Her scream from inside the car on any other day would have caused a scarecrow three miles away to jump in fear. Or so it seemed to me. I was at the wheel of a TATA Zest.
Its was a small road. A cowherd and his set of buffaloes were walking towards us, on our lane. I had steered the car to stay a safe distance away from the buffaloes. As we crosses them, one buffalo, on a whim moved to the centre of the road and swung his tail to hit the rear view mirror on the left. A couple of feet from where Nandita is sitting. The sound was deceptively deafening. No collateral damage to the car. The last I saw the buffalo, there seemed to be none there either.
I could have sworn the bloody thing was premeditated. For as we passed the cowherd, his more than mischievous smile was on ineffable display. Nandita, fresh from the scream, expressed some rather pleasant thoughts she had for the cowherd and his buffalo. I spotted the cowherd’s trudge on the rear view mirror. He seemed to be on a song, while I was shaken.
The three of us, Nandita, Neha were the trio that was testing out the TATA Zest. Some more context and details are here. This is my second and final post that I had promised. A review of a car(or for that matter, any product) on the blog, is something that I have never done and I barely have knowledge of automobiles as a nursery kid would have of the constitution. Or any other fat book, for that matter. Earlier today, I asked myself how I wanted this blogpost to read. I wrote ‘precise, honest and flowing’. And then, I don’t know what got me to write ‘Clarkson’.
Car reviews with a soul, bring the visage of Jeremy Clarkson to my mind. None else. .
For several years, Top Gear was my favourite program on BBC. On all of TV, for that matter. Jeremy Clarkson James May and Richard Hammond, held attention in a rather unbridled sort of a way that escaped adjectives. Gripping drama and dripping quaint British humour, they had me tune in regularly. Clarkson was irreverent and had a deep resourcefulness to source a capacious assortment of adjectives. I write in past tense, for I dont watch much TV these days. But am sure (and I hear) they continue to be their usual selves to date. Every other auto show host since then, has looked like someone still recovering from a very intense combination of jaundice and constipation. As the buffalo swung his tail to catch the rear view mirror, that was my Jeremy Clarkson moment. My gripping drama. That was that.
Let me for a minute talk of P.Chidambaram. Now, Jeremy Clarkson and P.Chidambaram sitting on adjacent paragraphs must be enough for you to call an ambulance to ferry me to an asylum. No, all is well. Thank you. I have a reason to bring P.Chidambaram into the picture.
Who would believe if I told you that PC and his babus spawned an entirely new ‘genre’ of cars? From my preliminary reading, they do seem to have worked on it and I am open to standing corrected here. Well, as finance minister in 2006, he announced an 8% reduction in any car less than 4 meters in length for cars housing a 1.2L petrol or a 1.4 L diesel. He didn’t care to add, if the car could have a boot or otherwise. They just had to be less than 4 meters. An entire class of cars arrived : trimmed down versions of a hatchback with an appended boot as an afterthought that had no way of concealing how pronounced afterthought appeared! If there was a lousier evidence of mass production of ‘cut & paste’ technology, hmm, well, well..I am not sure how I should end that sentence.
The TATA Indigo was the first amongst a set of ugly, ‘cut and paste’ cars. If that was the worst one could have imagine seeing, Maruti Suzuki came up with Swift Dzire. An even more bizarre appendage of a boot to a wonderful car called Swift. One of the greatest ironies was to call this ‘cut & paste’ assortment of metal, ‘Dzire’!
A buffalo. Jeremy Clarkson. P.Chidambaram. Hmm. What an assorted spray paint of a start to what was supposed to be a precise review. Sigh. Ok. Quick, let me add some zest!
First off, the TATA Zest is different. When designers sat on the table, their brief was to build this as a sub 4 meter car. It is not a ‘cut & paste’ car and It shows. The lines are bold and it has a rather ‘wanting to move forward’ kind of agile look. Maybe thats what pissed the sedentary buffallo and its wayward ways.
The car handled like a charm taking to the small roads of Goa almost with a familiar shrug of the shoulder. The Zest provides ample leg room with élan that clearly makes it inviting. Especially so for Indian families and their small extended ties. Of course, we know how small our extended ties are!
