Opinion: Tata’s Auto Expo 2023 star was not a car but a screen

    A carmaker that’s always been on the back foot with infotainment might now have one of the best systems yet.

    Published on Jan 18, 2023 08:00:00 AM


    We thronged to the updated Sierra and Curvv concept cars, we hovered around the Harrier EV and Avinya. Heck, we even had a poke around the Tata Punch and Altroz iCNGs. There was much more besides that on display at Tata Motors’ vast Auto Expo 2023 stall, and more still talked about during the brand’s hour-long presentation at the end of Day 1. Yet, despite all this star power and wow factor, the biggest thing Tata revealed at Auto Expo 2023 wasn’t mentioned even once, save for a solitary line of text tucked deep inside a press release.

    Tata Motors touchscreens have always lagged behind

    Yes, it’s an all-new infotainment system, and infotainment is something the brand has struggled with in the last decade. If memory serves right, Tata first dabbled with touchscreens in the Indigo Manza, which used a somewhat basic aftermarket system. That may have worked for the time, but by the time Tata introduced its own indigenous system in the likes of the Hexa and Tigor, rivals had raced ahead. This tiny screen was slow, laggy and not very bright, and thankfully, came with physical knobs, because these made it easier to operate than using the screen itself. The next version, branded ConnectNext, debuted on the Tata Zest and Bolt wasn’t much better, with an increase in features but not functionality.

    Hopes were high for the next iteration of ConnectNext, which debuted on the Nexon in 2017 with a degree of connectivity built in. But alas, while an improvement, it too was far behind its contemporaries. The 6.5-inch screen felt small, responses again were glacial, and the interface wasn’t intuitive. Worse still, when the Harrier came along in 2019 with an 8.8-inch screen, it used a barely updated version of the same software with huge blank spaces on either side, as the software wouldn’t scale to fit the wider screen, which really stung in a car so expensive. There have been updates since, but the improvements have been incremental. Clearly, the slate was being cleaned.

    New Tata touchscreen is slick and full of features

    With no special marketing or fancy brand name behind it (the aforementioned press release simply says ‘10.25-inch new-gen touchscreen infotainment’), you might not realise how big an upgrade this is, but one glance is all it takes. It shares the same super-wide 21:9 aspect ratio as the Safari’s screen, and this time the whole screen is used; there is no ‘letterboxing’. The UI is clean, minimalist and clear, with large, easily legible text. It’s also intuitively laid out with a series of shortcut widgets presented in large squares (like BMW’s new iDrive 8) that display real-time data without having to go into a sub-menu. These include an AQI readout for the onboard air purifier (it displayed ‘500 – severe’ in Greater Noida, so clearly it works), a detailed trip and fuel computer, climate control, radio and smartphone connectivity.

    The graphics are clean and minimalist with large, easily legible text.

    Then you take your first swipe at it and you’re met with sweet, beautiful fluidity. No, it’s still not quite up there at the very cutting edge of touchscreens that give smartphone-grade responses, but it’s a quantum leap over the old system, and better than many rivals; dare I say, even MG’s new 14-inch behemoth screen in the Hector. There’s even an onboard assistant that wakes up with a voice command – I inadvertently activated it – but we’ll have to see if its functions go beyond changing the temperature and opening the sunroof. It still pairs with a 9-speaker JBL sound system in the Harrier and Safari, the supplier still appears to be Harman, and I’m curious to know about the processing power behind it.  

    And this is to say nothing of the slick new 7-inch semi-digital dials screen – now moved to the centre rather than offset to the left. This time the tachometer is analogue rather than the speedo, and looks rather small relegated to the left, while the fuel and temperature gauges are on the right. The speedo/MID screen seems pretty informative, but we’ll need more time with it to know for sure. Just as stealthily, Tata has introduced ADAS features to its flagship SUVs, with the likes of Auto Emergency Braking, Front and Rear Collision Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition and Lane Departure Warning. But that’s a story for another time.

    The new 7-inch semi-digital dials screen gets a centrally located MID instead of an offset one.

    While the heavy-hitting Tata Motors concept cars are all years away from launch, the new touchscreen will make its debut on the Harrier and Safari Red Dark editions – themselves rolled out with little fanfare on the second press day of Auto Expo 2023 – and these could launch as soon as next month. It’s about time, as this seemingly innocuous upgrade could very well be the cherry on top for what is otherwise a world-class pair of SUVs.

    Also See:

    Opinion: Jimny – the return of the (Gypsy) King

    Opinion: Why the Jimny and Thar are not competitors


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