"Buy one get one free!" "50 per cent off, last few days!" - few among us have successfully eluded such offers thrust on us by the media day after day, every day. In such a scenario, comes a car that actually delivers more for less. Sourya Biswas reviews this notchback that promises to revolutionise the sedan segment, and perhaps shake up the hatchback arena as well.
The evolution of Tata Motors
Circa 1998 AD: Tata Motors, a reputed name in manufacturing trucks, brings out India's first indigenous modern car, the Indica.
Circa 2008 AD: With fanfare mirroring the celebrations a decade earlier, Tata Motors unveils the cheapest car in the world, the Nano.
A lot has changed in this decade. We have had two general elections in the country, India had reached and lost the cricket World Cup finals, and Tata Motors is no longer a truck-maker trying to build passenger vehicles, but is now vying for the top spot with Maruti-Suzuki which has been the market-leader for donkey's years.
In the entire hullabaloo surrounding the unveiling of the Nano at the recently concluded Auto Expo in New Delhi, many of the other illustrious launches got little coverage. Few of them happened to be from the Tata stable as well, such as the Sumo Grande and the new Indica. And of course, the cheapest sedan in the world, the Tata Indigo CS.
"Cheapest," did you say?
Yes, we definitely did. In a country obsessed with costs, we have always found the word "cheap" to signify value for money and not a compromise on quality, unlike in several Western nations. And in this regard, Tata Motors delivers, and how! Not only does it offer you the least expensive car in the world, (well, not yet, but from September onwards) but it also makes the cheapest sedan to be found anywhere in the new Indigo CS, where CS stands for Compact Sedan. The importance of a boot cannot be understated, especially when many here think that a hatchback is a car that people buy if they cannot afford a sedan. So the Indigo CS, even with its small boot, is a notch above the hatchbacks in the status ladder. Fittingly, it is also called a 'notchback' in its new avatar.
The history of the Tata Indigo
A small recapitulation of the Indigo's history before we look into the pros and cons of the cheapest sedan in the world, and we are paying a compliment here. As has already been well documented, Tata Motors came out with the three-box version of the Indica in 2002 and named it the Indigo. The car underwent several facelifts over the years, and was available as the estate Indigo Marina from 2004 and the up-market Indigo SX a year later.
However, competition was tough and the Indigo lost out in refinement over the Honda City and Hyundai Accent. Tata Motors decided to play to their strength of offering more for less, and promptly stretched the car into the Indigo XL (Executive Lounge) which it began offering from 2007. The car was vigorously advertised as a cheaper alternative to a limousine offering acres of luxurious space, at the price of a mid-size sedan.
Why a smaller Indigo?
The successful experiment of the Indigo XL set minds thinking at Tata Motors. With the discriminatory tax regime in place, smaller cars were at a definite pricing advantage vis-à-vis their larger cousins, and the finance minister has increased this gap with this year's Budget. (See: Auto price cuts: Some announced, some expected soon) So, the head honchos of Tata Motors may have thought, if we could stretch the Indigo, what's keeping us from squeezing it short so that it qualifies as a small car? In the context of the Indian Budget and taxation laws, small cars are defined as being less than four metres in length, and having maximum engine capacities of 1200cc and 1500cc for petrol and diesel-powered cars respectively. These specifications had been codified last year when the finance minister had reduced the duty on such cars from the earlier 24 per cent, which all cars were subject to.
The new Tata Indigo CS
The new Indigo CS, at a length of 3988mm, and sporting 1193cc and 1405cc engines in its petrol and diesel variants respectively, just about qualifies as a small car. And the benefits of a favorable tax regime are evident in the sub-four-lakh rupees price of the base petrol variant, almost a lakh less than its bigger cousin. The base diesel variant isn't much costlier, retailing for Rs4.25 lakh in Mumbai before the Budget. In addition, after the recent duty cut announced in the budget, prices have dropped by an additional Rs15000. All this makes the Indigo CS the ideal value-for-money car for the value-for-money-conscious Indian customer. Until now, the Mahindra-Renault Logan had sole supremacy over this segment after the discontinuation of the Maruti Esteem last year. Not only will the Indigo CS threaten that hegemony with such aggressive pricing, it may send jitters to the hatchback manufacturers as well. The other competitor in the immediate future in this segment will be the sedan version of the Swift, which has been named Dezire. This is also intended to be a sub-four-metre sedan, the second of its kind in the world after the Indigo CS has shown the way.
