It’s been about two months since the Tata Tiago entered our long-term fleet, but every time I step into it, I can’t help but touch the roof and run my hand through the dashboard before I drive off. No, it’s not some kind of a nervous disorder, but a sense of deep admiration (and disbelief) I have for the Tiago’s top-quality cabin. Who would have believed that Tata could do quality? This maybe a budget car, but it feels anything but budget. Forget similarly priced rivals like the Maruti Celerio and WagonR, which are as posh as a cave in comparison, the Tiago feels more premium than even pricier cars like the Honda Brio and Toyota Liva. The plush seat fabrics, richly textured dashboard top and the woven roof lining are some of the quality bits that belong to far more expensive cars. In fact, the new Toyota Innova, which costs over four times as much, uses a cheaper knitted roof liner.
Yes, Toyota can get away with doing a few things on the cheap, whilst Tata, to win hearts, has thrown serious cash into the Tiago. And it shows – in the overall quality, in the sales figures and, sadly (for the shareholders), on the balance sheets too! I have to stop wondering how much Tata spent on the Tiago and get down to the business of driving it.
Tata’s all-new, all-aluminium, 1.2-litre, three-cylinder Revotron engine made its debut in the Tiago when it was launched in April this year, but somehow I’ve never warmed up to it. No doubt, it does the job quite well but as far as I’m concerned this engine is still a work in progress. Fire up the motor and it’s quite smooth, and it doesn’t rock on its mounts like a typical three-cylinder unit. It is fairly quiet too, and again, points to generous (and expensive) amounts of sound-deadening material used. My beef, however, is the hesitant power delivery, which has lots of flat spots and the odd hiccup at really slow speeds. It’s most obvious leaving home every morning when I have to cajole a cold Revotron up my steep exit driveway. Once it’s up to operating temperature, the Revotron improves, but the jerkiness at lows speeds – exacerbated by the ten-day Ganesh festival in Mumbai which dragged traffic down to a painful crawl – doesn’t go away. Poor calibration is the culprit and tuning the ECU further is something Tata needs to work at.
Light controls make the Tiago easy to drive in heavy traffic.
Soldiering slowly up Peddar Road in third gear is my real-world test of any engine’s torque. The Tiago didn’t quite pass it with flying colours, which meant frequently downshifting to second. No, this isn’t a torquey engine with loads of grunt but if you don’t ask too much of it, you won’t find it underpowered either. It’s surprisingly responsive off the line and with gentle throttle inputs you can comfortably keep up with steady flow of traffic.
What the Ganesh gridlock also revealed is that the Tiago, despite being a relatively heavy car, is genuinely effortless to drive. On one of the Visarjan days, the 7km drive home took me over an hour, but the light and progressive clutch took the sting out of the awful bumper-to-bumper conditions. And unlike the Zest and Bolt which had no place to park your left leg, the Tiago has a dead pedal which certainly came in handy when idling for ages at clogged junctions. The steering too is pretty light, and though it’s not as accurate or feelsome as the bigger Bolt’s, the well-finished wheel is great to grip.
Our Tiago has been city bound from the time we got it, except for a solitary trip to Pune. The 85hp, 1.2 motor feels a bit overwhelmed on the fast Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and you really need to wind the engine up to overtake quickly. But again, if you don’t want a rapid change of pace, the Tiago will cruise quite happily.
The expressway also highlighted the Tiago’s biggest strength – that planted, big-car feel which smaller cars simply can’t match. For Rs 5.34 lakh (on-road, Delhi), you just won’t get a car that feels this solid. It thumps through the potholes that smaller cars bounce in and out of and, on the moonscape that is the highway just after Vashi, the Tiago’s 170mm ground clearance came in handy.
It’s a free-for-all on that monsoon-destroyed road with trucks, buses and cars jostling around perilously close to the Tiago, but it didn’t stress me out. Knowing the price of the Tiago and subsequently that it would be cheap to fix, I subconsciously developed a casual attitude about the odd scratch or ding I might pick up wiggling between trucks.
Fuel efficiency? We got an average of 10.5kpl, which isn’t great, but this figure is a bit misleading as the Tiago spent a lot of the past month idling in traffic. To be fair, I never used ‘Eco’ mode even once, but I wasn’t too fussed about saving extra litres at the pump. It’s the car itself which takes your money far. I have to say I’m still gobsmacked by the sheer content that’s packed into the Tiago. Tata coined the line ‘More car per car’ with the Indica, and now, 18 years on, that claim has never been truer.