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Tata Aria Review: Tata Aria - A Cross-Over that Grows on You!

Tata Aria - A Cross-Over that Grows on You!

By Quraish Umrethi; 5th March, 2010
Introduction

After our Tata Aria Preview in our Pictorial Section last week, let’s now share in detail our experience with the Aria.

We went to the Tata showroom to pick up the Aria with quite a bit of expectation about the car. Having been impressed with the Aria during its launch, we were hoping to continue with the experience. The first impression, this time, unfortunately wasn’t that good. Upon entering the car the first things that caught my eye were the panels that were sticking out. The stitches on the Gear knob had come loose and the leather was peeling off, the welding on the rear door had not been finished properly. The engine too was quite audible at start up and many small things just seemed to go all wrong. And did they say it costs nearly 15 lacs?

We realize of course that most of the things that we are picking on were quite small but when one has to shell out that kind of money, every little bit counts. 

Speaking of first impressions, I personally feel that if Tata wanted to step up into a higher section, they should have chosen a slightly different design. Look through your Rear View Mirror at an Aria and it is quite difficult to realize instantly, which Tata car is actually approaching. Its only when you get a glimpse of the side profile, that you realize that it is actually the Aria.

But things are not as bad as they seem at first. As we shall see further in the Review, the Aria excels in many areas and has many things going right for it. It is a car which grows on you and within a couple of days you start to completely ignore the faults and begin to realize why the Tata engineers were so excited about the launch of the Aria.

The Crossover segment is a fairly new concept in India. We have the Dodge Journey, Infinity FX, Toyota RAV-4, Saturn Outlook etc. in the overseas market. The BMW X6 and the Mercedes R-class are of course sold even in India, but the Tata Aria is what you could call the first affordable Cross Over in the Indian market. To clarify, a 'Cross Over' is a vehicle which combines the space and comfort of an MUV and the Off Road capability of an SUV into one package. Now, let’s take a closer look whether the Tata Aria is indeed a successful Cross Over debut. 

Exterior

The Aria gives Large a whole new meaning. In a market where even a 5mm advantage over its competitors have the manufacturers screaming themselves hoarse about their product being the ‘Largest in Class’, the Tata Aria is 200mm longer than the Innova, 125mm wider and has a Wheelbase which is 100mm longer than the Innova’s.

The Front End of the Aria is dominated by the Large 3 slate grille with Chrome Surrounds. The large Dual-Barreled headlamps do their job well. In line with the car’s proportions, the Aria has been given extra large OVRMs with integrated turn indicators.

The Aria is built like a tank and at nearly 3 tons (2,720 kg to be exact) it weighs as much too. The doors are pretty heavy and open in 3 stages, with the 3rd almost perpendicular to the body.

The Aria has butterfly type Front Wipers (as the ones seen on the Civic or on Volvo Buses) with 5 intermediate stages and an Anti-Drip function. Rear Wash and Wipe with Defogger comes standard on all variants. While the Front wipers did an efficient job of cleaning the Windscreen, the quality of the Rear Wiper was pretty bad. I kept repenting every time I used them as the vision from the rear glass just got worse.

While the top end version gets a Reverse Guide Camera, our Press Car had Ultrasonic Reverse sensors. An absolute must for the Aria I must say, considering its size. The accuracy of the Reverse Sensors meant that it was possible to reverse and parallel park the Aria correctly at the first attempt.
    
Chrome is now sort of a trend on the Tata cars, especially after the Manza. The Aria has Chrome Surround Front Grill, Chrome Side Mouldings, a Chrome Strip at the base of the windows, on the Door handles, Chrome Door Steps and even a Large Chrome Section just above the Rear Number plate with ‘TATA’ embossed on it. The Dual Exhausts also have Chrome finishing.

All Variants get Central Locking with Keyless entry and a Perimetric Alarm System. What I liked about the remote is that it has an excellent range and can be operated even from the 5th Floor of your building. The headlights can also be operated from the remote, which is a unique feature. No hassle of Follow me Home headlights - just switch the lights ON when you need them and switch them OFF when you don’t. This also proves handy if you are approaching the car in the night rather than going away from the car.

Front and Rear Fog Lamps are standard across all variants. 

Interior

The interiors were quite a mixed bag. I got a feeling that the Tata engineers were given a list of features that they were to pack into the Aria. Unfortunately, third row passenger comfort was not a priority on that list. But at the same time, the quality of the interiors, as seen also on the Manza, did not leave us complaining. The high quality High Gloss Paint makes the car look expensive.

