Why would I buy it?
- Smart design with an SUV proposition
- Feature-packed practical cabin
Why I would avoid it?
- Engine could have been peppier
- No diesel option
Engine and Performance
In terms of engine options, there's only a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine. It comes mated to either a five-speed AMT or a five-speed manual gearbox that we have tested here. The car underpins the ALFA architecture platform, capable to spawn even an electric vehicle in the future. So, options like a diesel mill, turbocharged engine, and all the capabilities exist. But Tata Motors will only take a call as and when the demand for various specifications emerges, and also depending on how the market evolves. As of now, it's only this petrol unit that produces 85bhp and 113Nm of torque. You can choose to drive it in the City or Eco mode, by just pressing a button on the dashboard. There's also the option of automatic engine start/stop, to further enhance the fuel efficiency.
Now, this Revotron engine is not really a vibe-free or a very silent engine; whether idling or revved. And despite good cabin insulation, you can hear the engine noise. That said, it’s definitely better in terms of refinement than some three-cylinder engines that we've sampled before. A claimed 0-60kmph acceleration time of 6.5 seconds might look satisfactory, but it surely could have done with some more low-end grunt. Also, the throttle response doesn't feel instantaneous, even with linear power delivery. The car even takes some time to quickly get going, and this shows up in its 0-100kmph claimed sprint time of 16.5 seconds. Thankfully, we did manage to put it through our V-Box test cycle with slightly faster timings of 0-60kmph in 6.47 seconds and 0-100kmph in 15.23 seconds. Even for the in-gear acceleration times, the car sprinted from 20-80kmph in third gear in 14.76 seconds and 40-100kmph in fourth gear in 22.12 seconds.
Interestingly, the gear shifts with short throws slot in correctly. Even the clutch is light, making things feel effortless. That said, the engine gets noisier as it builds revs till it’s redline at 6,000rpm. Thankfully, you wouldn't be doing that quite often as within the city you'd be mostly shifting between 2,500rpm–4,000rpm. Tata Motors has also brought in its 'Dyna Pro Tech' ensuring that the engine can perform to an optimal requirement. The air intake is mounted at the front at the top of the powertrain to suck in as much air that can be delivered to the engine with the least pressure drop. It also ensures the torque is delivered in a proper manner.
Ride and Handling
Once you're behind the wheel it's quite easy to drive and you can confidently manoeuvre it into tight spots. Still, do note, it weighs about a ton. Also, if you observe, the wheels are placed at the four corners with minimal overhangs. Plus, the steering is light with three turns lock-to-lock and weighs up adequately as speed builds up. Still, if not for a feel, but a better response would have elevated the driving experience altogether. Yet, a tight turning radius makes U-turns a hassle-free affair. It will benefit a lot in city traffic and even while parking it in tight spots.
Now, the Punch does ride well, especially on our pothole-infested roads and even when it comes to clearing speed breakers. And that isn't a surprise knowing Tata has made this good impression with all its new-age cars. Slow-speed or high-speed ride is well-balanced as this one's suspension is also well-tuned to absorb the jolts and thuds. And, all the while remaining planted and very composed. This sub-four metre SUV has an unladen ground clearance of about 187–190mm. It also boasts a large approach angle of 20.3 degrees, a departure angle of 37.6 degrees, and a ramp over angle of 22.2 degrees. Then, it also has a water wading depth of 370mm, which is a little higher than usual cars. Now, with this high riding stance, you tend to feel the body roll when attacking corners in speed. But that's not what you'd be aiming to do in this car, right? Go a little slow and you'll do just fine.
Now, the Punch gets two unique, in fact, segment-first features. A Brake Sway Control and what they call the Traction-Pro mode. The Brake Sway Control aids during panic braking, even if the front disc brakes are good enough to stop the car. It gets activated through the braking system with abrupt braking, or when it detects a pull taking place, or road camber, or one tyre slipping. It enables the EBD and ABS to keep the vehicle stable. What's more, its AMT version features the Traction-Pro mode to aid in slippery conditions. What this system does is that it doesn't intervene the engine but uses brakes to control slip. As a result, traction at all points is optimally utilised.
In terms of appearance, what exactly is it? An SUV, a crossover, a beefed-up hatchback, or whatever you may like to call it. Tata Motors calls it India's first sub-compact SUV that will offer the agility of a hatchback with the DNA of an SUV. And yes, it's based on the same Hornbill or HBX concept that we'd been shown earlier. Now, the good thing is that it nicely carries forward the same authenticity of Tata's new-age SUVs. Yet, let's take a closer look.
