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We drive Tata's baby twins

2004-12-07 08:57

John Oxley

Forget all the puns. Tata is here to stay, and aims to make a big impression on the SA market. And its new "twins" are going to make an equally large impression on everything but your bank balance, with these spacious hatch and sedan models starting off at under R70 000.

The cars compete favourably against "veteran" models such as the Volkswagen Citi Golf and Toyota Tazz in terms of interior space and boot space, while offering Euro III safety standards - including airbags - and meeting Euro II emission levels.

We sat four big chaps very comfortably in the Tatas, and we were also able to compare them back to back with the VW and Toyota products.

The Tatas have more space in the back, and the rear seat is a LOT more comfortable than either of the locally built cars.

What's more, the Tata Indigo is a full-on sedan with a massive boot, while the Indica hatch has a rear seat that features both split and tumble fold to give better versatility than either of its main opponents.


The cars are very well equipped, with even the baseline Indica 1.4 LEi getting power steering, a built-in radio aerial, comprehensive instrumentation including a rev counter and water and fuel gauges, digital clock, immobiliser, low fuel warning light, rear window wash/wipe and demister, a full size spare wheel, and remote tailgate and fuel filler releases.

There are also height-adjustable front headrests with built-in headrests at the rear, halogen headlamps with clear lenses, headlight leveller, a luggage compartment light, child safety locks on the rear doors, a four-spoke soft-rim steering wheel, and a charger socket.

All models get catalytic converters as standard.

Engine is a 1 405 cc SOHC four-cylinder with fuel injection, pushing out 55.2 kW at 5 500 r/min, with 110 Nm of torque at 3 000 r/min, driving the front wheels via a 5-speed manual gearbox.

Suspension comprises McPherson struts, lower wishbones and an antiroll bar, and at the back independent suspension with semi-trailing arms, coil springs, and an antiroll bar. Front brakes are 231 mm ventilated discs, with drums at the back.

Wheels are 13 inch steel with attractive covers, shod with 165/65 R13 tyres.

Fuel capacity is 37 litres and top speed is a claimed 155 km/h, while Tata says overall fuel consumption is just 6 litres/100 km.

Air conditioning

Moving up a notch the Indica 1.4 LSi gets all of the above plus air conditioning, rear fog light, and colour-coded exterior.

There's an engine change for the two top Indica models - the 1.4-litre motor has different engine mapping plus a new camshaft to lift power to 62.5 kW at 5 500 r/min and torque to 115 Nm at 3 000 r/min.

In addition the Indica 1.4 LX gets electric windows front and rear, central locking, a driver's side airbag, and ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD). There are also larger drum brakes, plus 14 inch steel wheels with 175/60 R14 tyres.

There's a leather-rimmed steering wheel, seat belt warning light and beeper, interior light delay, and remote manual mirror adjustment.

And moving up to the top model, the LXi, adds a passenger side airbag.

Top speed on both these models is 160 km/h.

There are just two Indigo sedan models, and both come with the 62.5 kW engine.

They, too, are well equipped. The Indigo 1.4 GLS model has power steering, air conditioning, immobiliser, 410 litre boot, rear fog light and demister, 14 inch wheels with 175/60 R14 tyres, and a remote boot release.

Instrumentation sees white dials with chrome rings.

The top Indigo, the GLX, adds a driver's airbag, ABS brakes with EBD, electric windows, and central locking.

The wheelbase, at 2 450 mm, is longer than the Indica's by 50 mm, and the extra length has been used to give more space to rear seat occupants. At the front, the Indigo continues with the Indica's McPherson strut set-up, but there's an all-new independent multi-link set-up at the back.


As mentioned the car was styled by I.DE.A Institute, which also penned such notables as the Fiat Palio - ironically one of the Indica's competitors - the Fiat Siena, the Daewoo Nubira, and its latest effort, the interior of the award-winning Fiat Panda.

But for me the Tata cars are the prettiest of the bunch, with a big smiley chrome-rimmed grille, large headlamps, and on the hatch, a neat taillight "stack" treatment.

The cars sit high on the road - a lot like the latest generation of VW Polos - and this is courtesy of a high roofline that gives plenty of headroom inside, and allows for a higher-than-usual seating arrangement which makes the cars easier to get in and out of and gives better utilisation of the interior space.

The interiors are bright and cheerful, with cloth on all the seats.

The dashboard features a prominent instrument binnacle atop the well-fitted dashboard.

The seats are comfortable and hold one fairly well in hard cornering, but adjustment is limited to rake and reach.

On the road

The launch started at the Wesbank Raceway near Johannesburg International Airport, and we had a skidpan session and a bit of a track test before hitting the main road to the Vaal River for lunch.

The Indica felt quite steady, with some tyre squeal when pushing it, but generally a lot more poise than we had expected.

The Indigo, on the other hand, was a lot more exciting to drive, with some oversteer when lifting off the power for tight corners.

That said, both cars were straightforward and felt very safe on the road.

As usual from a front-wheel drive car there's some understeer when pressing on.

Ride quality on both cars was good for this class of car, and the cars were well put together, with neither rattles nor wind squeal even at high speed. Ride quality was good, and the cars felt solid.

All the cars we drove had air conditioning and this coped very well with a hot Highveld day. Acceleration felt average for the class, although Tata hasn't any official figures, with the 62 kW models quite lively.

The gear change is smooth, although at times a trifle rubbery. Ratios see fifth as a fuel-saving overdrive gear.

The cars get a 3 year/100 000 km warranty, with service intervals every 15 000 km, and roadside assistance, and it is interesting to note that Tata has staggered replacement items throughout the life of the vehicle so there are no major service shocks.

In addition maintenance plans are available, as well as warranty extension to 5 years/unlimited distance.

Summing up

Tata is serious about its journey to Africa, with senior managers from India present at the launch to answer questions, and a healthy local management in place under Associated Motor Holdings director David Smith.

AMH - which is a division of the Imperial Group - has already appointed 22 dealers in all the major centres, and will be increasing this to 29 by the end of the year, with more to follow.

As a measure to bring down the cost of motoring the Tata initiative is an exciting development.

These are not "cheap and nasty" cars in the mould of previous imports such as those from Romanian company Dacia, but modern high tech. vehicles that have been well built to cope with roads that are far worse than South Africa's, and which have been designed not just for India's tastes, but for export.

Tata is a major company, with many and diverse interests around the globe, and in fact its trucking arm is the sixth biggest truck and bus company in the world. This year the company is on track to sell 372 000 cars and trucks - no mean feat in anybody's language.

There's no secret about pricing. Tata considers South Africa to be incremental sales as its capital expenditure costs have already been amortised, and can thus be very generous to its South African franchisee and hence the local consumer.

What's more, we can expect those prices to remain stable given the competitiveness of the SA market, and the stability of the rand.

Oh, and there will be a diesel, once testing for use with South African fuel has been completed.


Indica 1.4 LEi

R69 995

Indica 1.4 LSi

R73 995

Indica 1.4 LX

R84 995

Indica 1.4 LXi

R87 500

Indigo 1.4 GLS

R92 995

Indigo 1.4 GLX

R104 995


Metallic paint

R1 500

Warranty extension to 5yr/unlimited km

R4 184

Tata Indigo gallery
Tata Indica gallery

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