After a period of little new model activity, Indian giant Tata Motors is gearing up for a number of introductions of which the Manza saloon featured here is just the beginning. Soon there will also be the new Super Ace pick-up (think Daihatsu Gran Max) and then the flagship seven-seat Aria crossover.

The Indigo Manza is a crucial addition to the Tata line-up, as it competes against "affordable" B-segment vehicles such as the VW Polo Vivo and Toyota Etios. Until now, Tata did not have a saloon offering in this ultra-important, high-volume segment.

Visually, the newcomer draws heavily from the style set by the Vista hatchback, with large swept-back headlamps dominating the front-end. The range-topping Ignis model I drove comes with aftermarket-looking 15-inch alloy wheels as standard. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it has to be said that the addition of a boot has given the vehicle rather awkard proportions but, that said, styling is unlikely to be a major consideration in this segment.

What is important to the customers shopping for a vehicle such as this is value. In this regard the Manza makes a strong case for itself. It comes standard with a four years/100 000 km service plan, a radio/CD system with USB and aux-in, as well as Bluetooth, height-adjustable driver's seat, dual front airbags, ABS, electric windows all-round, electric mirror adjustment, remote central unlocking and air-conditioning, among other items.

Also of big importance is its cabin space. Given its relatively compact dimensions (4,4 metres long and 2,52 metres wheelbase), the Manza boasts a truly massive cabin with oodles of rear legroom and a cavernous boot (claimed 460 litres) . It is, however, a pity that the rear seatback isn't split, and that when folded, it doesn't result in a flat floor. Also, the aperture between the boot and the cabin is rather narrow. Still, this is a very practical proposition if you're looking for a spacious, affordable family car. Another small complaint is that the instruments are quite small and therefore not easy to read.

Given the rapid progress that some Chinese brands (particularly GWM) have made in terms of trim fit and finish, I was particularly keen to see whether Tata has also managed to make improvements. They certainly have. I'd go as far as saying that the Manza, in terms of perceived quality related to trim quality and fit and finish, made a stronger impression on me than the Toyota Etios. The driving route included some particularly poor roads, but the cabin remained free of rattles. The Manza has a high ground clearance and fairly plump tyres, so the ride is relatively good, too, though not ultimately as composed as an Etios or Vivo, as examples. My only complaint would be that at around 120 km/h the wind noise became intrusive. Furthermore, the engine is revving at near 3 500 r/min when travelling at the national speed limit, and this makes the engine sound quite buzzy.

The engine (Fiat sourced) is a 1,4-litre petrol unit that delivers 66 kW. The Tata press release is thin on technical specification or performance claims, but does mention a fuel economy figure of 14,5 km/L, which translates to 6,9 L/100 km.

At just under R135 000 a lot of shoppers in this segment will find the Tata badge hard to swallow. It will take some time before the definite improvement in perceived build quality translates into a noticeably more positive brand perception. If you're not worried by such matters, this car's long service plan (and long service intervals of 25 000 km), long standard features list and spacious cabin will make it worth considering.



Tata Indigo Manza Ignis

Price: R134 995

Engine: 1,4-litre petrol

Power: 66 kW

Fuel consumption: 6,9 L/100 km

Service plan: 4-years/100 000 km