OverdriveApr 19, 2018 18:40:17 IST
By Abhay Verma
An AMT in an SUV sounds a lot like the masala dosa burger from McDonald's to me. It's an unconventional combination. But the Tata Nexon will soon be offered with the option of an AMT, apparently because given its positioning as a smartly styled urban SUV, Tata Motors wants to make the Nexon more convenient to drive in city traffic.
Tata Motors also tells us it has moved over 28,000 units of the Nexon out of showrooms in just six months, which should give an idea of the kind of success it has garnered and threat it can pose to rivals like the Ford EcoSport, and maybe even the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza. And Tata Motors feels an AMT-equipped version will further help it cement the Nexon's foothold in the segment.
The big news is that Tata will equip both, the petrol and diesel versions of the Nexon with the AMT, offering it in the fully-loaded, XZA+ trim initially, which should make for a massive advantage for the Nexon. Why you ask? The segment leading Brezza is yet to be offered with an automatic transmission, let alone an AMT (But I am curious to know why the Maruti DZire's AMT has still not been shoehorned under the Brezza's hood), while Ford is only offering the petrol version of the EcoSport with a conventional automatic gearbox. Just recently, we spent some time driving the petrol and diesel versions of the Tata Nexon AMT, and suddenly the idea of an automated manual transmission in an urban SUV doesn't sound too bizarre.
Essentially the new, bright orange colour you see here and the XZA+ badge on the rump are new on the Nexon. That's apart from the AMT that is. Rest of the vehicle is identical to what the Tata Nexon has been since its launch last year. And as unconventional as the design might look, it's also more eye-catching and appealing than a whole lot of SUVs in the market. I continue to appreciate the fact that Tata Motors didn't alter the Nexon's design much, from that of the original concept, a rare occurrence in the Indian market. I'm also impressed with the fact that the Tata Nexon looks compact from outside but there's an abundance of space inside. The cockpit and front passenger area feel roomy, while leg and knee room at the rear is adequate despite the overall 3994 mm (under 4 metres) length.
Squeezing out 350 litres of boot space is also an impressive feat of design. The XZA+ gets the same feature list as the XZ, including a 6.5-inch touchscreen for the Harman-sourced infotainment system. The system integrates Android Auto connectivity including navigation via the phone but still doesn't integrate connectivity for iPhones via Apple CarPlay. The XZA+ gets keyless entry along with a 'wearable' smart key, which resembles a smart wrist band and will let you unlock the car without the key fob. On the exterior, the XZA+ comes with projector headlamps and LED daytime running lamps and nice looking, 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 215-section tyres. On the whole, there's no denying, the Tata Nexon oozes appeal from all quarters.
What's under the hood?
The same four cylinder 1.5-litre diesel and three cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engines that offer 110 PS along with 260 Nm and 170 Nm of torque respectively. These engines are mated to an all-new, six-speed AMT. The Nexon AMT also has three driving modes — City, Eco and Sport — just like the manual, which makes it the first AMT equipped vehicle to feature multiple driving modes. Then there are features like Hill Assist to prevent the car from rolling back on inclines and a creep function that ensures you don't have to keep nudging the throttle when crawling in bumper to bumper traffic.
How is it to drive?
Unless you step hard on the gas pedal the Nexon AMT has a slight judder when taking off from standstill, a characteristic trait of most automated manual transmissions on offer currently. Gear changes have a bit of lag as well, again typical of AMT's. I guess there's still some time before these niggles get ironed out, considering AMT's are still a relatively new technology and concept. Look beyond this, and you'll notice acceleration is crisp given the 110 PS output for either version. Both engines feel equally refined but when it comes to throttle response, the petrol shows a slight jerkiness while the diesel feels smooth.
Driving modes do their bit in tailoring the experience, with Sport letting you hold revs before shifting up. That said, every time you switch drive modes, there's a voice recording of a lady telling you a particular mode has been activated, which gets slightly irritating after a while, because it makes you feel like someone is keeping a watch on your every move. The AMT also lets you change gears manually which feels more engaging as the lag between gear changes is reduced to an extent. The fact that the default drive mode in manual is Sport also helps improve the driving experience. Interestingly, the default mode in Auto is City, and the biggest advantage of the AMT is the convenience it offers in traffic. The AMT does away with the clutch pedal and as you don't have to change gears yourself, it makes for far more relaxed driving.
The creep function is a definite boon when stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. On the other hand, hill assist is a benefit on inclines. Picture this - you're on an incline entering a parking lot and have to stop intermittently. A car with a manual transmission would start rolling backwards every time you're not holding the brake or crawling forward and you could even stall the car. But in the Tata Nexon AMT, the transmission ensures the car doesn't do that, thereby making it safer for inexperienced drivers.
The AMT also makes highway cruising more comfortable because by eliminating the need to change gears manually, it ensures your left foot is resting and you can keep both hands on the steering wheel. Tata Motors has still to indicate a fuel efficiency number for the Nexon AMT, but we expect it to be similar to the manual, as is the case with most AMT's. The transmission thus adds to the Nexon's credentials in various environments, making it user friendly and an easier vehicle to drive.
The Tata Nexon AMT is the first sub-four metre SUV to use an AMT, which is a really a cost-effective and practical solution for our worsening traffic conditions. Considering its positioning as an urban SUV, the Nexon AMT feels a lot more convenient to drive than its manual version, though it's obvious the technology will command a premium of about Rs 50,000 over the manual when launched in the first week of May. But the premium should be worth it, considering the comfort and convenience the transmission offers by eliminating the clutch and need to change gears and that too without having to sacrifice fuel efficiency.