Test driving the Tata Zest

Aug 03, 2014, 08:37 IST | Amit Chhangani

A globally pertinent car from Tata, finally? We put the new Revotron-powered Zest through the rigours to find out

There is more to the Zest than what meets the eye. A lot has gone into the development of this compact sedan from Tata which symbolises a fresh new outlook for the Indian carmaker. Let’s take a careful look at the Zest and try to understand why it’s such an important product for Tata Motors. 

Design and appearance
Though based on the Vista platform, the Zest doesn’t share any of the body panels with the former. The trademark Tata ‘Smiley Grille’ has metamorphosed into two chrome lines, termed ‘Humanity Line’ and ‘Trust Line’ — meant to form the basis of all upcoming Tata cars.

The headlamps feature LED rings around the projector lenses, reminiscent of the Corona Rings characteristic of BMW cars. The fog lamp units have boomerang-shaped LED daytime lights below them. The bonnet of the new car features a mild power bulge. The profile of the Zest is defined by a strong beltline emanating from the front fender and traversing its mildly curved route through the door handles into the tail-lamps.

The dashboard features quality materials and a level of finish hitherto unseen on Tata cars. Touchscreen controlled A/C is a segment first

The Zest is at its zestiest at the rear. The designers at Tata Motors have gone great lengths to create a homogenous, unbroken effect on the LED tail lamps. The black under-cladding below the bumper seen at the front end can be witnessed at the rear as well. The Zest, then, is more evolutionary in pure design terms than revolutionary, and lays a solid foundation for more distinctive future products.

Engine and performance
The Zest comes powered with the much talked about 1.2 litre turbocharged ‘Revotron’ petrol engine. The 1193 cc engine delivers best in class power of 90PS @ 5,000 rpm and more importantly, a healthy peak torque of 140Nm between 1,750 to 3,500 rpm. The engine comes mated with a 5-speed manual transmission.

The quality and output of the audio system is the same even for the non-touch version

Tuned for low rev response, the 1.2 Revotron engine delights with its smoothness and its tractability. Even at a meager 1000 rpm in fifth gear, there is no spluttering or knocking. Now, that sort of drivability, coupled with a turbo’s added torque should endow this engine with great fuel efficiency.

You can choose between Eco, City and Sport modes. The three modes are essentially separate engine maps on the Electronic Control Unit. In Eco mode, the engine feels rather sluggish, but if you are a feather-footed, frugal driver, the Eco mode will boost fuel efficiency substantially for you. City mode is the default mode and will be chosen automatically every time you turn the ignition on. It fuses good throttle response with optimum fuel efficiency. Sport mode brings some added zing to the car’s character. The response right from low engine speeds is pronounced, and the car feels perceptibly livelier than the other two modes.

It must, however, be noted that the 1.2 Revotron engine, as mentioned earlier, is oriented primarily towards drivability and efficiency — not outright performance. Look elsewhere if it’s sheer kicks you’re fishing for.

Cabin and equipment
The cabin of the Zest, in terms of design, quality and ergonomics is substantially superior to what we have seen on earlier Tata cars. Tata Motors have used good quality materials as panel inserts to lift the appeal of the cabin. The steering with audio controls is brand new, and so is the entire dashboard and instrument panel.

Shoulder room on the backseat is class leading. Front seat backs are scooped out to maximise knee room

The custom-designed-for-Tata Harman infotainment unit is a highlight on this car. The five-inch touch controlled central screen allows control over a multi media interface which is both feature-rich and exceptional in terms of quality. The audio performance, for example, powered by the eight speaker system is absolutely amazing for the segment.

Aux-in, USB, Radio, SD Card and Bluetooth connectivity is available. There is no CD player though. The central touchscreen panel also features satellite navigation, A/C controls and park assist along with phonebook download and call-receive/reject. The system comes with an advanced voice recognition feature which allows you to control most functions using intuitive voice commands. The 2.5-inch central Multi Information Display peeping through the steering wheel is also very informative, delivering all the vital information required, including average efficiency and distance to dry.

The Zest features big, wide and well-bolstered seats up front. Back seat shoulder and knee space is generous, too, with the only problem being the headroom when you lie back. There is not even a single large bottle holder in the car though. Boot size is 360-litres, which is decent, though less than the other cars in the segment. The car comes equipped with twin airbags and ABS with EBD.

Ride and handling
Comfort has always been a priority for Tata cars and the Zest is no different. The suspension is tuned for a compliant, comfortable ride and the Zest really excels in offering a composed, absorbent ride. The steering system is electric power assisted, and delivers much better feel than the Vista. Its decently weighted and stiffens as speed builds.

The steering is new with mounted controls

While the Zest offers a planted set of wheels and has great straight line stability, Tata Motors still have some distance to cover before we can call the Zest a fun to drive car. The steering lacks the tactility and precision a discerning driver would desire. Taking corners spiritedly requires constant steering corrections and inputs from throttle and brake. A fair bit of understeer can also be experienced while taking sharper corners on the throttle.

Braking is good, as we found out by stomping on the pedals from speeds as high as 140 km/h in a controlled environment. The Zest maintains its line, and drops the anchors with confidence.

Our verdict
We have nothing but appreciation for Tata Motors on seeing how the Zest 1.2 Revotron has turned out. A brand new product, with plenty of innovation, attention to detail and good intent – this is exactly the direction we want Tata Motors to take for all its future products. The Revotron engine is a revelation in terms of driveability and smoothness and the Zest scores highly in terms of features, space, comfort and technology as well. The price of the car has not been announced yet, and we believe the real test of the Zest will be in delivering great value to its customers. Reserving our verdict for the launch, we would like to congratulate Tata Motors for this Zesty new beginning.

Technical specs 
Engine — 1.2 litre, 4 cylinder, Turbocharged MPFi
Transmission — 5-speed manual
Max Power — 90 PS @ 5,000 RPM
Max torque — 140 Nm @ 1,750 – 3,500 RPM


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Price: R5 - 7.5 lakh

Hyundai Xcent 1.2 Petrol

The newest player in the segment is a strong contender with Hyundai’s strong brand name and understanding of the Indian market backing it. The Xcent may not be the smartest looking car on the outside, but it’s the most premium looking of the trio from the inside. The quality of the cabin is fantastic, and the equipment levels are top notch, too. The 1.2 litre petrol engine is frugal and refined, while also offering decent power and torque. Hyundai cars are in India have a reputation for their hassle free ownership experience, and this one is no different.
Price: R4.65 - 7.1 lakh

Swift Dzire 1.2 Petrol

The hot-selling compact sedan is creating new records for Maruti Suzuki, and for good reason. The car doesn’t have any major downsides except for its design which isn’t very pleasing to the eye. The car’s petrol engine is frugal and responsive too. The Dzire has a decent-sized boot and a comfortable cabin. The quality of the interior is great and the kit level on the top of the line ZXi variant is quite good too. The Dzire is known to run without trouble and being one of the highest selling Maruti Suzuki models, ownership costs are minimal, too. Price: R4.8 - 6.5 lakh

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