It's not just Tata Mo­tors' first pre­mium hatch­back but their first all-new small-car plat­form. It prom­ises plenty but does the Altroz de­liver?

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TWO YEARS AF­TER IT WAS show­cased as the 45X con­cept, the Tata Altroz is here in pro­duc­tion form and will go up against the Baleno and i20 when it goes on sale at the start of 2020. And straight off the bat, we must talk about the styling that has stayed re­mark­ably faith­ful to the con­cept car, with only a few con­ces­sions be­ing made for pro­duc­tion re­al­i­ties. Led by Pratap Bose and his teams based in Pune, Turin and War­wick in the UK, the stylists at Tata Mo­tors have de­liv­ered a fan­tas­tic look­ing hatch­back that sets the bench­mark as far as de­sign goes. I par­tic­u­larly like the slightly thrust­ing shar­knose treat­ment go­ing on at the nose where the slim head­lamps are de­fined by a chrome chin that runs the full width. The blacked-out hon­ey­comb grille is free from any chrome em­bel­lish­ments and runs against the cur­rent grain of huge, thrust­ing goa­tee grilles.

Top-end ver­sions of the Altroz get the float­ing roof whose blacked-out treat­ment ex­tends into the tail­gate that makes the Tata logo along with the Altroz let­ter­ing pop nicely. The tail lamps cre­ate sharp an­gles and neg­a­tive spa­ces when viewed in pro­file that look ex­cel­lent. Stick­ing with the pro­file you will also no­tice the gloss-black fin­ish around the glass house that starts with a kink un­der the wing mir­rors and sweeps up to­wards the tail giv­ing this im­pres­sion of a ta­per­ing shoul­der line and nar­row­ing win­dow line. Strong wheel arches give strength to the pro­file and it runs on 16-inch wheels shod with MRF tyres on our test cars. To keep the pro­file clean, the rear door han­dles are hid­den away in the C-pil­lar.

Ex­te­rior fit-fin­ish and panel gaps are tight and there is re­ally noth­ing to crit­i­cise on that front. In fact, there's noth­ing to crit­i­cise and ev­ery­thing to praise as far as the styling goes. But if I did have to point out one thing, it is that the Altroz would look bet­ter on 17-inch wheels and in our Thrill of Driv­ing pod­cast Pratap Bose did ad­mit that the car has been de­signed to run on big­ger wheels.

Doors open like the Al­ba­tross

Like the ex­te­rior, the cabin, too, is a new de­sign from the ground up, and the high­light is the LED mood light­ing that seeps out of the seams around the cen­tre con­sole and the footwell. The cabin is spa­cious, airy and the high­light are the doors that open re­ally wide, a full 90 de­grees to the body. This door open­ing has been en­gi­neered into the new ar­chi­tec­ture keep­ing ease of ingress/egress in mind — and

en­hanc­ing the same for the driver is the flat­bot­tom steer­ing wheel. While on the sub­ject of space, there's enough knee room for rear pas­sen­gers and the width is also up to class bench­marks. How­ever, the rear seat back is too up­right and there's not enough un­der­thigh sup­port to make long drives in the back seat com­fort­able. The front seats too aren't as wide or sup­port­ive (on the side and un­der the thigh) as its ri­vals.

Again, the fit-fin­ish of the in­te­ri­ors is quite good and Tata Mo­tors have done a very good job ex­or­cis­ing the ghosts of the past. The doors shut with a solid thud, you no longer have to hunt for the USB slot, there's no air­craft-style non­sense for the hand­brake, noth­ing rat­tled af­ter two days with the car, no gap­ing panel gaps, there's space in the footwell for a dead pedal, and ev­ery­thing is where it should be. But, if I'm be­ing hon­est, the in­te­ri­ors don't make you go wow, like the ex­te­ri­ors do.

For one, there are too many dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and sur­faces on the dash. The plas­tics feel too hard and I am not a fan of some of the sur­fac­ing, espe­cially on the steer­ing wheel boss. The stalks are car­ried over from other Tata Mo­tors' cars and don't feel high qual­ity and some of the but­tons like the ones be­low the infotainme­nt are carry over items that seem out of place, be­ing too small and squeezed in to­gether.

What I don't like are the clocks that are dis­pro­por­tion­ately too small — some­thing

I'd crit­i­cised even on the Har­rier. The tacho and trip com­puter are on a 7-inch screen with

Fit-fin­ish is quite good and Tata Mo­tors have done a very good job in ex­or­cis­ing the ghosts of the past

the speedo on the right and since it has been squeezed into a small bin­na­cle, the num­bers and let­ter­ing are too con­gested. That said, the graph­ics of the trip com­puter are done quite nicely and are prop­erly leg­i­ble.

The infotainme­nt is via a 7-inch touch­screen taken from the Nexon and gets Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. No in-built maps, but with Google Maps no­body uses it in any case.

On the top-end vari­ant there's a 6-speaker Har­man sound sys­tem which does sound good. There is space in the cen­tre con­sole for your phone but no wire­less charg­ing. There's auto head­lamps and rain-sens­ing wipers but no day-night mir­rors. And no sun­roof will be avail­able at launch.

