Tata Hexa First Drive - the new tech-laden kingsize SUV for the adventure seeker

If its imposing looks and smother-the-worst ride don’t impress you, the AWD, super-drive modes and Harman-Kardon infotainment will

It looks like something Darth Vader would drive on vacation. And it rolls over rocky trails like an Imperial Star Destroyer on a mission. Still not impressed? Don’t worry though, there’s also plenty of tech to keep you happy.

Imagine a galaxy far, far away. A galaxy now at peace. The rebels have been pacified (probably with cushy government jobs), the Empire’s decided to implement a welfare state, and stormtroopers can head out to work knowing that they’ll make it through without any unpleasant encounters with a lightsaber-wielding Han Solo.

In general, the blasters-and-death-star days have made way for a peaceful time packed with jazz concerts and family picnics. So what does Darth Vader do when peace finally comes? Does he hang up his boots and retire to a country home, spending his days gardening and working on his memoirs? Heck no! Our guess would be that he’d head out for a long-overdue family reunion to the far side of Tatooine. And his ride of choice would be the new Tata Hexa.

 

 

Iron fist in a velvet glove

The Hexa’s clean lines draw some minor inspiration from its predecessor - the Aria - but don’t let that fool you into thinking Tata’s new full-size SUV looks anything but contemporary.

From the back, the simple yet tasteful lines give it a clean look, with the flexible LEDs standing out as a hint of the tech inside. Walk around to the side, and the Hexa looks strikingly modern, the kind of SUV that would be perfectly at home in a hotel porch (or in the drive of Lord Vader’s plush new lakeside villa).

 

 

But our fav angle has to be the head-on view. Yeah, we aren’t kidding when we suggested that the Hexa is the perfect vehicle for Lord Vader to take on a camping trip (Hey, even Luke and Leia might want to borrow it during spring break). It certainly looks mean. Not in an angry, rough kind of way, but more in a ‘measured menace’ kind of way. Like an MMA champ who’s earned a PhD in Theology and wears Savile Row suits to wine tastings.

The Hexa is Tata Motors’ second ‘Impact Design’ vehicle (the Tiago was the first), and we must say their designers know their stuff well. You’ll find other SUVs that look more overtly aggressive and you’ll find crossovers that look a lot more car-like. But the balance that’s been struck here is absolutely spot on - the Hexa doesn’t, in any way, look like a pickup truck converted to an SUV and you’ll certainly never, ever mistake it for a cutesy, car-based crossover.

 

 

Highway Star

Tata’s 2.2l Varicor 400 does a stellar job here with enough torque (400Nm; its name is a bit of a giveaway) to make highway jaunts a breeze. You can have it either with a 6-speed auto unit (as of now, Tata only plans to make the auto available in rear-wheel drive, but we’re hoping they’ll reconsider) or a 6-speed manual (available in rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive variants).

We took the Auto out for a spin first - and it’s one helluva highway cruiser. The auto box in the Hexa offers multiple modes - Normal, Sports (with Tiptronic manual shifts) and something Tata calls ‘Race Car Performance’. In Normal mode, the auto transmission is smooth as gourmet chocolate, making highway cruises a painless affair. Paired with the cruise control (available on the 4x4 manual as well), it can make life really easy for highway hounds. It’s not the quickest shifting auto you’ll find - but that’s still not reason for criticism as it’s a conventional torque converter transmission, not a dual-clutch. (Sigh. We can dream, can’t we?)

Still, it is very smooth, and if you do want quicker downshifts for when you’re driving on a two-lane rural road (where overtaking manoeuvres can be a bit of a chore), slot it into Sports mode. The response immediately changes, with downshifts coming faster and upshifts coming later (you can also shift ‘manually’ using the Tiptronic feature). Drive spiritedly for a while and the Hexa will automatically shift into Race Car Performance mode, which gives you an even more aggressive response with the revs holding all the way to the redline.

 

 

Overall, the auto-box Hexa makes a fantastic mile muncher, and even while some might find the brakes a bit wooden and steering a wee bit on the lighter side at higher speeds, we’re really nitpicking here.

We’re not done talking about the Hexa’s highway abilities. Nope, not at all. And we saved the best for the last - this monster’s sublime ride quality. At high speeds, the Hexa feels as planted as one of those majestic oak trees you’d read about in a fairy tale (there’s ESP and rollover mitigation to keep you safe). You will experience some body roll during cornering, but nothing alarming for its size (hey, it’s a big SUV, not a low-slung, lightweight coupe). Still, there’s no getting away from the fact that this massive vehicle weighs around 2.3 tonnes - don’t go around thinking it’s an agile hot hatch you can chuck around a hairpin bend and you’ll be all right.