The Tata Punch features a Harrier-like front fascia with slim LED daytime running lights. Its nose gets a split grille featuring a tri-arrow pattern that looks new as against the conventional honeycomb pattern seen in most cars. Then, the main headlamp clusters and fog lamps are positioned in separate pods on the bumper. This is again a trait we've come to see in modern SUVs.
Now, the Punch is also a little shorter in length than the Nexon, but its overall proportions are ideal for a micro SUV. This SUV character is thanks to the muscular styling elements which give it a beefier appearance. Then, the black cladding along the sides and wheel arches adds to the rugged look. This top-spec model rides on 16-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels that also have an exciting design. The same goes with its rear section with LED tail lamps. Very unconventional and yet stunning! What also will help the Punch to stand out are its seven colour options. In fact, customers also get to choose from two customisation packs, named Rhythm and Dazzle. These will help them to further personalise their vehicle according to their liking.
Inside, there's a dual-tone interior, with colour-matched inserts around the air-conditioner vents. The horizontal slats on the dash give it a nice wide feel. Then, a floating touchscreen infotainment system sits at the top of the centre console. Most features from the current Tata models have been brought into the Punch. In fact, we're told this infotainment system is upgraded with better acoustics, four speakers two tweeters, and those likes. And yes, iRA connected car tech as an optional offering.
As you get to enter the cabin, you’ll realise it gets the 90-degree opening doors, basically for easy ingress and egress. We’ve seen this feature in the Altroz, but it’s unique to this segment. Then, the driver's seat is adjustable for reach, recline, and height, giving you that commanding driving position expected from SUVs. Also, there's good visibility of the surroundings from inside. Yes, the seats are supportive, but the front seat cushioning is too soft for my liking. So, how comfortable? Well, that we'll be able to ascertain correctly when we get the car for a longer duration of time.
But the first impressions are good. There's ample headroom and legroom and you don't feel you are sitting too close to your co-passenger. Even in the back seat, things aren't different with good space, a nicely reclined backrest, and an armrest to settle in a relaxing position. The floor is flat too and the second-row seats can accommodate a third passenger. But then, you will have to deal with a bit of a shoulder overlap. Also remember, you don't get rear AC vents or a blower and there’s no dedicated charging port for second-row occupants.
That said, the Punch with its ergonomic cabin gets many storage and stowage places, and two cup and four bottle holders. The 366-litre of boot space is good enough to house luggage for four. In terms of variants, there are four trims or Personas as they call it. There's the base Pure, Adventure, Accomplished, and then Creative. Even the base Pure variant boasts of safety suite like dual airbags, ABS, central locking, and ISOFIX seats. Then, the other noteworthy features include a flat-bottom steering wheel, automatic climate control, engine start-stop button, and a semi-digital instrument cluster similar to that of the Harrier. Then, auto projector headlamps, auto-folding ORVMs, rain-sensing wipers, and cruise control make it a generously loaded vehicle. What’s more, though there aren't any soft touch-points inside, there are not many rough edges either. The overall built quality, fit and finish feels above average. More on the pleasing side than leaving with things to complain about.
There's no doubt the sub-four metre SUV segment in India is the most crowded now. The Tata Punch will add to the various options Indian car buyers can choose from. And given the product positioning and expected aggressive pricing, we think it will cater to a large part of rural areas. So, the Punch then seems like the beginning of bringing more small SUVs in India. We would have loved it if the engine would have been a little quieter. Or maybe a turbo with a sporty engine note to dial in the fun factor. But for what it is, buyers will like it for it is capable to navigate our varied terrains. And that too, with a compact footprint, a feature-packed cabin, and a smart design.
The carmaker has started accepting bookings for the car, but variant-wise pricing will only be announced on 20 October. Our informed guess is it will overlap multiple segments and products. If we were to name a few, maybe the Maruti Suzuki Swift, Renault Kiger, Nissan Magnite, or even the upcoming Citroen C3 crossover. More importantly, an aggressive price point should give an opportunity to first-time buyers to get an SUV with not so much money to shell out. So, we can expect a diverse set of customers in terms of geographies, classes, and even needs. As it is, the catchment area seems quite large and hopefully, the brand will be able to rake in more numbers then!
Pictures by Kapil Angane