The Indian sub-4 metre sedan segment is interesting. Created by a Tata carthe Indigo CSthe segment, since then, has been ruled by Maruti Suzuki Dzire and earnestly followed by Honda Amaze and Hyundai Xcent. So as to regain a foothold, and after a considerable amount of time and lots of efforts, Tata Motors has finally developed a car that can give stiff competition to the Dzire, the Amaze and the Xcentall superstar compact sedans. Tata calls it the Zest.
The Zest is not exactly a head-turner but demands attention because of the new grille that flows into the projector headlamps and the sculpted side panels. LED daytime running lights further enhance the front fascia. The side profile is refreshing, too, and the large 15-inch wheels give the Zest a raised stance. The rear sectionhaving wraparound LED tail-lamps and ample usage of chromeis unlike most Tata cars and the boot doesnt really seem like an afterthought. The Zest is 3,995 mm long, 1,706 mm wide and has a ground clearance of 175 mm.
If the exterior fit-and-finish adds to the contemporary styling of the Zest, the interior quality standards are a giant leap for a Tata vehicle. The cabin looks elegant, to say the least. The knobs, the buttons, in fact all controls are precisely placed. Mention must be made of the new steering wheel, which looks very good and is nice to hold. The cabin certainly is in the league of both the Dzire and the Amaze, but falls slightly short of the quality levels found in the Xcent. However, an area where the Zest truly stands out is its infotainment system. Developed with audio experts Harman Kardon, this eight-speaker system is simply fantastic for an entry-level sedan. The top-end variant of the Zest gets a touchscreen infotainment system which has features such as display for rear parking sensors, for air-conditioning, for vehicle settings, and more. The entry-level variants also get the same system but without the touchscreen. Pressing a button on the steering wheel for a few seconds activates voice commands. Once activated, you can literally talk to your car! As I found out, the system easily recognises most Indian accents and 7 times out of 10 understood what I said.
Tata cars are known for ample cabin space and the Zest doesnt disappoint. While the front seats are well-cushioned and the top-end variant comes with seat height-adjuster, the rear seats can easily accommodate three adults. And although there are cubbyholes all around, there is just one cup holder for the front two passengers near the gear-lever! But all doors do have water-bottle slots. The boot space, at 390 litres, is not the best in class and the rear suspension towers intrude the luggage area.
The Zest, when launched, will likely be the cheapest diesel automatic sedan in India and that is what will really work to the cars advantage. Powered by the Fiat-sourced 1.3-litre Quadrajet engine, the Zest diesel is the second mass segment car in India to employ the automated manual transmission (AMT) gearboxTata calls it the F-tronic. The F-tronic works almost similar to a full automatic, just that it doesnt have a Park (P) function, so you must use the handbrake when you park the car. And unlike the Maruti Celerios AMT (called the EZ Drive), the F-tronic comes with three driving modesEco, City and Sport. Yes, the F-tronic changes gears itself but because it is an AMT, the gear-shift is not as quick as that of a full automatic unithowever, keep in mind that a full automatic diesel sedan costs upwards of R10 lakh in India, and the Zest will be far cheaper. Further, the F-tronic also has a manual mode if you want to have the best of both worlds.
Tata has developed a new petrol engine for the Zest and has named it the Revotron. It may be a 1.2-litre motor, but because it is turbocharged, its power and torque figuresat 89 bhp and 140 Nm, respectivelyare quite impressive. These figures reflect on the road too. The engine is smooth, quiet and when the turbocharger kicks in at about 2,000 rpm, the surge in power is apparent. Even this engine comes in three driving modesEco, City and Sport. The Revotron is mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
As I said, the Indian sub-4 metre sedan segment is interesting. And the Zest is Tatas first serious attempt at gaining a foothold in this segment. Be it design, engineering, handling or equipment, the car is so surprisingly good that, if priced right, it will be able to challenge the three superstar compact sedansthe Dzire, the Amaze and the Xcent. What Tata should now focus on is getting the customers to its showrooms. It is also time the customers take a walk into a Tata showroom and check out the Zest. As a famous auto journalist said at the party Tata threw in Goa during this test drive, Abki baar, Tata car.
* The voice command recognises most Indian accents but sometimes fails to understand what you speak. When we tried, it understood 7 times out of 10.