Until now, we have been concentrating on the Indigo CS's low price, and justifiably so, considering that is the vehicle's USP. But a car is only as good as the experience it provides its occupants. And in this respect, the Indigo CS both satisfies and disappoints.
On the satisfaction front, one must definitely mention the exterior. The Indigo was never a great looker, but the CS has markedly improved on this front. The shortened boot actually enhances the looks of the car, which had earlier suffered from the heavy overhanging trunk. However, the space is still large enough at 380 litres, quite a bit more than what is offered by most hatchbacks. For example, the Swift offers only 360 odd litres of boot space, even with the rear seats folded down. Other changes from its earlier avatar are cosmetic, but continue to improve the visual experience. These include "a stylish new tail light cluster in the rear embedded in a smart new rear profile completed with a new, trimmer rear bumper", in the words of Tata Motors. One can also differentiate it from the older Indigo even when not looking at its profile, thanks to the new front grille coupled with new headlamps.
Same old interior
As far as the interior is concerned, it must tally up with the disappointments, along with the ordinary performance and the vague steering response. Although the seats are higher now, they have a long way to go to match up to the comfort experienced in other sedans. Also, the lack of power windows is something unexpected in today's cars, and the lack of power steering in the lower variants only adds to the feeling of excessive cost cutting. However, if you equate comfort with space, you won't be disappointed. The air-conditioner is just adequate, and, as you may have already guessed, there is no music system incorporated in the vehicle. One point in its favour: unlike the Logan, it does have the wipers pointing in the correct direction. Also, it is quieter on the inside.
Now we come to the car's performance parameters. If by performance you refer to things like acceleration and top speed, you will add the Indigo CS's response to the list of negatives. However, if, like the majority of Indians, performance means "litre pe kitna kilometre", the Indigo CS is a car after your heart. The petrol variant is equipped with 1.19L MPFI engine, which delivers 65bhp while the diesel car with a 1.4L turbo-diesel, churns out 70bhp. Not very impressive, agreed, but certainly adequate for city driving. And as for the people who count their fuel bills, the new Indigo CS delivers even better mileage than its thrifty predecessor. One can reasonably expect fuel efficiency figures of around 14 kilometres per litre (kmpl) in the city and 19 kmpl on the highway for the diesel variant, and 3 kmpl lesser on average for the petrol model.
The shorter length translates to a better parking experience in cramped urban spaces, and also produces a tighter driving experience. Tata Motors hasn't stinted on the suspension, and the Indigo CS gets independent McPherson struts both in the front and rear. This translates to a smoother ride even over distressed roads. But the problem of the rickety trim and poor build persists, and shows up in the handling of the car. The suspension also intrudes into the boot space and ends up cramping its length. The 25kg reduction in weight due to the 162mm reduction in length does improve the mileage marginally and the handling even less so.
Variants and colours
The Indigo CS is available in four variants - two each in petrol and diesel options. The petrol model features beige dashboard interiors while the diesel model gets it in black. Not much separates the base petrol and diesel variants from their top-end cousins other than the presence of power steering, body-coloured bumpers, wheel covers and front fog lamps in the latter. While the two petrol variants have been named GLE and GLS, the base and premium diesel variants are called LE TDI and LS TDI respectively. The base petrol version, the Indigo CS GLE, is the least expensive of the four and retailed for Rs3.79 lakh pre-Budget. Tata Motors has generously passed on the effects of the eight per cent duty cut to consumers, and the price reduced to Rs3.66 lakh after finance minister Chidambaram's act of generosity. The car is available in seven attractive colours, attractively named scarlet red, sparkling gold, mica grey, carbon black, cosmic blue, mint white and arctic silver.
