First previewed at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, followed by the 2016 Delhi Auto Expo earlier this year, the Tata Hexa is the next big thing for the Indian conglomerate. This car will serve the purpose of a flagship model for Tata, and will go up against the likes of the Mahindra XUV500 and Toyota Innova Crysta. The car was initially conceptualized as a super comfy 6-seater rather than a 7-seater, and hence the name ‘Hexa’. It is an expression of the best of what Tata Motors has to offer to its customers. We drove the car in the ‘Biryani capital’ of India, Hyderabad, to find out whether the Tata Hexa could satiate our hunger for the best large SUV/MPV of India.
The Tata Hexa has been has been positioned as an SUV this time around. Many might say the overall body shape resembles that of an MPV, but Tata Motors wants you to look deeper into its soul rather than its looks. The Hexa gets an automatic transmission, all wheel drive system and drive modes, which is the first way to get a hint of the message the company really wants to convey. Spiritually though, it remains the successor to the Tata Aria, albeit with an entirely new plot. Our drive began early morning from the beautiful Novotel Hyderabad Airport Hotel, over some smooth, rough and undulating surfaces, and we were not prepared for how much this car would impress us. Read on to find out.
The Tata Hexa has been designed on the Impact design philosophy that debuted with the Tata Tiago late last year. The main attributes of this design was to given a powerful first impression and leave a lasting impression when customers own the car. First impressions though, were pretty positive over the few crucial hours that we spent with the car. The front is largely characterised by the high bonnet line and an almost vertical front grille which gives it a bold stance. The new Tata 3D emblem, the newly detailed front grille, fog lamps, LED DRLs, the peeled back projector headlamp and gloss black detailing over them, give this car a sporty and aggressive look. The chrome insert on the upper front grille (humanity line) and a contrasting outline on the lower front grille further accentuate this feel.
Move towards the sides and the first thing you notice are the oversized wheel arches and the perfectly fitting 19-inch alloy wheels. Yes 19-inches!! Tata Motors have also boldly given it rather low (for an SUV) profile 55mm sidewall tyres that look the part. The next thing you notice is the floating roofline that originates from the A-pillar and the chrome detailing on the rear quarter glass with the HEXA branding on it. The car was revealed to us a night before the drive under spot lights. Here, is where we found out, that the chrome detailing really comes to life. The chrome lined door handles, window line and the inner door lock knob (called the “Standing Soldier” in Tata terms) finished in chrome, look very classy and premium.
The rear though isn’t as exciting as rest of the design although the detailing again is top notch. There are hexagonal all-LED taillights, chunky chrome slab (that originates from the window line) and dual chrome tipped tailpipes that adorn the rear. Also, the Tata Hexa gets dual tone front and rear bumpers and plastic cladding on the sides and wheel arches to give that off-roader look. Paint finish on this new car is impressive too.
Pull the door handle and you are greeted by the Tata family steering wheel with multiple buttons on it to control the cruise control and audio system. The infotainment system gets a touchscreen display, a 320-Watt 10-speaker JBL sound system and support for Bluetooth, USB, AUX-in and SD Card. There is a dual glove box out of which the upper compartment is cooled. The automatic climate control system works well and is placed just below the infotainment system, below which, there is a 12V socket, the Super Drive Mode knob (manual) and the USB and AUX-in ports. Plastic quality on the upper dashboard and steering wheel is good and we particularly liked the soft touch plastics on the doors.
The seats are upholstered with Benecke Kaliko Leather-feel material with contrast stitching. Comfort on the front seats is good and the seat allows you to adjust for height, as well as lumbar support. The Tata Hexa will be offered as a 6-seater or a 7-seater, and depending upon what you choose, the middle row will come with two captain seats or a bench seat. Comfort is very good in the second row too and you can slide the seats forward to liberate extra knee-room for the third row passengers. There are centrally mounted air-con vents and also ones mounted on the B-pillars.
The third row also gets dedicated pillar mounted AC vents, but the space in here can get a bit cramped, especially for your feet. Headroom is lacking too, the only saving grace being the large quarter glass area that lets in enough light. The interior also gets ambient mood lighting and owners can choose from 8 different colours or let it automatically select the colour for you, for example, when driven enthusiastically, the colour changes to red!
The Tata Hexa is powered by a 2.2-litre “VARICOR 400” diesel engine that develops 156 PS of max power and 400 Nm of max torque. This is the same engine that powers the updated Safari Storme and comes mated to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic gearbox. The manual transmission is offered with the all wheel drive system while the automatic is only offered with a rear wheel drive layout. You might be in for a surprise so as to which drivetrain impressed us more.
The 2.2-litre motor feels very driveable for starters. This engine is more about the massive torque it produces, rather than outright power. It feels weak if you try to pull it through the gears from very low engine speeds, specifically around 900-1,100 RPM, and is more evident on the manual transmission. The automatic gearbox though keeps the engine running above this dead spot in any gear, which makes it much more driveable. The Tata Hexa pulls strongly throughout its revrange, and you are completely on boost after 1,700 RPM. The engine feels smooth enough at low and mid- engine speeds, but does get boomy in the upper reaches of the rev band.
Tata Motors has not yet revealed the official fuel efficiency figures for the Hexa, but the trip computer on our test car showed us approximately 8.5 kmpl on the automatic variant, while the figure rose to 10 kmpl on the manual variant. We were thrashing the car on the open highways outside Hyderabad, and we expect this figure to rise by at least 10-15 percent if driven sanely.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is an all new unit, so is the 6-speed autobox. The manual transmission isn’t smooth while engaging gears, to say the least. Also, you are in for a palm massage, as the gear lever transmits quite a bit of vibrations, which never seem to disappear even after you increase the pace. The gear ratios are chosen to aid highway cruising and fuel economy, with the car rolling at 100 kmph at a measly 1,800 RPM. The clutch feels fairly light and also has its own trickery with a self adjusting mechanism. It adjusts itself automatically to provide a consistent feel throughout the life of the clutch.
But what truly impresses you is the 6-speed automatic. Gearshifts are extremely smooth and this is by far closest you could get to a dual clutch automatic. Even while accelerating, gear changes are seamless and Tata engineers have done a fantastic job at tuning this autobox. There is a Sports mode and a tiptronic mode available here. The tiptronic mode feels fun to drive as you are continuously riding on this massive wave of torque, but the Sports mode really brings the engine to life.
There is something called as the Race Car mode that constantly keeps the engine between 3,000-4,000 RPM, and this is especially fun on a twisty section of road. This mode pumps up your adrenaline, and we are thankful to Tata Motors to have thought of something like this, especially in this segment where most cars are biased towards comfort and the back seat experience. Although we would also like to inform you that in this mode the engine gets a whole lot boomy, more so than the manual counterpart. Turning up the brilliant sounding JBL system can solve part of the problem.
Another aspect where the Tata Hexa truly impresses is in ride quality. The suspension absolutely abolishes any surface imperfections, be it potholes, undulations or even craters and does it silently too. Credit may be also given to the big 19-inch wheels that round off any of the sharp bumps keeping you in comfort at all times. The car also feels stable at speeds as high as 160 kmph and the all wheel disc brake setup feels up to the job to slow down this near 2.3-ton vehicle. Body roll on the bends is predictable, which allows you to carry speed through the corners. The steering system is hydraulically assisted and feedback is surprisingly good. The high SUV driving position is just the icing on the cake!
After the drive ended, we were given a bit of an off-road trial too, where we (as co-drivers) got to experience the off-road abilities of the Tata Hexa. The Super Drive Modes are only available on the manual version and has 4 driving modes – Auto, Comfort, Dynamic and Rough Road. Auto and Rough Road modes use the all wheel drive system while Comfort and Dynamic modes are strictly rear wheel driven. Auto mode as the name suggests automatically adapts itself to the any surface condition irrespective of the driver at the wheel. Comfort mode is tuned towards relaxed highway cruising, while Dynamic mode unleashes the maximum power and torque out of the engine. Rough Road mode is the dedicated off-road drive mode which has been tuned to take on extreme terrain situations like slippery surfaces, steep gradients and loose or sandy surfaces.
The Tata Hexa also comes with Hill Descent Control that is like a downhill cruise control. You just need to set the speed via the buttons on the steering wheel and then the car does the rest for you. No need to brake or accelerate! We didn’t drive the Hexa off road, but initial impressions as a passenger were positive and the car feels pretty capable. Safety features on the Tata Hexa include 6 airbags, ABS with EBD and Corner Stability Control, ESP, Traction Control, Anti Roll bars both at the front and rear and a reversing camera.
The Tata Hexa is a smart product from the house of Tata Motors. This car is a result of some smart engineering and smarter positioning. The Tata Hexa has all the bases covered; it has a practical and comfortable cabin, is feature rich, rides and handles well and is sorted when you hit a rough patch of road or no roads at all. But we wonder how many of Tata’s Hexa customers would like to go off-roading and miss out on the convenience of the automatic gearbox on a daily basis. Yes, the automatic gearbox is that good. We would go for this variant any day (and sacrifice the AWD!) given how easy and fun it is to drive.
But all boils down to how the company prices the Hexa in the coming months. Bookings will open on the 1st November 2016, with deliveries set to begin on 1st January 2017. We expect prices to range in between Rs. 11.50 lakhs and Rs. 16.50 lakhs, which makes it significantly cheaper than rivals. This is undoubtedly the best car Tata Motors has ever produced, and if priced smartly, could be the best bet in the large SUV/MPV segment in India. It’s a waiting game till then!
Tata Hexa Photo Gallery:
Photography Credits: Dr. Anand Narvekar