Three years in the making Tata's new compact SUV, the Nexon is finally here. We first saw the Nexon at the 2014 Auto Expo, it remains one of the few cars that haven't changed much between the concept and the production ready model. Look at it and you'll know that Tata has been hard at work bringing something to the Compact SUV segment that we haven't seen before. Its got a coupe-style fastback roofline, but it still seats four comfortably and gets 210 mm of ground clearance. Tata says that the principal behind the Nexon was to put the ‘Sport’ back in SUV. Its powerful, it looks the part and despite it not having a four wheel drive system we are pretty sure that the Nexon could take on almost any obstacle in it’s path. Although Tata may have dropped the ball, not offering an automatic with either the diesel or the petrol.Now in concept, the Nexon was front and centre in the eyes of the populace. Tata, of course, was paying close attention. While the media boffins complain about how the ultimate product will look nothing like the concept, Pratap Bose (Tata's go-to designer) and his team got to work. Their task was to design a production ready version of the concept without alienating any of the oomph that came with it. Easy Peasy right? Wrong! Concepts usually don't have tight production budgets or have to worry about things like material costs and what have you. Three years later, the Nexon is here, and somehow the production variant looks almost exactly like the concept. Whether you like the way the Nexon looks or don't, it doesn't really matter, there is no way that a Nexon drives past you and don't double take, it grabs your attention. You just can't help it.
Now the Nexon inculcates Tata's newest design philosophy that they are calling Impact. And you can see why. Dimensionally speaking the Nexon is about the same size as the competition. It's a little wider and shorter by little as makes no difference. When we spoke to Tata's design lead at the launch, he said that the idea behind the Nexon's flowing coupe style roofline was to put the "S" back in SUV. Although it's not hard to imagine the folks at Tata pointing to a Range Rover Evoque and saying "make this, but for India and cheap". I kid! Overall we can't complain, it gives the Nexon the kind of look that most people who have ever sung along to the Chainsmokers would like. I use this analogy since Millennials don't like labels, and we don't like to alienate our reader-base. The rest of the car, however, is butch. Flared wheel arches are accentuated by a single sinewy line along the profile, 16-inch wheels, meaty plastic cladding and 210mm of ground-clearance all add up to create the illusion of size. The further you step back the more the design wizardry starts to peel away and while it doesn't look bad from far away, it does start to look a lot smaller. The same philosophy goes on the front and the back, Tata's hexagonal grille is flanked by large headlamp units tied together by a shiny metal strip that runs across the front, Tata calls it the Humanity line. Of course LED projectors, fog lamps, and DRLs have not been missed out. Both bumpers sport a mix of painted and naked plastic, which is a firm indication towards the Nexon’s SUV intent. The boot is all about clean lines, think of it as a palate cleanser, with subtle LED tail lamps. The party piece on the Nexon is a quality plastic strip that runs around the body of the car to separate the roof from rest of it, it's a cream-ish ceramic colour which Tata claim to have developed in-house. The roof gets only the single shade of gunmetal grey with thick metal roof rails. The rest of the body, however, is ala carte. So far as we know that it's available in candy Red and Blue, and other colours that Tata will not comment on. Overall, it's got great road-presence, contemporary styling and while it is compact it still retains a lot of SUV appeal.
On the Inside, is where Tata has really stepped up their game. The dash gets a mix of brushed metal, soft-rubberised plastics and piano-black shiny fibre. The centre console is basically, European on a budget, all the design cues are exactly the same. Buttons and knobs to control the air conditioning lights are mounted below the 6.5-inch touch screen infotainment system. The tambour sliding door above the central storage unit and an armrest with storage all reminisce of swankier European cars. Now while most of the plastics feel expensive and have just the right amount of damping that you would need. The finish could use some work there were a few rough edges where some bits met others. In terms of kit, however, Tata has not missed a beat. The 6.5-inch infotainment system mounted on the central console has Tata's ConnectNext engine as standard but also gets Android Auto and Apple Car play. You get automatic climate control and 8 Harman speakers designed and placed by specialists to maximise acoustic appeal. The sound quality is great and the bass, if turned all the way up, is very pronounced and gets the right amount of vibrations without it getting particularly jarring. The Nexon also get a cooled, illuminated and expandable glove box that is surprisingly spacious. And plenty of cubbies all around, including door frame holders that can drain out fluids, without them entering the cabin.
