‘Tiny SUV’ is a segment not many carmakers have entered into or aced. With the Punch, Tata Motors aims to strengthen its SUV lineage and show that small SUVs are, indeed, a ‘segment’
Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) cannot be, and shouldn’t be, judged by their size, but by their capability. Any SUV that can easily traverse off-road conditions is a good SUV. However, for that ‘capability’, an SUV needs certain features (and technologies), which come at a price. This means the carmaker can project that vehicle as a premium one, and target it towards a certain class of customers who can pay for these features.
India, however, has turned that definition of ‘SUV’ upside-down. We have SUVs that aren’t SUVs in the true sense of the word.
Tata’s new SUV, the Punch, however, comes across as a ‘marginally more SUV’ than some others in its class, even though it’s no Suzuki Jimny or Gypsy, not even close.
What is the Punch?
At a length of 3,827 mm and wheelbase of 2,445 mm, it is one of the smallest vehicles Tata Motors has developed. However, despite its ‘limited’ exterior dimensions, the space inside is good enough for five adults (thanks to a flat floor in the rear seating area).
What defines its design?
It looks like a mini Harrier/Safari (kudos to the design team). This implies that entry-level car buyers (some of those who may have aspired for those expensive cars) can have that ‘feel good’ factor driving the Punch, and showcasing it to their neighbours. A unique feature is that its doors open 90-degrees, and so getting in and out is really, really easy.
Which engine powers it?
Today’s age is all about petrol, and so diesel is not even an option. The Punch gets the 1199cc, three-cylinder petrol engine (86 PS power and 113 Nm torque). It has two gearbox options (manual and AMT). While Tata hasn’t shared its fuel-efficiency figures, while driving it in Delhi traffic it returned me a little over 13 km/l.
How does it drive?
On regular city roads and highways, the Punch doesn’t feel like an SUV, but more like a hatchback car. Drive it or drive the Tiago or drive Maruti Suzuki Ignis, all more or less feel the same. Where the Punch feels marginally better is its higher driving position—i.e. you have a relatively better ‘view’ from the driver’s seat. Also, because it isn’t a ‘heavy’ vehicle, there is absolutely no body roll.
Surprisingly, the Punch is quite good off the road, possibly thanks to its light weight (a light vehicle anyway has lesser chance of getting stuck in slush or sand). I drove it quite a bit off the road (in sandy conditions) and its high ground clearance (187 mm), powerful engine and large tyres (the one I drove has R17 tyres) ensured the car didn’t get stuck.
How much should it be priced?
The Ignis is priced starting Rs 5.1 lakh (ex-showroom), and so the Punch just cannot make itself ‘overpriced’. Agreed, it’s got more space, feels more premium and is possibly more ‘SUV’, but the entry-level car space is all about ‘great’ pricing. We hope Tata Motors can accomplish what Maruti Suzuki couldn’t (with the Ignis), i.e. create a mass-market entry-level SUV segment in India (to attract a substantial number of buyers who wish to upgrade from two-wheelers to four).