There was little contention that Tata’s electrification of its existing portfolio was lapped up by the Indian carbuyer, when Tata—buoyed by the success of the Nexon EV and Tigor EV—with much fanfare, launched the electric iteration of its hatchback, the Tiago. What really made this product launch special for Tata was its disruptive pricing—with a special introductory price of Rs. 8.49 lakh (ex-showroom) for the first 10,000 bookings. What was beyond comprehension was the overwhelming response—the Tiago EV received 10,000 bookings in a single day, causing the payment gateway to glitch temporarily. Tata extended the price to the first 20,000 bookings, but even that booking figure was surpassed in the blink of an eye. But has the much-awaited electric car lived up to the hype?
Exterior: A refreshing touch to an existing design
The Tiago EV has been quickly labeled with the moniker of the most affordable mainstream electric car in India. However, contrary to popular pejorative connotations of affordability, the Tiago EV is a well-rounded product, especially for the price at which the technology is offered. The exterior of the car is identical to the contours of the ICE-powered Tiago, which was launched in 2016. Despite the six-year-old design, Tata manages to give its electric iteration a refreshing update. The front grille of the car is festooned with the distinctive tri-arrow detailing, and the top grille gets laced with the characteristic blue shades Tata has embellished all its electric cars with. The ‘.EV’ badging generously appears on the top front grille, the front-left, and right sides, below the ORVMs (which are cased in black, along with a black roof and a piano black strip to the body-coloured door handles, to give it a sporty look).
However, a major grouse with the Tiago EV was the absence of alloy wheels—even in the range-topping XZ Plus Tech Lux variant, something that could bother the consumer, who will be spending an excess of Rs. 12 lakh on a hatchback of its size. Instead, the car gets stylish two-tone wheel caps—which convincingly look like alloy wheels. The traditional antenna for the radio looks outdated for a car which is supposed to be the living embodiment of the future. A real-world problem that was palpable in the car was the positioning of the electric tailgate release button, which is perilously close to the rear-view camera. It would be unsurprising if one’s fingers touch the camera while looking for the button. Tata also decided to exclude the sunroof from the Tiago EV, despite Indians’ continued fascination with something that hitherto has little utility in India. According to Hyundai, a sizeable 37% of its entire customer base wants to buy a car with a sunroof.
Interior: Convenience, and familiarity the cornerstone
Stepping into the cabin of the Tiago EV ushers in a feeling of familiarity, as is typical for Tata; the interior has remained largely unchanged from what is offered on the Tiago EV. The interior has been given the same light blue highlights that are seen on the exterior, and the interior is given a much more premium dual-tone finish to it. What further adds to the premium look of the cabin are oft-white leatherette seats with blue stitching—although one wonders how it would hold up against regular wear-and-tear and possible weathering.
Like, the rest of its EV lineup, Tata has done away with a gear stick (since this is an electric vehicle, all variants are equipped with an automatic transmission), and replaced it with a gear knob. However, for someone who will be coming from a conventional gear stick, will take some getting used to in familiarizing themselves with the knob (the unfamiliarity will hurt the most in making three-point U-turns), but more importantly, the lag between the gear selected and the engagement of the desired drive mode was noticeable. Another unsettling aspect of the gear knob was the absence of a “P” (Park) mode—which is conventionally seen in an automatic car—and to bring the car to a standstill, one will have to engage the neutral gear, and mandatorily use the handbrake. The illumination of the gear selection is also inept, and under direct sunlight, it was barely visible, and the driver will have to rely on the instrument cluster to see the gear selection.
The instrument cluster, meanwhile, does the job by providing the basic information needed to drive this car. On the left amount of acceleration of regeneration is shown on the left of the cluster, with blue bars, akin to the RPM meter of an ICE car. On the right side of the cluster, there is an indicator of how much battery level remains in the car. In the middle sits a screen that tells you the vitals of the car—speed, odometer, engaged gear, and battery percentage. The car literally tells the driver when it’s ready by prominently displaying the word “READY”.
However, the Tiago’s instrument cluster has started to show its age, as vehicles from the competition have started to make the instrument cluster look more like a multi-function display (MFD)—with additional information such as the song which is currently being played, and even turn-by-turn navigation, thereby eliminating the need to look at the infotainment system.
