Tata Motors Ltd entered the passenger vehicle market with the Indica in 1998, and has come a long way since then. More recently, the company launched its Zest compact sedan and Bolt hatchback, which did not capture the market as expected, to say the least. With the soon-to-be-launched Zica hatchback though, the company is looking to change its fortunes. Is this the best bet for Tata Motors yet? We find out.
Zica, derived out of 'Zippy Car,' is a completely new product from the Tata stable that is based on a new vehicle platform, featuring a new direction in terms of design, engineering and build quality. The Zica was developed in a period of 36 months, and seems to have finally shed the Indica side profile, which was fairly evident in all Tata hatchback models until now. This could definitely work in favour of the car, as well as represent a new direction for the design capabilities of Tata Motors in future models.
The Tata Zica is based on a completely new vehicle platform that hasn't been christened yet. The car features a new-generation suspension that can be tuned with the use of dual path struts in the front and the rear, along with a safety-oriented body design. A number of processes followed by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in the development of a new product have been employed in the Zica hatchback, in the areas of product development, design, manufacturing and customer perception.
Girish Wagh, Senior Vice President, Programme Planning and Project Management, Passenger Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors, said the body of the Zica meets future safety regulations like the upcoming Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme. The flexible new platform will allow Tata Motors to add more models to its line-up in FY 2016, said Pratap Bose, Head of Design, Tata Motors. He added that Tata made more physical models of the Zica at various stages of product development, to a get better idea of the merger between the design and engineering. These early physical representations have been the biggest learning, Bose noted.
The Tata Zica was designed with global inputs from all three of Tata's design studios present in India, UK and Italy. The car has a fresh exterior design, featuring the company's Designext signature Humanity Line, Slingshot line and Diamond DLO (Day Light Opening). The humanity line in the front is present in the form of a new vertical hexagon grill, finished off in glossy piano black. The grill, sporting a new 3D 'T' logo, integrates well with the car and flows into the smoked headlamps.
The slingshot line on the side of the Zica features a strong shoulder line that starts from the front fender, above the wheel arch, and gets integrated into the tail light. The shoulder line also passes through the door handles that resemble arrow heads. The look of the car has been further enhanced by the 14-inch wheels that fill up the wheel arches appropriately.
The hatch door continues the visual design carried on the car, with a number of lines moving from the rear windshield, tail lamps and bumper, which all come together remarkably well. However, the tail lamp has a very simple design when compared to the rest of the car. Additionally, the Zica, like the Zest and Bolt has the exhaust muffler hidden, adding to the clean look at the rear. The Zica features trendy spoiler spats at either ends of the rear spoiler that are said to aid aerodynamics.
With the interior design of the Zica, Tata Motors seems to have upped its game in creating a comfortable, interesting and purpose-built cabin. The high quality of materials, along with the fit-and-finish and storage spaces is better than segment standards. Additionally, Tata has paid attention to detail in the form of designs and practical features. One of these details is that almost all textures or patterns on the plastics of the Zica carry the hexagonal shape. The 22 storage spaces spread across the car add to the practicality.
The interiors of the top-end cars that we drove featured a dual-tone dashboard design that is carried across the door pads. We felt that the lower half of the dashboard finished in light grey could have been of better quality and finish. The interior features ample amount of gloss-finish panels on the centre console, around the air-condition ducts, inside door handles and part of the steering wheel. The company said these bits will be customisable according to the colour preference of customers.
Zica features a dual-pod instrument cluster with driver information such as current gear, gear change indication, and instant fuel efficiency displayed in between the two. The car features a tilt-adjustable steering, with wheel-mounted controls for music and phone.
A key feature of the Zica is the Next-Gen Connectnext infotainment and audio acoustics system, developed exclusively by HARMAN over a period of 18 months. The infotainment system features an eight-speaker audio system with FM/AM, USB, iPod, Aux and Bluetooth Audio connectivity. The audio system provides good quality surround sound across various volume levels. The system is also equipped with first-in-class features such as Smartphone-enabled Turn-By-Turn Navigation app and Juke-Car app.
