My building watchman quips, “Your car is back after a long time”, mistaking it for the earlier blue Tata Zest with the petrol engine that I had been using.
Now, I would happily choose petrol over diesel given an opportunity, but irrespective of the powertrain, the Zest had been a hit with my folks for its spacious cabin, good air-con and plush ride. So once again, I was behind the wheel of a Zest, only this time, the difference (other than the diesel engine) is the AMT gearbox. It’s not the sort of car I’d ideally like, but then, considering the traffic scene in Mumbai, an automatic car seems like quite an appealing idea. To add to that, it’s also quite frugal — the Zest returned a decent 16.7kpl when I drove it to Pune for a launch event, and it did involve some spirited driving and high-speed cruising.
There’s a number of impressive things about this car, and one of the best would be its ride. There aren’t many cars at this price that ride as well. The long-travel suspension flattens most road undulations with relative ease and you don’t need to slow down unless you see a large crater. The smooth ride makes the experience for passengers quite soothing as well.
In ‘S’ mode, the Zest has better throttle response, but doesn’t feel sprightly.
On the entertainment front, the music system is an aux, Bluetooth and USB-compatible Harman unit with eight speakers, but it gets a 5.0-inch display, unlike the touchscreen on the top-spec XT variants. Nevertheless, the sound quality is quite good and the system connects quickly with your mobile devices as well. Also, we really liked the two-tone dashboard of the car; it is probably one of the best modern Tata cabins and one that will age gracefully over time.
As for the driving experience, the convenience that the auto gearbox is supposed to offer is not delivered as promised. The AMT does miss a beat, more often than not in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It tends to jerk when you are moving off the line and the gears engage with a distinct pause. Even the ‘S’ mode doesn’t help much to move the Zest off-the-line quickly. Also, on uphill starts, it tends to roll back initially – it even slipped into neutral while backing up on a slight incline in a shopping mall’s parking lot.
SUV-like high seating position offers a commanding view of the road ahead.
There was one more worrisome instance when driving in town – I heard a whining noise from under the hood, the turbo was spinning faster than it should and there was a loss of power with black smoke from the exhaust. A quick check revealed the turbo hose pipe had come off, but thankfully, the filling pump was just 200 metres away and I crawled to the location before any further damage could happen. While it was a quick fix, the whole experience shook my confidence, especially on long drives.
I had driven the Zest petrol to Udaipur and back, and had mentioned in my report that it gave me the confidence to drive long distances. But I now can’t say the same for the diesel car. Hopefully, there will be no more such reliability issues and it might just win my trust back.