Starting sometime in 2008, a new beast entered in the Indian car market – the sub-4 m sedan – with the Tata Indigo CS being the first such vehicle to be introduced in the country. In order to promote smaller, more fuel efficient cars, the Indian government announced lower excise duties on cars below 4 m in length, with engines of not more than 1.2 l (petrol) or 1.5 l (diesel). OEMs saw an opportunity there – why not target Indian buyers’ penchant for 3-box sedans by offering inexpensive sub-4 m sedans based on existing designs? It was (and is…) a win-win situation, where buyers get their beloved sedans at a pocket-friendly price, while manufacturers rake in the greenbacks. Yes, because of the design challenges associated with building a 3-box sedan that’s less than 4 m long, these cars are not really good looking, but nobody seems to care about that, so it’s business as usual. The Tigor, from Tata Motors, is the latest entrant in this hyper-competitive segment. We drove the car and here’s our take on whether it really delivers.
DESIGN & STYLING
The Tigor is, essentially a ‘notchback’ – a 2.5-box sedan where the 3rd ‘box’ (that is, the boot) is not as clearly defined as it would be on a 3-box regular sedan. Tata Motors is using the term ‘styleback’ for this car, stressing upon the fact that the Tigor is a stylish vehicle. Traditionally, if Tata cars’ strengths have been cabin space, fuel efficiency, ride quality and overall practicality, the Tigor also wants to add ‘style’ to that list. And yet, despite their best efforts, the Tigor’s styling looks a bit awkward. The car is based on the Tiago hatchback, which itself measures 3.75m in length. So as you can imagine, designing a sedan based on this platform, with just an additional 0.24 m to play with, would have been an immensely challenging task. Tata Motors has tried its best to make the car look good, but ultimately the Tigor’s proportions are dictated by the need to garner lower excise duties (by sticking to the sub-4 m mandate) rather than by pure design aesthetics. The boot does look a bit tacked-on and/or abruptly truncated, but as long as you make peace with the fact that that’s how it is with all cars in the sub-4 m sedan segment, the Tigor’s styling is not too bad.
At the front, the Tigor is essentially the Tiago – the nicely sculpted front end remains largely unchanged and is fairly attractive. The large honeycomb front grille gives the car a smiling face, the dark, smoked headlamps add a sense of purpose and the 5-spoke 15-inch alloys (on the petrol top-end variant) look good. The blacked-out B-pillar treatment, chrome trim on the window sills, stylish taillamps and the chrome strip that runs across the boot are all nice little touches that buyers will probably appreciate. However, like we said earlier, the proportions suffer because of the sub-4 m constraint, and the boot does look a bit awkward. However, at 390 l, it’s at least reasonably spacious and will no doubt take a few suitcases without too much trouble. Also, the boot features special struts which, unlike conventional hinges found on most cars, do not intrude into the boot space, hence freeing up more space and amping up the practicality quotient.
One small detail that we’ll note here is that the diesel variant rides on 14-inch alloy wheels, which look a bit too small for the car. Even with 15-inch alloys (fitted to the petrol top-end version), there’s fair bit of gap between the tyres and the wheelarches, and this becomes more pronounced with 14-inch wheels. We hope Tata Motors will consider offering 15-inch wheels as standard on all variants of the Tigor and perhaps even offer 16-inch wheels as an optional upgrade for buyers looking for that extra bit of style. Overall, the car looks not too bad and the design team, led by the very affable and knowledgeable Pratap Bose, who is deeply passionate about automotive design, has done the best they could, given the dimension-related constraints that they’ve had to work with.
POWERTRAIN & TRANSMISSION
The Tigor is available with both petrol and diesel engines. The petrol variant is powered by a ‘Revotron’ 1.2 l three-cylinder engine that produces 85 hp and 114 Nm of torque. This fuel-injected engine is made of aluminium to keep weight in check, and features double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The diesel variant, on the other hand, is fitted with a ‘Revotorq’ 1.0 l three-cylinder engine, that features a cast iron block, aluminium cylinder heads, double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. This engine produces 70 hp and 140 Nm of torque.
Coming to the driving experience, we first drove the petrol variant and its performance can only be described as modest, at best. With a kerb weight of 1062 kg, the petrol-powered Tigor is not exactly a featherweight, and if you demand too much of it, the Tigor’s 1.2 l 3-cylinder petrol engine struggles to deliver. Please note, it’s not like the petrol Tigor feels drastically underpowered – as long as you remember that this is a basic, entry-level family sedan, it does just fine. It’s only when you start demanding more from this engine – for example, during high-speed overtaking manoeuvres on the highway – that it shows its limitations. The saving grace is the 5-speed manual transmission, which feels reasonably smooth and slick, shifts quickly and seems to have ratios optimised for the engine’s power delivery. Make judicious use of this 5-speed ‘box and you can work with the engine’s limited power output and still make acceptably swift progress through city traffic. Out on the highway, you’ll probably wish the Tigor had the Zest’s (Tata Motor’s other sub-4 m sedan) 1.2 l turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine, which produces a rather more impressive 90 hp and 140 Nm of torque. Then again, we expect the Tigor range to be priced well below the Zest line-up, and you get what you pay for, right?
