How does it drive?
The Hexa is a heavy SUV. It weighs in at 2280 kg which is way more than say the XUV. Yes, it does have a ladder frame but the extra weight ends up eating into the performance and fuel economy part. The heart of the matter is the same 2179cc engine that powers the new Storme. Belting out 156 PS of power, it also churns out an impressive 400Nm of torque. You get to pick from a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.
I got to drive the manual first. While waiting for the flag off to happen, I did notice that the clutch wasn’t very linear in its operation. It wasn’t very heavy but something that could take time getting used to. The gearshifts felt good but are still not a match for the shift quality of the XUV. Further, while driving the Hexa at lower RPMs, the lever does transmit certain vibes to an extent.
It is a leap from the Aria and other Tata models but as the overall NVH levels are so nice, you do end up noticing this fact if you have your left hand on the lever and try accelerating in 2nd or 3rd from 1500rpm and whereabouts. I did face issues while shifting to reverse at multiple occasions but will leave that to the fact that my test unit was relatively new. One thing I like is the fast acting rear camera. In my XUV when I shift to reverse, I have to wait for a second or two before the rear camera activates.
Our drive route was a mix of excellent four-lane highways as well as fast flowing single lane countryside roads. What was apparent immediately were the NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels. Tata Motors has genuinely worked extremely hard to make sure the cabin is a quiet place on the move. It is possible to have a conversation even with a person sitting in the last row without raising your voice and this a commendable job. Road noise, tyre noise and even wind noise is well controlled.
The Hexa’s Varicor 400 unit is not really a rev happy unit. There is no sudden surge of torque flowing in, rather what it delivers is locomotive like linear flow. Once on the move, the Hexa can eat up miles very easily – keep the engine spinning above 2000rpm and its difficult for others to catch up with this SUV. There is always more than enough torque available in reserve but in slow moving traffic, you do have to downshift a few times to close in on gaps quickly. Below 1600rpm, its difficult to gather speeds in lower gears like 2nd and 3rd. This is not an issue in the XUV which can even be driven in 4th at 45km/h and yet will pick up momentum immediately. This issue however is taken care of by the automatic version which I drove on the way back. If I have to pick between the two, it has to be the latter. Even though it does not come with the driving modes (more on this later), the gearbox is very clever and compliments the torque nicely.
The set-up (automatic) works so well, it is actually possible to drive the big heavy Hexa enthusiastically. I had to glance at the needle a couple of times to understand how fast we were going at times. Shifts are fast and you can play around with the throttle inputs to suit your kind of gear changes easily. Flick the lever to the left and the Sports mode rewards you with late up-shifts and quick downshifts to make sure you remain in the meaty part of the power band. In the Sports mode, if you go down hard on the accelerator pedal, the transmission will hold on to the gears till about 4,200 rpm. Drive enthusiastically and once the engine revs drop below the power zone, the Sports mode downshifts rapidly to make sure both power and torque are available immediately. Ofcourse you can even change gears manually and the response is pretty quick from the transmission – I think enthusiasts will love driving the automatic version more. Only if this one came with the AWD set-up. Sigh!
Given the road and right driving conditions, the Hexa will do about 190km/h on the speedometer which is a fast by any means. Standstill to 60 takes about 5.5 seconds while 100 comes up in less than 13 : these figures are for the automatic version. Keep her at 100 km/h and the engine spins at about 1900 rpm in the 6th for the manual and a bit less for the automatic – yes, gearing is different for both manual and automatic versions. At these speeds, the on-board display showed about 16-17kmpl which is terrific given the tyre size, weight of the SUV and the huge size that does not help in slicing through air at all. Worthy of a mention is that the on-board display will not show over 20kmpl no matter how gently you drive. This is also a bothersome issue with the XUV wherein the on-board display never shows over 18kmpl.
The manual version gets four driving modes. A lot has been talked about this and it is indeed a handy feature. By default when you start the car, the system gets into the Auto mode wherein the performance is optimized. The system adapts automatically to all surface conditions. Focus is on stability and traction and the engine also tends to learn the driving pattern via the inputs you give.
The second mode is the Comfort mode. Throttle response is pulled back but fuel economy does take a jump. This is more suitable for relaxed driving or when you want to be chauffeured around peacefully. Note that in this mode, you always remain in a 4×2 set-up only.
Next is the Dynamic mode which allows the engine to provide maximum power and acceleration. Even the ESP kicks in later so that you have your own share of grinning moments easily.
The last mode is the Rough Road Mode in which you can permanent assist from the AWD set-up. Even the braking characteristic changes and off-road ABS kicks-in, allowing wheel locks up in a controlled manner.
Note that these modes are not available in the automatic version. Same goes for ESP. All modes however can be changed on the fly, you don’t need to stop the car.
Round three is a close call here. The Hexa is more of a SUV as compared to the XUV which acts and feels like a grown up big car. Its punchier but I love the way the big Hexa goes about doing its duties in a silent manner. And ofcourse the driving modes! Had the Hexa been lighter by 100-200 kg, things would have been so different.
Ride and handling
The biggest USP of the Hexa is the way it rides. If you are looking for comfort, this SUV will keep you happy. Both the Aria and the Storme are known for their ride quality and this one improves on that significantly. The large wheels also help in absorbing potholes and we did get a good share of bad roads on the drive route. If you are in no mood to slow down, not a problem – just drive over rough roads and the Hexa will not unsettle.
Our initial stretch had baby bum smooth tarmac with long straights for high speed stints. The steering remains ‘direct’ till about 100 or so and even beyond that, it does not get nervous, something that the XUV suffers from. Push the Hexa harder and change lanes and she remains composed, infusing confidence in the driver. This is remarkable given the high center of gravity and the mass she carries around.
Another part I liked about the Hexa was the ability to stick to her line while going around fast flowing curves towards our lunch spot. Yes you are always aware of the weight but nothing that makes you back off. I did replicate a couple of emergency braking situations and the Hexa stopped in a straight line. Brake pedal feel could have been better though – again this comes from my experience with my XUV which has fantastic braking abilities.
In terms of slow speed ride and city usage, the steering definitely feels on the heavier side. Unlike the XUV, you can’t really perform single hand u-turns with this one. It takes some effort and is an area of improvement IMO. However, the high seating ensures that visibility is excellent across all three rows. The high ground clearance is also an added advantage, allowing the Hexa to explore uncharted territories.
We were taken around an off-road track but weren’t allowed to be behind the wheel personally so I will reserve my comments on the off-road abilities. What I can confidently say is that it will outperform the XUV easily. Slow speed ride over broken roads is not the XUV’s forte at all. Also, the wheel articulation is excellent in the Hexa and the specially developed MRF tyres do a fantastic job across road conditions including keeping the road / tyre noise as minimal as possible.
Features and safety
The Hexa impresses you with a long list of standard equipment. Tata Motors was tight lipped about the levels of features in the lower versions but the XT was certainty loaded. From cruise control to the lovely JBL-Harman infotainment system, you also get a rear camera, air-vents and charging points across the rows. There is a cooled glovebox, voice commands, mood lightning and the works. The smartphone applications also a cool way of showing off to your friends.
What could be added at a later stage in the XZ are goodies like smart keyless entry, start-stop system, sunroof, adjustable armrest etc. Tata is also offerings a lot of accessories to customize the Hexa : we did see two display units with these add-ons (view those images here).
The company has also worked hard to ensure safety isn’t compromised. From 6 airbags (driver, co-driver, curtain and side) to electronic stability control with traction control, you also get hill hold and hill descent feature. ABS with EBD is standard along with corner stability program. There are large disc brakes all around – front ones are 298mm in diameter.