The first thing that strikes you about the Zica is that Tata has finally moved away from the ‘Indica’ design theme for its latest hatchback, and that in itself is a big achievement. Zica is an extremely crucial product for Tata Motors and, if priced on par — better yet, undercut — the Maruti Suzuki Celerio, it might just be the game changer that Tata has wanted for a long time because on product value factor, Zica has a lot going in its favour.
Tata’s design team has done a reasonably decent job with the Zica. It is a balanced and well thought out design which sits confidently in profile. The front is characterised by a simple and straightforward honeycomb grille painted glossy black and there’s appreciably no overdose of chrome, only subtle garnishing on the grille and fog-lamp casings. It may seem that the tail gate has strikingly similar design to the Hyundai Grand i10, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The tail lamps, however, might be Zica’s weakest point in exterior design. There’s a sense of oddity and incoherence about them when viewed against the otherwise well-executed rear section. The Tata Zica isn't an instantly recognisable or attention-grabbing car — especially in relatively prosaic colours.
Tata Motors has taken a great leap ahead in interior quality with the Zica. The materials used are of appreciable quality (for the segment the car is intended to be positioned in) and four average sized adults will find sufficient space inside. If you’re relatively tall, however, your head may foul with the roof and thigh support might seem lacking. The front seats are very accommodating for most body shapes.
Zica has an impressive features list and flaunts some first-in-segment items, too. There’s a Harman infotainment system with 8 speakers that supports Aux-In, USB, and Bluetooth streaming and can be operated through steering mounted controls. The Zica also gets a navigation system that gives turn-by-turn guidance on the screen when synced through a phone-based App (available for only Android OS currently). There’s also a special feature called Juke Car app which can pair up to ten phones to allow for one master phone to play host for playing music from any of the synced phones.
The Zica comes with reasonable levels of safety features in its top trim that include dual airbags, anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and corner stability control. It also gets rear parking sensors with a rather medieval looking display on the infotainment screen.
Tata has developed two engines for the Zica — a 1.2-litre petrol engine or a 1.05-litre diesel. The 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine develops peak power of 84bhp@6,000rpm and a maximum torque of 114Nm@3,500rpm while the diesel engine is good for 69bhp@4,000rpm and 140Nm@1,800-3,000rpm. Both engines feature a dual overhead cam design and breathe via 4 valves per cylinder.
While both the engines do an admirable job of moving the bulk of the car (1,012kg for petrol and 1,080kg for diesel), they aren't particularly enjoyable. The Zica is a regular city car and it makes no claim of pleasing the enthusiasts. There’s a drive-mode selector which switches between normal and Eco modes. The Eco mode limits the performance of the car to aid fuel efficiency and it can get frustrating even when going about at slow city speeds, so its best advised to stick to ‘normal’ which is the default driving mode. The diesel has a strong mid-range but it’s the petrol motor that shines brighter. Zica’s petrol engine is as flexible as the diesel while being smoother and more linear in its power delivery and the range of speeds it manages in different ratios was just as high.
While the shift throws are a tag long through the gate, the gear shifts action is fairly smooth and ratios are biased more towards fuel efficient driving. The clutch well calibrated for both the engines. The information display on the screen in the instrument cluster features a gear indicator that flashes the gear you're driving in. What’s impressive is that it’s been mapped to the throttle position and would not show an ‘up’ arrow sign to get into a higher gear if you’re driving with a heavy right foot.
After going through the impressive features list, it’s a bit disappointing that Tata has skipped on a very important element— telescopically adjustable steering. The driver’s seat being height adjustable help matters to some extent, but a telescopic steering wheel would’ve been ideal.
While the steering wheel is a small-diameter unit and is great to hold, the steering ratio is quite high and it lacks directness and precision. It’s light in its operation (a boon in the city), but the steering input and the resultant directional change isn't greatly proportional.
If the steering was a weak point, the highlight of the Zica will be its suspension setup. The ride quality in the Zica is extremely good and can even rival some cars from a higher segment. The front is all independent while the rear features a twist-beam with dual path strut design which channels spring load through one path and damper load through the other resulting in better vibration control and load management. It’s not exactly an engaging driving experience though, and the handling is modest at best.
Overall, Zica is the refreshing change that Tata needed in its product portfolio for a long time. It’s packaged intelligently with some fist-in-segment features. Crucially, the Zica flaunts good quality — inside, and out — unlike any Tata hatchback before it. The engines are good for their intended use and the NVH levels, while could be better, are acceptable for a car of this size. It’s also reasonably spacious and the suspension setup is worthy of praise. It’s a genuinely pleasing product and it’s all down to Tata to price and place the Zica intelligently in the market to give it a competitive edge.