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Tata Harrier diesel-automatic review, test drive

16th Mar 2020 9:03 am

The updated 2020 Harrier gets a more powerful, 170hp diesel engine, a new 6-speed automatic transmission and loads more kit. But just how much of an improvement is it?

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  • Make : Tata
  • Model : Harrier

What is it? 

The Tata Harrier created a big buzz when launched over a year ago. Attractively priced, attractively styled and with Land Rover pedigree, the company’s new SUV was a tantalising prospect that landed smack dab in the middle of the SUV boom. However, Tata Motors couldn’t quite cash in on the huge interest in its flagship product and sales didn’t take off as expected. There was no automatic option available and some important features were missing. Also, the Harrier had a few rough edges, like a noisy engine and some owners faced quality niggles that cropped up early on.

In an effort to redress these shortcomings Tata Motors has upgraded the 2020 Harrier with a raft of improvements and is confident it can now achieve its true potential. For starters, the power output of the now BS6-compliant 2.0-litre Multijet diesel motor has been bumped up from 140hp to 170hp (though torque is unchanged at 350Nm) putting it at par with the competition. But the big news is that you can finally buy the Harrier with an automatic transmission, which the company feels could account for as much as 50 percent of sales. Another big miss was the sunroof; and to make up for not having one at launch, Tata Motors has given the Harrier what it claims is the largest panoramic sunroof in its class, replete with rain-sensing and anti-pinch functionality. The driver's seat is now powered, and electronic stability control (ESP) is now standard across the range – but just how much better do all these upgrades make the 2020 Harrier, and just how much nicer is to drive? We try and answer these and other important questions in our review below. 

What's it like to drive?

Refinement – or rather, the lack of it – was an issue with the original Harrier; and Tata Motors, whilst upgrading the engine to BS6, has also worked hard to reduce or improve the overall noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). The improvements centre around three changes: the engine mounts are now a bit softer, additional sound insulation material has been used and most importantly, the injection timing of the BS6 engine has been calibrated to give more progressive combustion to reduce that harsh diesel clatter.

The improvement in NVH is immediately noticeable throughout its rev range from the moment you fire-up the engine, which is now much quieter than before. 

The clutch feels a touch smoother than before; but it’s still a bit heavy, and the clutch engagement is not as progressive as we would have liked. This issue is in fact, common with other Fiat 2.0-litre Multijet-powered SUVs, including the MG Hector and Jeep Compass.

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What you also instantly notice is the additional 30hp this engine puts out. There is still a fair bit of turbo lag below 2,000rpm; but there’s a stronger tug from the get-go and once you get into the meat of the powerband, the Harrier pulls strongly to the rather lofty (for a diesel) redline of 5,000rpm. 

The improvement in performance is tangible and a quick test we conducted revealed a 0-100kph sprint time of 11.25sec as against 12.24sec for the 140hp version; and the gap keeps growing beyond that speed. The gearing remains unchanged, which means you get that the extra grunt with the same stack of ratios gives the Harrier strong in-gear acceleration, or overtaking capability. 

The drive modes work particularly well here too, and the gap between them feel most pronounced on part throttle. This is especially true in Sport mode, where the engine feels especially willing and responsive whilst for those interested in greater economy, Eco mode is quite useable in city traffic. 

The big surprise is the new, Hyundai-sourced 6-speed automatic transmission, which feels brilliantly integrated with the Fiat engine. Step-off from rest is smooth and seamless which enhances the Harrier experience considerably, especially in start-stop traffic. In fact, it’s clear that the gearbox has been prioritised to respond best to gentle throttle inputs or the cut-and-thrust of urban driving. Mash down on the accelerator however, and instead of the gearbox responding quicker, there now is a bit of a delay and even a hint of hesitation serving up the right gear. There are no paddleshifters, and in manual mode shifts aren't blisteringly quick; but that’s what you’d expect from a typical torque converter unit. Interestingly, in manual mode, the box will only shift up automatically when the engine brushes against the redline and will only shift down when engine speeds fall below 1,500rpm. It holds on to a gear for most part of the engine’s powerband, giving you a better sense of control, especially on a winding road.

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On the highway, the Harrier feels nicely planted and gives you the confidence to hold your line through sweeping bends without having to lift off. It feels unfazed by bad roads and the long travel suspension soaks up potholes as effortlessly as before. The suspension set-up is largely unchanged, which means its damping is on the firmer side. You can feel the underlying stiffness on uneven roads and, quite frankly, the Harrier doesn't ride as flat or composed as the Compass; and neither does it dive into corners with the same enthusiasm as the Jeep, which is still the benchmark for dynamics in this segment.

The Harrier’s hydraulic steering is a weak link. It has an inconsistent feel and is prone to a bit of torque steer. There is also steering kickback on big bumps and the Harrier also tends to tramline on uneven surfaces. The steering has the right amount of heft at highway speeds which is reassuring, but at low speeds, especially whilst parking, it is quite heavy and requires a fair amount of effort. The brakes (drums at the rear) could do with better feel too. They lack bite and the excessive pedal travel isn’t very reassuring; albeit the Harrier stops quite effectively under hard braking.

