This afternoon I walked into the Concorde showroom at Prabhadevi, accompanied by my cousin, with the intention of checking out the Safari LX for him.
We were pleasantly surprised by a young trainee chap who walked up to us and pointed to the Maroon Aria standing outside on the road (which I had failed to notice while entering) and asked us if we would like to TD it and give our impressions, as they were collecting some market feedback. We agreed, since we didn't really have anything else to do.
What we thought would be a casual first impressions kinda thing, turned out to be a full fledged survey questionnaire thrown at us, with all sorts of questions regarding our present vehicles, our background etc, and we were filmed and our responses recorded while we were doing so.
We were taken out to the car and were asked our first impressions about the looks. After that, we were offered a TD and we gladly accepted. This was one TD where we were not hurried up. The surveyor flashed her Sealink daily pass and told us we could go via the Sealink to Bandra and back. So we did our TD, with my cousin taking the wheel first upto Bandra, and then I took over on the way back. We recorded our observations throughout the journey. Once back, some closing comments followed wherein we were asked about how much we would spend on this car, what we thought it was worth etc. We were told all throughout that this was a pre-production test mule, and were not told about the pricing at all.
My impressions are as follows :
I never liked the Aria in the pictures. The first time I saw it in the metal was in Pune when it drove past me, sporting a light blue colour. Back then, the front end did impress me. Today's encounter was the same. I quite liked the front end. Definitely a step forward for Tata.
The side profile is where one first notices the rather substantial length of the car. One will immediately notice the window line. The rear-most windows are clearly inspired by the CR-V. Personally, I did not like the treatment given to the C/D pillars. Overall, the side profile is heavily inspired by the CR-V in my opinion. Panel gaps were quite even.
When you walk around to the rear, you wonder whether Tata has ever designed anything other that this rear end. Everything from the Indica to the Vista and now the Aria carries this rather typical rear end, and it's boring, to say the least. It reminds me of Jeremy Clarkson's review of the original Cayenne, where he states that the designers put a lot of effort into the front end, and then beyond the B-pillar, they simply didn't bother !! The one thing I like, though, is the twin-exhaust treatment.
I'd give it a 7/10 for exterior looks. It's a step forward for Tata, they've moved it forward, but not quite there.
Now this is where it all changes. If you've owned one of the first batch of Indica / Safari like I have, then you will most definitely acknowledge that Tata has been working hard to improve interior quality.
Once in, the first thing I did was knock about all the plastic panels, try to move them around to see if they give way, whether they make a hollow sound, creak etc. And I was impressed. The car was done up in a combination of black & dull maroon leather upholstery. I quite liked it, and the door pads were made to match as well. The theme was even carried forward to the dashboard panels.
The materials used are definitely of good quality, including the leather, the trims, the door pads etc. I found the piano black finish nice as well, but in the above picture, I thought that if the piano black finish around the window switch was extended to the plastic trim around the door opener as well, it would have looked a little better. From what I observed, that maroon piece of plastic surrounding the door opening lever was the only bit that looked really cheapo.
Also in the above picture, you may notice that the B-pillars have AC vents incorporated into them a la Superb and the high-end Germans. A nice touch. In fact, even the third row occupants have similar AC vents on the C-pillar (no photograph, sorry) but I doubt they will be useful at all, because surprisingly, the third-row space is absolutely non-existent. Surprisingly, because I assumed that a car of this length would have a very comfortable third row of seats, after the Xylo has shown us the way it's done.
Which brings me to space. Very spacious all around. The second row passengers will not complain of legroom or headroom at all. I am 6'1" and my cousin is about ~6'. With him driving and me sitting behind him, we were both very comfortable. The seats were quite comfortable too, and I suspect the middle row would seat three abreast without much of a fuss. The middle passenger himself will not complain about being there, because the seat as well as the backrest are nice and flat unlike most cars today which have a nasty bump in the centre - on the seat and on the backrest (for the armrest). And yes, this one has a centre armrest at the back.
The car is equipped with dual AC. The controls for the second AC are situated between the first and second row of seats. Unlike the Innova which has a slider switch, this car has four switches in a row, for Off - 1 - 2 - 3. I like this arrangement more than the slider switch, somehow. Cooling was quite satisfactory, I did not find the need to speed up the blower. The second AC gets quite audible in settings 2 & 3, though.
The roof itself is quite strange. This is one picture I regret not clicking. On the roof, along the centre and running across the entire length of the car, are litle storage compartments of varying sizes. Some of them are useful because they can hold sunglasses. But some others, which are about two inches deep, serve no immediate purpose that comes to mind. They are hinged on one end, and flip downwards (like a flip-down roof-mounted DVD screen) but only upto a 30 degree angle. They are too small to hold documents, which would most likely fall out when the compartment is opened anyway. If Tata were attempting to create some sort of airline ambiance, they have succeeded but the utility of the same is doubtful.
