Images by Gaurav Thombre and Rohit Mane
Words: Sirish Chandran
It’s not a car. It’s not an SUV. Neither is it an MPV. A straight off comparison test doesn’t really work for the Tata Hexa. You’d obviously compare it with the Innova Crysta but even before you read the verdict you can conclude that the Hexa is less of a people mover and more of an SUV. You will take it touring so we pitted it against what we think is the most comfortable SUV you can buy today. You will drive it in the city so we set out to find how much longer a big crossover takes on the city commute over a tiny city car. You might take it (a bit) off-road so we pitted it against a Duster AWD, our benchmark for soft-roading. We even attempt to answer the age-old car versus SUV question. And then the most important question, can it be a serious contender for the Indian Car of the Year. Time to ring the bell for seven rounds with obvious and not so obvious rivals.
Round 1: The Benchmark
I spent a weekend last month in Mumbai for the Mahindra Blue’s Festival and, turns out, the friend we were staying with had just booked an Innova Crysta. His factory is on the outskirts of Mumbai and he needs something comfortable in which to stretch out on the nearly two-hour commute. And reliable, you don’t want to be breaking down in Bhiwandi. That he now spends his weekends hunting for apartments in Bandra with enough parking for a Crysta is another matter altogether.
As we walk to Mehboob Studio, conversation, much to the irritation of the better halves, veers around to the big Tata I spent half an hour trying to park in Bandra. Just looking at the Hexa – far, far kinder on the eyes than the Crysta if you ask me – is enough to plant seeds of doubt in Anoop’s head. Add to the fact that after totting up registration and insurance the Hexa automatic is a whopping five lakh rupees cheaper than the automatic Crysta and I can literally hear his mental calculator firing away. I apologise for ruining his evening.
Next morning lunch turns to brunch: Anoop has barely slept and wants to try out the Hexa. I don’t have the ConnectNext App on my phone so we rely on Google Maps to take us to a new burger joint next to my old office in Parel and, to summarise his detailed road test over a juicy quarter-pounder, Anoop concludes he’d buy the Hexa, even if it were five lakh rupees dearer, provided it had a Toyota badge on the nose.
Perceptions are hard to get rid of, and that is (and will be – for the foreseeable future) the Hexa’s biggest challenge. That’s terribly unfair but Anoop is spending serious money and I’m in no position to predict how tight the Hexa will feel after 50,000km, let alone the 1,50,000km Innovas clock without breaking a sweat.
What I can tell you is that this test car has done 15,000km, and it feels brand new. No squeaks, no rattles, no play in the steering or suspension, no screeching fan belt. To be clear this is something we have come to expect on all modern cars and, in all fairness, this Tata feels like any modern car. Anoop also points out that the interiors look better than the Crysta’s – better styled, more SUV-like, better selection of colours; more macho to give it one word. If only the Hexa had a larger touchscreen (the Crysta’s is almost double the size) and just went with the flow and bundled Apple CarPlay rather than foisting ConnectNext Apps on you. And while they are at it how about some space for the mobile phone in the centre console and larger speedo and tacho pods?
A double espresso to beat out burger-induced drowsiness and we head back home to Pune. My wife’s immediate reaction is surprise at how silent it is at a cruise. I’m impressed by how well tied down the ride is. You can feel a nice tautness that is usually the preserve of German cars, and a firmness at low speeds, but potholes and speed humps barely slow it down. This feels like an SUV, not an MPV, and the way it smothers poor roads is deeply impressive. It eggs you on to jump everything in your path!
And as we hit the expressway it doesn’t feel like a handful. There’s no float and she stays properly planted at speeds clocked by enthusiastically driven Mercs and BMWs. I particularly like the high seating position that allows you to look over the roof of the Mercs and BMWs and all round visibility is also terrific, but sitting so high also makes it a little unnerving for the wife who thinks we are going way faster than we actually are. Also the steering really needs reach adjust, my arms are stretched out way more than I like. And another discovery – for a branded sound system, JBL in this case, there really should be more depth and bass.
Back in Pune, the Crysta is parked in the office and first things first it feels so much more car-like. The electrically-adjustable seats go down really low and the steering adjusts for reach. That feeling of quality is a notch higher though I’m not a fan of all the ambient lighting. The seats are more cushy and there’s more space at the rear – with wider seats too. To be driven to Bhiwandi and back everyday Anoop has made a wise decision, even the stereo sounds better. And his driver will appreciate the more urgent throttle response and acceleration of the 2.8 diesel compared to the Hexa’s 2.2. The Crysta also handles really, really well (begging the question why does the Fortuner feel so ponderous) but the Hexa is more dismissive of bad roads, jumping speedbreakers and flying over potholes that will force a Crysta to drop down two gears. The clincher remains, as affirmed by the double takes of all the Bandra boys with their manicured beards, the really cool styling and positioning of the Hexa.
The crossover concept always had potential but Tata Motors made a royal hash of it the first time round. The Hexa not only atones for past mistakes but is something I’m actually looking forward to running as a long termer (and answer the biggest question – what it will feel like after 50,000km). I have no doubt were this 2015, car magazines would have been screaming ‘Tata Beats Toyota’. But the 2017 Innova is such a vast improvement that it is now a luxury car riding on mechanicals that we all know can survive an apocalypse. But still, I’m not fully convinced it is that much better to command a five lakh rupee premium over the Hexa. Perceptions. Now how do you get rid of them?