Tata Harrier diesel-automatic review, test drive
16th Mar 2020 9:03 am
The updated 2020 Harrier gets a more powerful 170hp diesel engine, a new 6-speed automatic transmission and loads more kit. But just how much of an improvement is it?
- Make : Tata
- Model : Harrier
What is it?
The Tata Harrier created a big buzz when launched over a year ago. Attractively priced, attractively styled and with Land Rover pedigree, the company’s new SUV was a tantalizing prospect that landed smack in the middle of the SUV boom. However, Tata Motors couldn’t quite cash in on the huge interest in its flagship product and sales didn’t take off as expected. There was no automatic option available and some important features were missing. Also, the Harrier had a few rough edges like a noisy engine and some owners faced quality niggles that cropped up early on.
In an effort to redress these shortcomings Tata Motors has upgraded the 2020 Harrier with a raft of improvements and is confident it can now achieve its true potential. For starters, the power output of the 2.0-litre Multijet diesel, which is now BS6-compliant, has been bumped up from 140hp to 170hp (though torque is unchanged at 350Nm) putting it at par with the competition. But the big news is that you can finally buy the Harrier with an automatic transmission which the company feels could account for as much as fifty percent of sales. The other big miss was a sunroof and to make up for not having one at launch, Tata Motors has given the Harrier what it claims is the largest panoramic sunroof in its class with a rain sensing and anti-pinch function. The driver's seat is now powered and ESP or electronic stability control is now standard across the range. But just how much better do all these upgrades make the 2020 Harrier and just how much nicer is to drive. These and other important questions answered in our review below.
What's it like to drive?
Refinement or rather the lack of it was an issue with the earlier Harrier and Tata Motors whilst upgrading the engine to BS6 has also worked hard to reduce or improve the overall Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH). The improvements centre around three changes; the engine mounts are now a bit softer, additional sound insulation material has been used and most importantly, the injection of timing of BS6 engine has been calibrated to give more progressive combustion to reduce that harsh diesel clatter.
The improvement in NVH is immediately noticeable from the moment you fire up the engine which is much quieter than before throughout its rev range.
The clutch feels a touch smoother than before but it’s still a bit heavy and the clutch engagement is not as progressive as we would have liked. This issue is in fact, common with other Fiat 2.0 Multijet powered SUVs including the Hector and Compass.
What you also instantly notice is the additional 30hp this engine puts out. There is still a fair bit of turbo lag below 2,000rpm but there’s a stronger tug from the get-go and once you get into the meat of the powerband, the Harrier pulls strongly to the rather lofty (for a diesel) redline of 5,000rpm.
The improvement in performance is tangible and a quick test we conducted revealed a 0-100kph sprint time of 11.25 seconds as against 12.24 seconds for the 140hp version and the the gap keeps growing beyond that speed. The gearing remains unchanged which means, the extra grunt with the same stack of ratios gives the Harrier strong in-gear acceleration or overtaking capability.
The drive modes work particularly well here too and the gap between them feel most pronounced on part throttle. This is especially true in Sport where the engine feels especially willing and responsive whilst for those interested in greater economy, Eco mode is quite useable in city traffic.
The big surprise is the new, Hyundai-sourced six speed automatic which feels brilliantly integrated with the Fiat engine. Step off from rest is smooth and seamless which enhances the Harrier experience considerably, especially in start-stop traffic. In fact, it’s clear that the gearbox has been prioritized to respond best to gentle throttle inputs or the cut-and-thrust of urban driving. Mash down on the accelerator however and instead of the gearbox responding quicker, there now is a bit of a delay and even a hint of hesitation in serving up the right gear. There are no paddle shifters, and in manual mode shifts aren't blisteringly quick but that’s what you’d expect from a typical torque converter unit. Interestingly, in manual mode, the box will only shift up automatically when the engine brushes against the redline and will only shift down when engine speeds falls below 1500rpm. It holds onto a gear for most part of the engine’s power band giving you a better sense of control, especially on a winding road.
On the highway, the Harrier feels nicely planted and gives you the confidence to hold your line through sweeping bends without having to lift off. It feels unfazed by bad roads and the long travel suspension soaks up potholes as effortlessly as before. The suspension set-up is largely unchanged which means the damping is on the firmer side. You can feel the underlying stiffness on uneven roads and quite frankly, the Harrier doesn't ride as flat or composed as the Compass does, And neither does it dive into corners with the same enthusiasm as the Jeep, which is still the benchmark for dynamics in this segment.
