So here we are at Part 2 of my ‘HexaExperience’, where I give you the low-down on Tata’s stonking new flagship – the Hexa.
Watching the fleet of Hexa’s smartly parked in formation waiting for the flag-off was enough to wake up the mind. My co-passengers: Priya & Burhanuddin too had arrived & Usmaan from Tata Motors squared off the team. We’d snared ourselves the Automatic version of the Hexa and were raring to go.
The day had begun with a buzzing alarm & a sun that was yet to come up. The mind was exhausted & the body refused to cooperate. But the Driving part of the ‘HexaExperience’ beckoned and with that, the comfortable room at Novotel Hyderabad was vacated. The scrumptious breakfast buffet was given the miss, as I could only manage a cup of chai before the call came to ‘start your engines’.
The Hexa – you see, it is nothing like you’ve ever seen on a flagship Tata product before. From the Exterior Styling to the Interior Cabin treatment, the packed-to-the-gills feature list & some highly commendable USP’s that set it apart. But this isn’t just another glowing, praise-only take on the car. As you read along right to the end, you’ll spot some areas of improvement that I noticed in my brief time with the car. First up though is:
The Design & Engineering teams at Tata Motors all deserve a thumping pat on their back. Having sampled their magic ways with the Tiago, the Hexa has had me smiling from first glance. There’s great attention to detail in every single aspect of the car.
Up-front, the Hexa is imposing to look at. Smoked projector headlamps, the signature grille with hexagonal detailing, smart looking DRL’s and the squared off look, means that I’m calling it ‘Brutus’. In dog terms, I’d describe the Hexa as a pure bred Rottweiler in a tuxedo. I love the sculpted bonnet and the humongous 19-inch wheels.
The Tata Design team have done well to mask the Aria underpinnings, which are visible only to those who’ve known the predecessor. For example, 90% of the bloggers present, didn’t know this, and those that I mentioned it too, weren’t bothered by it.
Out at the back, one does get the feeling that the design is inspired, but it worked just as well for me as the rest of the car. The tail-lamps in particular, look gorgeous in the dark. On the whole, it’s been a fabulous effort in terms of the exteriors.
The cabin in the Hexa shows off Tata Motors at the top of their game. The view from the seat is commanding, with good visibility all-around. The all-black theme is a welcome move too, for it just ups the luxury feel of the cabin. The seats in all rows (captain-seat variant) come with great side bolstering and tend to hug you tight in the seat when strapped in. Even on the variant with the second row bench seating, the support will have you traveling in adequate comfort. Every surface in sight is clad in premium looking materials that are great to touch as well. Even the headliner has that plush, premium engineered feel to it. Tapping into the best of global vendors, Tata Motors have tried to ensure that only the best efforts have gone into the Hexa.
In terms of features too, the Hexa comes loaded. From a driver’s perspective, there’s a comprehensive steering wheel. It gets height adjust. Everything pretty much falls to hand and the control stalks have a meaty click to them. The meter console looks very upmarket, though I suspect there’s going to be a few owners wanting them to be a few sizes larger. The auto-HVAC controls too fell right to hand and the air-conditioning performance was more than sufficient in the heat later in the day. There is however, that wee bit of an issue over the missing ‘reach’ function with the steering, but more on that later.
The ConnectionNext Infotainment System in the Hexa deserves a special mention here. The JBL branding is neatly done on the centre channel speaker, while the remaining 4 speakers & tweeters in the doors blend away unobtrusively. There’s also a sub-woofer in the boot, with an amplifier supplying the juice. The Hexa’s sound system is easily one of the best I’ve heard so-far in this class of vehicles. It not only hits the competition out of the park, but it is also better than most sedans in this price-segment. The Sound Quality & the Max Volume that it can reach without distorting is going to be a big talking point among musically inclined owners. In-fact, so good is the performance that this is one OEM system I’d leave untouched, barring the ‘damping’ of the doors & door pads. Connectivity too is taken care of, with every permutation-combination commonly used being present. The 5-inch touch-screen display may seem a tad small, but it is perfectly serviceable & is ably supported by the surrounding buttons.