Fa­mil­iar en­gines, now BS6-com­pli­ant

The Tigor's 1.2-litre 3-cylin­der petrol en­gine along with the 5-speed 'box is car­ried over and is a nat­u­rally-as­pi­rated unit un­like the Nexon's turbo-petrol, mak­ing 85bhp of power and 113Nm of torque, which is par for the course con­sid­er­ing its ri­vals but the petrol Altroz does tip the scales at 1036kg (kerb) which, when com­pared to the Baleno that's un­der a tonne, does make it slower off the line. The per­for­mance is not as ea­ger as its ri­vals and the en­gine is not as smooth, re­fined or silent ei­ther. The gear­box shift qual­ity is ac­cept­able but not the slick­est among its ri­vals.

The en­gine to opt for is the 1.5-litre diesel bor­rowed from the Nexon that makes 88.7bhp of power and 200Nm of torque. The diesel is 114kg heav­ier than the petrol, but the sig­nif­i­cant bump up in power de­liv­ers more ea­ger per­for­mance, makes it more torquey and gen­er­ally more en­joy­able to drive. Where

the petrol strug­gles to get past 120kmph, the diesel is capable of much more and also the torque gives it bet­ter over­tak­ing grunt with­out hav­ing to pull the revs all the way to the red­line. The NVH is par for the course as far as its diesel ri­vals are con­cerned, though the throt­tle re­sponses are a lit­tle dull. In fact, the added weight of the diesel does de­liver bet­ter steer­ing weight, which we will come to.

All-new Al­pha-arc plat­form

This, fi­nally, is a new plat­form from Tata Mo­tors to un­der­pin their small cars and en­gi­neers claim it is flex­i­ble enough to go up in size to a sedan and SUV. Ob­vi­ously it can also be down­sized for smaller cars which will be the even­tual Tigor/Ti­ago re­place­ments. And it has been de­signed with elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and hy­bridi­s­a­tion in mind.

So what does the Altroz feel like on the road? Ac­tu­ally, very good. In keep­ing with cur­rent trends, this Al­pha-arc plat­form is lighter than ear­lier Tata Mo­tors' ar­chi­tec­tures but I'm glad they haven't gone all anorexic. The 100-odd ex­tra ki­los when com­pared to ri­vals like the Baleno, make the Altroz more planted and more con­fi­dent on the road. It does not feel flighty and at risk of switch­ing lanes in a strong breeze. It also doesn't trans­mit ev­ery lit­tle sur­face change and ev­ery lit­tle un­du­la­tion into the cabin, and damps out a fair bit of the road sur­faces and noise when com­pared to the class best-seller. It feels safer, and more sorted.

The ride qual­ity is in keep­ing with Tata Mo­tors’ past form of mak­ing very com­fort­able cars

The ride qual­ity is in keep­ing with Tata Mo­tors' past form of mak­ing very com­fort­able cars. The Altroz does a very good job of soak­ing in road un­du­la­tions and it soaks it up so well you don't even have to slow down over small speed­break­ers. In fact you can eas­ily cruise at triple-digit speeds and I'm glad Tata Mo­tors have tuned the speed buzzer to be audi­ble but not hor­ri­bly in­tru­sive.

The han­dling is safe and se­cure if not ex­cit­ing. The steer­ing is too light and life­less, but that said, still feels bet­ter than the Baleno. And the brakes, discs at the front, drums at the rear, are strong. We drove the car on the straight roads around Jaisalmer so you will have to wait for us to test it on fa­mil­iar roads in our back­yard to give you a more de­tailed ver­dict on the han­dling and brak­ing but ini­tial im­pres­sions of this new plat­form are over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive — and we can­not wait for Tata Mo­tors to put in more pow­er­ful en­gines to ex­ploit the po­ten­tial of this chas­sis. In fact a turbo-petrol with a DCT au­to­matic is in the wings, most likely car­ry­ing the go-faster JTP badg­ing. I just wish they'd en­gi­neered the steer­ing col­umn to ad­just for reach (it's only rake ad­justable right now) and that would have de­liv­ered a bet­ter driv­ing po­si­tion.

The gold stan­dard?

Does the Altroz live up to the mar­ket­ing hype? Let's start with the down­sides. That the han­dling isn't ex­cit­ing won't be a big miss for most buy­ers but what they will no­tice is the petrol en­gine isn't up to class bench­marks, nor is there a turbo-petrol at launch. Also not avail­able at launch are au­to­matic gear­boxes. And while Tata Mo­tors has matched class bench­marks, it hasn't sig­nif­i­cantly raised the game espe­cially in light of an all-new i20 that's round the cor­ner.

That said, I will say the wait for the Altroz has been worth it and it def­i­nitely is the best hatch­back that Tata Mo­tors have ever built. It is prop­erly fin­ished, the fit and fin­ish is up to the mark, noth­ing feels out of place or com­pro­mised, the pow­er­ful diesel en­gine will also be a strong sell­ing point, and it looks fan­tas­tic. In fact this is the best look­ing small car there is right now and also among the most com­fort­able and con­fi­dence in­spir­ing too. If matched with ag­gres­sive pric­ing you will see plenty of Altroz's on the road in the new year. ⌧

Fac­ing page, bot­tom: Ana­logue speedo with a 7-inch dig­i­tal dis­play in­cor­po­rat­ing the tacho. Right: Only man­ual gear­boxes. Be­low the lever is the switch for eco mode. Be­low: There's re­ally no bad an­gle on the Altroz, the styling is so good

Bot­tom: In­te­ri­ors use carry over parts like the touch­screen. Well de­signed but too many dif­fer­ent sur­faces and ma­te­ri­als. Be­low left: Rear door han­dle in C-pil­lar. Fac­ing page, top: 16-inch wheels shod with MRF rub­ber

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