The ‘Hexa’ from Tata Motors brings the fight straight to Toyota’s doorstep, as a contender to the latter’s all conquering ‘Innova’ MUV. The Hexa on review here is the top model ‘XTA’ with a 6-speed automatic gearbox mated to its 2.2 litre ‘VARICOR 400’ Diesel engine, rear-wheel drive (RWD), all available options (see brochure list) and in ‘tungsten silver’ (from a choice of 5 colors: see all Tata Hexa Colors) paint.
Build and Appearance
The Hexa has imposing dimensions (length x width x height (mm) – 4788 x 1903 x 1791) to sieve through traffic and ground clearance of 200 (mm) helps negotiate poorly designed speed breakers and uneven or non-existent road surfaces. Weighing in at nearly 2.2 tonnes, the Hexa also possesses a tank-like build and comes with ‘muscular’ body claddings to counter scrapes whilst adding to the visual appeal.
Importantly, the door handles and rear-tail gate are very easy to operate and do not require much spend of energy or effort. Generous use of chrome for the top-end variants would appeal to many and other visual treats like smoked projector headlamps, daytime running lights, dark-meshed grill and butch-looking 19 inch-alloy wheels. The overall build and finish of the Hexa is satisfactory for the class and feels built to last. Whilst looks and beauty are subjective and in the eyes of the beholder, so goes the cliché somewhat, it can be stated with some measure of confidence sans fear of reprisal, that the Hexa is the best looker or at least most interesting to look at in its class.
Cabin, Space and Seating
The cabin and 7-seater arrangement is tastefully executed, airy and large glass area for good all-round visibility. As with all large TATA vehicles, the driver and co-passengers sit quite high off the road and are provided a commanding position to judge the road ahead.
The faux-leather seats are extremely comfortable with arms rests for the 1st and 2nd rows, though the driver’s arm-rest is a design and ergonomic oversight in order to accommodate the manual parking brake lever.
The 3rd row allows the Hexa an additional 3 passengers to bring the overall tally to 7 passengers, however the same results in loss of significant luggage space and is also best suited for small children. The 2nd and 3rd rows of seats can split ‘tumble’ and fold in a variety of ways to suit the owner and the number of passengers and luggage being transported.
The driver’s console and dashboard is done up in dark trim colour and appears quite tasteful. The switchgear quality and operation is also par for the class and works efficiently. The all-important air-conditioning (‘fully automatic temperature control’ for the high-end variant) is powerful and very effective, though the fan or blower is a touch loud in operation.
The Hexa also comes with a host of electronic features and luxuries like 10 speaker JBL™ system with 320 Watt DSP amplifier that powers 10 strategically located high fidelity speakers and a specially designed subwoofer, ConnectNext Touchscreen Infotainment system by Harman™ (featuring an exclusively designed 5” touchscreen system with voice command recognition, video playback and superior connectivity features etc.), USB/SD Card Video Playback and Image Viewer, power adjustable/foldable ORVMs, 12V power outlets etc. to name a few. Many entertainment functions are also located on the steering wheel for easy and safe access whilst on the move.
Engine and Gearbox
The Hexa model range offers both petrol and diesel engines, the diesel reviewed here is the 2.179 litre, 4-cylinder ‘VARICOR 400’ with a peak power of approximately 153 hp and significant amount of torque, 400Nm between 1700-2700 rpm. In regular driving and some spirited acceleration, the engine is quite refined, responsive and punchy for a car as heavy and big as the Hexa and never lethargic for want of power.
From standstill, flat out acceleration is more than enough to keep up with fast moving traffic and in-gear acceleration for overtaking is impressive, helped by the huge torque on tap and the automatic gearbox’ calibration for such purposes. At idle, the diesel clatter inside the cabin does not sound particularly harsh and gets drummed out quite a fair bit at speed.
The Hexa offers the choice of a 5-speed manual gearbox and a 6-speed automatic across the variants. The automatic under review here is seamless in swapping between gears and helps operate the Hexa with minimal effort. A manual override also provided in the autobox for sporty and aggressive inputs. The calibration of the ‘D’ mode appears to be the only Achilles heel for the autobox as even at standstill, brakes have to be applied at all times when so slotted into ‘D’ mode as the Hexa tries to constantly lunge forward alarmingly and for fear of rear-ending any object parked in close proximity, especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions. The ‘D’ mode would be better classified as an ‘S’ mode for sporty driving, and another true ‘D’ mode added into the autobox with a more circumspect reaction to pedal input for low speed cruising as is the case in city driving.
Ride, Handling and Safety
Another impressive feature of the Hexa is the way it rides over good and poor surfaces. The high ground clearance and 19” wheels just smother everything in its way and most bad surfaces are dismissed as mild thumps rather than crude thuds. This is also a testament to also the much-improved build-quality of the Hexa in comparison to TATA vehicles of past, further remarkable as the Hexa here had already travelled over 21,000 kilometres in hands of many unforgiving drivers prior to this review.
Dead straight the Hexa has little body pitch or bobbing around. The electronic power steering is not fluent to use for direction change and is a touch heavy, but the same does not affect stability or manoeuvrability. While there is body-roll and some pitch in fast or sharp corners and bends in the road, the same is still fairly manageable and finds the Hexa quite stable in negotiating the same. For those into more serious off-roading or travelling on rural or semi-urban road surfaces, the manual Hexa’s also come with the four-wheel drive (4WD) as an option, whilst being only rear-wheel drive in the automatic ‘XTA’.
The Hexa is a safe place to be inside due to its size, weight and dimensions. However, it does not rely on that alone as it also comes with a range of necessary safety features expected from cars of this class and price range. These include disc-brakes on all four wheels, which lack pedal feel and are slightly mushy in use, but effective in stopping power. Other safety features include 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) WITH Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD), Traction Control system, automatic headlamp and rain sensing wipers.
Fuel Economy and Range
For the duration of the review over the long weekend, the Hexa was given a mix of city driving and some inter-state cruise, with more of the latter and returned an average of 11.3 km/l as computed by its own digital fuel consumption display (which also provides an array of other vital information in real time, such distance to empty etc).
The Hexa also comes with a 60 litre diesel fuel tank capacity that does give it reasonable range in between fills. It is possible that the current calibration of the ‘D’ mode of the autobox harms the Hexa’s fuel returns, as it tends to hold on to 1st and 2nd gear for much too long and sometimes even refuses to move down the gears in the hope of aggressive throttle inputs, which cannot be given at low speeds, especially when negotiating city traffic. This results in unnecessary fuel being burnt in those gears even though no gains are made in terms of speed or movement. A recalibrated ‘D’ would move faster down the gears even at low speeds without losing much response by drawing from Hexa’s enormous vat of torque, with the current ‘D’ mode being re-classified and given space in the autobox as ‘S’, to make the best of both and potentially result in significantly improved fuel economy figures.
The latest products from Tata Motors including the Hexa is a clear sign of rapid progress being made within the Indian giant’s automotive division. The Hexa is now a credible competitor to the class leader, i.e. Toyota Innova, but crucially also offers much more kit at significantly lower prices (range starts from Rs.11.99 lacs and tops out at Rs.17.53 lacs ex-showroom Delhi and pre-GST for the ‘XTA’ reviewed here) relative to the Innova. Where Toyota as an entity and Innova as the product still sit comfortably ahead is long term reliability, efficiency and after-sales support and service, which equates to the price premium, better ownership experience, higher sales and resale values.
If TATA can offer similar reliability with the Hexa and improve its after-sales support and operations to significantly improve ownership experience, then the crown may truly sit uneasy on the king’s head.
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