Evolution is defined as the “change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations”. If you apply it for vehicles, then it will mean change in traits, engine or even chassis. It’s simple. If you don’t evolve with the changing times, then you will be left redundant. Tata Motors knows this and when they launched the manual variants of the Nexon in September last year, they already had the 2018 Tata Nexon petrol automatic or AMT or HyprDrive (choose whichever name you want) ready. It was just that they wanted to see the reaction to the manual variants and based on that, the automatics were to be launched. The Tata Nexon has a success for the company as we all know and now is the right time for the automatics to come in. While you can read all about the changes and details of the Nexon AMTs here, I will dwell more on the engine and transmission characteristics in town and on the highway.
Engine and transmission
Tata Motors uses the 1.2-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol and a 1.5-litre turbo diesel engines for the Nexon. There has been no detuning done to match the AMT for either engine. We will concentrate on the petrol here as this is the one we reviewed. The engine makes 110PS of power and 170Nm of torque. The 6-speed AMT unit also has a manual mode to it. When you start up the engine, the car shakes a bit. This is typical of 3-cylinder engines. At idle, the engine does sound a bit rough but as the journey progresses, it settles into a smooth idle and is half as intrusive in the cabin. Slot the gear stick into A and you are good to go. The three drive modes – Eco, City and Sport, can be shifted on the move. You will get a audio and visual indication of the same too. For this review, I preferred checking the Eco mode. If you have been used to AMTs or automatics in general by other manufacturers, then you will know that the economy mode means the vehicle gets bogged down and the accelerator kind of becomes a tad stiff to operate. It is like the engine tells you take things slowly so that it can give you the maximum mileage.
With the Tata Nexon AMT though, it is clear that the car doesn’t get bogged down by the Eco mode considerably. It still feels okay to drive in town and if you spot a small gap, you will reach there in time before the motorcyclist behind you. I usually have the habit of using manual mode even for DSG boxes, however, with this AMT, I may have used the option just twice or thrice. It is really good. Speaking of evolution, weren’t we? The gain in efficiency is noticeable too. In the city with Eco mode on, the Nexon AMT returned close to 12.7kmpl and City mode gave slightly less at 11.9kmpl. We unfortunately couldn’t try Sport mode efficiency though. For the highway run, the efficiency was 18.2kmpl and 17.8kmpl respectively for the Eco and City modes. Good enough for an SUV that weighs a tonne plus .
While pottering around in traffic, you don’t have to press the accelerator often as there is the Creep mode which ensures that the vehicle moves at 5kmph speeds or less. There is also the Hill Assist that doesn’t let the car roll back on an incline or compels one to use the handbrake. While climbing hills though there is a bit of judder from the transmission, something which Tata Motors could look at ironing out. That being said, if you have driven AMT-equipped cars before, you will agree that the AMT shift pause is not so prominent in the Nexon. I remember feeling it with the Zest diesel automatic but for the Nexon, it looks like Tata Motors has tuned and refined it considerably.
Overtakes on the highway need to be planned though or simply use the manual mode. Sport mode makes the box hold on to a particular gear a tad longer.
The Tata Nexon still cuts a handsome figure, especially in this Etna Orange shade which as of now is exclusive to the AMTs. The white ceramic sash around the fog lamps has now been replaced by a grey one. The roof line too gets the same grey paint. From outside, the Nexon still looks like a big hatchback wearing stilettos. It doesn’t cut an imposing figure or even looks true SUV style. Until…!
…You get into the driver’s seat and realise that you are seated higher and at par with other SUVs in this segment. The 210mm ground clearance from here is quite believable. There is one change in the cabin and that is the introduction of the automatic gear lever along with the absence of the clutch pedal. Its been almost a year since the launch of the Nexon and Tata Motors still haven’t been able to dial in Apple CarPlay media connectivity. The touchscreen itself isn’t the smoothest but feels good visually. However, one has to take their eyes off the road to operate the system. There is still no auto wipers or headlights for that matter.
The good bits continue and this is the cabin space both at the front and rear. Headroom for a 6-foot passenger at the rear too is very good. Sitting three abreast may be a tad too much unless one of the occupants is size. The boot also is reasonably spacious though it can be improved upon.
Quality wise, Tata Motors still has to put some more effort. We like where they are going and the cabin is a vast improvement from before in terms of fit and finish. A tad more of quality control and it will be hard to fault Tata Motors in this department. I like the way the door pads have made to ensure that if you open the window and if it’s raining, the water doesn’t fall on the power window switches. There is also the rear charging socket located next to the left side passenger’s head.
Ride and handling
The Nexon I had strangely had a bouncy ride quality. I remember the Nexon to have a very pliant ride quality, especially at low speeds. The culprit was over inflated tyres on the test unit. Down the air pressure to 35psi for the front and 32psi for the rear and the Nexon returned to its pothole absorbing manners. The ground clearance with a full complement of passengers and their luggage didn’t go down considerably. Tata Motors has tuned the car to have just the right spring rebound characteristics. It is only with the bigger potholes, the Nexon seems a tad stiff. However, none of what the car is doing outside with respect to ironing out the potholes, comes inside the cabin and that is a good thing.
It was a hit and miss with the steering. It has an inconsistent feel. Sometimes, you may need to give more input to make that corner and sometimes less. The handling too is decent and body roll is well controlled though it is not in the league of the lighter Brezza. The brakes deserve a special mention and they have an urgent feel to them which I quite liked. That being said, dual airbags as well as ABS with EBD are standard across range.
Tata Motors has hit the nail right on the head with the Nexon petrol AMT. I quite enjoyed driving it, not having to deal with the clutch or worry about gear changes and most importantly, the fuel efficiency isn’t down when compared to a manual version. All this for only Rs 60,000 more than the manual at Rs 9.63 lakh, ex-Mumbai, for the dual tone XZA+ version. I will call it value for money. If you are looking at a feature rich SUV and a petrol automatic at that one, the Tata Nexon is the one to go for.
Things we like about the new Tata Nexon petrol AMT
Fantastic looks, good driveability, ride quality and efficiency
Things we didn’t like so much about the new Tata Nexon petrol AMT
Inconsistent build quality, infotainment system is laggy and few features are still missing
Tata Motors, it seems, is aware of two things that aren’t the best bits with the Nexon and these are the fuse box cover next to the driver and the bonnet holder. While the fuse box cover is known to pop out very easily time and again, the bonnet holder on almost all the cars tends to break. Both are not serious issues and the service personnel will happily replace or fix them for you. However, a bit more of quality control in these departments will go a long way to help alleviate customer concerns.
Photographs by Donald Dsouza