Now, let me get some petty things off my mind. Stuff thats been humming in there. Like a rattling fan. First off, the petrol engine. Wonder why they call it 3-in-1. Its an automobile engine. Not a dishwashing liquid. ‘Three engines in one’ as a primary brand proposition requires a large dose of courage and a generous degree of audacity. Or so I think. Although am sure there must be reams of research to back it up. But then, thats that. Second, the engine operates in three modes to operate which TATA Motors have chosen to call : ‘City’. ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’. Wonder if any one else thought of the Honda City and the Ford Ecosport, every time the three modes were spoken of! Maybe its just me and my cynical ways. Sorry.
Nevertheless the engine did well and everyone said ‘peppy’. If you expect that car to turn into some kind of a ‘Batmobile’ at the press of a button as you move from ‘city’ mode to ‘sport’ mode, well, you will end up a poor sucker like me. So much for marketing. Truth be told, overall the car handles well, for its class.
We clicked a few pictures shifted speed, accelerated, paused, stopped and got a few locals on the road driven to their wits end, as we tested out the horn. It seemed that the horn was placed by a campaigner against ‘noise pollution’. To get it going required the full supply of calories from a heavy breakfast. All the same, it was good for verdant Goa. Goa is a place where life happens in slow motion. Even rain seemed to be taking its time. People have a relaxed tonality to life that will inject you with allure or paralyse you in silly awe.
If you met the great Achilles himself and asked him to point towards the better example of his much famed heel, he could well point in the direction of Service standards of TATA Motors. The TATA folks tell me, that story is changing. And that they have moved from 13th place to 7th on the JD Power rankings for service. Hopefully, that translates to something useful and differentiating. I stay stubbornly hopeful that the new thinking of being a ‘design lead’ thinking versus being a ‘engineering lead’ company will take the car and the company a good distance.
The moment you switch topics and talk about the diesel car and the Automated Manual Transmission, you will catch me smiling far more. In the middle of a rather fetching highway after manoeuvring to a position where no vehicle was in sight and after checking with the ladies if they had their seat belts on, I put some speed to the dial of the diesel Zest. It responded like a famished lion that spotted prey. It didn’t quite feel like diesel, had brilliant auto transmission and the noise reduction inside the cabin was near perfect.
More buffaloes dotted the greenery of Goan fields besides the highway. I stayed careful. Neha and Nandita took to the wheel with a matter-of-fact ease that didn’t surprise the car as much as it surprised them, I would think. They seamlessly wove through recalcitrant traffic and some indecisive rain which stayed troubled deciding if it should pour down or hold back. While the windscreen wipers laboured with ease, I clicked a picture of what the windscreen held. Some remnants of what the clouds held a few moments ago. Pretty good picture I thought even as coherent happiness continued its elusive streak.
Back to the car. There are 3,75,369 reviews of the car now detailing the specs of Torque, displacement, head lamps with LED lights and some three zillion other categories where TATA Motors claims to be ‘segment first’. Please look them on up on the net. The car is a neat package. And when TATA Motors will ‘price it for volumes’, as offline conversations threw in hushed tones, well, it will get many nods of approval.
Considering all of this, you may ask, with your head tilted to one side, “would buy the car?”. The answer clearly, is a ‘No’. End of story.
Except, that its not quite the end of the story. I am not in the market for car in this segment. If I were, this will get to my top three cars for consideration for sure. For those that are looking for a car in this segment, I reckon TATA Motors will be out to redefine ‘value for money’.
Good design and features that adorn higher segments sit pretty here. Maintenance doesn’t seem like (am hoping like hell here) it will take a generous stab at the bank account. It looks good. Drives good and has ample space all around. Plus, did I tell you about the Harmon Kardon audio system that besides playing music and all that, was said to take voice commands and do a slew of things just stopping short of ‘change my complexion’.
So there! Look at it for sure. Buy it if it fits you. Thats about the Zest. End of story.
Oh wait. The story has another element. While the Zest is just another car in the TATA stable, what it has more than convincingly done is this : forcing the TATA brand into consideration set of cars, that I will consider in the future. That is an even more important ask than just selling one car. But, that’s just me and I tell it with no qualms. I am no Jeremy Clarkson and there is no swarm of people who will do my bidding. Finally, its officially, end of story.
Ah, there is one more thing. Jeremy Clarkson once said, “Column writing is like gas. It fills in available space”. I stop right there. The end.