“SUVs now contribute to over 32 per cent of the total car market”. That isn’t a headline from an American daily but an Indian newspaper. This scenario would never have been imagined by the carmakers themselves but it’s the reality. And moreover, the so called ‘compact SUVs’ and crossovers contribute to 39 per cent of the total SUV sales. The largest car makers in India including Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai have already tasted success with the Vitara Brezza and Creta, respectively. But it’s now Tata Motors’ turn to milk the situation with it’s all-new Nexon. On paper at least, the Nexon has got everything right. But does it have the right ingredients to dethrone the champions? Let’s find out.
Yup, everything on the Nexon is new, including the powertrains and design. Although the silhouette resembles that of the Indica Vista, the Nexon does not really resemble the sober hatch in any manner. In fact, there is nothing on the roads in this price segment that comes close to the styling of the Nexon.
Tata calls it an SUV and the Nexon has all the elements of a proper SUV. Be it the butch 215-section wheels or the tallish stance, with a ground clearance close on the heels of the Renault Duster at 209mm. The striking SUV-ish stance is accentuated even further by thick A- and C-pillars and faux diffusers both at the rear and the front. From the front, it reminisces of the Hexa with a wide bonnet, bulged up bumpers and muscular wheel arches. The large honeycomb grille is nicely blended with the headlamps, rounding off the SUV look.
The rear end design on the other hand is radical and might not appeal to many, but that did not deter it from grabbing people’s attention throughout our drive in Kerala. The large faux diffuser is flanked by a tiny bootlid that also holds the tail lamps. The dual tone pattern is another highlight of the design. Overall, looks are one of the Nexon’s many USPs and would generate a lot of interest we believe.
There are two new turbocharged engines powering the Nexon – a 3-cylinder, 1198cc petrol and a 4-cylinder, 1497cc diesel. Both the engines make an identical 108.49bhp of power while the torque is rated at 170Nm on the petrol and 260Nm on the diesel. The Nexon is clearly the most powerful car in its class, trumping both the EcoSport and Brezza, at least on paper. Not to forget, it’s also the heaviest with a kerb weight of 1305kg (diesel).
We wouldn’t elaborate much about the interior in our usual reviews, but the Nexon does deserve a special section all for it. The dashboard design and quality is a major step up for Tata Motors. The build quality is top notch and the layout is extremely well-designed, the floating 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen (Harman) being the highlight. The twin pod instrument cluster houses a tachometer and a large speedometer, while the trip meter is located in a digital layout, already seen on the Tiago. The steering wheel is smallish to give a sporty feel while the controls are easy to reach. There is no dearth of cubby holes, although some are really difficult to reach including the panel that holds the USB and AUX slot. Same goes with the umbrella holder mounted on the front doors. There’s also the tall-ish driver’s seat (typical of a Tata) which would not be liked by many. Also, for my height (6ft), the steering wheel is located in an awkward position. I had to duck most of the times to read the tacho and speedo. Other than some ergonomic issues, the interior is a great place to live in and could be a deal ‘maker’ for many buyers, shopping for a compact SUV.
Is it really quick?
Yes and no. Let’s talk about the enthusiast friendly turbocharged petrol unit first. It does make 108 bhp of power but sadly that does not reflect well in its road manners, thanks to very tall gear ratios. The power delivery is not linear; there is massive turbo lag below 2000rpm. To keep the turbo spooling, you have to shift after 4000rpm and if you fall below 2000rpm due to unforeseen circumstances while down shifting, then you have to start the process again. The power is delivered in oodles after 3000rpm, all the way to 6000rpm, where the Nexon actually starts going. If you stick to the band, there is a lot of fun to be had. And the tall gear ratios mean 100kmph is achievable even in the second cog. We could not really push it to speeds on Kerala’s roads but on the highway, this engine could be a boon if driven in a spirited manner; that is, by keeping it above the magic figure of 3k rpm. Be ready for big fuel bills though (we could achieve a best of 10kmpl on a drive that took us through ghats and dual carriageways). The NVH levels are minimal too for the 3 pot engine at the front.
On the diesel the experience is marred by poorly defined gear ratios as well. Here, the power delivery is very linear, but the engine starts going out of breath at just about 3.5krpm, after which there is no momentum but just a lot of noise. A kerb weight of 1305kg also adds to the worries. If you are not an enthusiast, this should be your choice though, as it does perform well for most of the conditions, be it city or highways. Don’t expect to be blown away by the performance though. It does just enough to allow stress free overtakes and daily city commutes.
Fun to drive?
A big yes! I have never been this excited after having driven a car from Tata Motors’ stable. Ride quality has been a USP of Tata cars since the launch of the Indica and the Nexon makes a giant leap here. The suspension is pliant at all speeds and can tackle everything from speed breakers to mild off-roading terrain without a hiccup. It does not rattle and there are no squeaks unlike on other Tata cars. The suspension has been stiffened on the diesel to let the axles accommodate additional weight, making it slightly firmer but nothing unbearable.
Renault Duster is known to be a great handler and is a favourite among the enthusiasts. I won’t be exaggerating to say that the Nexon comes closest to the Duster in the sub-15 lakh SUV segment. There is minimal body roll and pushing through corners is a lot of fun, as it does not lose traction easily. Obviously it does understeer when pushed too hard, but nothing unpredictable. There are 12 hairpin bends on the way to Idukki from Kochi and we managed to have a ball of a time there.
To sum it up, it’s a great driver’s car and yet caters to the family. You can push it around corners on your weekend pleasure drives and keep the family comfortable as well at the same time.
Should I get one?
The Nexon is the best product developed by Tata Motors’ till date, hands down. There are minor issues but the positives easily overpower all of those. Brezza is currently setting the charts on fire while the EcoSport is due for an upgrade (launch should happen soon). Nexon comes as a breath of fresh air in the compact-SUV segment. It has several pluses going for it including its handsome looks, stylish interiors and brilliant ride and handling setup among many.
Tata Motors is keeping mum about the launch dates but expect it to launch by September end, during the festive season. If Tata Motors prices it well, undercutting the rivals, there is no doubt about it changing the game for the Pune carmaker (the Nexon, by the way, rolls out of Fiat’s Ranjangaon plant). And it may end up eating up sales of the Creta as well, thanks to its premium-ness. A winner all the way!