Eight years ago, Tata Motors was a very different company. It had just acquired Jaguar Land Rover in the hope that it would build better cars itself, someday. At the same time, it had another product called the ‘Sumo Grande’, a workhorse with a name to distinguish itself from its lesser brother. It was a confused Tata Motors product, one that refused to let go of its past while it tried to chart a future.
Wind the clock to the present day and Tata Motors seems to have recovered from its hangover. Its car lines are fewer, as a fair share of older models have been retired; there is less confusion now when you walk into a Tata showroom. This is great news, because the Tiago and the upcoming Kite5 (based on the Tiago) replace the Indica and Indigo CS. But with the Hexa, they have put in more than a fair share of changes over the Aria, a platform that the Hexa shares with the Safari Storme as well, aside from its positioning.
For starters, it’s got a squared front jaw, a clamshell hood and flared arches, a honeycomb grille and horizontally laid out tail lights. It’s what marketeers would sum up as ‘butch’. They are careful to not refer to it as a crossover, but rather an SUV. Cladding, of course, doesn’t make for an SUV – updated underpinnings and added capability off the beaten path do. And in that arena, the Hexa scores. If you choose the top-end manual XT variant, you get all-wheel drive and different driving modes, one of which is off-road. Highly evolved for an Indian ‘SUV’, the Hexa’s driving modes, using electronic diff locks combined with the ESP, do the kind of stuff that would impress even seasoned off-road enthusiasts. A 400 mm+ water wading capability aside, the Hexa can tackle most off-road situations, thanks to its aggressive approach and departure angles, and the 208 mm ground clearance really does make it more capable than its road-biased cousin, the Aria AWD from six years ago.
Even as it uses a lot from the Aria, it ditches a lot too. The interiors now feel much better put together, thanks to the use of high quality material, the Aria’s row of bins on the roof has finally (thankfully!) disappeared and the seats feel comfier as well. You get a touchscreen audio unit, a revised steering wheel as well as a new automatic climate control system. What hasn’t changed is that the access to the third row isn’t easy, and it’s best suited for kids.
What we like
Design, features, ride quality, offroad ability
What we don’t
Sluggish manual gearbox
The new Hexa is stiffer and sharper; it’s also got an updated powertrain over the Aria. With 154 bhp and up to 400 Nm of torque, it certainly isn’t slow. Coupled to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox with General Motors antecedents, the Hexa is a capable performer. In auto, you can select either drive or sport, with fast kickdowns in sport that hold all the way to the 4200 rpm redline. Unlike the Aria, the Hexa gets up to speed quickly and can cruise at higher speeds all day long. The improved low down torque makes it easy to drive around town, even with the manual. What can be a bit annoying is the shift quality of the manual; it lacks crispness in certain gears. The trick with it is to learn to understand the pattern, and once you do, you can get the most out of it. It rides and handles pretty well, too. Riding on 19-inch tyres from MRF, the Hexa tackles most bad patches very well, even if it doesn’t feel cushy. The improved suspension rating and steering effort and design means there is less body roll and better on-road behaviour.
All of this is great, given the fact that Tata Motors will likely price it at Rs 12-16 lakh, ex-showroom – except that they will continue to sell it along with cheaper, two-wheel drive versions of the Aria. So is the Hexa a better Aria? Yes. But more importantly, it is a capable and commendable effort that should really take the fight to the likes of the Toyota Innova and Fortuner and the Mahindra XUV5oo.