The Tata Indigo CS doesn't offer anything earth-shakingly different from its illustrious predecessor, but it offers it all at an earth-shaking price. At that price, even the general lack of refinement and dodgy ride quality can be conveniently overlooked. While driving this car, one is fondly remembered of the Indica's earlier advertising spiel of "offering more car per car". With the Indigo CS, Tata Motors makes its present felt in almost the entire spectrum of Indian automobiles, barring the premium category. From SUVs to mini-hatches, from sedans to hatchbacks, Tata has a formidable presence everywhere today. From following Maruti's lead earlier, Tata Motors has turned the tables by pre-empting the Dezire's launch as the first sub-four-metre sedan. And with its aggressive pricing coupled with first-mover advantage, it looks like Maruti has a battle royal on its hands.
As far as comparisons are concerned, the Indigo CS has only one competitor at present and one possible competitor in the future - the Mahindra-Renault Logan and the Maruti-Suzuki Dezire respectively. However, specifications for the latter are not yet available, and so we have substituted the Swift LXi for it in the comparison chart. All three featured here are petrol-powered vehicles and retail at close price-points.
|Parameters ||Tata Indigo CS GLE ||Mahindra-Renault Logan GL 1.4 ||Maruti Swift LXi|
|Dimensions || || || |
|Overall length ||3988 mm ||4250 mm ||3695 mm|
|Overall width ||1620 mm ||1740 mm ||1690 mm|
|Overall height ||1540 mm ||1525 mm ||1530 mm|
|Wheelbase ||2450 mm ||2630 mm ||2390 mm|
|Ground clearance ||165 mm ||155 mm ||170 mm|
|Front track ||1380 mm ||1480 mm ||1470 mm|
|Rear track ||1360 mm ||1470 mm ||1480 mm|
|Front headroom ||980 mm ||970 mm ||NA|
|Front legroom ||1170 mm ||1150 mm ||NA|
|Boot space ||380 litre ||510 litre ||232 litre|
|Kerb weight ||1045 kg ||1040 kg ||1415 kg|
|Fuel tank capacity ||42 litre ||50 litre ||43 litre|
|Fuel efficiency || || || |
|Mileage (city) ||10.8 km/litre ||11.3 km/litre ||11.5 km/litre|
|Mileage (highway) ||15.6 km/litre ||15.7 km/litre ||15.9 km/litre|
|Mileage (overall) ||11.8 km/litre ||12.5 km/litre ||12.6 km/litre|
|Performance || || || |
|Maximum speed ||160 Km/Hour ||154 Km/Hour ||156 Km/Hour|
|0-100 kmph ||15.2 seconds ||15.7 seconds ||12.9 seconds|
|80-0 kmph ||32.1 metres ||33.0 metres ||32.3 metres|
|Engine || || || |
|Engine type ||MPFI petrol engine with 32-bit microprocessor ||1.4L MPFI petrol ||1.3L MPFI petrol|
|Displacement ||1193 cc ||1390 cc ||1298 cc|
|Power ||65bhp@ 5000 rpm ||76bhp@ 5500 rpm ||88bhp@ 6000 rpm|
|Torque ||105Nm@ 2500rpm ||112Nm@ 3000 rpm ||113Nm@ 4500rpm|
|No. of cylinders ||4 cylinder ||4 cylinder ||4 cylinder|
|Transmission || || || |
|Transmission type ||Manual ||Manual ||Manual|
|Gears/Speeds ||5 Gears ||5 Gears ||5 Gears|
|Suspensions || || || |
|Front suspension ||Independent McPherson strut with anti-roll bar ||McPherson strut ||McPherson strut and coil spring|
|Rear suspension ||Independent 3- link McPherson strut with anti-roll bar ||Non-independent, H-type beam ||Torsion beam and coil spring|
|Brakes || || || |
|Front brakes ||Ventilated discs ||Discs ||Ventilated discs|
|Rear brakes ||Drum ||Drum ||Drum|
|Wheels || || || |
|Wheel type ||Steel ||Steel ||Steel|
|Wheel size ||14inch ||14inch ||14inch|
|Tyres ||165/65 R14 ||185/70 R14 ||1655/80 R14|
|Price (Ex-showroom) || || || |
|Price (Mumbai) ||Rs.3.66 lakh ||Rs.4.20 lakh ||Rs.4.06 lakh|
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