The Turn-by-Turn navigation is enabled by connecting the infotainment system to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and does not use the mobile data of the phone. Meanwhile, the Juke-Car app uses mobile hotspot to create a virtual network and host a service for sharing list of available songs in the device. All connected devices can view the song list on the hotspot device, with users placing their requested song in queue.
The seats in Zica offer good cushioning and support, and are finished-off in high quality fabric upholstery. However, the Zica can only seat four adults comfortably, since the rear shoulder room and high centre-tunnel hump leaves enough space for just two adults. One feature with unsatisfactory ergonomics was the power window switch panel on the driver's door. It was not easy to operate without having to look at it or fiddling around for a few seconds. Additionally, the height-adjustable driver seat could have been placed lower, especially for taller drivers who would find the view out of the inside rear view mirror less effective. The car offers a boot space of 242 l, with a near square shape that has been achieved by very low intrusion of the rear suspension.
The Zica will be offered in two engine options – a three-cylinder, 1.2 l, Revotron MPFi petrol engine, and three cylinder Revotorq diesel engine. Both engines will offer two driving modes – City and Eco, to provide customers the choice of performance and efficiency. These engines have been developed by Tata with engineering partners like AVL and FEV, as well as supplier partners like Bosch, Aisin and Delphi.
The all-aluminium 1,199 cc Revotron petrol engine is completely different from the one introduced in the Zest and Bolt. The engine delivers 84 hp at 6,000 rpm, and 114 Nm of torque at 3,500 rpm. The engine offers a decent balance between efficiency, refinement and performance. Efficiency-inclined technologies include dual overhead camshafts, low-friction valve train & crank train, and variable oil pump.
The Petrol engine is peppy and performs well in the city, while being strained a little on the highway. It has a light clutch and gears slot in precisely. Even though the Zica features reduced NVH levels, engine noise and vibrations enter the cabin more than you'd expect of a petrol car.
The diesel variant is powered by a turbocharged 1,047 cc Revotorq, common rail direct injection engine delivering 69 hp of power at 4,000 rpm, and peak torque of 140 Nm from 1,800-3,000 rpm. The diesel engine has an aluminium head, with a cast iron block. Tata claims lower maintenance cost with consumables used and life of wear-and-tear parts tuned to render lower cost over five years/ one lakh km.
The Zica diesel offers loads of torque, but power output is sluggish. It has a linear power delivery when the turbo kicks in, and this is where the potential of the diesel engine can be taken advantage of. Not the best car for the city, the diesel variant is more apt for the highway. While the clutch and gear shifts are very similar to that of the petrol, the first gear of the diesel car we drove became a little difficult to engage after a while. Hopefully, this was a one-off problem that we faced.
RIDE & HANDLING
The new platform from Tata on which the Zica is based has been engineered well by the company. While the suspension soaks up large potholes and bumps, it is not soft enough to compromise the handling. Through corners, the car is well-planted, inspiring confidence in the driver.
Another positive of the Zica is the braking set-up, which features ABS with EBD and corner stability control. Braking efficiency on the car is good at all speeds. The electronic power-assisted steering (EPAS) of the
Zica is also a positive, as it is precise and aptly-weighted for convenient and safe driving at low or high speeds. Adding to this are the 14-inch tyres in 175 mm size that provide the optimum amount of grip and comfort.
The Zica is a big step up for Tata Motors in terms of the design language it features, and the number of first-in-segment engineering and technology equipment. The final build, materials quality, as well as finishing is mostly better than the segment has seen. With its ride and comfort quality and safety features, the car could take on it competition aggressively.
The Zica has very little going against it, so long it is priced aggressively and has minor corrections made to it. It seems to be a completely different hatchback from the company, which has until now only seen iterations of the erstwhile Indica. Zica could be the game changer for Tata that other models have tried and failed at.
Text: Naveen Arul
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay