Tata Altroz Racer First Drive

Halley Prabhakar
Experiencing Tata’s most powerful hatchback yet on the Road and Track

We love hatchbacks, period! It’s a form that is not just likable thanks to its looks but also makes perfect sense as a daily driver, especially when it’s got a sporty character. While SUVs have been ruling the roost in recent years, the thrill of a sporty hatchback has been sorely missed. Enter the Tata Altroz Racer, a fresh contender in the performance hatchback category, targeting young enthusiasts and going head-to-head with the Hyundai i20 N Line. We had the opportunity to experience the Altroz Racer on both road and track, and it left us buzzing with excitement.

Does it look like a hot hatch?

The Altroz is one of the best looking hatchbacks in India and the Racer accentuates the sporty side of this design. To begin with, the car is available in three shades (Orange, White and Grey) and all these are contrasting shades to go well with the all black upper half treatment. Tata designers have cleverly blacked out the hood, roof and tailgate that was already half black to give the car a hot hatch look. The side window moldings have always been finished in black and are a unique design on the Altroz and blend in well with the black upper half. The rear spoiler too is all-new and a large unit and also flows well with the blacked out C-pillar. The blacked out headlamp surrounds and tail lamps from factory elevates the sporty character too, Twin white stripes on the bonnet and roof add a supercar-inspired touch, though a darker shade might have been preferable for a subtler look. You’ll notice side skirts too that’s well designed and adds that sport oomph. The wheels are similar to the regular Altroz higher-end variants but blacked out, an all-new wheel design would have been nicer. The antenna meanwhile is a shark fin type unit on the Racer. 

Step inside, and it’s an all-black interior with an orange theme. The Altroz has a well-designed and sporty interior either ways and the Racer takes this to its advantage and adds in some more flavor. The dash has gloss black inserts and orange contrasting surrounds for the air vents, center console and gearbox. The steering wheel is finished with orange stitching and the ambient lights are also (you guessed it) lit up in orange. The seats get orange and white stripes too. The 7-inch instrument cluster with orange graphics and 10.2-inch infotainment screen are TFT units and are designed well to offer a lot of information. These are the largest screens offered on the Altroz and will also be seen on the higher-end variants of the Altroz. 

What’s under the hood?

This is the biggest change seen on the Altroz Racer and is an apt fit to its name. The 1.2-litre turbo-petrol motor may sound similar on paper but it’s the more powerful engine that’s been borrowed from the Nexon and tuned to make it even more appealing. This engine has been proven in the SUV and now makes it to the Altroz to make it a lot more powerful and match the Hyundai i20 N line on paper. The 3-cylinder unit puts out 120PS at 6000 rpm and 170Nm of peak torque is available between 1750rpm to 4000rpm. Out on the road the car feels immediately a lot more eager than the iTurbo variant of the Altroz (which is now being replaced by the Racer iTurbo+) and the mid-range grunt is quite evident making it easy to drive in town without having to shift many gears while overtaking is a breeze. Even triple digit speeds come in effortlessly and it continues to climb making it a very engaging drive. The claimed 0-100kmph time is 11.3s making it slower than the i20 N line (9.90s claimed) on paper. The exhaust note however is one of the best sounding from the factory in this segment, Tata engineers have worked on the muffler tip that has been tuned to offer a nice raspy low end note and it definitely compliments the racer character.

A 6-speed gearbox makes its debut on the Altroz and it uses a hydraulic clutch which helps with easier and quicker shifts too. The clutch bite took some time getting used too and the harsh release can be felt especially when shifting at redline from 1st to 2nd gear. The shifts are positive but the smoothness of the unit could have been better. 

We got to test the Altroz Racer on the all-new CoASTT track in the outskirts of Coimbatore (read more about it in my column), and the car put a smile on my face almost all the time. We pushed our limits and made full use of the environment to maximise the Racer’s potential. It’s a fast car and is a capable track day tool too. The Altroz Racer propels to almost 140kmph on the main straight, that’s slightly more than 500m and with Narain Karthikeyan behind the wheel the car would hit close to 150kmph before turning into turn 1. 

How does the car ride and handle?

The Altroz is a great platform to begin with when it comes to dynamics and the engineers have worked on the ride and handling furthermore. With inputs taken from India’s first F1racer, Narain Karthikeyan himself, the Altroz Racer’s steering and suspension has been fine tuned to make it suited better for more spirited driving. The steering weighs up a lot more now at higher speeds and it is very evident. It is almost as direct and heavy as a hydraulic power steering setup. This added to the connection on the racetrack and made the experience a lot more enjoyable. ESP can’t be turned off on the track but it didn’t matter much, as it didn’t rob away the engaging track session. In terms of braking, there’s good bite and we felt the same on the track but there was some brake fade while braking from higher speeds on the highway and on the track as well. The rear brakes are drum type and it would have been nice to see disc units. 

While I didn’t have a benchmark lap time to make, as it was the first car I drove on CoASTT, Narain claims that the car lapped the 3.8km circuit in 2:12.7 seconds which is about a second quicker than him behind the wheel of the i20 N line. The Altroz Racer is indeed a capable car and can be a fun track day machine too.

What about features and pricing?

The Altroz Racer is made available in three variants – R1, R2 and R3 and is priced at Rs 9.49 lakh, 10.49 lakh and 10.99 lakh (all ex-showroom prices) respectively making it more affordable than the i20 N line. The R1 gets almost all features including the sports muffler, 16-inch wheels, 6 airbags, leatherette seats, the 10.2-inch Harman Infotainment screen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Push button start with smart key, 8 speaker audio, cruise control, projector headlamps, height adjustable driver seat to name a few. The R2 adds a sunroof, 7-inch digital cluster, 360-degree camera system and ambient lighting while the R3 trim also gets front ventilated seats, air purifier and smart app connectivity. 

In Conclusion

Tata Motors has been focusing heavily on SUVs, but the Altroz Racer shows they haven’t forgotten the hatchback segment. We still miss the Tiago JTP and felt it was a lot more hardcore and a sport line that could have introduced more models. However, the Racer is an exciting car too and slightly exceeds expectations too, adding more flavor to the segment and giving the i20 N Line some serious competition. With a more powerful engine, improved handling, and a lower starting price, the Altroz Racer is a tempting option for anyone looking for a fun-to-drive, feature-loaded hatchback. The car’s sporty looks are sure to attract young buyers, and we can’t wait to compare the Altroz Racer against its competition on the track. Ed, are you listening?

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