The car you see here is part of not just a charm offensive from Tata Motors but also a serious reminder that it means business as a car maker of relevance and resonance in India. The new Tata Zica espouses the basic mantra of Ratan Tata more than a decade and a half ago when conceiving the Indica – “more car per car” is now bolstered by contemporary engineering and design and a delivery of product and promise that builds on the fine fuss free performance and reliability of the Zest and the Bolt. Time then to start believing in the #madeofgreat tagline? Adil Jal Darukhanawala of Zeegnition addresses this and many other questions that prop up to the fore.
1. Is the Zica really just an Indica in new clothes like the Bolt?
Obvious question and the answer to that is a resounding NO. It’s not based on anything Tata Motors has done in the past, not even the Bolt’s platform or anything such. It is conceived on a brand-new platform that has been designed and conceived as a new-age platform that can spawn many bodystyles going forward. However, coming to the Bolt, it did have a very strong affinity to the Indica and visually didn’t move the game forward. That is the reason why the Bolt has been a laggard but the freshness of the Zest has seen it win very many hearts and homes. So finally Tata Motors has a new age hatchback companion to the Zest compact sedan and thankfully here as well, the two break new ground in being visually different with strong individual identities that go beyond mere packaging. And visually speaking the Zica is both pleasingly dynamic and can hold its own against any car in its class from wherever in the automotive world.
2. Do the goods translate into its interior as well?
Oh yes, this is something which Tata Motors has learnt well to adopt distinctively new interiors to be made from model to model so one doesn’t suffer style or design fatigue. Building on this line of thought the interior of the Zica is probably one of the very best in the business in its class of car and may in fact be the template for many others to emulate. It is airy, spacious, ergonomic in its vital essence, has a rich feel to it with material and design playing big roles here, the controls and the switchgear have that pleasing tactility of a refined car from a class above, and ample gizmos for connectivity and entertainment. However what works for me, from a driver’s perspective is the brilliant driving position, the low windscreen height, the adjustable driver’s seat, the unobtrusive A-pillar rake and the interplay struck up with the steering wheel, the seat squab and the control pedals – fine adjustability to suit even six footers filling in.
3. Small cars are typically short on features. True for the Zica as well?
This statement used to run true earlier but again the Zica comes feature rich, an aspect Tata Motors learnt to deliver with the Zest and have been pretty chuffed about the way that has gone down well with customers. If earlier one suffered from a lack of features, the Zica makes you revel in just about the most sensible and useful ones that strike a chord not just with the man driving the car but also enough to keep his better half in good humour and his kids well occupied while he enjoys the long drive back home! I think this should say it all on this count isn’t it?
4. Tell us about the engines and transmission. Tata has always produced strong diesels but is the petrol Zica as capable?
I think that the greatest jump that Tata Motors has got on us all (enthusiasts, consumers, rivals, jaundiced mindsets, et al!) is that it is not just a pretty new outer shell but something that has substance engineered within it to make a difference. However, keeping this line of thought aside it had indeed to do this otherwise it wouldn’t have stayed relevant in the cut throat end of the car market. The new three-cylinder engines are in line with global thought on configuration, performance and efficiency, refinement and the way they deliver across the operating spectrum. Unlike the Indica where I think Tata Motors lost out in developing common rail diesel engines from the start when they had the means but not the idea to do that, this time the Zica is right there with powerplants that are robust without in any way being agricultural. In fact their refinement do indicate some motors from the competition to be in the agricultural vein!
5. On paper the power figures sound impressive. But how does it really perform on our roads especially when fully loaded?
I have had the pleasure to experience the Zica in everyday driving conditions now and without going into figures and graphs, let me tell you that the feel and the delivery of its performance is what the average consumer will find delightful. Of course we will do our instrumented tests and publish those figures but in this class of car, I think the consumer will be impressed with the feel and the refinement plus the performance that is commensurate with the best in class. For me the petrol engine is the most redeeming of the duo because it is strong in its ability and refined in its nature. The diesel is the more sporty of the duo thanks to its abundance of torque (relative to the petrol of course) and here as well apart from a loud clatter when starting from cold, this oil burner is a most competent performer.
6. What about NVH? Must be noisy for a three pot?
I have been using the term refined now for some time and the reason for the refinement is the abject lack of NVH, or to put it in the correct perspective, noise, vibration and harshness has been eliminated massively. It is not just about being a three-cylinder engine with high primary vibrations stemming from imbalances inherent in such a layout but the fact that the reciprocating masses have been very well designed to cut out friction at source, the ignition maps have been configured to smoothen out the power delivery without compromising elsewhere and there is also a balancer shaft in the diesel to further drastically reduce vibes. From here we move on to the rigid new monocoque structure of the car which is torsionally the strongest Tata Motors has ever built and with hydro mounts for the engine fixed on to the structure, the NVH is next to nothing and one of the pleasing feel good aspects of the car that every consumer will delight in without getting into technical aspects.
7. How does the Zica fare in the ride and handling front?
All Tata Motors cars have stressed strongly on the ride quality. From the early Sumos to the Safari and on to the Indica and the Zest, ride quality has always been a Tata Motors hallmark. And rightly so because our country with its fabled indifferently surfaced roads demands ride quality of exceptionally high order. However, many a time car makers focus too much on ride quality compromising handling. The Zica strikes a happy balance between ride and handling and excels in both given its intended application. The suspension components all across both ends, the geometry adopted and again I bring in the strong stiff structure which is key to the dynamic ability of any car which helps deliver a great comfortable ride without making the car wallow in corners. The steering is on the whole very good and well weighted, neither overly quick or frustratingly slow but there yet is next to no feel – almost limp and lifeless - at very low speeds and maybe the engineers can build in some weightage here.
8. What will its pricing likely be?
I am not privy to pricing and that will be answered soon enough when the car gets its official unveil in early January. I can only state that the Tata Motors sales team has informed that it would be positioned between the Nano and the Bolt, closer to the Bolt of course but then this is a better car and with more to delight. I think it would be priced a tad lower than the Bolt and that line of thought is even more delightful to comprehend.
9. Hope they have not skimped on the Zica's safety to keep prices competitive?
The strong structure I spoke about has also been designed with crumple zones engineered and a safe strong cabin will be the norm. Speaking with Girish Wagh who heads the engineering for the passenger cars along with Dr Tim Leverton, the duo informed me that the car meets the crash test standards in the right manner, with a mix of strong engineering and the right materials. Both cars comfortably tip the scales over a thousand kilos and they do feel strong and safe.
10. Sounds good so far but does the Zica run the risk of becoming another Indica and be lapped up by the taxi and fleet market?
I think the Zica is way too pretty and brilliant to get there. But having said that, the best taxis in the world are Mercedes-Benz E-class and S-class cars, Toyota has its Crown which is the premier taxi in Japan but then the way we look at these things is esoteric. Thankfully I have a strong feeling that the Zica will be everything the Indica wasn’t yet with the Indica’s basic philosophy and application ethos engineered in its makeup which is pleasingly different and effortlessly enjoyable.
11. What's next? Can we expect a compact sedan or even an MPV based on the Zica going forward?
I must state one thing here and this is something which even the Tata Motors team hadn’t put their finger on. With the Zica coming into the portfolio, over 80 percent of Tata Motors’ model range is the youngest and the freshest in the country today! – The new Gen-X Nano, the Zest, the Bolt, the Safari Storme and now the Zica makes it the youngest model car portfolio in the market. With the Hexa joining in early 2016 this will further enhance this aspect. Now all it needs would be a compact SUV, an all-new Sumo and maybe if I am thinking way too loud, how about a sporty three-door hot hatch on the Zica platform plus a small open topped roadster? Everyone, across the world is crying out for one so why not Tata Motors step in and do this for a change? Maybe engineer one with, dare I say it, Jaguar?