.

Design

When the Nexon concept was unveiled at the 2016 Auto expo, it was clearly one of hottest cars discussed. The Nexon production variant looks like the concept. It earns a lot of praise for its spectacular design. It is distinct and jaw dropping from most angles. The chrome runs all through the front of the Nexon. The ceramic strip which runs along the belt line flows on the rear too. Along with the sloping roof, this gives the Nexon a coupe like lovable style. But the lighthouse and ceramic accent sometime reminds us of its competitor Vitara Brezza.

Interior and comfort

Interior design too is centredonthe gun metal strip which runs across the dashboard. The upper part of the dashboard is eye catching however the crude plastics on the lower part are not typical for a compact SUV. The glove box is large and it doesn't drop but unlocks in two step manner to prevent documents from dropping out. The instrument panel is the usual but I would have preferred a slightly larger and chunky steering wheel instead of the Tiago lift currently installed.

The touch screen ICE system is compatible with android auto, navigation and reverse camera (you don't have to slot the reverse gear to watch what’s in the way). The position of start/stop button and aux ports is weird. The Harman audio is good but not exhilarating and the touchscreen sometimes lags behind if you are in a hurry.

Storage spaces in the cabin are limited- the door pockets are shallow. On the other hand, the boot space is large it can almost swallow a washing machine. Ingress and egress is tough especially for rear passengers as the sloping roof demands some learning from Baba Ramdev before passengers can get out of the vehicle.

Engine

The Turbo petrol mill (1.2L, Turbocharged, 110bhp,170Nm) under the hood of the Nexon is quite punchy but it took lots of downshifts to overtake and to climb up the steep Ghats of Idukki.The Nexon offers three driving modes - Eco, City and Sport – to suit any driving need that may arise. The modes go beyond the notional – the button actually changes the character of the engine response which is a positive. The sport mode is rev friendly and the city mode demands more gear shifts from you to stay in the power band. Also the 6th gear seems strictly limited to highway driving.

The Nexon diesel (1.5L)is punchy too and it brings loads of torque once you cross 1500 rpm. To sum it up, you won't feel discriminated against when you choose either of the fuel engines. However the NVH isvery pooron both models. Road noise too creeps in disturbing the overall premium feel of Nexon. The gearbox however lags and passes on mild vibration from the engine.

Ride and Handling

Since the advent of the Tiago, Tata engineers seem to have cracked the balance between ride and handling. Nexon shines with its sharp handling and 209mm ground clearance. Body roll is not prominent and one can attack corners with confidence.

The steering begins resisting as the needle of the speedo climbs. You can also move over any potholes/speed breakers without scraping the underbody. We drove the Nexon on the Ghats in Kerala and within Cochin city. The result - we could test the Nexon’sride ability and handling over sharp corners but not it’s high speed stability.

Special Features

The Nexon comes with a fitbit type unique watch which can be used to operate the vehicle without the hassle of carrying a key. Electrically operated mirrors, the touch screen system, DRLs and projector headlamps are value additions. A 12V power point and rear air conditioning vents are useful amenities.

Verdict:

Despite its cons like poor plastics, lack of features and poor NVH, the Nexon ticks all the right boxes for the segment. Consumers which this segment consumer will love. Nexon is presents a pleasant look and feel, features a punchy engine,glides over potholes with ease and the ride and handling is good. Tata shouldn't miss the opportunity to make Nexon a winner in this hotly contested segment with sensitive pricing, good marketing and aftersales support, else the finicky consumers that populate this segment could give it a miss for a good product alone is not sufficient to draw in the crowd. Booking commenced on September 11th and time will tell whether the Tata’s have found a winner in the Nexon. We think they just might have if they price it right.

 


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