The latest from Tata Motors is a watershed for the company, courtesy this bold and trendsetting new design language. But does it have the rest of the goods to deliver the bang for buck that people would expect it to?
FROM THE FANTASTIC fireworks and that rock concert setup in the middle of sand dunes at Khimsar, to the general atmosphere, there is a sense of jubilation at Tata Motors. This is their moment of pride and joy, when they present the Harrier to us for the first time. For the Harrier, which we first saw as the brilliant H5X Concept at the Auto Expo earlier this year, marks the start of a brand new chapter at Tata Motors. The prologue of course was the Nexon that marked the company's entry into a new SUV segment with a brand new design language. But it is truly the Harrier that seems to have what it takes to set Tata Motors firmly on a new path. A new path headlined by a stunningly bold design language and a foray into genuine premium for the first time with a product that, like the Nexon before it, should see far more individual takers than fleet owners. The fact that it will compete with products like the Mahindra XUV 500, the highly successful Hyundai Creta and the runaway hit that is the Jeep Compass, puts it in a segment where the spotlight hasn't stopped shining. Tata Motors' ask of the Harrier isn't small and the team that created it would have worked to deliver on every single count.
Platform and design
“A lot of people underestimate the value of a platform architecture. I just mentioned to you the OMEGA. Having the wheels in the right place, in the right size. Having the cabin to body proportions. These are fundamentally decided in the architecture. That's what I call design really, the rest is all styling.” These were the words of Tata Motors' head of design, Pratap Bose, just weeks before the media drive of the Harrier in Jodhpur when I had met him and asked him about the significance of the platform to design.
Clearly, the OMEGA ARC platform lends itself to great styling for there is absolutely no doubt that in the flesh, the Harrier cuts a handsome silhouette. It's butch and aggressive when it needs to be yet with a touch of class. The musculature is just right and not over the top. Its face is that of a bold and resurgent Tata Motors that clearly wants to lead from the front, and I daresay that with the Tata Harrier, Pratap and his team have succeeded in doing so. For some, this brave new design direction might take a bit of time to get used to, habituated as they are to more conventional, rather orthodox, SUV design, but once they're past that point, the Tata Harrier's
appeal to the eye will be difficult to ignore.
The fact that it's wider and longer than both the Compass and the Creta, which we expect will be its principal rivals at either end of the pricing spectrum, coupled to this standout design, means that there's no way you will be able to ignore the Tata Harrier's immense road presence.
On the inside, the first thing that strikes you is this perception of space. Or is it actual space? Probably the latter, and I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be the roomiest SUV in its class. Till date I have never seen a Tata vehicle that isn't roomy. It's almost part of the Tata Motors DNA but with the Tata Harrier, this has been taken to a new level. Even for a six-footer like me, kneeroom at the rear of this five-seater is plenty, as is headroom and shoulder room. (architecture can take a 7-seater config but that's not available right now and neither is anyone at Tata confirming if there will be one anytime soon).
Going back to my conversation with Pratap, he had said that although Tata Motors has moved away from the old Indica's design and style, he continues to draw inspiration from the spirit of the Indica. “The Indica in its time was one of the global hatchback design leaders. If you look at some of the contemporaries of the Indica in 1997, it really was up there with the best. It was a hatchback that really stood out and it was known for its roominess. I know there is a scientific explanation for what DNA is but for me it is Do Not Alter. That means there are some core things that you do not change.” With the Harrier, roominess in the cabin is something that Pratap's team has certainly not altered. And mind you, none of this is at the cost of boot space, which is a voluminous 425 litres.
