A sophisticated gearbox adds flavour to an already well-rounded package
Automatic transmissions have come a long way, not just in terms of technology but also acceptance. The ever increasing traffic congestion and sheer convenience of an automatic transmission has seen a rise in buyers’ preference for automatic cars over manual ones and most don't seem to mind paying an extra premium for it. There is no dearth of options either, as most carmakers now offer an automatic option for every model they are offering. It is a little surprising then that in the three years since the launch of the Altroz, Tata Motors never offered an automatic option!
The car maker might be late to the automatic party but it comes all guns blazing with its DCA or Dual Clutch Automatic transmission, one of the most sophisticated gearboxes in the segment. However, for now, only the naturally aspirated petrol engine is on offer mated to the DCA gearbox, not the diesel or more powerful turbocharged petrol version. But before get to the transmission, let’s first talk about what else is new in the Altroz DCA.
The Altroz has been one of the best-looking hatchbacks around and the new 'Opera Blue' paintjob, with the blacked-out accents, amps up the car’s premium quotient (there is a DCA Dark variant on offer as well!). There are no updates to the bodywork, even the 16-inch machined-finished alloy wheels are the same. The only way to differentiate the automatic is the tiny DCA logo on the tailgate. While I would have loved the automatic variant to have more distinguishable design elements, the Altroz DCA does not seem lacking in terms of styling and is a head turner even today.
Interiors remain unchanged as well and feature a black and ivory theme with satin silver accents. The cheery-looking dashboard continues to house a seven-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system and semi-digital instrument cluster. With the competition updating its cars, both screens on the Altroz are in need of a refresh and while they are at it, a larger central screen would be welcome. The car also gets Tata's iRA connectivity features, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, besides What 3Words navigation, iTPMS, cruise control and climate control (with an express cooling button). However, the highlight for me is the Harman infotainment system that packs in eight speakers and elevates the audio experience. One thing that needs improvement is the fit-finish levels, as I could notice some uneven panel gaps in the dashboard and door trims. Also, shiny plastic pieces on the dashboard do not feel premium.
The six-speed Dual Clutch Automatic transmission is one of the most sophisticated gearbox in its segment and Tata Motors is one of two car makers to offer such a gearbox, the other being Hyundai in its i20 turbo. Tata claims the DCA transmission is innovative to the extent that it is built on a foundation of 45 patents! The keywords are wet clutch with active cooling technology, self-healing and machine learning. The first two are to improve durability, especially in our hot and dusty conditions. Compared to the dry clutch found in manual cars, the wet clutch in the DCA gearbox is cooled by oil that adapts to the conditions. It even features a dust filtration system with an evacuation system that rids the gearbox of dust and debris.
Machine learning has the gearbox learn from your driving style over a period of time and adapts accordingly to offer the best of both worlds, drivability and fuel efficiency. Our time with the Altroz DCA was limited though and we will need to spend more time with the car to put this claim to the test. That said I found the gearbox to be attuned to the naturally aspirated 1.2-litre petrol mill rather well. At 86PS and 113Nm, its performance is decent at best. The gearbox does well to mask the motor's lack of performance though and is always in the right gear every time you press on the throttle for overtakes.
Never did I feel that I was in a higher or lower gear while driving in the city or the highway and that says a lot about the transmission's intuitiveness. Gearshifts are seamless and you don't feel a lurch when shifting up or down. I only wish the gearshifts were a tad quicker. The system uses shift-by-wire which Tata claims take just 250 milliseconds between gearshifts.
While it sounds fine on paper, spirited driving will leave you wanting for quicker shifts, especially in manual mode. Surprisingly, the Altroz DCA does not get a Sport mode and my guess is Tata Motors is reserving it for the Altroz iTurbo. Shifting from Park to Drive, Neutral or Reverse feels refreshingly light and seamless. Another refreshing feature is the Auto Park Lock, a failsafe in case you step out of the car without putting it into Park. In case the gear lever is in Neutral position, the seatbelt is not used and driver door is open, the system will automatically engage park mode to prevent the car from rolling down a slope.
The Altroz retains its fine balance between ride and handling while the flat bottomed steering feels nice to hold and is light at low speeds but weighs up nicely at speeds. On the dynamics front the Altroz has always impressed and of course, with no mechanical changes on the front, the DCA version is as impressive, going around corners with aplomb, feeling well planted at highway speeds and also offering a very impressive ride quality.
In fact, the Altroz has always been a well-rounded package. The only chink in its armour was the lack of an automatic transmission that has been addressed and how! With prices for the DCA variant starting at Rs 8.1 lakh ex-showroom and going up to Rs 9.9 lakh, the automatic variant commands a premium of around Rs 1.1 lakh over the manual variants. While the Altroz DCA does not get any design or feature upgrades, the sophisticated automatic gearbox makes the premium worth by means of the sheer convenience and premium experience it offers. That said, having driven the Altroz iTurbo, I am keener on driving the turbocharged petrol hatchback with this gearbox as that should be quite the combo!