The Nexon is set to seat five passengers, which in marketing terms, means seats four comfortably. That, however, it does in style. The dual tone front seats have all the right curves and arches to give you the right kind of support. Having driven the Nexon for over 300kms in one day and nothing to report in terms of body aches, it's safe to say the seats are comfortable. Now you'd think the coupe style roofline will heavily compromise the second row of seats but it doesn't. Even me at 6'1" sat comfortably in the backseat with the front passenger pushing his seat all the way back there were still a few inches to spare between my knees and the front seat with impressive headroom as well. The rear seats also get a centrally mounted arm-rest with cup-holders and a/c vents with individual controls, aside of course from the plethora of cubbies that you get on the front seats as well. Now the boot may not be lavish in terms of space but it gets a contemporary 350 litres of space, which is okay for a weekend getaway. Although the rear seats can be completely folded to bring that number up to 450 litres.
The Nexon also gets Jaguar F-pace style wristband key which, can be used in place of the key to start and the lock the car . That in our opinion is a very thoughtful feature for those who don't want the pressure of lugging around a key. Tata have not said whether it will come as standard or will be available as an optional accesory though.
Ride and Handling
Thanks to the chunky 215/60 R16 tyres and a steering that weighs up as the speed increases, the feel of dynamism isn't missed. Not that there is no body roll, try cornering in the triple digits and the Nexon will show you some serious Yaw. Everywhere else it's smooth as it can be. The 210mm ground clearance with some brilliantly built dampers and suspension means that the Nexon can take rough roads without even the slightest hiccup. There were some pretty bad sections on our drive and the Nexon just floated over them. The X1 chassis on which the Nexon is based is a re-worked version of the X0 platform on the Tiago, and whatever they have done has worked.Add to that the EBD assisted brakes and you even find the confidence to push the envelope a little knowing that the EBD and ABS will kick in if you go asunder. Tata have even ensured that the engine sits square in the middle so that they can use equal length drive shafts, to ensure that the power delivery is even better distributed between the wheels to maximise grip.
Tata intends to sell the Nexon with two engine options, a 1.2-litre turbocharged Petrol and a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol. They both make 110 hp but the diesel gets considerably more in terms of twist at 260 Nm compared to the Petrol’s 190Nm. We drove the petrol car first, and while there is more than noticeable lag below 1800 rpm, keep the turbo on the boil and the Nexon Petrol doesn't feel unenthusiastic. We did feel however that the petrol engine needed serious work in the refinement department, it was loud and it permeated into the cabin even with the windows rolled up. The petrol sports the six-speed manual as well, the gear slot in nicely and the gates felt well dampened. The Diesel with its 70 extra "Nms" is a different animal altogether, the low-end torque makes the Nexon feel enthusiastic and spirited, while the heavier diesel engine weighs down the front nicely so it feels even more planted around corners. Both engines get a hot-swap drive mode changer that allows you to pick between Sport, City and Eco to match your driving style. Sport tenses up the throttle in both cars and makes it more eager while widening the bands ever so slightly. City mode is a bit of a compromise between the two while Eco simply dulls everything out and turns its sights on fuel economy. It even feels more refined than the petrol unit. It was a bit of disappointment, as a hardcore petrol head, that once again the diesel as is the trend was more interesting to drive than the petrol. But that seems to have become the unwritten norm now so we might as well get used to it. Now it's important to note that Tata refused to comment on the fuel economy. Indicating to one of two things, all that quality or that Tata has pulled of the impossible and managed to it exactly where they want it. Holding the ace up their sleeve to announce it closer to the launch, although that remains to be seen.
The Nexon is probably the best Tata car that I have ever driven. It's well thought out, it's got the looks and it has the performance. Now if Tata continues their strategy of undercutting the competition we could expect the top end diesel variant to be just shy of 10 lakh. Now it is a hard choice between the Brezza and the Tata, but this one of those instances where we need to give Tata the benefit of the doubt. They've done their homework and the groundwork, The Nexon may, in fact, have what it takes to take on the king of the hill. The Nexon is quite unique even it's shape, as compared to the square lines on the Brezza, it stands out in the crowd.