The dash is cleanly designed. Unexciting, but very clean and the panel gaps were more or less even. The matte silver panels running on either side convey an eclectix mix of the Captiva / GV interior theme which is quite common now. The quality of buttons and switches, the AC rotary knobs etc was quite up there, nothing to complain about at all. The switches mounted on the steering wheel for cruise control and audio, though, made quite an audible click (like a mouse click) on every press. Felt a little cheap.
The car had a twin glove compartment similar to the Altis arrangement. The top one, in fact, is a chiller for drinks etc.
I was quite satisfied with the driving position and ergonomics, except for one massive massive fault. No dead pedal, and quite a narrow footwell. This meant that my left foot was quite uncomfortable even after a 20 minute Bandra - Worli drive. Further, the dash incorporates this space-age attempt at bottle holders which fails miserably, because it fouls with the driver's foot when opened.
On top of the dash sits a screen which was not too big in size, and it was a low-res dot matrix screen with blue backlighting, showing basic audio information such as radio station, volume, track etc. The surveyor claimed that the production model will have a full-fledged GPS in-dash module. I'd say that it can take one easily, no sweat.
The gear shifter didn't really feel premium at all. Felt like the leather was wrapped around it by a beginner. The matte silver trim, too, looked quite cheap in that application, while it went surprisingly well with the dash itself.
Audio quality itself was quite ordinary. On par for the course, I'd say, but no audiophile material.
In the dash pic, above the screen, you will notice a black protrusion rising up from the dash along the windscreen. This is a sensor for the auto lights or the auto wipers (don't remember which). Whatever it is, IMO it blocks your vision just a little bit, not something I liked.
The car was equipped with a Bluetooth handsfree system, with call accept / reject buttons on the steering wheel. nice touch. Didn't try it out though.
This car has the Civic windscreen wipers. I don't quite know what's wrong with the "normal" wipers.
Overall, a 7/10 from me for the interiors. A refreshing step forward from Tata, not too many el cheapo bits. Quite comfortable, and save for the massive ergonomic blunder i.e. omission of dead pedal, and the dismal third row space, it's a good effort.
These are my impressions after a 20-minute drive along the Sealink, Worli Seaface, and then from Atria Mall to the Concorde showroom via Siddhivinayak.
Driving position itself was quite comfortable. The height adjustable seats had good travel which meant that a tall fellow like me had no problems finding the right position.
The twin armrests make life easy for the front occupants. Perfect for a long drive, then why omit the dead pedal, Tata?
The mirrors are huge. Electrically adjustable as well as retractable. I had no problem driving the elephant around.
All round visibility is very good. Though there is a bit of a conflict here. The third row windows really help in all-round visibility, but the headrests of the second row block the lower half of those windows even if in the lowest position. Not cool.
The internal rear view mirror felt like it was stuck to it's place with chewing gum. It was way too loose, but what left me surprised was that it still did not vibrate during the drive.
The steering wheel was good to grip, and I felt it to be the perfect size. Not too big, not too small. Steering feel itself, did not quite weigh up and gave a sense of floating at about 140 kmph.
The clutch is the biggest disappointment. It is far too springy and really wears out the left knee. My cousin stalled 3-4 times while I stalled a couple of times. The Captiva has the same problem, and if you've driven one, you will know what I'm talking about. Even the travel is too long and unnecessary.
The brake pedal lacked feel, and had a discomforting play to it. Probably twice as much as I would have liked. The brakes themselves are quite alright, I braked hard from 120 kmph to 40 kmph and the car felt quite composed, did not divert from the straight line. ABS and 6 airbags standard, I'm told.
The engine is the same 2.2 DiCOR. This car weighs a little over two tonnes, and while the engine lacked outright punch and was quite raucous and audible above 2500 rpm, it seemed fine for routine overtaking maneuvers. On the sealink, I tried to simulate a typical state highway situation wherein the car is doing about 80 kmph in 5th, and needs to overtake a slow-moving truck. It was quite smooth in 5th, and on downshifting to 4th for the same, it pulled quite well. I'd say it's quite well-suited for the highway.
I feel the biggest step forward by Tata in this department is the gearbox. I found the shift action to be much smoother and more accurate than any ther Tata car that I've driven (and this includes a '98 Safari, an Indica DLE from the first batch ever, a '06 Indica V2, some rattly old Sumo from God knows when, and an '08 Safari DiCOR). The gear shifter itself though, could have been maybe a couple of inches taller. I found it a tad low, and a bit of a stretch to get to 1st and 3rd.
At 140 kmph, I noticed significant wind noise on the Sealink. Not too much tyre noise, though.
I didn't take a U-turn to comment about turning radius. Damn. The car felt quite nimble in the city traffic though, I had no problems inching through tight gaps.