Thursday, October 21, 2021

Poised for the Big Leap

Packaged intelligently with features that lend it novelty, the Zica is the refreshing change that Tata needed in its product portfolio.

Written by Ashish Jha |
January 8, 2016 7:58:16 pm

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The Zica is possibly the most crucial product for Tata Motors since the Nano — even more than Zest and Bolt — and its market placement will be key to its sales performance. It is expected that Tata will position the Zica between the Renault Kwid and Hyundai Grand i10, taking on the likes of Maruti Suzuki Celerio in a straight battle. If the Zica is priced on par with, or below, the Celerio (between Rs 3.5-5 lakhs), it’ll be a masterstroke because on product worthiness alone, Zica (January 20 launch) has a lot going for it.

With the Zica, Tata has moved away from the ‘Indica’ design theme. It may seem to have some design elements influenced by existing products, but it’s a big departure in the mini hatchback space.

Visually, the Zica is a reasonably balanced design effort by Tata — the proportions are well thought out and it sits confidently in profile. The front has a straightforward look with honeycomb grille finished in glossy black and there’s thankfully no overdose of chrome, only a subtle outline across the grille and the fog-lamp casings. While the shape of the hatch being inspired by the Hyundai Grand i10 is no bad thing, the tail lamps might be Zica’s weakest point in exterior design — they are oddly shaped in the otherwise well-executed rear section. Unlike Tata’s Nano, the Zica isn’t an instantly attention-grabbing car — and comes in relatively prosaic colours.

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The cabin layout and quality is a huge step forward for Tata. The materials used are of appreciable quality (for the segment the car is intended to be positioned in) and the space is enough for four average-sized adults. However, for tall people seated at the rear, the headroom and under-thigh support might seem lacking. The front seats are very accommodating for most body shapes.

Looking at the features list of the Zica, it may seem that Tata has emptied its ammunition stock on this one product. It’s heavily packed with comfort and convenience enhancing items. There’s a Harman infotainment module with eight sound output units that can play through systems including Aux-In, USB, and Bluetooth streaming and can be operated via controls mounted on the steering wheel. Of great benefit is the navigation system that gives turn-by-turn guidance on the screen when connected through a phone-based app (available for only Android OS currently). There’s also a special feature called Juke Car app which can sync up to 10 phones — with one master phone sharing its internet with others and can be used to play music from any of the synced phones.

At the top end of its trim classification, the Zica comes with reasonable levels of safety features that include airbags for the driver and front co-passenger, anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and corner stability control. It also gets rear parking sensors with a rather medieval looking display on the infotainment screen.

The Zica comes with an option of either a 1.2-litre petrol engine or a 1.05-litre diesel. On paper, the 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine develops peak power of 84bhp@6,000rpm and a maximum turning force of 114Nm@3,500rpm. The diesel engine is rated at 69bhp@4,000rpm and 140Nm@1,800-3,000rpm. Both engines feature a dual overhead cam design and breathe via 4 valves per cylinder.

While both the engines are good enough to handle the bulk of the car (1,012 kg for petrol and 1,080 kg for diesel), they aren’t really going to score big on entertainment. The Zica is a regular city car and gets a drive-mode selector which switches between normal and Eco modes. The Eco mode can get a bit frustrating even when going about at slow city speeds, so it’s best to stick to “normal” which is the default driving mode. The mid-range in the diesel is strong and with the gearbox in third, it’s a flexible drive that lets you go from low double to low triple digit speeds with ease. Zica’s petrol engine has been tuned in such a way that it seemed to be the better motor here. It’s as flexible as the diesel while being smoother and more linear in its power delivery and the range of speeds it manages in different ratios was just as high.

The gear shifts are fairly smooth but the throws are slightly long through the gate and ratios are biased more towards fuel-efficient driving. The clutch action is very progressive and well calibrated for both the engines. There’s a gear indicator that flashes the gear you’re driving in on the screen and advises to shift up or down depending on the speed. It is seemed to have been mapped cleverly to the throttle position and didn’t show an “up” arrow sign to get into a higher gear when giving the accelerator pedal a bit of a heavy workout.

Tata has packed the Zica with a massive load of features, so it’s rather disappointing to see a very important element missing —telescopically adjustable steering. The driver’s seat is adjustable for height, so that might help matters for the tilt-only unit here, but a telescopic steering wheel would’ve been ideal. Auto manufacturers must realise that a tilt-and-telescopic steering system isn’t a convenience or comfort enhancing feature, but more a safety feature and a must-have item, and should be made mandatory in all cars.

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The Zica suffers on dynamic abilities because of the steering. While the steering wheel is a small-diameter unit and is great to hold, the steering ratio is quite high and it lacks directness and precision. It’s fairly light, but the steering input and the resultant directional change isn’t greatly proportional. Additionally, the steering response on the petrol model seemed slightly more responsive than on the diesel — that might have been due to slightly higher front axle load in the diesel car.

The highlight of the car is its suspension setup. The ride quality in the Zica is of high order and can even rival some cars from a segment above. The front is all independent while the rear features a twist-beam with dual path strut design, which channels spring load through one path and damper load through the other, resulting in better vibration control and load management. It’s not exactly an engaging driving experience though, and the handling is sedate at best.

Overall, the Zica is the refreshing change that Tata needed in its product portfolio for a long time. It’s packaged intelligently with features that lend it novelty factor. Crucially, the Zica flaunts good grades of materials and the interior quality is unlike any Tata hatchback before it. The engines are good for their intended use and the NVH levels, while could be better, are acceptable for a car of this size. It’s also reasonably spacious and the suspension setup is worthy of praise.

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