Tata Altroz review, test drive
What is it?
You first saw it as the 45X concept at Auto Expo 2018, and then later in near-production form at Geneva 2019. What you see here is the final version of the Tata Altroz that will finally go on sale in early 2020. In a nutshell, the Altroz is Tata Motors' answer to the Maruti Suzuki Baleno, Hyundai i20 and Honda Jazz. Like the premium hatchbacks it goes up against, the Tata Altroz measures just a litte under 4m (3,990mm to be precise) to qualify as a 'small car' and yet promises big car levels of space, refinement and comfort.
The Altroz is not only big in size as far as hatchbacks go but it's also a big deal in Tata's journey as a carmaker. That's because this is the first model to be built on the Tata's all-new ALFA (for Agile, Light, Flexible, Advanced) architecture. Along with OMEGA arc (that underpins the Harrier), the ALFA arc will form the basis of a slew of new Tatas in the time to come. The modular architecture can support a whole range of body styles ranging from 3.7m to 4.3m in length, and has been developed with electrification in mind. Doors that open 90 degrees and a flat rear floor are some of the features that will be common to cars, SUVs and MPVs built on ALFA arc.
The Altroz also happens to be the first Tata to get BS6-compliant engines. On offer are 1.2-litre naturally aspirated petrol and 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engines, each allied to manual gearboxes. A petrol-automatic with a dual-clutch transmission is in the works, and there's also a more powerful 1.2-litre turbo-petrol that will join the line-up in due time. For now, we've got our hands on the versions that will be available at launch, and there's lots to talk about.
What's it like on the outside?
Tata Motors has been on a hot streak as far as exterior design goes and, to our eyes at least, the Altroz takes the story forward with pizzazz. Sure, the silhouette is conventional hatchback but the multiple stylistic flourishes on the body work cohesively to elevate the overall look of the car.
The shark nose-like front end, the sleek grille finished in black, and the large and swept-back headlights that are lined by a band of chrome give the Altroz its distinctive face. Some might see the arrangement as a modern interpretation of the original Indica's 'smiling grille', but Tata designers certainly didn't mention that as an inspiration. High-set fog lamps (also home to the LED DRLs) and an elegant air dam on the bumper are other elements of interest up front.
You'll witness a clever play of colours at the Altroz's sides. The upswept windows come underlined by a black embellishment that starts thick at the front and tapers towards the rear, in effect, giving the illusion of a car with a sporty tipped-forward stance; a bit Lamborghini Diablo meets mass-market hatchback.
The large wheel arches lend the Altroz suitable volume too, but even the sleek 16-inch 'laser-cut' alloys don't look quite big enough. What is sure to be a bit polarising is the placement of the rear door handles; they sit on the C-pillar rather than in the conventional position on the doors.
Tata's designers have also gone for a dual-tone theme for the Altroz's edgy tail end. The spoiler, tail-light surround and upper portion of the bootlid come finished in black, and look quite sporty. Buyers also have the option of a black roof for the full effect.
In all, the Altroz has a 'concept car for the road' look about it, and that's a great starting point.
What's it like on the inside?
Each of the Altroz's four doors open to 90 degrees, and getting in to the front section of the cabin is particularly easy. First impressions once inside are largely positive too. Sure, the dashboard design is not quite as cutting edge as the exterior, but you'll like what you see. The Altroz's free-standing 7.0-inch touchscreen is positioned high up (and hence in clear sight), and what adds some flavour here is the layered effect of the dash with textured plastics for the top, a gloss finish for the centre and light grey materials lower down. Turquoise backlighting (adjustable for intensity) for the raised centre console brings in some vibrancy at night too. Material quality is good by class standards but there are places where the panel gaps aren't consistent, like the surrounds for the glovebox. What you will like, however, is the reassuring thunk on door shut.