The 2.2 Litre VARICOR 400 diesel motor is shared with the Safari Storme and churns out about 156 PS of power & 400 NM of Torque. There’s two variants on offer, both with 6-Speed gearboxes. The auto-transmission variant is paired with 2Wheel drive only. It does however come with a hidden ‘Race Mode’ that gets activated when you’re depress accelerator pedal aggressively & hold it down for a certain time. Response sharpens up greatly in this mode, while you get out of it, by releasing the throttle pedal to a more relaxed position. Apart from this, there’s also a TipTronic mode on offer here.
The manual gearbox is paired with the all-wheel drive (AWD) option and unique to this are the ‘Driving Modes’ that can be changed ‘on-the-fly’ via a rotary knob. The comfort mode really dulls the response & is only good for the more sedate of drives. For the most part of the drive, I’d left the Manual, AWD variant in Dynamic drive mode. In both these modes, the Hexa runs in 2 Wheel Drive configuration, with power being sent to the rear wheels. The other two modes are Auto & Rough Road. The former senses the changing road conditions & chooses when to switch between 2WD & AWD mode on demand. The Rough Mode on the other hand, puts the Hexa into AWD mode that, in conjunction with the ESP system, allows for a lot more adventurous driving when the road disappears than you’d have thought of.
Battle of the ‘Boxes – Auto versus Manual:
Between the two gearbox options, it is the Auto’ box that comes out on top. It is refined & really surprises you with its accomplished performance. The gear ratios are well matched, with lag being better managed than on the competition. The manual gearbox does allow for better control, and is a lot more flexible given how that it is paired with the capable AWD system. The clutch too is light for a car of this size. However, there’s a few rough edges here, with the gear-lever judder being very much present on the Hexa. The characteristic hum may be the lowest among Tata vehicles, but it is still noticeable & unwarranted on a vehicle in this class. The clutch, though light, could have done with greater feel to make the whole shifting experience a more positive one.
All-in-all, while a few rough edges remain, I love how Tata Motors have taken a few giant leaps with the Hexa.
First Drive Impression:
Flagging-off, I gingerly eased the Hexa through the hotel gates & set out on the prescribed route. The GPS read out from the 5-inch touch-screen display showing me exactly where I was supposed to go. Going past the airport area, we soon hit the Outer Ring Road, ORR which allowed me to stretch the Hexa’s legs. I had the Auto-transmission, 2WD version in this first stint & the car was a revelation. She’s no tyre burner, but she does gather up speed in no time. The gear ratios are matched quite well to the 2.2 litre VARICOR engine & she was singing away at the speed-limit rather nicely. Out on the open highway, the steering felt taut & had a positive feel to it. It wasn’t over-servoed at all, and the Hexa responded well to inputs.
As we got off the ORR, the driving conditions changed to two-lane carriageways with a fair mix of smooth tarmac & broken roads. The Hexa, surprisingly proved to be in her element out here as well. I mean, for a 2.3 ton, ladder-frame chassis behemoth, she behaved more like a light-weight monocoque. So composed were her road manners that I was soon punting her around like a hatchback. The ride quality was soft, but impeccable when it came to riding roughshod over broken roads. It soon got highly addictive to simply go over rumblers and small ditches without dropping speed, while competitor vehicles out on the road would slow down to a crawl. The high perch & the resultant commanding view from the driver’s seat meant that I could see over the top of other UV’s, far into the corner. The suspension on the Hexa along with the chassis setup and those huge 19-inch wheels were turning this drive over broken roads into a ‘magic-carpet’ ride.
We soon came upon a hillock that seemed perfect for a photo-op and the Hexa tackled it with aplomb! This inspite of it being the Auto-transmission, 2WD variant. What’s more, her steering was nimble enough to manoeuvre the beast even within the tiny space available. Resuming our drive, we found ourselves turning onto a scenic, single-lane back road that wound its way, dipping & turning with the land. The Hexa continued to put a grin on the face as she attacked it with all the appetite of a hungry Rottweiler.
