If there’s one thing that most automotive OEMs in India agree upon, it’s that millennials are a uniquely challenging, particularly demanding set of customers, who tend to find regular sedans and hatchbacks a bit boring. What these young, relatively affluent set of car buyers want, apparently, is SUVs. Take a look at the figures. In FY 2016-17, 3.04 mn passenger vehicles were sold in India – a y-o-y growth of about 9 %. Of these, around 762,000 units were SUVs – a y-o-y growth of very close to 30 %. Within the SUV segment, the compact SUV (CSUV) segment stands at around 40 % by volume and is expected to show rapid growth in the coming years, as buyers increasingly opt for CSUVs instead of sub-4 m sedans and premium hatchbacks.
Manufacturers like Maruti, Ford, Renault, Mahindra and Nissan are already slugging it out in the CSUV segment and now Tata Motors has also joined the fray, with the rather all-new Nexon. We recently had an opportunity to drive the Nexon and here’s our take on this new vehicle that may turn out to be a significant sales success for Tata.
DESIGN AND STYLING
With its new generation of cars (Tiago, Hexa, Tigor and now the Nexon), Tata Motors has started paying a whole lot of attention to the way its vehicles look. The Nexon follows the same ‘Impact’ design philosophy as its young siblings from the Tata stable and is a rather good looking vehicle, with pleasing proportions, a high-riding SUV-ish stance and even a design cue or two from the JLR line-up.
Notable bits on the Nexon, in terms of design, include its large, wide headlamps with LED DRLs and black front grille (with the hexagonal pattern that’s sort of becoming a family trademark in Tata’s newer vehicles), which combine to give the Nexon a smiling ‘face,’ large airdam at the front with nicely integrated foglamps, muscular wheel arches, blacked-out B- and C-pillars, and a ‘floating’ roof that’s painted silver-grey, which makes it stand out from the rest of the car. The roof rails are very neatly integrated and the way in which the roof itself tapers down to meet the rear hatch (with the rear spoiler also adding to the effect) provides a glimpse of Range Rover Evoque design cues. Plus, there’s also the Ivory-white accent (for which Tata Motors developed special ceramic-type paint) around the fog lamps at the front, and across the shoulder line, merging into an X-shaped design element at the back, which looks quite distinctive.
This is a sub-4 m CSUV, of course, and with its length of 3.99 m and width of 1.81 m, looks compact and chunky. The Nexon rides on beautifully machined, five-spoke, 16-inch alloy wheels, shod with 215/60 rubber and its 209 mm of ground clearance should be especially useful if you ever decide to actually take it off the tarmac. However, you’ll need to bear in mind that the Nexon is a front-wheel-drive crossover and not a 4WD off-road warrior, and moderate your off-roading ambitions accordingly. Overall, we’d say the Nexon should definitely succeed in pulling large numbers of prospective buyers into Tata showrooms.
ENGINES AND TRANSMISSION
The Nexon is available with a choice of two new engines, which Tata Motors has developed especially for this CSUV. Nexon buyers can choose between a 3-cylinder 1.2 l turbocharged petrol, and a 4-cylinder 1.5 l turbodiesel.
We first drove the petrol-engined Nexon, powered by the new ‘Revotron’ 1,198 cc, turbocharged 3-cylinder unit. With double overhead cams (DOHC) and four valves per cylinder, this engine produces 109 hp at 5,000 rpm and 170 Nm of torque at 1,750-4,000 rpm. With its all-aluminium construction, this engine helps the petrol-powered Nexon to weigh in at 1,237 kg. The engine is mated to Tata Motors’ new ‘TA6300’ six-speed manual transmission, which, while not as slick and precise as some other gearboxes available in the segment, has gear ratios that are quite well matched to the engine’s power and torque output.
The 1.2 l engine’s power and torque are just about sufficient for the Nexon’s heft. However, even though the small engine is eager to please and works hard to deliver its best, it can begin to feel a bit strained if you push it hard. With a full load of passengers and with the AC running at full blast, the 1.2 l engine gets a bit overwhelmed if you demand too much of it. Yes, the turbo does chime in ultimately and the engine feels stronger from upwards of around 2,500 rpm, but the 3-cylinder unit doesn’t really sound too happy when pushed hard. Also, it’s a bit noisy for a small-capacity petrol engine and gets more vocal as the revs climb. Yes, it gets the job done, but isn’t the most refined petrol engine in its segment.
Coming to the Nexon’s ‘Revotorq’ diesel, it’s a 4-cylinder turbocharged 1,497 cc unit that produces 109 hp at 3,750 rpm and 260 Nm of torque at 1,500-2,750 rpm. This diesel also features double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, but gets a cast-iron cylinder block and aluminium cylinder heads.
