No other homegrown brand has shown the promise that Tata’s design team has, led by the adroit Pratap Bose. They’ve clearly won the first step towards making any car a success...to make it look lust-worthy enough to even be considering it as a purchase.
The second step was making it safe enough for the entire family to take notice and the 5-star NCAP crash-rating gave it that confidence. Now, they are looking at the enthusiast with the iTurbo addition to the family. With a slightly detuned version of the Nexon’s engine, here it churns out 110hp and 140Nm, both greatly improved over the regular Altroz but is it enough to give you a shot of adrenalin?
New toys for tech
Most of the car remains unchanged on the inside, barring the addition of the Sport mode on the gearbox console. The 7in Harman infotainment system is easy to use and though it could’ve been a bit brighter, I do like the addition of physical buttons along with the touchscreen. In its latest IRA iteration, the system now gets What3words, a navigation system that works by plotting the entire planet in 3mt squares and assigning three unique words as a code to that location, making it more accurate to locate and share your whereabouts. It’s also the first car in this segment to this feature. The usual laundry list of connected car features like geo-fencing, lock/unlock, horn, vehicle diagnostics and distance to empty, intrusion alert and remote engine immobilisation gets a nod too. Even the hi-fi gets a bump up with two additional tweeters but overall, the sound still lacks outright detail and clarity, leaving you wanting for more definition. There’s also only a single USB-A port with a couple of 12V sockets, but it does get wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so it gets the job done. The ambient lighting around the floating panel for the HVAC and infotainment controls looks cool at night and also lends a unique look to the dashboard that keeps in tune with the rest of the design, which is peculiar and very original too.
Warm to the touch
With a height-adjustable steering, seat and seat belts, getting the right driving position isn’t hard, although rake adjust for steering would’ve been ideal. But even then, this is as comfortable as manual hatchbacks can get, with a well-positioned dead pedal that comes in handy with the wide torque curve of the turbo engine. You can mostly just keep it in second gear and get through crawling traffic. The throttle response is not as spiky as the direct injection turbos of the competition and this blunts the performance a bit, lacking the initial bite during take off. But it’s a driveable unit, especially since the DCT is still a while away. The 5-speed manual is slick shifting and light clutch action makes for quick shifts. The Sport mode does pep things up a bit and what helps in gaining speed is not the power from the engine itself, but the brilliant suspension set-up that doesn’t slow you down on bad patches of road. It soaks up everything and never gets noisy inside the cabin, making it feel like a much larger and mature car. The steering has a good amount of weight to it and body roll is minimal, all of which allow you to carry decent speed into corners, using all of the power in second gear. There is none of the “turbo” feel here and in fact, drives more like a NA engine and while this is great for those with a low resting heart rate, it fails to excite anyone buying it for the iTurbo badge alone. It also won’t do wonders to counter the rapidly increasing petrol rates in metros, returning around 10kmpl at best under spirited driving.
In terms of space, safety, usable tech and style quotient, the Altroz iTurbo seems to have it all. But drive it around for a few hours and while it charms you with its pothole flattening comfort and plush ride, it also makes you question what’s missing. And that is the head-butting acceleration we crave and expect from small-capacity engines these days. With a bit more power and a quick-shifting automatic transmission, the Altroz could fulfil its true calling. Until this, the iTurbo is just a flash in the pan that should’ve been on fire.