The GPS did put some doubts in our minds as it played hide & seek with our directions, but a couple of turnarounds later, we hit the dirt patch for our half-way meet & car swap point. Bidding adieu to this Brute of an AWD-UV, I was convinced that Tata were really on to something special.
A quick round of refreshments later, it was time to change cars, to the Manual geared, AWD version for the trip back. Having gotten used to the convenience of the Automatic gearbox, the manual shifter seemed like a chore. The engine response however, was noticeably sharper and I quickly began to get into the act. There were whispers of mystic proving-grounds nearby, but in a case of mistaken number-plates, I ended up following the wrong ‘lead’ car & that opportunity was lost.
Making the most of the drive back, it was time to revel in the capabilities of the much talked about ‘Drive Modes’ on the Hexa. To be honest, the ‘Comfort’ mode was too dull for my driving style. I’d only consider using this one if I wanted to stretch the fuel miles. Most of my driving came along in the fantastic ‘Dynamic’ mode, which ensured that the car coped up well over mixed road conditions. As was the case with the Auto’ Transmission, the Manual Gearbox too proved to be well-suited to the engine. In-fact, while it did trade a bit of refinement & tons of convenience for all-wheel drive controls, it did gain from better throttle response and performance.
A special mention must be made to the work done by Tata’s engineering team in reducing the noise that seeps into the cabin. The Hexa has got to be one of the quietest cars in its class. It can easily give more than a few of D-Segment cars a run for their money in this department too. Even the suspension setup and chassis balance has proved to be superlative in this brief first-drive.
Sales Success Concerns:
In terms of the product, Tata Motors has delivered a highly capable vehicle that can take the fight to the competition. Whether it wins or not will depend on a few things:
- Pricing holds the key to whether Tata Motors’ best effort so far stands a fighting chance at success or go down as yet another miss. The inside track is that Tata Motors is likely to spring a surprise when pricing is announced as delivery times come close. Indications so far have pointed towards the bench-marking against Mahindra’s XUV500. Media reports though are stating that it could be in the league of the Toyota Innova. Time shall tell which one of these is true.
- Along with pricing, Tata’s second headache is going to be After-Sales Service. Unlike Maruti, which carved out a separate sales & service network brand for its premium product, Tata is putting their belief in a selection of their best service partners to cater to the Hexa. From dedicated display stations within existing sales networks to allocating dedicated service bays & personnel, Tata Motors is backing their best partners.
- It is however the third bugbear, of long term reliability, where Tata Motors is going to have to work hard at convincing potential customers. The Innova already comes with a proven track record in this area, and it will be interesting to see how the Hexa fares here.If it is any indicator, the Hexa cars used in the ‘Off-Road Demonstration’ (See HexaExperience Part 3) had completed over 500 kilometres of the off-road loop without a single breakdown since new. (Hat-tip to Giridhar for this nugget of information)
Also, in terms of the product, there’s been a few glaring omissions and errors –
- The lack of a push-button start system for example, when budget hatchbacks have it.
- Absence of a sun-roof, even as an option, is another baffling choice.
- The centre arm-rest while well built, underwhelms in terms of support for the driver – ostensibly to make way for hand-brake articulation.
- The hum & vibration through the gear-lever in the manual-transmission variant too detracts from the overall refined experience.
In the end though, I found myself praying that Tata Motors do go on and price the car on the lower side of guesstimates. For the Hexa truly is worthy of being called a flagship for India’s leading home-grown auto major.
As for me buying the Hexa – well, if I had the money, I’d wait. You see, I’d want to know if the MotoGods do listen to my prayers & guide Tata Motors into mixing the best of both worlds.
An AWD Hexa with an Auto-Transmission option – Sounds perfect, right?
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