The Front Seats are Large, though perhaps a bit on the harder side. If you are going to be travelling long distances in the Aria, I am sure you won’t be complaining. Our Press car had high quality Leather upholstery in a 2 Tone Black & Plum Shade (the other options available are Black & Black and Black & Beige). The Driver’s seat is Height adjustable and even the lowest setting is quite high, giving an excellent view of the road. The Aria also has height adjustable seat belts. The Steering Wheel too adjusts for rake and so does the Front Arm Rests which have multi-stage height adjustments. You can see why I say the Aria is packed with features, and this is just the beginning of the Feature list!

Second row seats can comfortably seat 3, indeed 4 can fit easily if they are willing to squeeze a little. Leg room is adequate and the seats move fore and aft, although the amount is almost negligible. They recline to a certain extent too.

It is the 3rd row where everything goes completely wrong. The huge exterior proportions do not translate into extra interior space and there is almost nil leg room in the 3rd row for an adult to sit comfortably. The Seats are straight and do not recline and once the 2nd Row seats are pulled up it tends to get quite claustrophobic - so much so that none of us were willing to sit in the last row for more than 5 minutes. There is plenty of Rear boot space which should have been compromised for a more comfortable last row.

The Front Arm rests don’t have any built-in storage compartment, but who needs them when Tata has multiple overhead storage cabinets. I don’t know whether they are as useful as they claim to be. Firstly, they have 3 sunglass holders - apart from the one already above the driver’s head, the remaining serve also to hold a few CD’s and some small stuff.  The storage areas don’t end there.

The Aria further has 2 small glove boxes. The upper one doubles up as a Chiller compartment (AC air is diverted into the compartment), though unfortunately it wasn’t working in our Press Car. There’s storage above the Chiller too and in front of the Gear Lever. Unfortunately, when the front cup holders are open, they render the storage below it useless and if you have opened the AUX/USB compartment, then you can’t use the cup holders, something the engineers in their attempt to get some more features into the Aria, apparently overlooked.

Door pockets are Deep and Large, and even the 2nd and 3rd Row passengers get cup Holders. There is one cup holder behind the Gear Lever and a couple in the Rear Arm rests. In fact, the last row passengers get 2 each. It seems the Designers were very fond of Cup Holders and Sunglass holders!

The 2nd Row seats have a 60:40 split while the 3rd Row gets 50:50 Splits. This means that the seats can be folded completely in different configurations, depending on the type and the size of the luggage.

Continuing with the Feature list, all 4 Power Windows on the Aria have a one touch Auto-Down function, though not even the Driver side has an Auto-Up. The Front Passenger gets a lighted Vanity Mirror and both front passengers get Sun Visor Extensions. I personally liked this a lot and quite a few times it proves to be very handy.

All 3 rows of the Aria get adjustable head rests and Grab handles. Each row also gets their individual roof lights. The Inner Door handles have Chrome Finish while all doors get a Brushed Aluminum look strip on them. 

Plenty of Safety features are available in the Aria, starting with 6 Airbags (only in the Top end variant) Front, Side and Curtain Airbags, Collapsible Steering column and Side Impact Beams. There is a ‘Seat belt not worn’ buzzer which beeps 6 times every 25 seconds until you put the seat belt on. Doors Auto-lock every time you touch 20kmph. Lane change Indicators mean you just need to tap the Indicator once and it will blink 3 times on its own.

Plastics are Hard to the touch but Quality wise they are not bad at all. The Top end variant gets a 6.5” LCD screen with Satellite navigation. Unfortunately we got the Prestige model which comes with a smaller sized LCD display which only shows the Date, Time and Radio/CD details, hence we can’t quite comment on how good the Navigation system actually works.

The sound quality of the factory fitted music system (with 6 Hi-Fidelity speakers) is quite decent and it also has a provision for USB and Auxiliary Input. There is also a provision in the rear door for a Sub-Woofer. The Steering controls are small and oddly located near the corners of the Steering wheel. We kept changing the track or the volume un-intentionally and this got quite irritating and disturbing over time. The Aria also has a Bluetooth system connected to the Stereo which allows the user to pair upto 5 phones at a time (though you can connect to only one at a time).