And then there’s the ‘Revotorq’ 1.0 l diesel, the other powerplant available on the Tiago. This engine is smaller and less powerful than the 1.2 l, 4-cylinder ‘Quadrajet’ turbo-diesel fitted on the Zest, which produces up to 90 hp and 200 Nm of torque. The Tigor’s unit only produces 70 hp and 140 Nm of torque, which is just about adequate for the car. With an extra 26 Nm of torque as compared to the petrol-engined Tigor, the diesel offers slightly better drivability in certain road and traffic situations, though definitely don’t expect a huge difference between the two in terms of power delivery. Also, the 1.0 l diesel is not as smooth and silent as the 1.2 l petrol, but should certainly offer much better fuel efficiency and that will be an important benefit for many.
RIDE, HANDLING & SAFETY
Ride quality is one area where the Tigor really shines. With fully independent McPherson strut set-up at the front and a semi-independent twist beam at the back, the Tigor rides beautifully over rough, broker roads that are commonplace everywhere in India. While the petrol and diesel variants ride on different size wheels and tyres (175/60 R15 rubber for the petrol, 175/65 R14 for the diesel), there seemed to be no discernible difference in the ride quality – both cars rode very well, and handled bumps, potholes and speed-breakers etc. with remarkable aplomb. And while we did not have an opportunity to push either car very hard, we do suppose the 15-inch wheels fitted to the petrol version will offer a small advantage in terms of high-speed stability and cornering ability. The Tigor’s rack-and-pinion steering, with electric power assist, offers light and easy manoeuvrability at all speeds, but don’t expect a lot of feel or feedback from the car’s nicely textured multi-function steering wheel. We suppose that’s perfectly all right for a sub-4 m sedan, where 99 % of all buyers are probably not even looking for things like steering feedback.
In terms of safety, the Tigor features a specially designed energy absorbing monocoque chassis, that’s designed to progressively crumple in the event of a crash, thereby protecting the car’s occupants from harm. Also, the car gets dual front airbags, an anti-lock braking system (ABS), which we think should simply be made mandatory for all cars across all segments, an electronic brakeforce distribution system (EBD) that allocates optimum braking force across all four wheels for the shortest possible braking time and distance, and even a cornering stability control (CSC) system, which should keep things from going spectacularly wrong in the event of a driver’s high-speed cornering ambitions outstripping his/her actual talent for such manoeuvres. On the whole, despite its ‘entry-level sedan’ positioning, Tata Motors seem to have done a fair bit in making the Tigor as safe as possible, though we only hope that ABS and airbags are made available as standard fitment across all variants and not just the top-end models.
INTERIORS & CONNECTIVITY
Interiors are another area where we feel the Tigor does quite well. With a wheelbase of 2450 mm (50 mm more than the Tiago hatchback) and a maximum width of 1677 mm, the Tigor’s cabin is fairly spacious. Both, the adjustable front seats as well as the rear bench, are amply padded and are well contoured for long-distance comfort. We spent time in the driver’s seat as well as in the back seat, and had no complaints with headroom, legroom or shoulder room. The cabin is not just comfortable, but also boasts very good levels of fit and finish, with Tata Motors having used quality plastics for the dashboard and other interior trim, along with very good cloth upholstery for the seats. The combination of up to three different kinds of textures and finishes for the plastics used on the dashboard and the multi-function steering wheel also looks and feel pretty good – no complaints there whatsoever.
The Tigor’s 8-speaker Harman infotainment system is also pretty good, offering a comprehensive set of functions and ease of use. With a 5-inch touchscreen, the system offers USB and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity for music playback and navigation, voice command recognition (activated by a button mounted on the steering wheel), rear-view camera for parking assistance, and a suite of apps including NaviMaps, Juke Car App, Tata Smart Remote and Tata Emergency Assist app, which automatically shares vehicle co-ordinates (with emergency contacts saved in the system) in the event of an accident. During the time we drove the Tigor, the navigation system worked without any glitches and music playback quality was not bad at all. The touchscreen, while a bit on the smaller side, is probably the best you can get at the Tigor’s price point.
The Tigor is Tata Motor’s third product in the sub-4 m sedan segment, after the Indigo CS and the Zest. The company hasn’t announced prices for the Tigor, but we expect it to be positioned below the Zest, which gets more powerful petrol and diesel engines. Despite its ‘styleback’ nomenclature, the Tigor is not particularly good looking, but that’s a limitation imposed by size constraints rather than lack of effort from the Tata Motors design team. Mechanically, it’s a fairly capable package, with both petrol and diesel engines offering adequate performance and, at least in the case of the diesel, we hope very good fuel economy as well. The cabin is spacious and comfortable, ride quality is outstanding, and all the safety features that you’d expect in a car of this segment are all present – at least in top-end model. We hope the lower-end variants will also get at least ABS and twin airbags at the front. The one thing that does seem to be missing on the Tiago is an AMT option. With an increasing number of buyers, even in the entry level segments, now beginning to opt for AMTs, probably because these offer all convenience of a conventional automatic, without hurting fuel economy the way a torque-converter automatic does, the lack of an AMT on the Tiago could be a missed opportunity. That said, we do expect Tata Motors to start offering an AMT on this car within the next six months.
On the whole, the Tiago is a well-rounded car that ticks most boxes, and offers the features and specifications that are high on the priority list of most buyers in its segment. Priced sensibly, this car should do quite well in the Indian market.
TEXT: Sameer Kumar
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay