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Tata’s Latest is a sub-four-metre, compact SUV that will take on the likes of Maruti’s Vitara Brezza and Ford’s EcoSport. While the carmaker has entered this popular segment a little later than the rest, it has brought, what is clearly, the most radical-looking car that you can buy in the ₹6.5-10 lakh price bracket. But is it all style or is there substance to the Nexon?
On the outside
There’s no doubting that the Nexon will turn heads. It’s swooping, coupe-like profile, sinewy design, bulging wheel arches and chunky tyres give it a strong stance. The overall styling is like nothing else this segment has seen. What adds to the Nexon’s looks are all the contrast-colour bits that are used in its roofline. The ceramic-like white highlight along its shoulder-line, tail-lights and fog-lamp housings looks nice too.
On the inside
Tata has been pushing the envelope in terms of the interior on its new cars. This trend started with its Tiago hatchback, and continues in the Nexon. While the multifunction steering wheel and the instrumentation have been carried over from the Tiago and Tigor, the dashboard design is all new. The centre console is finished in glossy black, and chrome highlights have been used in the cabin quite tastefully around the air-con vents and starter button. Even material quality is quite impressive, just that the inconsistent panel gaps reveal that fit and finish could be a lot better.
The dashboard features a 6.5-inch, free-standing, touchscreen infotainment system, which is similar to what you would find in costlier cars like an Audi or a Mercedes-Benz. The unit isn’t the largest or the most responsive in its class, and it also misses out on in-built navigation. What you do get is Android Auto connectivity - Apple CarPlay will be added later. What is really worth appreciating though is the eight-speaker audio system by Harman that easily delivers the best-in-class audio quality.
Fully loaded variants of the Nexon also get a smart activity band. Wearing it, you can lock/unlock the vehicle, and even turn the engine on. There are also a few smart touches inside the cabin, like the massive cooled glovebox, the small umbrella holders in each door, and the big elbow box which comes with a magnetic lid. The interior, however, isn’t niggle-free. Some of the buttons on the dashboard are fiddly and the rotary drive-mode selector knob is a touch too big for its limited functionality. Also, the touchscreen could have been of a better resolution.
You sit nice and high in the Nexon, the seats are large and comfy, and you get a good view out from the front seats. The A-pillar, however, could be a bit intrusive at crossroads, though. Also, the steering is only adjustable for rake, and not for reach.
You’ll have to crouch into the rear seats to avoid bumping your head with the roof. Plus, the small windows and restrictive glass area take away from the sense of space inside. That said, the back seat of the Nexon is actually quite roomy. There’s a good amount of legroom and headroom, and you can even seat three people here. However, the seat contours make it best suited for seating two.
The Nexon is quite practical though. It can hold a lot of luggage in its 350-litre boot. The loading lip is a bit high, so you have to haul heavier bags into the boot, but what’s nice is that you can expand storage space by folding down the middle row.
From behind the wheel
You can specify the Nexon with two engines - a 1.2-litre turbo-petrol, and Tata’s new 1.5-litre diesel engine. Both engines make 110hp, and are paired with a six-speed manual gearbox.
About the diesel, this is a new engine that debuts in the Nexon. It fires up with a bit of a flutter, but settles down to a smooth idle. It’s quite refined for a diesel, especially when compared with the 1.3-litre diesel that you find in a Vitara Brezza.
Impressively, it is useable from low revs, and the car moves forward smartly, right from low engine speeds. Power is delivered in a smooth, un-spikey manner, but this is not an engine that likes to be revved hard. In fact, it feels laboured when you pull it all the way to max revs, even in the liveliest ‘Sport’ mode.
The car’s portly 1,305kg kerb weight is also to partly blame for the unenthusiastic progress. The lighter Vitara Brezza feels sprightlier, despite being a good 20hp down on power. The Nexon is the first car in its class to get driving modes. There are three settings– Eco, City and Sport – each of which alter the engine’s power delivery characteristics and fuel efficiency. Sport mode is the most responsive of the lot, but even the City mode delivers adequate performance for everyday driving conditions. In Eco mode, progress becomes a bit sluggish, but this way, the engine rewards you with better fuel economy.
Where the Nexon really has an advantage over its rivals is in terms of its cruising ability. The gearbox has a tall sixth gear, which allows you to maintain triple-digit speeds at relaxed revs. Notably, the cabin is also nicely isolated from wind noise and road noise. The clutch is light and the gearshifts have a short throw, but the gear lever requires a bit of effort to slot in from time to time.
Like the diesel engine, the petrol motor also puts out 110hp, which is 15hp shy of what the Ford EcoSport’s EcoBoost engine makes. It is quite silent at idle, but it’s when you set off that you notice the engine’s shortcomings. It isn’t responsive at low revs, plus the initial power delivery is quite jerky, especially in Eco mode. Progress becomes smoother as the revs pile up, but this is not an engine that will excite. The engine, however, isn’t loud or thrummy, unlike typical three-cylinder motors.
Like in the diesel, the clutch is light too. That comes handy, because you will have to shift to a lower gear when you slow down, or even when you go up inclines, or say ghat sections.
While the engines won’t impress, what definitely will, is the ride and handling package. It isn’t pillow-soft, but the suspension makes easy work of sharp edges. Despite being high off the ground, there isn’t much pitching or bobbing either, and that gives you plenty of confidence when pushing the car. The steering too, is one of the best electrically assisted units in the business, and weighs up nicely around bends. To top things off, the Nexon’s 209mm ground clearance means that you don’t have to slow down over small bumps and potholes either.
Is it worth the money?
What Tata has with the Nexon, is a compact SUV that is well equipped, and one that also feels more premium than its competition. It’s roomy, comfortable, and comes with a good ride and handling package. Yes, the engines aren’t the Nexon’s strong suite, but they offer acceptable performance, nevertheless.
The real icing on the cake is the Nexon’s estimated starting price of ₹6 lakh for the base petrol version; the fully loaded diesel is likely to go up to ₹9.5 lakh (ex-showroom). But if Tata can pull off competitive pricing for the Nexon, picking a sub-four-metre SUV is sure going to become tougher.