Tata Aria 2014 facelift drive review – A missed opportunity
Tata Aria is one of the most neglected cars in India. Launched back in 2010, the Aria MPV was impressive on paper, but could never steal the spotlight owing to a few fundamental setbacks, not the least of which is a seemingly high price tag. This year, Aria received facelift tweaks and fresh attention from media fraternity. But would it make a difference in Aria’s presence in the market?
Aria received mixed critical reception since its entrée into one of the most important auto segments in the country. Positioned as the company’s most expensive car, above the Safari SUV, Aria got its prospective buyers thinking twice or more. Maybe if Tata had a more affordable MPV and launched Aria as a successor, Aria would have earned more appraisal from prospective buyers. Just like how Safari was launched after Sumo came in and swept the segment.
Aria’s lack of attention can also be looked at from another perspective. The Indian automaker launched and marketed Nano as the world’s cheapest. That, in conjunction with Tata’s general impression of being frugal, could have made people think if Aria is worth its price tag. The competition in Aria’s segment also contributed to leaving it behind in the race, especially Toyota Innova which attracted the wholesome of customers quite effortlessly.
Tata Aria’s pre and post facelift models have similar key elements, except for the additional 10 PS squeezed out of same old engine. This facelift exercise has not changed much of its market stand so far. Does Aria really deserve this exile treatment? Let’s go over Aria’s full description and make a list of pros and cons.
Starting with exterior, Tata Aria was launched with contemporary styling, with front and rear fascia looking imitated and mutated from its smaller sibling Indica Vista. The front grille of Aria carries a broader and more aggressive grin, coated in chrome. Headlamps and tail lamps as well are carried over from the hatchback, adjusted in size and shape to suit the MPV’s bold presence on road. Till date, the looks and stance of Aria does not seem to have gone out of style.
Noticeable changes in exterior of new Aria are limited to black bezel headlamps and fear lens tail lamps. While interior receives more tech bits than in previous version. Tata Aria 2014 comes with trendy features like NAVTEQ navigation system, Tata Blu 5 connect, rain sensing wipers, auto headlamps and cruise control.
Air conditioning boasts climate control function through vents mounted on B and C pillar, in addition to dashboard outlets and central vents between front seats for the second row. What went wrong is the positioning of dashboard mounted AC vents; they can’t be positioned to let the chilled air disperse directly into Aria’s atmosphere. Instead, it keeps freezing your arms or knees, requiring frequent redirection, again onto yourself.
Infotainment system of Tata Aria is jazzed up by 10 speaker JBL audio system (by Harmon Kardon), which has 6 speakers, 4 tweeters and 8 channel DSP based audio amplifier. If spec of music system wasn’t convincing enough, we would come out and say that it rocks! There is a catch here too. The ICE doesn’t read iPod via USB, and bluetooth connectivity with iPhone is useful only for making and receiving calls (audio streaming via BT is absent). Have to get a conventional AUX cable, which means no changing tracks using steering wheel mounted controls.
Ah, coming to that, we are surprised how Tata missed addressing the phenomenon of steering wheel mounted audio controls getting pressed by mistake on almost every turn you take; even in the facelift version. Those buttons feel perishable, but in reality they may give good life. Rest of controls are well accessible and give better feel.
Overall interior quality, fit and finish are impressive considering Tata’s track record of providing frugal elements wherever possible. Dual coloured dashboard and plush upholstery are well played by Tata, not just the look of them, but material quality and seating comfort are also miles ahead of what we have seen so far in company’s other products. Driver seat is equipped with height and lumbar support adjustment; levers of which are hard to reach though.
Both driver and shotgun get their own arm rest, but not all drivers would like to use theirs, as it hinders with accessing the low placed gear shifter. Surprisingly, there are no cubby or coffee cup holes between the frontmost occupants. This means your AUX connected mobile phone does not get a safe seat near the audio system.
But to compensate for the let down, Tata has provided numerous utility compartments throughout the cabin, impressing anyone who sees them for first time. We’re sure Jack Bauer / Anil Kapoor would love this car for their acclaimed TV series – 24. The thought had occurred when we opened the floor mounted hatch at the rear end, to find the well concealed toolkit. Imagine that being replaced with a sniper kit and all the over head compartments carrying ammo and advanced tactical kits. Wonder how this car missed the list of Modi’s motorcade.
In matters of interior space, except for the knee room for driver (specifically the left knee bumping onto dashboard upon sliding the seat ahead), all other aspects of space and passenger comfort is admirable. Even upon pushing the front seats totally backwards, second row passengers get just enough knee room provided by recess at the back of front seats. Also the third passenger sitting in the middle of row two, is given just enough space in same front seat position.