The Middle and Top Variants get automatic Climate Control AC. The AC is powerful and not just every row, but EVERY passenger gets an individual AC Vent. The Rear Benchers also get an option to select between 3 Blower Speeds. The Pride variant further gets a Cruise Control system, however I've never been able to use it on Indian roads for even a small duration of time.

The Speedometer console is filled with plenty of lights which will inform you if any particular system of the Aria has malfunctioned. I love the fact that you can tell which particular door is open rather than just a general door open display. The Prestige trim gets a Distance to Empty Indicator while the Top of the Line Pride gets a full Multi Information Trip computer.

The Smallish Indicator Stalks look and feel rich. The same however cannot be said for the Gear Lever which already had the leather peeling off it. Headlights are operated via a European style round headlight switch.

The Aria has Automatic Headlight and Front Wiper or as Tata Calls them Rain Sensing Wipers and Darkness Sensing Headlight. The sensor for the same is on the Front Windscreen, though it gave us a small shock when its cover came off on our way home from the showroom. The panel gaps also are a bit of an eye sore and play spoil sport to the overall good quality interiors of the Aria. 

Performance

The Ride and Handling section is where the Tata Aria excels. Despite its size, it shows the kind of finesse a lot of Sedans would be proud of. The Aria has Coil Springs with Independent Double Wishbone Suspension Up Front and 5 Link Coil Springs at the Back. This coupled with Large 235/65 Wheels on 17” Rims (and not to forget 200mm of Ground Clearance) means that most roads should not create any problem for the Aria. The suspension is set up such that it makes a mockery of Bad Roads and Speed Breakers. We used to go over the speed breakers at quite a high speed and most of them passed as if they never existed. Body roll (again considering its size and high-ish centre of Gravity) is quite negligible.

The Aria has a Torque on demand 4 x 4 system (Adapterra), where under normal circumstances only the rear wheels are operational and on detecting slip or loss of traction, adequate amount power is transmitted to the Front wheels to counter the loss of traction. The Top of the Line Pride Trim also has ESP (Electronic Stabilization Program) with TCS (Traction control System), terms that are more commonly used in Formula 1 racing.

The TCS allows you the freedom to take corners faster which enables faster exits around the corner, without the fear of losing traction or grip. In case you do not wish to use the 4 x 4 system, you can hit the 4 x 2 button below the stereo system. This disconnects the Front Axle and only the Rear Wheels will then be used to power the vehicle.

The Aria has a 5.6 metre turning radius, which is a bit of a bother at times. I had to reverse the car once to get into a narrow lane which normally one can just go through easily. The Tata Aria is powered by the same 2.2 litre DICOR engine that does duty on the Safari. The engine produces 140 PS of power @ 4000 RPM and has healthy torque figures of 320 NM between 1700 – 2700 RPM. This is much needed, considering the 2.7 Tons of weight that the engine has to move around. Refinement levels are in another league than the Safari thanks to the Dual Mass Flywheel in the Engine which not only reduces vibrations but also brings the NVH levels down. The Aria has a Hydroform Chassis which increases rigidity while keeping the weight limited.

Despite the size, the Aria returns acceptable numbers in our acceleration tests. 0-60 kmph came up in 7.01 seconds from standstill and it took 16.98 seconds to hit the Ton. ¼ mile came up in 20.49 seconds with the speedometer reading 112.84 kmph. Top speed achieved was 168.81 kmph.

 

In Gear Max

1st Gear 42 kmph @ 4750 RPM
2nd Gear 78 kmph @ 4750 RPM
3rd Gear 122 kmph @ 4750 RPM
4th Gear 160 kmph @ 4750 RPM
5th Gear 169 kmph @ 4750 RPM

 

Performance Figures

 

0-20 kmph 2.55 Seconds
0-20 kmph 7.01 Seconds
0-20 kmph 16.98 Seconds
1/4 Mile 20.49 Seconds @ 112.84 kmph
Top Speed 168.81 kmph

 

Speedo Error

Actual Speed Speed Displayed
20 kmph 21 kmph
40 kmph 42 kmph
60 kmph 63 kmph
80 kmph 85 kmph
100 kmph 106 kmph
120 kmph 126 kmph

All 4 Wheels have Dual Caliper Disc Brakes which are a necessity and bring the Aria to a halt from 80 kmph in a relatively short distance of 32 metres.

Gear shifts are long and do not slot in easily. It requires that extra bit of push (more like in the olden day Sumo) to slot in correctly. The transmission movement can also be felt on the Gear Lever.

