SINCE the Tata Indica’s launch early in 2005, this little Indian car has sold up a storm, regularly featuring in the Top 10 on the local sales charts. The allure is actually easy to understand. On face value, these are the affordable, feature-packed cars that South Africans have been asking about for years.
However, feedback from owners has not been overwhelmingly positive, with complaints ranging from unreliability to poor parts availability. We’ve been told, by a Tata representative, that the first Indicas were not really suited to South Africa, as the average driving speed in this country is much higher than in India, which put strains on the vehicle that it was not engineered to deal with. Also, Tata had not expected to sell so many cars so quickly, which is why they got their spare parts supply completely wrong. Hmm…
For more than a year now we’ve been unable to comment for the simple reason that we have not been supplied with a test car. This, in itself, is strange, seeing as the wide-spread exposure that CAR’s vast readership guarantees surely must be very attractive to any new brand trying to establish itself in the country…
So, with all this in mind, we were bound to be rather sceptical when a burgundy Tata Indica 1,4 Tdi DLX finally arrived for testing. Then, on the first spin around the block, we managed – without trying – to pull the ashtray clean out of the facia, spring still attached to the back… But still, let’s not prejudge. At just under R103 000, there aren’t many turbodiesel cars on the market, and certainly not one with the kind of features list that the Tata boasts. And the Indica is not all that bad looking either, with a relatively smart and modern overall design, especially from the rear. It’s only really on closer inspection that you pick up the dimpled paint finish of the side mirrors, and the inconsistent panel gaps… Still, the exterior appearance is one of the car’s better aspects. The complete opposite, however, is true of the interior…
The problem is not so much one of design, but rather of execution. The fit is shoddy in some places – especially around the instrument housing and the passenger airbag’s cover. The seat material “bunches up” after use, which is not a good sign for longterm wear. The rotating knob for the ventilation system is very stiff. And even during our brief twoweek test, the plastics already started showing up small scratches and nicks. We have to wonder how the cabin will stand up to a year or so of everyday use.
But there are positives. The interior is spacious, with good headroom all-round, and rear legroom that is very good for this size of car. The boot, though, is small (184 dm3) and total utility space with the seats folded is 816 dm3.
As we said earlier, the equipment levels are high. Standard items include dual front airbags, electric windows, air-conditioning, remote central locking, power steering, height-adjustable headlamps and rear window wash/ wipe. You pay extra for a radio/CD front loader. Look past the relatively high spec, however, and it’s hard to be enthusiastic about driving the Tata Indica DLX. The driving position is odd – too high – and the steering wheel is not adjustable. Furthermore, the front seat cushions are too short and, as a result, don’t offer enough underthigh support. To make matters worse, the seatbacks have incredibly odd protruding lumbar supports that push into the upper back. In fact, sitting on the rear bench is far more comfortable.
Under the bonnet things look more promising. The Indica Tdi is powered by a 1,4-litre turbodiesel engine with indirect injection (the press kit mistakenly says direct injection). It delivers 52 kW at 4 500 r/min and 135 N.m of torque at 2 500. Power goes to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox.
During town driving, the engine impressed us with its eagerness and willingness to rev. It also gives the little Indica good go, especially off the mark, and keeping up with fastmoving traffic is not a problem. Even the gearshift is relatively slick, although the clutch action is rather heavy. Performance testing saw the Indica achieving a 155 km/h top speed and a 0-100 km/h time of 15,28 seconds. It has to be said, however, that overtaking acceleration above speeds of 100 km/h is not strong.
Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for the relatively impressive performance – the fuel index figure of 7,38 litres/100 km is not that great and, in fact, is bettered by some petrolfuelled competitors. Additionally, the small 37-litre tank limits the car’s range to about 500 km.
The brakes are 231 mm solid discs up front with drums at the rear. The appearance of ABS with EBD on the spec list will undoubtedly impress some potential buyers, but the Indica’s average stopping time of 3,22 seconds (10 stops from 100 km/h to rest) is poor for an ABS-equipped car. The stopping times were very consistent though, and there was no sign of fade.
The Indica rides on a MacPherson strut front and trailing-arm rear suspension set-up. The 14-inch wheels are fitted with plastic covers and shod with 175/60 rubber. Steering is via a hydraulically assisted rack and pinion.
In city use, the Indica is a pleasant drive. And it’s not only the engine’s good low-down torque either… The firm ride means that there is none of the wobbliness you may have expected. Truth be told, it actually handles rather well for what it is. But the ride quality depends heavily on the condition of the road. The Indica can become rather bouncy on bumpy surfaces.
Rivalling the shoddy interior quality as perhaps the Indica’s worst feature are the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels. The engine sounds rough and industrial, and road noise becomes a particular nuisance at cruising speeds. Also, wind noise around the left A-pillar made it sound like air was actually entering the cabin…
The Tata Indica 1,4 Tdi DLX represents a reasonable attempt at offering good value and affordable motoring. We can see why so many South Africans are signing on the dotted line after a testdrive. But we must advise potential customers to look beyond the on-paper and showroom appeal.
The price for this particular model is too high. The quality of the interior is not acceptable, and neither are the high noise levels. The engine may give good performance, but fuel economy – one of the main reasons for considering a small diesel in the first place – is not its strength.
No, for the same money, you can have the very impressive Daihatsu Sirion, which offers better economy, and superior build quality. Perhaps the lower priced Indicas make more sense, but even then we would advise buyers to, at the very least, wait for the results of the JD Power owner survey, due in the January 2007 issue of CAR.
Proceed with caution.