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What's it like on the inside?

With no changes to the outside – apart from the smaller mirrors that marginally reduce the big blind spot (one of our criticisms of the earlier car) and the more attractive wheels (we had also panned the ordinary design of the earlier alloys!) – the exterior is very unchanged. This is largely true of the cabin too, which looks all but identical at first glance; the 'floating island' centre console, the very chunky steering wheel, the wide expanse of faux wood, the part-digital instrument panel and the big comfy seats. And don't those 'brushed aluminium' and leather door handles and grab handles on the base of the centre console look good too? 

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There are some changes on the inside of the 2020 Harrier though. Early Harrier owners will notice that the fit and finish is far improved on the 2020 model with more consistent shut lines and panel gaps. In fact, the overall sense of quality in the cabin with all its plush materials is now genuinely top class. Tata Motors has also made the USB slot in the central console more accessible and you no longer need the finger dexterity of a Swiss watchmaker to plug your phone in (again, something we pointed out). The digital tachometer, however, is still hard to read accurately, the gear indicator on the automatic model lags considerably behind when you shift gears, and the touchscreen still isn't seamless or slick to operate as its competition.

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Seat comfort is super-impressive, though. Space inside the cabin, for one, is massive; the large seats support you back, shoulders and thighs superbly and the seat height, especially at the rear, is just perfect. With the acres of legroom in the back (in part due to the 2,741mm wheelbase) and the new panoramic sunroof that brightens up the cabin, this clearly is one of the best SUVs in its class to be chauffeured around in. Tata has cleverly even used a heat-reflecting blind to reduce heat soak from the big glass area; smart.

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There isn't a third row of seats, but what you do get is 425 litres of boot space; and the JBL sub-woofer in the rear reminds you that the Harrier comes with a rather special and punchy audio system. Also, you just can't miss its tough build. The entire bodyshell feels nicely taut and rigid; and, more importantly, is rattle-free on a rough road.

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The doors feel solid too, but the thick rubber beading sealing you from the outside world means that you have to slam them shut tight. Half-heartedly closing the door shut will have the ‘door open’ icon illuminate on the dash. 

What features does it get?

The Harrier 2020 is available in five variants, that start with XE at just 13.69 lakh, ex-showroom. There's no touchscreen on this version, but you do get dual airbags, ESP (now standard) and projector headlamps with dual-function DRLs that work as turn indicators. The most affordable automatic version the XMA starts at 16.25 lakh, which is an attractive price. You get a touchscreen on the XMA, driving modes, as well as electrically adjusted mirrors. The top-of-the-line XZ+ (manual) and XZA+ (automatic) trims cost Rs 18.75 and 19.99 lakh respectively. Kit includes the aforementioned big rain-sensing and anti-pinch panoramic sunroof, six-way adjustable powered seat and diamond-cut wheels. Terrain Response Modes, an excellent JBL sub-woofer-equipped audio system and six airbags are part of the package too, but also come on the XZ and XZA variants. Dual-tone versions of the new Harrier are quite affordable, with only a Rs 10,000-15,000 increase in price – and this is true of the popular Dark Edition as well. Features missing on the Harrier (especially considering other SUVs in this class) are connected tech, cooled seats and wireless charging, among some others. And, given the Harrier's price, it isn't unreasonable to expect an electronic parking brake. The thrust lever-like handbrake has been carried forward and remains fiddly to use.

The 2020 Harrier is available with a two-year/one-lakh kilometre warranty, that can be extended to five years and unlimited kilometres for an additional Rs 26,000; an offer that you must take.

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Should you buy one?

Smoother and more refined, more effortless and punchy to drive, and now better-equipped than before the Harrier 2020 is now more attractive and capable. The new 6-speed automatic 'box works superbly at low and medium speeds; and with new features like the massive panoramic sunroof, the new Harrier is clearly a more compelling buy. Some features like connected tech are still missing – as is a petrol engine option for those who don't want a diesel unit. Still, one thing's for sure, with prices starting at Rs 13.69 lakh and topping out at 20.25 lakh, the Harrier is clearly a much stronger contender in this space – both for the competition, and for your money. Question is, does the Tata badge have the cache to pull in buyers at this price point?

Tata Harrier
Tata Harrier

Rs 16.47 lakh * on road price (New Delhi)

FIND OUT MORE
ENGINE Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Fuel Type / Propulsion Diesel
Type 4 cyls, Turbocharged
Cubic Capacity (cc) 1956cc
Max Power (hp @ rpm) 170hp at 3750rpm
Max Torque (Nm @ rpm) 350Nm at 1750-2500rpm
TRANSMISSION Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Drive Layout Front-wheel drive
Gearbox Type Torque converter automatic
No of Gears 6
BRAKES Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Front Discs
Rear Drum
Dimensions Petrol Petrol AT Diesel Diesel AT Electric
Length (mm) 4598mm
Width (mm) 1894mm
Height (mm) 1706mm
Wheelbase (mm) 2741mm
Boot Capacity (Lts) 425 litres
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