Indian manufacturer Tata has hopes of making big inroads into the price-sensitive entry-level segment of the South African car market with its Indica hatches and Indigo saloons.Indian manufacturer Tata has hopes of making big inroads into the price-sensitive entry-level segment of the South African car market with its Indica hatches and Indigo saloons.

Launched on a value-for-money ticket, the two models offer high specification levels but carry sticker-prices on a par with those of the market’s most popular budget cars. For example, the cheapest offering, the Indica 1,4 LEi five-door, comes with power steering as standard. And the 1,4 LSi version offers air-conditioning and colour-coded bumpers as part of the standard package. Want airbags as well? You get them in the slightly more powerful Indica LXi…

There are four Indica five-door models, the LEi and LSi, powered by an Indian-built, French-designed four-cylinder eight-valve 1 405 cm3 fuel-injected petrol engine that churns out 55 kW at 5 500 r/min and 110 N.m at 3 000, and the LX and LXi, both using an uprated version of the same engine, with peak outputs of 62 kW at 5 500 and 120 N.m at 3 500.

For customers preferring a four-door saloon, there is a choice of two Indigo models, the GLS and GLX, both powered by the uprated (62 kW) power-unit.

Turbodiesel versions are offered overseas, and should become available after tests to ascertain compatibility with South Africa’s high-sulphur diesel fuel have been completed.

First impressions of the cars were mostly good. Both the Indica and Indigo are modern-style high-roofed designs, with the seats mounted fairly high up, allowing easy access and plenty of legroom for taller folks.

There are not only 60/40-split rear seatbacks, but seats tumble forward, station wagon style. The quality of the upholstery is good, but the standard of the plastics used for dash and door-cappings is not a match for those of the Toyota Tazz or VW Chico, two cars which will be direct competitors at the bottom end of the price range. But, as we’ve said, the Tatas do offer higher equipment levels.

Among the standard items are height adjustment for the halogen headlights, wiring for a radio/CD an aerial in the windscreen, rear wash/wipe and demister, high-level third brake light, immobiliser and remote releases for the boot and fuel lid. There’s also a full-size spare.

Both engine variants start easily and run smoothly, but feel a little underpowered. But the launch units had very little mileage on them, and were driven at Reef altitudes…Tata claims top speeds of 155 and 160 km/h, with zero to 100 times (at the coast) of 14 and 13 seconds. Overall Euromix consumption figures are are in the 7 litres per 100 km bracket, which should allow over 500 km on a 37-litre tank of fuel.

Handling is typical front-drive, with plenty of understeer at the limit, but there are no odd quirks, with a throttle-lift enough to tighten the line.