Tata Harrier Review: Almost There (But Not Quite)
Form over function sums up the Tata Harrier, the most anticipated SUV launch of the year
The Tata Harrier has been talked up for a while now, and I can’t think of another vehicle in recent memory – particularly in India – that has been executed such that the concept and production units are amazingly alike. Usually, some sexy bit on the concept will be dropped for cost reasons, but the Harrier busts through the gates looking like nothing else.
The intense design focus has had some consequences, but surprisingly none too negative. The front fascia, with those sinister-looking LED DRLs where the headlights should be, look great, and the fact that the headlights are actually where the fog lamps usually are don’t take anything away from the SUV, to my eyes. However, this will put off some, and bring forth differing subjective opinions. The stance is butch, interior space is great and the usual bits and bobs are as they should be. For something that looks so futuristic, the Harrier is quite practical as an SUV. The big news, of course, is the fact that the Harrier is based on the Land Rover Discovery Sport platform – a lovely vehicle that I would have no trouble taking to the ends of the earth. There’s clearly much of the Sport reflected in the Harrier. If you’ve questioned the effects of the Tata Motors – JLR buyout on Indian vehicles for years, well… here’s your answer. It’s a Land Rover with a Tata badge. The cost estimates we’ve been given a range between Rs 16 and Rs 21 lakh, putting the Harrier a few shades below the Jeep Compass in terms of cost, while providing more space, design and presence. I wish it was that simple, though.
You see, in order to design around the Land Rover platform while keeping costs in check, Tata Motors had some decisions to make. Chiefly: they couldn’t use a JLR motor. For cost efficiencies, they ended up going to Fiat for their 2-litre diesel MultiJet motor that’s already used in the Jeep Compass, and locally made. With that decision come limitations: there’s no automatic gearbox available. There’s also no 4×4, which you can get on the Compass. Heck, you can even get it on the Tata Hexa. Not a great start for their most premium, futuristic-looking, full-fat SUV. In addition, the motor makes 138 Bhp/350 Nm in the Harrier, while the same motor in the Compass makes significantly more. But really, those are just numbers. On the go, the Harrier is quite nice. It’s not punchy, but the Sport driving mode makes it move a bit better than the Eco or City mode. It also makes the motor sound gruff, and not in a good way. There’s a constant boom in the cabin that’s beyond what one would expect in a Rs 21 lakh vehicle. This appears to be a common complaint, so perhaps Tata will address it in some way once the SUVs hit the dealerships. They’ve chosen a hydraulic steering for the Harrier, but it doesn’t seem to affect the experience in any meaningful way. The feel is heavy, but about as dull as any electronic steering in the competition.
Overall, the drive is uneventful, with the sweet spot being between 90 and 110 kph, for the quietest ride. The power is adequate for the size of the vehicle, and overtakes are executed nicely; turbo lag does not intrude. A bright spot is the suspension, which Tata claims has had inputs from JLR and Lotus Engineering in the UK. Combined with the 17-inch wheels and high-profile tyres, the ride quality is plush and comfortable.
For the price range, Tata has ensured a great level of features and specs. You get conveniences such as automatic headlamps and rain-sensing wipers, an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat (manual, not electric), nice storage spaces in the right places and flat areas within the door storage which are perfect for phones. A cooled box under the centre armrest is also a nice touch. The side rear view mirrors are power-adjustable, of course, but strangely, the main rear view mirror does not auto-dim. And no, there is no sunroof right now, but I live in India and protection from the elements ranks higher than bragging rights for me. Like the engine donor, the Harrier gets hill hold and hill descent control, and can dynamically limit wheel torque using the brakes. There’s also something called “off-road ABS” on the spec sheet, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try it. I can tell you that the Harrier, with its 1675 kg weight, comfortably traversed soft sand on its stock tyres.
Space wise, you’re in a good place. There’s plenty of head, shoulder and legroom everywhere, and the seats are comfortable. Tata has tried to keep things looking upmarket, with dark brown leather upholstery and an oak wood-like trim on the dash. It isn’t wood or veneer, just matte plastic, so it works from a distance, but not up close. They’ve used swathes of piano black everywhere, though, and it doesn’t really add anything to the interior. Internal safety is sorted, with 6 airbags and a myriad of other safety features.
There are a few other quirks, ranging from ergonomics to the infotainment system. Three of us, ranging in height between 5’6” and 6’2”, were unable to get comfortable in the driver’s seat, no matter what combination of seat position, angle, lumbar support, steering angle or position we tried. For me, the angle was canted upward, meaning reaching the pedals put pressure below my thighs. My ideal driving position meant that my elbow couldn’t use the (non-adjustable) centre armrest, and the generous bolsters in the seats meant I had to awkwardly push my elbow out and around the bolster to reach the gear shifter.
The strangeness continues in the infotainment system. It’s a new widescreen unit, which looks rough, but has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, unlike Land Rovers. It also doesn’t have all the info you’d need readily available. Sometimes you have to look for it, like what AC venting mode is currently active (it’s a tiny icon on the status bar). There’s a voice-command system that works surprisingly well, and you can control things like the AC function and infotainment with it. It’ll even read out your texts.
So who’s this car for? The price estimates given to us were between Rs 16 and Rs 21 lakh on road, which puts it between a Hyundai Creta and a Jeep Compass. For that money, you get a lot of space, comfort, presence, plenty of features and a wild design – but you give up a bit of premium feel, refinement and will have to live with the quirks. The lack of an automatic in this bracket will be a deal-breaker for many, and the lack of 4×4 feels like poor form for a desi Land Rover.
I want to like the Tata Harrier. Heck, I’m pretty sure you want to like the Tata Harrier. It’s home-grown, it’s got the right underpinnings and it looks like the future – but it feels rushed and incomplete as a package. An extra-special top-spec variant with even more features might work to draw buyers in, but nothing will work like not having to shift gears. Maybe next year, when they have a seven-seater model.
1956cc 4-CYL. KRYOTEC DIESEL
10 SECONDS 0-100 KPH
ON THE INSIDE
Apple Car Play/Android Auto, 9-speaker JBL audio, rear parking sensors and camera, leather upholstery, 8.8- inch touchscreen
6 airbags, ABS with EBD, traction control, ESP, rollover mitigation, hill-hold control
Rs. 16 LAKH ONWARDS (expected)
WHAT WE LIKE
Ride quality, space, design, features
WHAT WE DON’T
Average engine, no auto or 4×4 as yet, ergonomic issues
Performance – 3/5
Design – 4.5/5
Handling – 3.5/5
Interior – 3.5/5