But what you really want to know is why we’re making a fuss over the Hexa’s ride. Well, get off the motorway and head out on a state highway or a country road and you’ll soon find out. Potholes, rutted stretches, non-existent tarmac, random speed bumps which don’t adhere to any norms... the Hexa steamrolls over everything in its way with complete confidence.

 

 

Roughing it out

But it was the 4x4 Hexa we couldn’t wait to try out. The 6-speed manual used here can be a bit rubbery and the clutch, which is thankfully very light, has a rather long travel. But it’d be uncharitable of us if we didn’t clarify it’s something you’ll soon get used to. Now, the 4x4 Hexa is an interesting beast (‘beast’ really is the right word) as it’s the first car in its segment to give you multiple driving modes.

There’s Auto, which uses All Wheel Drive and adapts to road conditions, then you get a couple of rear-wheel-drive modes - Comfort, which keeps throttle responses smooth for a more relaxing ride, and Dynamic, which sharpens the throttle and delays the point where ESP kicks in for some hooning around - and finally, our favourite, the Rough Road mode, which keeps the Hexa in 4x4 mode and maximises torque and tweaks braking for pummelling through the great wide outdoors.

 

 

The Rough Road mode (along with the 208mm ground clearance) does make the Hexa rather capable - in fact, far more than what you’d expect from a ‘modern’ SUV that doesn’t look like a truck belonging to the Duck Dynasty clan. We took the Hexa off the road over a trail and through some rocky patches, and it didn’t as much as blink.

But there was more to come: Tata Motors took us out on their specially prepared off-road track, where, hanging onto the grab handles, we got a taste of just how competent the Hexa is. Hill Hold Control, Hill Descent Control, loads of torque, a wading depth of 450mm... That’s a recipe for some mud-plugging fun. Powering up steep trails, crawling down some rather precipitous rocky slopes (the kind that would normally terrify anyone apart from an insane roller coaster designer or a particularly adventurous mountain goat), splashing through a pit o’ slush, tip-toeing through a pitted section (with a wheel dangling in the air), emergency braking on a gravel stretch… and we came back with just one question: “Can we go again?”. No, it’s not your grandpappy’s WWII surplus jeep and you shouldn’t plan on going rock-crawling in the Hexa, but if you want a 6- (or 7-seater) that’ll take you to Ladakh (and far, far beyond) in comfort, this is the SUV for you.

 

 

Cushy comfort

The Hexa’s 6-seater (also available as a 7-seater) variant might just become your road trip vehicle of choice. The front seats are immensely supportive, and the driver’s seat offers 8-way adjustment. The middle row can also be slid back and forth, and as for the last row, you’d be surprised how spacious it can be. Of course, it’s not gonna be as good as riding shotgun, but at least your friends won’t be falling over themselves in a rush to avoid getting stuck at the back. You also get loads of cubbyholes (29 storage spaces in all), air vents for the middle and rear rows (the latter connected to a second aircon unit), 6 airbags and customisable ambient mood lighting

Harman Kardon’s ConnectNext

Tata’s gone to Harman Kardon for the Hexa’s infotainment system. You get a 5in touchscreen display, which isn’t the most responsive, but on the bright side, you can operate it with proper, old-school buttons and a dial (which is also a lot safer when you’re driving). There are 10 JBL speakers in all, including a subwoofer in the tailgate and a mid-range speaker tuned for vocals and voice in the middle of the fascia. Sadly, there’s no Android Auto or CarPlay compatibility, but here’s hoping Tata change their minds somewhere down the line.

 

The ConnectNext suite of apps also includes an owner’s manual, the Juke app for audio streaming, a satnav app which can be mirrored from your phone to the Hexa’s display and a remote app so you can tune the mood lighting and operate the stereo while being chauffeured around. And before we forget, the Hexa, very sensibly, comes with a reversing camera with guidelines (and sensors), which should be a boon for city slickers upgrading from pint-size hatches. Other ‘smart’ bits you’ll appreciate include the automatic headlamps and wipers. In all, the Hexa does come loaded with stuff that’s genuinely useful.

The Tata Hexa SUV goes on sale in January and while pricing hasn’t been announced yet, we must admit that it looks to be a great package. Here’s hoping it comes with a price tag that’s as attractive as its looks. Of course, we’ll also need to spend some more time with this beast to give a proper verdict. So stay tuned and watch this space. Meanwhile, to know more about the new Hexa, head over to Tata Motors’ website.