A weak link is the Harrier’s hydraulic steering which has an inconsistent feel and is prone to a bit of torque steer. It has the right amount of heft at highway speeds which is reassuring, but at low speeds, especially whilst parking it is quite heavy and requires a fair amount of effort. The brakes which are drums at the rear, could do with better feel too. They lack bite and the excessive pedal travel isn’t very reassuring, albeit under hard braking, the Harrier stops quite effectively.
What's it like on the inside?
With no changes to the outside, apart from the smaller mirrors that marginally reduce the big blind spot (one of our criticisms of the earlier car) and the more attractive wheels (we had also panned the ordinary design of the earlier alloys!), the exterior is very unchanged. This is true of the cabin too, looks all but identical at first glance. The 'floating island' center console, the very chunky steering wheel, the wide expanse of faux wood, the part digital instrument panel and the big comfy seats. And don't those 'brushed aluminum' and leather door handles and grab handles on the base of the center console look good too? Early Harrier owners will notice that the fit and finish is far improved on the 2020 model with more consistent shut lines and panel gaps. In fact, the overall sense of quality in the cabin with all its plush materials is now genuinely top class.
There are some changes on the inside of the 2020 Harrier though. Tata Motors has made the USB slot in the central console more accessible and you no longer need the finger dexterity of a Swiss watch maker to plug your phone in. Again, this also something we pointed out. The digital tachometer however is still hard to read accurately, the gear indicator on the automatic lags considerably behind when you shift gear and the touch screen still isn't seamless or slick to operate as the competition.
Seat comfort however is super impressive. Space inside the cabin for one is massive, the large seats support you back, shoulders and thighs superbly and then seat height, especially at the rear is just perfect. With the acres of legroom in the back, in part due to the 2741mm wheelbase, and the new panoramic sunroof that brightens up the cabin, this clearly is one of the best SUVs in its class to be chauffeured around in. Tata has cleverly even used a heat reflecting blind to reduce heat soak from the big glass area; smart.
There isn't a third row of seats, but what you do get is 425 litres of boot space and the JBL sub-woofer in the rear reminds you that the Harrier comes with a rather special and punchy audio system. Also, what you just can't miss is the tough build. The entire bodyshell feels nicely taut and rigid and more importantly rattle free on a rough road.
The doors feel solid too, but the thick rubber beading which seals you from the outside world, means you have to slam them shut tight. Half heartedly closing the door shut will have the ‘door open’ icon illuminate on the dash.
What features does it get?
The Harrier 2020 is available in five variants that start with XE starting at just 13.69 lakh ex showroom. There's no touchscreen on this version, but you do get dual airbags, ESP (now standard) and projector headlamps with dual function DRLs that work as turn indicators. The most affordable automatic version the XMA starts at 16.25 lakh, which is attractive. You get a touch screen on the XMA and driving modes as well as electrically adjusted mirrors. The top of the line XZ+ and XZA + cost Rs 18.75 and 19.99 lakhs for the manual and automatic. Kit includes the big rain sensing and anti pinch panoramic sunroof, 6 way adjustable powered seat and diamond cut wheels. Terrain Response Modes, an excellent JBL sub woofer equipped audio system and six airbags are part of the package too but also come on the XZ and ZXA. Dual tone version are quite affordable with only a Rs 10-15,000 increase in price and this is true of the popular dark edition as well. Features missing on the Harrier, especially considering other SUVs in the class are connected tech, cooled seats and wireless charging, among a couple of others. The Harrier 2020 is available two year one lakh Km warranty, that can be extended to five years and unlimited kilometers for an additional Rs 26,000, something you must take.
Should you buy one?
Smoother and more refined, more effortless and punchy to drive and now better equipped the Harrier 2020 is now more attractive and capable. The new six speed automatic works superbly at low and medium speeds and with new features like the massive panoramic sunroof, the new Harrier is clearly a more compelling buy. Some features like connected tech are still missing as is a petrol engine option for those who don't want diesel. Still, one thing's for sure, with prices ranging from Rs 13.69 lakh and topping out at 20.25 lakh, the Harrier is clearly a much stronger contender, both for the competition and for your money.
Rs 15.38 lakh * on road price (New Delhi)
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