Third row is ideal for kids, even complan boys can hop in there for a short distance ride without having much to complain. They even get their own cup holders back there, and seat belts too! Boot space behind third row seats is also appreciable.
Tata Aria is powered by 2.2 litre VARICOR engine, also seen in Safari Storme and Sumo Grande MK II. Facelifted Aria gets 10 PS more than older version and Safari Storme. Hence, it delivers max. power of 150 PS at 4,000 rpm and peak torque of 320 Nm between 1,500 and 3,000 rpm. The engine equipped with VGT (Variable Geometry Turbocharger) does not pronounce prominent turbo-lag like regular turbocharged engines, thereby manoeuvring through city traffic is made easy. Torque delivery is smooth and pushes the mammoth of a car untiringly. Cabin noise is on lower side.
Coupled to the engine is a 5 speed transmission, accessible via a shivering shifter. Gear knob / lever helps indicating whether engine is started or turned off, as the said part vibrates vigorously. Gear shift quality is not bad to our surprise, and shift throw is short enough. However, a bummer here is that gear lever is very short, may not let most drivers reach when arm rest is to used. Gear ratios seem to be in perfect order with the engine, no complaints there.
Tata Aria comes with 4×2 and 4×4 modes. Torque On Demand (TOD) transfer case does the duty of sending power from gearbox to wheels. In slopes or corners where 4×2 mode may cause screeches and slips, simply the button can be pressed and 4×4 mode will kick in to negotiate the tough patch with ease.
The case of Aria’s suspension is intriguing. Equation between springs and dampers is highly unlike other competing cars. In most city spaces where potholes and speed breakers surprise you very frequently, Tata Aria doesn’t exactly iron them out, but it tries to prevent them from giving you noticeable thuds. Shocks don’t bottom-out easily in the Aria, even upon stumbling over a sizeable hurdle at relatively high speeds. But what happens is that the car pitches, rolls and bobs simultaneously like a joy ride in a theme park. Even as you brake sharply, the car pitches forward and backward for multiple times before it finds level.
That being said, the Aria is amazing off the road. Ground clearance is as much as an off roader would require, and given Aria is equipped with 4 wheel drive, you need not think twice before taking him on an unorthodox terrain. Tyres (235/65 R17) are large and fat enough for the same, provide good grip too.
One of Tata Aria’s favourite battle ground is the seemingly never ending stretch of tarmac. On highway, the car is very stable even as it reaches speeds of 160+ kmph effortlessly. The engine doesn’t seem to run out of power and the car doesn’t seem to loose control. Gentle lane change and quick press on throttle are what Aria needs to keep ahead. Try a sudden steer, the car will surprise you. Speed masking is brilliant, 100+ kmph will feel like 50 or 60. Cruise control feature is also available in Tata Aria.
Brakes are commendable in Tata Aria. Disc sets on all four wheels help the MPV shed speed rapidly on the highway. ABS with EBD on Aria does praiseworthy job of putting the 2,225 kg car to rest.
Next up, Steering! The reason this is brought up at the last is that Tata really needs to work on it. Steering behaviour, steering wheel shape and position are all bummers. The wheel is too inclined, and is shaped convex for some reason that makes it less friendly to hold and handle. And as mentioned earlier, steering mounted controls keep getting pressed while making turns.
While driving in city, steering feels hard intermittently making you wonder if it is assisted at all. To overcome the resistance and handle occasional feedbacks, you probably need to be as muscular as the Aria. Interestingly on highway, steering was not that bad. Feedback was live and subtle, and steering control was well under command.
Verdict – Tata certainly showed how far ahead it can come in designing and developing a quality product. But the Indian auto manufacturer missed the opportunity to fix fundamental setbacks in Aria while launching the 2014 facelift version. Those setbacks could possibly be affecting first impression among potential customers, and overshadowing the worthiness of Aria. It is disheartening to learn that such a well capable product is listed as one of the top cars Tata might get axed soon.
Claimed mileage of Tata Aria is 15.05 kmpl. We got combined fuel efficiency of 9.1 kmpl as shown by Aria’s onboard indicator.
Price (ex showroom Delhi)
Aria Pure LX 4×2 – Rs. 9.95 lakhs
Aria Pleasure 4×2 – Rs. 12 lakhs
Aria Pride 4×4 – Rs. 14.74 lakhs
Why would you go for Aria
Decent oFf-roading capability
Enormous space and interior flexibility
Why would you not go for Aria
Pitching and bobbing on city roads
Lack of snob value