The Aria returned a decent overall mileage of 12.25 kmph, the worst being 10.3 during the performance runs. Considering the 60 litre tank capacity, it has a pretty decent effective range of 735 kms. 

 

Tech specs
Technical Specifications
 Make Tata
 Model Aria
Variant
Engine cc 2179/ 4 Cyl
Power in PS 140
Torque in NM 320
Gear Box 5/M
Drive 4WD
Tyres 235/65 R17
Fuel Tank Capacity 60 L
Ground Clearance (mm) 200
Turning circle radius (m) 5.6
Expeted Mileage in KMPL 10 to 12
Features
Features Pleasure Prestige Pride
Driver seat height adjust Yes Yes Yes
Dual AC Yes Yes Yes
Automatic Climate control No Yes Yes
Rear wash and wiper,demister Yes Yes Yes
Keyless entry with remote integrated key Yes Yes Yes
Electrically adjustable rear view morrrs Yes Yes Yes
Tyre Size R16 R17 R17
Fog Lamps Yes Yes Yes
Chrome surround grill Yes Yes Yes
Phone Switches on Steering No Yes Yes
Tata Blue connect No Yes Yes
Rain sensing wipers No Yes Yes
Darkness sensing headlight No Yes Yes
Glove box chiller No Yes Yes
Airbags 2 2 6
ABS+EBD Yes Yes Yes
Traction control No No Yes
Engine immobiliser Yes Yes Yes
Cruise Control No No Yes
Reverse Guide system Yes Yes Yes
Satellite Navigation No No Yes
Ex showroom price Bangalore 12,96,310 14,56,824 15,57,710
On-road Price Bangalore 15,97,670 17,93,411 19,16,435
Competition
Specifications
Tata
Aria
Toyota
Innova
Ford
Endeavour
Variant Pride VX TDCI 4X2
Cubic capacity 2179 2494 2499
Power in PS 140 102 143
Torque in NM 320 200 330
Ground clearance 200 176 210
Turning circle radius 5.6 5.4 6.1
Fuel Tank Capacity 60 55 71
Mileage 12 12 10
Seating 7 Seater 8 Seater 7 seater
Key Features
Tubeless tyres Yes Yes Yes
Ski rack Yes No Yes
Rear Wash and wiper Yes No Yes
Digital Drive Assist system Yes No Yes
Mobile charging point Yes Yes Yes
Flat bed seat Yes No Yes
Arm rest for driver and co driver Yes No Yes
Height adjustable driver seat Yes Yes Yes
Intellipark reverse assist Yes No Yes
Engine Immobiliser Yes Yes Yes
Surround cool dual AC Yes Yes Yes
Power steering Yes Yes Yes
Tilt steering Yes Yes Yes
Keyless entry Yes Yes Yes
Central locking Yes Yes Yes
Power windows Yes Yes Yes
Rear Defogger Yes Yes Yes
Genuine Italian Leather seats Yes No Yes
Leather wrapped steering wheel Yes No Yes
2-DIN Audio system Yes Yes Yes
ABS Yes Yes Yes
Airbag 6 2 2
Ex showroom price Bangalore 15.57 12.02 15.76
Conclusion

It was the typical Hindi Film type – Hate First, Love Later – story with the Aria. While initially we wondered why anyone would shell out 14 lac for this vehicle, by the end of the 4th day we really wanted the car for a longer period and did not wish to return it the next day. That’s the kind of effect the Aria has on you - you get used to being pampered by all the features provided, thoroughly enjoy throwing the car around the city too as you are well aware of the excellent suspension making short work of the Speed Breakers and the comfort of knowing that the all wheel drive and the ABS with EBD will back you up if the need ever arises.

Even though it is positioned above the Innova, it is still cheaper than its 4 x 4 counterparts, namely the Endeavour, the Fortuner, the Yeti and the Captiva. Thus, there is some merit to its pricing.

We Indians never liked Station Wagons too much and the Cross Over is another new and unknown segment that Tata is targeting. Being the first in the Automobile segment is a double edged sword. There is a chance that people might not take to the concept instantly, but should it work, you have a product which is selling like Hot Cakes and you have other manufacturers running to their designing boards trying to catch up. Kudos to Tata Motors for taking this bold step and launching the Aria.

A bit more refinement from Tata and maybe a slightly reduced price tag and we feel that the Aria will be an excellent choice for those who wish their cars to have the finesse of a sedan, the space of an MPV and the handling and off road abilities of an SUV.