The Tata Hexa has been in the works for a considerable amount of time. It was first showcased at the 2016 Auto Expo, and the brand’s new flagship model serves as a replacement for the Aria. Though it shares the Aria’s platform, they’ve tweaked the styling broadly and equipped the car comprehensively to attract the young and style conscious buyer. It goes without saying that the first impression of this SUV is quite impressive, nonetheless. We drove the car extensively and this review will tell you whether the Hexa was worth the long wait
From front and centre, the Hexa strikes the right note. Having seen the other test-drive Hexas coming up in the mirrors during our drive, I knew it had the “get out of my way” quotient down pat. Tata say that every panel on the Hexa has been redesigned, so nothing is shared with the Aria. It clearly feels that way. Up close you can see that the aggression is crafted with class. There is a bull-horn like chrome strip sitting along the bottom of the grille. Gently rounded hexagonal forms texture the grille, giving a sense of keen attention. The clamshell bonnet with its masculine lines and the gaping air vents below give the Hexa’s claim to being an SUV quite a boost. The double-barrel headlamps are the only familiar bits here.
Switch around to the other end and you will see that there is a distinct squareness to the design. The small spoiler also accentuates a more upright stance. The slim D-pillar-mounted tail lamps have been done away with; instead there are chunky angular lamps that wrap around onto the tail gate. There’s enough chrome on the tailgate to please most Indians. The only awkward bit at the rear are the hockey-stick shaped lights that sit on the bumper.
Viewed from the side, the connection to the Aria is all too obvious. But, the rugged cladding and the 19-inch wheels help the Hexa strike a strong pose. The drop down elements from the roof towards the D-pillar and the fin on the shoulder give it a distinctive look. This is where you realise the Hexa is massive – it is longer and wider than the Mahindra XUV500, and the Innova Crysta. Its 2850mm wheelbase is also the longest, albeit identical to the Aria. There are clear benefits of these dimensions as we can see on the inside.
The Indian automaker has spent a lot of time in making the cabin of the Hexa comfortable, convenient, premium and appealing. You need to climb into the cabin since it has a healthy 208 mm of ground clearance. Surprisingly the interiors feel very plush in this Tata. The instrument cluster gets a big multi-information display. The height adjustable and leather wrapped steering wheel integrates controls for the infotainment system and cruise control system. It doesn’t offer push button start/stop feature but there are automatic headlamps and rain sensing wipers. The overall quality, fit and finish feels great and there is good attention to detail inside the cabin.
The centre console comes with a neatly integrated ConnectNext infotainment system which is designed by Harman. It offers a 10-speaker JBL audio system including a sub-woofer and power amplifier. The sound quality is super rich and unrealistic for this segment. There is a 5-inch touch screen display that offers good touch quality but is a tad small in size. It comes with extensive smartphone integration with ConnectNext Apps. These apps let you access navigation, create a mobile hotspot for sharing music, change the mood lighting of the car with 8 colour options and access the digital manual of the car. However, these apps are only available for Android devices for now. Other features of the infotainment include USB, AUX, Bluetooth connectivity along with voice recognition, navigation, on-screen SMS display, SMS readout and rear view camera display with parking guidelines.
The Tata Hexa comes with automatic climate control and dual air conditioning for the front and rear passengers. For quick cooling in all three rows, it gets rear AC vents on the floor console and on the B and C pillars. The seats are very comfortable and supportive having ideal cushioning for your back and under-thigh support. There is an option of captain and bench seats for the second row. The legroom and headroom is excellent even for the tall passengers. You get window blinds in the second row that adds to the comfort in bright sunlight. The third row of seats are practical as well but on long drives it might get a bit tight for adults. You get power sockets for all three rows. There is ample amount of storage spaces in the car to keep the cabin neat and tidy. All three rows get bottle holders while the last row gets an additional cooled compartment. The seats are very flexible so you can fold down the third and second row of seats to enhance the luggage space.
No big surprise when it comes to the engine. It’s the latest version of Tata’s 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel called the Varicor 400 (owing to its new Honeywell-sourced variable-geometry turbo and 400Nm of torque), which we’ve already seen on the top variant of the Safari Storme.
Fire it up and the Hexa’s relative refinement is literally music to your ears. There is a bit of murmur at idle for sure, but it’s not the boom you’d expect. Vibrations too are impressively contained, save for a little bit through the gear lever. The noise does swell up as the revs climb, but it’s only beyond 3,500rpm that it really sounds harsh, by which time you’ll have likely shifted up already.
The engine is surprisingly responsive off the line and does its best work before 3,000rpm. In fact, this takes some getting used to in both the manual and the automatic versions. In the manual, you have to account for the rather snappy clutch, whose pedal is not very progressive, so it often jerks and leaps off the line. Couple this with the heavy gearshift action and long, wide throws for the lever, and changing gear becomes a tiring task you’d rather avoid. There’s also no safety lock on the reverse gear, something that’s almost mandatory on six-speed manual gearboxes, so you have to be careful when you’re trying to engage sixth.
Thankfully, owing to the strong torque reserves of this motor, you can easily leave the Hexa in second, third or fourth and get through most everyday driving situations. Overtaking too is a breeze and very rarely needs a downshift.
In fact, for its size and weight, roll-on acceleration is not too bad, taking 12.72sec to do 40-100kph in fourth gear, and 10.83sec for 20-80kph in third, and that’s likely to do with the Hexa’s really strong mid-range. However, because of how tricky it is to launch smoothly and its jerkiness off the line, the 0-100kph time is a less-than-impressive 14.21sec – quite a bit slower than the competition.
Driving the automatic is an altogether nicer experience. The gearbox is really impressive with how smoothly and seamlessly it gets its job done in most circumstances, whisking you from gear to gear at no more than 2,000rpm if you tread lightly on the throttle. Like the manual, however, it’s when setting off and at really slow speeds that it falters. The tremendous pep from the motor means it overreacts and often shifts down unnecessarily with the lightest tap of your toe, only to return to the same gear moments later. There are no paddles but it’s sufficiently accommodating to taps on the lever for a car like this. It’s also significantly quicker than the manual version, with 0-100kph being despatched in 12.28sec and kick down times of 7.44sec and 9.73sec for 20-80kph and 40-100kph, respectively.
Tata vehicles have always had good ride, the Tata Hexa sets a new benchmark, not just for Tata, but for the segment as a whole. Despite the 19-inch wheels, we loved the way this UV rides. Tata Hexa has set a new benchmark in this segment for ride and handling. With such good road visibility, limited blind spots and such a responsive chassis. This feels like a nimble car that is being driven. It doesn’t feel huge at any point.
The other important aspect that makes the Tata Hexa exciting is despite its high ground clearance of 208mm, it has limited body roll. The steering wheel is responsive too. The leather wrapped one is great to grip. This is surely, the new face of Tata products
The Hexa equipment list consists of six airbags, ESP, traction control, ABS with EBD, climate control with vents on all three rows, auto headlamps, rain sensing wipers, and reverse parking sensors with a camera. There’s also power mirrors with demister, cruise control, rear sun blinds, an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat (non-electric), a multi-function steering wheel, and a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with JBL speakers, to name a few.
It does miss out on features like powered seats and keyless go, which is a norm in the segment. There’s no sunroof either, which the rivals offer. In short, manual gearbox variants include XM and XT in six and seven seater options along with the choice of automatic transmissions called XMA and XTA. A 4×4 manual model is also available on the XT variant.
Tata Motors have left no stone unturned with the Hexa as they have worked well on almost all the aspects of this new MPV turned SUV. The Indian audience might accept the Hexa well in the market considering the amount of features on offer and the practical nature of the car along with the convenience of a great auto box. However, to compete aggressively with the Mahindra XUV500, they need to market and price the Hexa well to make it a desirable SUV to own. The Hexa will be launched in January 2017 and it might be the next big hit by Tata Motors.