Although Tata has defended its decision by saying that the first phase of its three-pronged strategy towards electrification focuses more on making the consumer familiar with the EV technology—and a familiar cabin design helps attain that goal—but the expectation of an EV to become the harbinger of future is increasing every day, and the carbuyer could feel that the instrument cluster does not bode well with the overall premium look and feel of the cabin. The infotainment system has also started to feel past its prime, as similar systems can be found in the entry-level hatchback segment. The display quality was also somewhat underwhelming, and not all were visible without straining one’s eye in direct sunlight.
Drivability: the biggest strength
Perhaps the driver of the car will be less disgruntled when they put their feet on the pedal. The car responds well in city traffic, and its size makes it ideal in congested, cramped areas—something that the car passed with flying colours in the narrow lanes of Goa filled to the gunwales. Neither does it have the rubber-band effect of a CVT transmission, or the coarseness in shifting gears of an AMT transmission. Put the car in sports mode (the only other driving mode), and the throttle will give the driver the extra dose of speed it needs to successfully maneuver overtakes. The mostly single-lane roads of Goa—where every overtaking opportunity counts—are a testament to its prowess. However, it lacks an electrifying throttle response that is seen in other EVs, but Tata says that the throttle response has been deliberately blunted to lessen the battery drain. However, in most situations, the throttle feels adequate.
The car, though, lacks hill-hold control and hill-descent control. As a consequence, the car is vulnerable to sliding backward when starting on inclined roads, and one would have to manually hold the car in position, with the handbrake, (just like a manual car) despite pressing the accelerator hard. Although what the car is equipped with regenerative modes—ranging from 0 (where no regeneration is applied, best suited for open stretches of road, where the car needs to make the best use of its power), and 3 (the maximum regeneration is applied, which means that car decelerates aggressively as if one applied the brakes. It is prudent to use this mode for descending). The flat-bottom steering wheel is light to use, and its tight turning radius of 5.1 metres, makes it perfect for tight-knit spaces, especially for parking. The handling and cornering speeds of the car are equally commendable, and even at taking hairpin turns at high speeds, the car did not unnerve the driver.
What was perhaps the most unsettling while driving the car was the lack of audible parking sensors in the top-end variants, whereas it is offered in the lower-spec variants. The car is equipped with a rear parking camera, with dynamic guideways, but one should not lie in waiting for the car to alarm noisily that it is dangerously close to an obstacle. Whether this is a cost-cutting measure or not, it is befuddling why Tata chose to exclude it, for an audio warning is much more effective in bringing a car backing up to a halt than an obstacle visible on the screen. This will be extremely unsettling for those accustomed to the bellowing of the audible alarm to stop the vehicle. Hopefully, Tata will rectify this and make audible sensors standard across all variants.
Verdict: An ideal drive for the city-dweller
The Tiago EV is offered in two spec trims—the medium range and the long range. The long-range has a certified range of 315 kilometres on a full charge. Although in the real world, with keeping the car mostly in regen mode 3, the Tiago EV long range gave a range of about 200 kilometres. This means that the medium-range car—with a certified range of 257 kilometres—will give a range somewhere in the vicinity of 160 kilometres. This makes the Tiago EV strictly meant for intracity commutes, and not for intercity trips on the highway. The peppy drivability of the car also makes it ideal for city-dwellers or a second car for those who do not wish to bring their big gas-guzzler out on city roads. While ergonomics is its biggest strength, the 2016-design philosophy of the car can be off-putting for some, but given the number of bookings Tata has received, and by the company’s testimony, a majority of the buyers are young people looking for their first car, the hitherto dated design is not strictly the deal-breaker.
Although Tata says that the average distance driven by Tiago EV will be 50 kilometres every day, the long-range, the more expensive trim, is the ideal pick—especially in agglomerations like Delhi, Mumbai, or Bangalore, where traversing between satellite cities could be frequent. The Tiago EV can be plugged into any 15A plug point, and the long-range trims can be charged from 10% to 100% in almost nine hours. However, fixing a 7.2 kW AC fast charger (only a few trims support this feature) at home can bring the downtime to nearly four hours, and using a public 50kW DC fast charger can charge from 10% to 80% in 58 minutes. The fact that Tata also has an expanding charging network in-house, and that its EVs are custom-made for India, makes it a no-brainer, at least until competition betters it.