The good old Indica has been a long time bread and butter product for Tata Motors. The company ventured into the passenger car business with it in the fag end of the last century.
And as India’s first indigenous car, considerable hype surrounded it. It was one of the first small diesel cars, which made it a darling among fleet owners and cab drivers.
A new, grunty engine, some effort at a sporty appearance, lots of legroom and good ride quality may not do enough to wipe out the taxi-cab stamp.
That, however, became its Achilles’ heel. Technological shortcomings were obvious, as was the poor resale value. In 2008, efforts were made to address some of these issues with the Indica Vista, but the results were below expectations.
Earlier this year, Tata upgraded the Vista with a powerful version of the Fiat’s 1.3 multijet diesel engine, and named it the Vista D90. What better but to test it against the benchmark in the segment, the Maruti Swift. The latter of course, needs no introduction.
The one with the looks?
Styling changes of the Indica have never been dramatic from one generation to the other. Tata has now dropped the Indica tag, but you can tell from a mile away that it is still an Indica. To that end, a new car it is not. Even on the D90 there is not an awful lot of changes. A rear spoiler to induce a sporty feel, and a contrasting black roof are the more eye catching ones.
It retains the dimensions, road presence and character of the earlier Vista. And clearly, it does not match up to the Swift in terms of sheer sex appeal. The Suzuki car itself does not retain any novelty: the model change two years ago did not do much either. But it remains a good looking vehicle — more sporty, aggressive and contemporary. Period.
A jewel inside?
Space is a strong point in all Tata cars. Being an Indian company they do know how much we love to be chauffeured and how crazy we are about rear legroom.
The Vista fits in. It has acres of space at the back and very comfortable seats. And it trumps the Swift here, which still feels relatively claustrophobic at the back due to its smaller window. Tata’s boot is not cavernous but still bigger than the Swift.
What does not work is the cabin’s dull, uninspiring feel though some efforts are in evidence.
A multimedia touch screen panel that allows bluetooth connectivity, a big chunky steering wheel and an instrument cluster that gives you a whole lot of information.
Even the quality of plastic is a notch above the old Indicas. Yet, the finesse and fit and finish are lacking and the Swift’s interior, despite offering far fewer goodies is more cheerful.
Performance: ride and handling
Both cars are powered by same-sized engines, but tuned differently. The Swift offers less outright power at 75Ps to Vista’s 90 PS, and marginally less torque (see table). The Vista’s engine does duty on Fiat’s cars and the Maruti SX4 as well — but not on the Swift. The engine has improved the Tata car’s performance.
It no longer feels out of breath and under-powered at any gear and it does, for a change, accelerate. The ride quality is also better for rear passengers as Vista’s extra weight allows it to handle bumps and potholes better.
Unfortunately, attention to detail and build quality remain big sore points. The rear bumper, for example gave away when we went over the first serious pothole.
We found out that besides the two small screws at one end, it was held together by adhesive. Tragic. The Swift had no such disease, 30,000 kilometres on the clock, 10 times more than the Vista. Yet, not a squeak did it emit.