Indian automaker Tata has moved the goalposts with the introduction of its Fiat-powered Indigo Manza sedan just launched in South Africa; as of now, forget any “first impressions” you might have had of its products.We have here a completely new body, platform and interior.Even the name is clever: in India, I’m told, it can mean the cutting surface on the string of a fighting kite; better, from a Latin root, it translates as a strong young ox or, conversely, a beautiful girl – each a term that can be applied to this lively and agile small car.OPTIONS? STANDARD!It even has a semi-local existence: a language spoken in Central Africa… whatever, the Tata Manza has been around since October 2007 and the latest top-end version selling for R134 995 is a seriously tempting product.It might not meet the “beautiful girl” definition – though its looks are unusual – but it is fun to drive, handles the Cape’s gravel back roads with a lack of shake and vibration you’d expect (but not always get) from German products, and its standard spec sheet has several items listed as “options” on other local brands.IMAGE GALLERYAll a little over the top? Nope, this is one big leap for carkind, one more small competitor heading for a podium place, price and sizewise, among entry-level competitors. It shares some of its wares with the Tata Vista hatchback already available in South Africa.It had to be expected from the international conglomerate that now also owns Jaguar and Land Rover and I’d expect the Manza to pump up Tata sales figures now that it has an entré into the sedan, on top of the hatchback, market in SA.The engine is Fiat’s Linea, a 1.4, transverse four-cylinder unit assembled in India as part of a joint operation there. It gives enthusiastically of its 66kW /116Nm; proper use of the five-speed manual gearbox produces surprising acceleration and better than 160km/h with the co-operation of electronic fuel-injection and variable valve timing.Cutely, the rev counter needle turns red when approaching maximum revs.RECLINING REAR SEATSTata has crammed a lot of passenger space from the shell’s 4.4m length and proudly proclaims the car to be “the most spacious and comfortable in its segment”. Both front seats adjust for rake, reach and – unusually – height, the last a valuable purchase consideration for young drivers and the vertically challenged.The rear three – though two people would be more comfortable with the centre seat converted, as it can, into a tray/cupholder – can also recline slightly. I can immediately think of a competitor with more rear legroom.The ride, frankly, is also surprisingly upmarket. It’s resilient, the suspension almost silent on the potholed gravel that Tata chucked into the prescribed test-drive route in the Western Cape hinterland near Stellenbosch; the motoring magazine editor riding with me agreeing that it was as good as that of a popular (large) German brand.Some enthusiastic speeds driving solo on the empty roads of the drive back to Cape Town also showed the Manza is not averse to being slung through curves on its eight-spoked 15” alloy rims and their 195/60-profile Goodyear DuraPlus rubber.It sure as heck doesn’t have to be driven like a plodder and anti-lock brakes are standard.CUTE STUFF AND WARRANTYSpeaking at the launch, Tata’s head of international car business Johnny Oommen said: “After seeing wide acceptance, across various countries, we are proud to offer the Tata Indigo Manza, a modern, contemporary sedan, to the South African market.“We hope to see it become the best-seller in this market as well.”Increasing the Manza’s chances are power-driven (all four) windows, external mirrors and steering, a driving info screen (fuel consumption, external temperature, time), an audio system with a USB port and Bluetooth, cellphone compatibility, audio controls on the steering wheel, two front air bags, collapsible steering column, engine immobilizer and central locking.The car is delivered with a three-year or 100 000km warranty, a four-year service plan (maintenance plan available) and three years of roadside assistance.Five colours are available, microdot security tech is standard. Tata has 45 dealers across South Africa.There are two models: the entry INI for R119 995 and the model just launched and designated Ignis, for R134 995.A diesel version is available in other world markets and is being considered for South Africa. Compare products with Wheels24's great new Prices & Specs tool..