We’ve had an AMT-equipped version of Tata’s new Zest sedan for some time now, but it was only recently that I got a chance to get behind the wheel. Now while most would prefer an automatic for easing their daily commute to work through Mumbai’s congested streets, I had other plans. No bumper-to-bumper stress for me, I was going to take the Tata out of town for the weekend.
Making my way out of Mumbai, I did appreciate the convenience afforded by the automatic gearbox, although the inherent AMT hiccups were quite evident. There was the characteristic pause during gear shifts and more irritatingly, on inclines, the car tended to roll back unless you put your foot on the gas; no ‘creep’ function on this car unlike the Nano. The hesitant gearbox did play spoilsport when it came to making urgent progress. But what worked in the car’s favour was the fantastic ride. True, the sluggish AMT response combined with a bit of turbo lag from the motor at low rpms does allow other traffic to scoot ahead when we set off from standstill. But further down, on broken roads, where the others would have to slow down to not jostle occupants, the Zest continued at regular speeds, still riding flat and composed over everything except for the largest of potholes.
Once past city limits, there was finally space to stretch the car’s legs and this is where the Zest truly came into its own. Stability on the highway is great and the 89bhp 1,248cc diesel unit makes cruising a pleasure. The steering is quite light even at speed, but it isn’t unsettling and while it may not be razor-sharp, it’s responsive enough for the average driver. And there also wasn’t as much body roll around the twisty ghat corners as I expected. Really, rather impressive balance of ride and handling from Tata.
On the in-car entertainment front, the Harman-developed music system worked well to stream music from my phone and the passengers were all praises about the speakers. And talking of the other occupants in the car, the speakers weren’t the only thing they had to say good things about. They were pleasantly surprised to sit three abreast at the back and quite comfortably at that. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing and they did have an issue or two. They found the seat cushioning a bit too soft especially for long drives and also, were annoyed that none of the rear doors can hold a bottle.
Fortunately, the auto climate control system kept things cool in the cabin. At the end of the drive, I knew I was going to be using a lot more of this car. It’s decent in the city except for the minor AMT irritations, it’s good on the highway and it handles Indian roads like only a true Indian can. Watch out
for the next report on this nifty compact sedan.