With a more than 50 % hike in torque output when compared to the petrol engine, the Nexon’s turbodiesel definitely feels stronger on the road, pulling with more authority, without straining or feeling stressed when asked to perform. The diesel-engined Nexon’s kerb weight, at 1,305 kg, is about 70 kg more than the petrol model, but at low- to mid-RPMs, the diesel outperforms the petrol in terms of torque delivery. It does seem to run out of breath at higher revs and starts sounding a bit rough, but doing moderate speeds on the highway is a cinch and overtaking usually isn't a problem.
The Nexon’s turbodiesel gets the same six-speed manual transmission as the petrol model and while it isn’t as slick or precise as we would have liked, it gets the job done. Compared to the 5-speed units available with the competition, the Nexon’s 6-speed gearbox also makes for more relaxed cruising at higher speeds, hopefully along with better fuel economy as well. Tata Motors officials did not admit as much, but we do believe that AMT variants of the Nexon must also be under development and might hit the market later this year.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Now this is where the Nexon really shines. With an independent McPherson strut set-up at the front and semi-independent twist beam with coil springs at the back, the Nexon’s suspension is beautifully optimised for bad roads – the kind you’ll find just about everywhere in our country. Broken, rippled tarmac, potholes, speed breakers, bumps and ridges don’t bother the Nexon at all – the compact SUV just floats over and above almost anything that you can throw at it, keeping its occupants nestled in great comfort.
If that weren’t enough already, the Nexon also has another talent up its sleeve – its electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, which offers very good ‘feel’ and feedback. Whereas a lot of EPAS steering systems can feel overly light and provide barely any feedback, the Nexon’s speed-sensitive steering feels well weighted and provides useful feedback at higher speeds.
We had an opportunity to drive the Nexon around some ghats near Kochi, and came away impressed with this CSUV’s dynamic abilities. On the one hand, it provides great ride comfort and on the other hand, it’s also happy being pushed around corners. The 215-section rubber provides good grip, while the chassis/ suspension combination seems to have been nicely tuned, making the Nexon fun to drive around corners. Not bad at all.
INTERIORS AND SAFETY
The Nexon’s interiors are spacious and well-appointed, fit and finish is quite good, and the company has used a nice selection of quality plastics, with textures that feel good to touch. The front bucket seats are ergonomically designed and remained comfortable for the duration of our 5-6 hour drive, while the 60:40 split rear bench offers a surprising amount of legroom and headroom. Four large adults can fit into the Nexon comfortably, while five may be a bit of a squeeze.
In terms of safety, the Nexon’s brakes (discs at the front, drums at the back) get ABS with EBD, speed sensing auto door locks, and airbags for the driver and front passenger as standard equipment.
Coming to infotainment, the Nexon’s ‘ConnectNext’ touchscreen Harman system offers full Android Auto compatibility (Apple CarPlay compatibility is also coming soon). Smartphone connectivity is very easy to figure out, with full plug-and-play functionality, including navigation via Google Maps and music playback. The 8-speaker Harman sound system is actually pretty good – maybe even the best in the CSUV segment – and produces output that music aficionados will likely approve. The system can also be operated via steering wheel-mounted buttons and while the infotainment system’s touchscreen colour display (which is mounted at the top of the dashboard in a central position) is non-retractable, it looks good and works smoothly and efficiently. It also doubles up as the display unit for the Nexon’s rear-view camera, which comes on automatically when reverse gear is engaged.
There is a fair bit of storage space for knick-knacks in the Nexon’s cabin, along with a cooled glovebox and even a sliding shutter-type closing mechanism for the storage area near the parking brake lever, which is unique in this segment. You don’t need to insert the Nexon’s key into a keyhole to enter the car – the doors can be opened as long as you have the key on your person, and the vehicle has push-button start. They even give you a smart band that you can wear on your wrist, instead of having to carry your car keys around. If you’re wearing the band, you can enter the car and drive off, without bothering with the key at all.
The Nexon is a well-designed compact SUV that looks good, comes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines, is well equipped in terms of safety and infotainment, and offers great ride comfort along with reasonable dynamic ability. With this vehicle, Tata Motors has the opportunity to tap a market segment into which they’ve never ventured earlier, and which is currently one of the fastest growing segments in the Indian car market. Pricing will be announced when the Nexon is launched, in the next few weeks. For those who are in the market to buy a CSUV, the Nexon could be well worth the wait.
TEXT: Sameer Kumar
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay