Tata’s new Zest created quite a sensation when it was revealed at the Auto Expo in January last year. Here was a Tata that was like no other. Its sharply styled nose caught the fancy of the car-buying public, the ‘chopped’ boot was neatly integrated, and then there were the interiors — they looked so good, people refused to believe they belonged on a Tata. Even more mindbending was the fact that Tata was focussing more on a turbocharged petrol motor rather than a diesel. And it came with three preset driver modes, something only the BMWs of this world offer!
Clearly, this was the perfect candidate for a longterm test. Not only would we be able to judge the Zest over four full seasons, we’d also be able to experience one of Tata’s new-generation cars. Our Zest is the top-of-the-line XT that costs Rs 7.71 lakh (on-road, Mumbai). It has the much-talked-about Harman Kardon sound system and touchscreen interface, it rides on 15-inch alloys, 185/60 section tyres and the car is equipped with anti-lock brakes and driver and passenger airbags.
It’s still early days, but I already think this car is bags of fun, especially during my regular commute to and from work. It isn’t sporty or fun to drive in a traditional way, but there’s a nice slug of torque and power when the boost comes in, and that’s a treat when you want to slingshot past someone in traffic. Have to say, my first impressions of the engine weren’t too good. The motor didn’t rev cleanly, it sometimes hesitated, and it wasn’t at all happy to rev past 5,000rpm; strange. Still, things improved for the Revotron once Tata launched the Bolt hatchback, with many of the improvements carried over to the Zest. In addition, I also learnt to not try and extract maximum power from it by wringing it out.
So nowadays, when I’m driving in free-flowing traffic, I stick it in Sport, wait for an opportunity and push the throttle open; no real need for a shift to a lower gear. It’s a bit more relaxed initially, but once the boost comes in, around 2,000rpm, boy oh boy, does it accelerate well! And what’s nice is that the push in the back only gets stronger as the revs climb. What makes the city commute even nicer is the light but direct steering and the easy-to-shift gearbox. You don’t need to fight the car to get it through traffic, and that’s just great. It’s not exactly the point-and-squirt type of car, but once you get the boost flowing, it really is fun: can’t remember the last time we’ve said that about a Tata. Can you?
What I’m also looking forward to doing in the coming weeks is using the other two modes, Economy and Normal. Yes, Economy, for the most part, feels like you’re whipping a dead horse, and has the potential to actually lengthen your commute time, but I want to see just how much you can improve fuel economy.
There are other areas in which the Zest has begun to impress as a daily driver. The ride, for example, is deeply impressive for a car in this class. The roads all around where I live seem to have been dug up and filled in haste. There are lumpy bits and craters, and step ups and step downs, but the Zest just rides over them like it’s been specifically designed to do just that. Of course, it has. There’s enough travel in the suspension even for the bigger holes; it has the right amount of suppleness to both, absorb the shocks and keep the wheels in contact with the road. And the ride is so good, I don’t need to slow down even for the worst sections on my regular route.
Something that I’d like more of, though, is agility. This is not a car that likes to be cornered fast. Its high ground clearance means it feels a bit ungainly around corners, especially on the almost 10km elevated freeway that leads out of Mumbai, and though it hangs on tenaciously, it doesn’t seem to be comfortable or happy doing so.
What I have come to appreciate quite a bit is the Harman audio system. Pairing your phone is pretty easy, having your recent call log pop up on the screen is really convenient, and I like the functionality of the screen too. Calling someone back is just a jab of the finger away and what I now tend to do is line up my calls and go through the list on my way to office. Bumper-to-bumper morning traffic feels a bit more productive and less frustrating.
What I also love is the way you can balance out the impressive sound. Sure, I’d have liked a better amplifier and better quality speakers, but it’s nice to have a system where sound quality is paid attention to rather than only specification. But hey Tata, where’s the CD player? Remember, Honda put it back on the City; must be a good reason.
As much as I appreciate the higher quality dash and the modern design, some things on the inside are still baffling. The seats, for example, aren’t ergonomically correct and I’ve often struggled to find my ideal ‘seat’ position. Plastic quality on the lower half of the dash is also still very ‘Tata’, and what’s a modern car like this doing with only one tiny cup holder and no proper stowage?
Still, the Zest is living proof that Tata is finally on the right track. It may have its flaws, but it’s also clear that this is not just a practical car but one you can enjoy driving or living with. Looking forward to a dozen or so exciting months with the Zest. And as ever, we’ll keep you posted.
Price: Rs 7.71 lakh (on-road Mumbai)
Test economy: 13.65kpl
Maintenence costs: None