Large seats means comfort up front is well taken care of, a sliding centre armrest on top-spec cars is a welcome inclusion, while the flat-bottomed and leather-wrapped steering feels great to hold. Frontal visibility is good too but the Altroz's thick A-pillars do create blindspots, especially on the near side. What also takes some getting used to is the instrumentation. There's a class-first combo of an analogue speedometer and digital tachometer but the squared-out dials aren't easy enough to follow. The tacho's triangulated needle end also highlights an engine speed range rather than a specific rpm, in case this is something you keep an eye on. The Altroz's 7.0-inch digital screen also the informative multi-info display, and what's nice is that navigation instructions from a connected smartphone are relayed here, reducing the need to look away at the main touchscreen.
Connecting a smartphone won't be a bother either (unlike on the Harrier) with the USB slot positioned in plain sight at the base of the centre console. The Altroz cabin does score well on space for small items too. Compartments within the large 15-litre cooled glovebox make it easy to stow your tablet safely and there are cupholders on the glovebox lid too should you want to have an impromptu picnic. There's another pair of cupholders near the gear lever, a sizeable storage bay under the driver's armrest and a 1-litre bottleholder, and even an umbrella holder on each of the front doors. Storage at the back includes large door pockets with shelves to keep your phones, and map pockets on the front seat back rests.
Getting onto the Altroz back seat is not as comfy as it's made out to be. Yes, the doors open wide but the aperture between the seat and B-pillar isn't the largest. A relatively high-set rear seat does help here, and this also means you get a fairly good view out the windows. The rear section of the Altroz cabin doesn't feel as airy as a Jazz's and doesn't offer the same legroom that you'd get in a Baleno; but you really won't have reason to complain on either count. There's enough knee room for six footers to sit in comfort, and it's only if you sit bolt upright will you find headroom adequate but no more. The Altroz is the widest car in the class and there is enough shoulder room to host three occupants at the back. What also makes life easier for the middle passenger is the flat floor, which, as mentioned, will be a trait on all ALFA architecture Tata cars. The rear seat works well as a place for two with the fold-down rear armrest positioned at just the right height. What does take away from the comfort to an extent is the excessive bolstering in the lumbar region; you'll find yourself changing position often. A nice inclusion here is a dedicated 12V charging socket.
The Tata Altroz gets a 345-litre boot which is marginally more than the Baleno's 339 litres and a bit less than the Jazz's 354 litres. The high loading lip can make it difficult to load heavy luggage but the well-shaped boot means you can fit in plenty of stuff. The rear seat backrest doesn't split but it can be folded forward to enhance luggage space to 665 litres. While luggage space is generous, we wonder if it’s come at the expense of fuel tank capacity, which is a meagre 37 litres. So to get a decent range, good fuel efficiency will be crucial.
What features does it get?
The Altroz will be available in four trims, and the range starts with the XE that gets the safety basics such as ABS with EBD, dual airbags, reverse parking sensor and central locking. Drive modes and manual air-conditioning are also part of the package. The XM-spec Altroz adds in power windows, a 3.5-inch infotainment system from Harman, power-adjust and folding mirrors and ambient lighting at the footwell. The XT trim adds in more goodies by way of a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 7.0-inch digital MID screen, LED DRLs, push- button start, a reverse camera, cruise control and start-stop tech on the petrols. Range-topping Altroz XZ versions go the distance with 16-inch laser-cut alloy wheels, projector headlamps, auto climate control, auto lights, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting, and front and rear armrests. A contrast roof is a paid option on the XZ cars.
Uniquely, each of the trims is also offered with an add-on pack that bundles in specific features. The Rhythm pack gives Altroz XE and XM buyers the option to upgrade to the infotainment systems from a trim higher. On the other hand, the Style pack brings in a contrast roof, stylised steel wheel and LED DRLs to the XM. XT buyers have the option of the Luxe pack, where you get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, height-adjustable driver's seat and rear centre armrest. XZ buyers can also spruce up the look of their cars with the Urban pack that includes diamond-cut alloy wheels, exterior colour-coordinated detailing in the cabin and a contrast black roof. Tata Motors says it will introduce more packs and options to the Altroz in the future.