The other thing that strikes you is the feel of quality. The doors shut with a solid reassuring thud and the wood finish on the dash along with the chrome and piano black accents look premium. The layout with that 8.8-inch floating touchscreen dominating the centre of the dash looks clean and classy as does the aircraft control-inspired unconventional parking brake lever. Unfortunately with that parking brake functionality is somewhat hampered and it doesn't feel as sturdy as the rest of the stuff. The 7-inch colour TFT instrumentation too is funky but it takes just
a wee bit of time to get used to the layout while some of the fonts on the warning lamps are too small to be deciphered. The seats are nice and comfortable but they lack under thigh support, something a slightly larger or longer seat squab could have solved. Where everything gives off a feel of premium quality, the flimsy internal rear view mirror feels out of place, and the lack of an auto dimming function for it is simply inexplicable, as is the narrowness of the dead pedal and the way the left knee keeps touching the sides of the centre console. The other inexplicable thing is the absence of Apple CarPlay. Tata Motors says it will be included shortly but a vehicle in this segment should have had it from the get go. Operation of the music system too could be a bit more user friendly than it is and it showed a tendency to switch Android Auto off at regular intervals although that latter bit could be down to a faulty cable. Speaking of cables, the USB and Aux-In ports are hidden from plain sight, so you'll need to look for them.
At the heart of the Harrier
Under the beautifully sculpted bonnet of the Tata Harrier is a 2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that Tata Motors has decided to call Kryotec. The FIAT sourced engine, which is the same as in the Compass, but produces a lower 138bhp at 3750rpm and 350Nm from 1750 to 2500rpm. As you can see from those figures the entirety of the grunt is spread towards the bottom and middle of the engine's rev range
In the flesh the Harrier cuts a handsome silhouette. It’s butch and aggressive yet with a touch of class
and with a linear delivery, which proved to be great for the relaxed cruise that we did on the highway from Jodhpur to Khimsar. The low down grunt also meant that driving through Jodhpur's crazy traffic, sometimes at crawling and pottering pace, could be tackled easily. It's a trait that should stand the Tata Harrier in good stead. For now, there is only a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive with both an automatic variant and an AWD variant due sometime later. This also means that the rotary knob next to the gear lever that allows you to switch between normal, wet and rough road modes is actually a bit misleading. It only alters ESP settings, which has a whole plethora of functionalities, but doesn't really endow the Tata Harrier with any extra capabilities. To be fair though, the Tata Harrier will not shy away from a bit of soft roading but without 4WD, those modes don't really offer any functional value. Especially because in 99 out of 100 cases, default ESP is all you need to drive on a dry road, a wet road or even on a trail or graded road. The engine modes, there are Eco, City and Sport, are more effective and switching between the three you'll clearly feel the change in the vehicle's response. Needless to say, Sport was our favourite.
While we couldn't really test the vehicle's handling thanks to Rajasthan's arrow straight roads, the hydraulic power steering is a joy to operate. It's precise and has adequate feedback and yet somehow Tata Motors engineers have managed to eradicate the usual sense of heaviness associated with hydraulic power steering units. So even when we were cutting our way through the chaos of Jodhpur, it didn't feel like a chore. The other thing that really stands out is the Tata Harrier's ride quality. The setup is definitely on the softer side, which makes it absolutely outstanding. Yet, it isn't wallowy as is often the case with soft suspension setups. The fact that Tata Motors has deemed fit to stick to 17inch wheels shod with 235/65 profile tyres also aids ride quality. Soon enough however there will be the option of 18-inch wheels.
Bang for buck
The Harrier therefore is a bit of a mixed bag. It has some great things going for it and at the same time it is far from being flawless. It drives well, has brilliant ride quality, a great feedback-rich steering and bathtubs of style. Mechanically and visually, there is no doubt that the Harrier is a well made product. It has plenty of equipment, although strangely there is no sunroof, and even more space than equipment. Finally, in the looks department I would think Pratap and his team deserve a giant pat on their backs for knocking it right out of the park. But for those niggling flaws that I have mentioned, the Harrier would have been the bullseye product that Tata Motors wants it to be. Even so, this will easily be a great purchase proposition for those looking for a good looking, spacious SUV that is easy to drive and live with. The only condition, is that the company plays the pricing game just right. We expect the pricing to be between `13-18 lakh, which will put the Harrier squarely between the Creta and the Compass. And now, we wait to find out if we're right on that pricing count. ⌧
Above right: That's no terrain response. It just alters ESP settings. The Harrier is a 4x2 as of now.Facing page, top: Cabin feels premium for the most part and stylish for sure
Top: Can get close to the dune but don't go dune bashing. Centre: Don't go looking for top end performance there. Above: Looks good, works well