The souped-up version of the Tata Tiago is here. Does it deliver the goods?
Published on Oct 27, 2018 01:00:00 AM
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What is it?
For far too long, Tata Motors has teased performance-oriented concepts based on its hatchbacks but has never followed through by actually putting them on sale. Things have changed with the Tiago JTP – it's completed the journey from show floor to showroom floor. Alongwith the Tigor JTP, the Tiago JTP is the first of the products from JT Special Vehicles or JTSV – a joint venture between Tata Motors and Coimbatore-based Jayem Automotives, that is big in the business of racing. The cars have been worked on by Jayem but production is on the same line as the standard Tiago at Tata's plant in Sanand. So, as Tata Motors executives point out, this is no temperamental skunkworks project car. The Tiago JTPs are offered with the same warranties and have the same service intervals as the standard Tiago. That's the background story, over to the car.
In brief, the Tiago JTP is a souped-up version of the Tiago we are all familiar with. And by souped-up, we mean souped-up. Revised styling package aside, it's got a proper engine upgrade, reworked gear ratios and suspension mods. So, there's lots to talk about.
What's it like on the outside?
The stock Tiago is a handsome hatchback but the JTP? It's a proper looker. The lowered ride height (by 4mm), larger 15-inch wheels and chunkier 185-section tyres alone give the JTP a squatter, sportier stance. There are plenty of look-faster styling bits too. The front bumper is completely new and, with its exaggerated air dams, immediately identifies this car as the spicier of the Tiagos. The grille gets a new honeycomb mesh and there's even a vent on the bonnet. Purists will be happy to know it's not there just for show and actually does the job of helping dissipate heat from the engine compartment.
Faux vents just aft the front wheel arches, neatly done side skirts and the sleek diamond-cut alloy wheels add the right amount of flash to the sides, as do the contrast mirror casings – they're red on white cars and black on red cars. Oh, red and white are the only body paint options on the JTP, at least for the time being. A restyled rear bumper with a faux diffuser does its bit at the rear while the dual-pipe exhaust completes the JTP transformation. A tasteful transformation indeed.
What's it like on the inside?
The JTP's cabin isn't vastly different to the standard Tiago's but there are enough cool touches to give it a unique vibe. There's red stitching on the seats and steering, red surrounds for the air-con vents (it doesn't look kitsch) and there's even red lining for the floor carpets. The red details stand out well in the predominantly black tone of the cabin.
The drilled pedals don't look quite as convincing, but you drivers will like how the leather wrapped steering is to hold. It's just the right amount of meaty. However, more sculpted front seats with better side bolstering would have been nice too.
In every other way, the JTP is identical to the standard Tiago. The dashboard is neatly laid out, rear seat room is good and there's an ample-sized boot as well. Just wish there was a bit more by way of in-cabin storage, and also adjustable headrests at the rear. And while the 5.0-inch touchscreen is fine, it's not the largest, slickest or best-equipped today. Also, auto climate control isn't part of the features list. Dual airbags, ABS, rear parking sensors, steering-mounted audio controls and an 8-speaker sound system are part of the package, however.
What's it like to drive?
This is where things get interesting. Let's start with what's under the bonnet. Out goes the standard Tiago's naturally aspirated 1.2-litre petrol engine and in comes an enhanced version of the Nexon's turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine. Peak power is a cool 114hp (up 29hp on the standard Tiago) while peak torque is at 150Nm. In the lesser of the two driving modes, namely City, peak torque is restricted to 115Nm. The engine runs a revised intake and exhaust system (which is why it makes more power than on the Nexon) and comes mated to the standard Tiago's 5-speed gearbox, but with the ratios tweaked for brisker acceleration. So how does it all come together?
Stick to Sport mode, keep revs above 2,500rpm or so, and you'll like the JTP's turn of pace. It's not a rev-happy motor per se, nor do you get a huge surge of mid-range torque as you would in an Abarth Punto, but there's still fun to be had winding the Tata engine to it's modest 6,000rpm limiter. Performance is warm-hatch good (Tata claims a 0-100kph time of 10 sec) and you'll enjoy thrashing the engine for all it's worth on a twisty road. What also comes into play when you are in the mood is the smooth shifting gearbox – it's light and has fairly well-defined gates. And the sound? The thrum from the three-cylinder engine actually helps the experience here and, if you listen closely, you can even hear the turbo hissing away. Still, some more volume and some more depth to the sound would do wonders. We do hear murmurs of optional performance parts for the JTP planned for the future, so a louder exhaust would be high up on our list of upgrades.
In town and average driving scenarios, the JTP sure feels livelier than a standard Tiago. It's still not as peppy as a Maruti Suzuki K12 petrol engine and the engine does take some revs to get into its stride. Also, the power delivery tends to feel jerky in low-speed environments – something we noticed on the petrol Nexon too – perhaps owing to snappy fuelling.
Engine apart, it's the JTP's dynamics package that, well, makes it a JTP. The springs have been lowered, the dampers have been optimised but the biggest gains, say engineers involved in the JTP's development, have come from the tyres. The Tiago JTP gets bespoke 185/60 R15 tyres. The team at Jayem worked with tyre suppliers MRF and Apollo to find the optimum compound that allowed a sporty feel at the helm without compromising comfort.
And it's a job well done.
As is, the Tiago has a fairly fluid steering but on the JTP there's more weight and feel too, so what you get is a greater connect with the car. There's also a lot more grip from the tyres, allowing you to push the JTP in the bends with far more abandon than you would a regular Tiago. And the brakes (front discs and rear drums) are sufficiently strong too. Sure, the JTP rolls and it will understeer at the limit but there's enough of the good stuff to qualify it as one of the best handling cars under Rs 10 lakh. Suffice to say, the JTP livened up our test route from Coimbatore to Ooty.
What's nice is that the added dynamism hasn't come at the cost of ride comfort. Low-speed bump absorption is really good and the car feels nice and planted at cruising speeds.
Should I buy one?
Tata has launched the Tiago JTP for Rs 6.39 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). That's a good Rs 1.2 lakh over the standard Tiago petrol's XZ trim. But see what you get for the money, and also see the JTP in perspective of other sporty hatchbacks and it comes across as quite the deal.
The JTP is a car for enthusiasts by enthusiasts. It's not perfect but there's a certain character to the Tiago JTP that makes it very endearing. It's the sort of car that you'd buy because you love to drive. Tata Motors wants to 'de-commoditise' cars and car buying with the JTP, and its succeeded to a large extent by bringing back emotion into the product and experience.
All said, for the keen driver on a budget, the Tiago JTP is one of the best options out there.
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