Is it a hot hatch or just another quick family hatchback?
Early morning shoots are a norm for us. There is a reason we drag ourselves out of our beds before daybreak. Every automotive photographer (including Gaurav!) always insists on getting to the shoot location well before the first rays of light hit the spot. And when we had to shoot the Tata Altroz iTurbo, I particularly didn’t mind waking up early. The reason being the fact that I’d never driven the Altroz and had heard good things, besides which, it now gets a turbocharged petrol engine. All this besides the fact that I’ve had a short stint at Tata Motors early in my career which makes me more curious about every new Tata product!
As I parked the car for some static photos, its gleaming blue colour stood out instantly. Like most photographers, Gaurav too is fond of bright-hued cars and was quick to heap praises on the ‘Harbour Blue’ shade here. It looked particularly alluring at daybreak and accentuated the design even further. And it’s a design I like – the low slung stance, wide track and the sense of width offered by the headlights and sleek grille together make you pause and take notice. I like the rear end the most though as the design of the tail lamps makes the car stand out. The fact that you cannot tell the regular Altroz apart from the iTurbo except for the badging at the rear is a bit of a downer.
I would have liked some distinction or sportier bits. Maybe a bit of red in the grille or different wheels but I guess Tata probably wanted this one to be a sleeper. Under the hood is the Nexon’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder motor, offering 110PS and 140Nm here (10PS and 30Nm lesser than the Nexon). The engine is mated to a five-speed manual unlike the Nexon’s six-speed ‘box, which we’re told was a conscious decision to ensure it all fits well under the Altroz’s hood. For the record, 110PS and 140Nm are still 24PS and 27Nm more than the Altroz (naturally aspirated) petrol! So performance is brisk indeed.
But at the same time, the Altroz iTurbo isn’t ferocious like a Doberman. It’s more like a playful Beagle that’s alert and quick to respond but will not snap back if you misbehave. The Altroz iTurbo can thus be good fun, be it on open roads or in the city. On the highway it is quick to get to triple-digit speeds and given the cabin comfort and space, can also be a good option for long distances. Midrange is where the motor feels strongest, though it also has a noticeable surge at 5,000rpm. It should be interesting to see how the Altroz iTurbo feels in the company of other turbocharged hatchbacks like the Hyundai i20 and Volkswagen Polo.
In city, the Altroz feels peppy enough to entertain – in City mode itself. Turbo lag is minimal and throttle response quick, which along with the motor’s torquey nature ensures gear changes required are far and few in between. A tiny button behind the gear lever engages Sport mode, sharpening throttle responses and power delivery further. This along with the more aggressive mapping calls for more alacrity in traffic. That said, I found Sport mode to be fun and stuck to it for most of my time behind the wheel. But if you want a relaxed feel, City mode does the job without letting the car feel sluggish and claimed fuel efficiency in the mode is an impressive 18.13kmpl. The seats get sporty looking leatherette upholstery in the iTurbo and the white and beige interiors look cheery. However, some plastic surfaces could have been finished better. Tata has also added an Xpress cooling button that drops down the driver side window and has the AC running at full blast to cool the cabin quicker. Very effective! The infotainment system deserves a mention too, as the Altroz is equipped with an excellent Harman infotainment system like all new Tata cars. It sounds even better thanks to the addition of two tweeters now.
The Altroz also impressed with its ride and handling. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it soaked up rutted roads without having me bobbing up and down in my seat. The steering feels light at slow speeds but weighs up well as you go faster and is impressive for an electric steering. If I were to nitpick, I would have liked it to be a wee bit more direct. The suspension complements the car’s highway manners by offering a confident feel as well, helping the Altroz iTurbo feel like a well-rounded package. Overall the Altroz iTurbo is no hot hatch but builds on the Altroz’s strengths. With prices starting at Rs 7.74 lakh (ex-showroom New Delhi), it costs Rs 60,000 more than its naturally aspirated sibling. For the money, you get more kit as well as better performance and refinement. It could have ticked a few more boxes in my opinion though. The lack of an automatic option, for instance, is a miss given the car's target customer of an upwardly mobile urban enthusiast. There are rumours though of a dual-clutch transmission coming in later. As it stands, for now, the iTurbo is the best Altroz petrol variant to buy and a good option if you are looking for a turbo petrol hatch on a budget.
Tata Altroz iTurbo
Engine: 1,199cc, 3-cylinder, turbo-petrol Power: 110PS @ 5,500rpm
Torque: 140Nm @ 1,500-5,500rpm
Price: Starting at Rs 7.74 lakh ex-showroom, New Delhi