Where the Altroz does lag behind the curve is in connectivity. There's no eSIM-based connected tech (it's in the pipeline though), and even the 7.0-inch screen doesn't work as slick as you'd like. The Harman sound system does deliver fair sound quality though.
What's it like to drive?
There's much to like about the way the Altroz drives. The new platform shines immediately with a great ride and handling balance. There is a hint of firmness to the ride but the suspension still manages to absorb the rough stuff at low speeds with ease. You feel well cushioned the faster you go and the big highlight is high-speed stability. The Altroz feels comfortable and sure-footed at triple-digit speeds, and, correspondingly, works really well as a long-distance machine. There's a confidence in the way the Altroz changes direction too. Turn-in is slick (better so on the heavier diesel) and there's a lovely feeling of connect at the steering. The electric steering is light when you need it to be at low speeds, but weights up effectively as you add on speed. There is some road noise that creeps in but, on first instance, the ALFA architecture underpinning the Altroz sure comes across as promising.
Where the Altroz seems to be bit of a work in progress is when talking of the petrol engine. The Altroz's petrol engine is essentially an updated version of the Tigor's 1.2-litre, three-cylinder unit. There's dual variable valve timing and the compression ratio has also been bumped up. Resultantly, power is up to 86hp while max torque is 113Nm. The figures are par for the course for this class of car but overall performance does leave you wanting. Part throttle responses are pleasant and the engine is earnest at low speeds but that pep you get in a Baleno is simply missing, even in the more powerful City mode. But then again, the Baleno weighs 146kg less than the Altroz petrol that tips the scales at 1,036kg – about as much as the i20 and Jazz.
A light clutch makes the Altroz easy to live with in town, but again, the 5-speed gearbox isn't the slickest in the business. Quickshifts aren't it's thing. The 1.2 engine doesn't have much to give at the top end and revving the engine only draws your attention to the thrum from the three-cylinder engine. Auto start-stop also has the petrol engine come to life with a bit of a judder.
1.5-litre diesel engine of the Tata Altroz.
In a sense, it's the diesel Altroz that feels like the more complete package. The 1.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel is from the Nexon albeit in a lower 90hp and 200Nm state of tune. The power downgrade was primarily to make the engine compatible with the 5-speed gearbox's lower torque rating. But not that you'd feel any lack of power. The diesel engine can feel a bit hesitant in on-off throttle driving, typical of our towns, but it's quick to settle into a rhythm too. The build up of power is linear from low down in the rev range, and there's a mild step up closer to 1,800rpm. You'll like the easy access to power and the comfort with which the 1,150kg Altroz diesel gets to cruising speeds. Again, this isn't an engine to wind hard; keep it in it's comfort zone and you'll manage to rake up the kilometres without much fuss. If anything, the engine does become gravelly beyond 3,000rpm and it isn't quite in Hyundai diesel territory when talking refinement. Interestingly enough, and a point worth highlighting is that the diesel test cars were running on BS6 grade diesel brought in from Delhi.
Of the other things, the diesel Altroz's clutch action is light enough but the 5-speed gearbox feels its best with gentle inputs.
Should I buy one?
The Tata Altroz makes an immediate impression for the way it looks. It's got a show value that no other car in this class can match. And that counts for a lot today. The Altroz makes for a practical family car too with a cabin that offers enough by way of space and comfort. As an added plus, it is also good to drive with arguably the best dynamics among premium hatchbacks. And buyers who cover large distances will also find a great match in the well-rounded Altroz diesel.
A peppier petrol engine, better refinement and a greater focus on connectivity are things on our wish list, and elements that would make the Altroz easier to recommend. What's a also a question mark for now is fuel economy. All said, the Tata Altroz has some solid positives and has the potential to make its place in the premium hatchback segment. All that's left is for Tata to price it well. With a price tag between Rs 5-8 lakh (estimated, ex-showroom), the Altroz could just upset the apple cart.
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