Tata Motors Vista Refresh
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Tata Motors Vista Refresh

The Best Engineered City Cars

Daily commuting city cars should be economical and and cheap and most of the vehicles in this segment today boasts of being the best. So whom can we actually trust? Its only an expert review of all the cars that can help us to select the best one.. 



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With petrol engine under 1200cc and overall length below four metres, these hatchbacks are all built to the same formula. But which of these disparate city cars is best engineered for life in the urban jungle?
Your day is a daze. You drive to the gym, them to work, across town for a meeting, to dinner and finally back home again. Masses of traffic, parking woes and drivers with an ‘A type’ personality conspire to make this already difficult drive even worse. Quite obviously, the last thing you want is a car that makes driving in traffic even more of a chore. You need something that’s light on its feet and easy to drive, with a peppy motor and absorbent ride thrown in for good measure. You need good fuel effiency and reliability of course, but generous comfort up front too. And well-equipped interiors are very important as well. Rear set and boot space aren’t vital on these predominantly owner-driven city runabouts but modern safety features, we think, are new essential.
If you want maximum car for your money, your search starts here. This is the excise sop inspired under four metres and sub-1200cc, petrol-powered class. Adhere to this basic formula and car makers can chop the price of their cars by a considerable amount, by saving on the excise duty paid to the government. With the savings, manufacturers can choose to either stuff their pockets or fill yours; it’s the latter most of the these hatchback makers have chosen to do. Now many of you could assume this would bring on something akin to the clone wars, where every car it’s rubbing tyres with. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each of the six contenders we’ve lined up here is uniquely conceived, with independent thought and direction ruling the roost. But which of these takes on the big urban hatch works best? Which of these cars slips through traffic as easily a seal through pounding surf?
Look closely at the six cars rubbing shoulders with each other on this page and it’s evident that there’s every design or function-inspired solution on offer here. There are all types. Cars that make use of vertical space, cabin-forward designs that spread passengers out as evenly as butter on toast, wide designs and design which do a bit of everything. There’s long wheelbases, short overhangs, bulbous cabins, the lot.
Fiat’s simply gorgeous Grande Punto is a classic case of function follows form – what else would you expect of the style-conscious Italian? With a nose Cleopatra could be proud of and that stunning Maserati vibe that the headlights and grille give off, it clearly is the supermodel of this bunch. Seriously, it just doesn’t have bad angle. There’s a classical balance to the car in profile with its big wheel arches and flowing lines and the solid-looking rear is both gorgeous and unique. More road-hugging exotic than cheap boxy runabout, the Grande Punto’s clean lines will age the least too.
The Honda Jazz may have a shorter wheelbase than the Grande Punto and the i20 (which has the longest) but you simply can’t tell from the amount of cabin and luggage space this car encloses. The key is an almost-van-like cabin-forward design, which in profile is almost Innova-like. And to make even more space, Honda has moved the tank of the Jazz under the front seat. It has also done a stellar job of making this car very modern and attractive. The sharp, high-mounted headlamps, big bonnet bulge and flared rear wheel arches make this car look very aggressive and modern.
The Ritz in contrast uses vertical space. Built on a wheelbase identical to the Alto and A-star, the Ritz is the only car here that’s taller than 1.6 metres. It uses an almost-flat and vertical rear section to maximize space utilization. But it’s no box, far from it. Flared wheel arches, an Audi-esque large grille and attractive headlights ad boomerang-shaped tail-light make this Maruti the one that stands out from the crowd Also very attractive is Hyundai’s i20. The proportions are spot-on, the nose is aggressively detailed and the thick crease line that defines the doors gives the car a unique stance as well. It’s also the widest hatch in this group. Built on the longest wheelbase here with a cabin that placed pretty forward too, space on the inside is very good. The i20also has a fine blend of build quality and strength on the outside, indicative of a car that will last well on our streets.
It’s hard to believe that the Vista which has been around for less than a year is among the longer-serving cars of this bunch. It suffers from being too close to the old Indica in terms of looks, and the familiar front grille and stacked tail-lights mean it gets no more than a second glance. But take a closer look and there are some fresh and attractive lines (we love the long cat-eye like headlamps) that enclose a large cabin. The Vista’s raised suspension creates a large gap in the wheel arches, which is not very pretty. The Skoda Fabia has the best build quality. It feels substantially engineered and has the doorshut of a more expensive car. The Skoda uses a combination of high seating and wheelbase length to provide sufficient passenger and luggage space for its occupants. The Fabia may be less of an extrovert but there’s no getting away from the spot-on proportions, nicely blackened pillars or the fact that the chrome Skoda grille and other fine details make it look like it belong to a class above.
Mechanically, these cars are pretty similar. While they vary in the detail, all basically use transverse-mounted front engines, five-speed gearboxes and independent front suspensions. Rear suspensions are non-independent with a link present between the rear wheels, and drum brakes standard at the rear. The Vista and Punto are the only ones that don’t offer anti-lock brakes. Also, the Vista, Punto and the Fabia have the less efficient but more feelsome hydraulic power steering. The Punto s clearly the heaviest of the lot and the Fabia and i20 are shod with the widest tyres.
The Grande Punto’s interior has a robust feel that will endure a generous amount of rough use without loosening up enough to squeak or rattle. The cabin is well encapsulated and feels nicely sealed from the world outside. The front seats do slope forward a bit and the steering wheel and pedals jut out excessively, but these are not major issues. However, rear seat legroom is affected if the driver takes the rear seat all the way back. Comfort at the rear otherwise is pretty good. What spoils the ambience is the poor fit and finish of some of the plastics, like the air-con vents, seat shrouds and door locks; Fiat has localised some of these parts and it shows This base 1.2 version also lacks the upmarket central console of the Emotion version.
The Honda Jazz uses space the most intelligently. It feels massive from the inside with ample space for both front and rear seat passengers and the very modern-looking seats are nicely contoured. The seat cushions have just the right amount of stiffness, the rear seats are very comfy and can also be pitched up theatre-style or folded flat into the floor; no car uses its interior space as smartly. The Honda also has a funky, modern-looking asymmetric dash. Large knobs, steering-mounted controls plenty of cubbyholes and 10 cupholders make it as practical as a Swiss army knife. The fit, finish and texture are among the best here and even the high-quality stalks have a nice, rubberised feel. But there’s no parcel tray to keep your luggage away from prying eyes and no seat height adjust either. Why?
Quality levels on the Ritz are similar to those on the Swift, with lots of bits shared like the steering wheel, gear lever, air vents and switches The design of the prominent central console and the colour co-ordinated dash are far superior, so the whole looks better than the sum of the parts. There is a nice shelf above the glovebox, bottleholders in the front doors and the Ritz gets some unique bits – the gear lever mounted into the central console, white speedometer and that cute pod-like revcounter. Climate control is missing though. The front seats have ample room and the high seating position offers good visibility but there’s a bit of a blind spot in the rear C-pillar area. In the rear, the terrific headroom and tall seats give the feeling of more space than there is. The seats are comfortable and under-thigh support is good but legroom is just about adequate if there is no six-footer in front.
The Hyundai i20 has much more space in the rear, thanks to its larger footprint and wheelbase. It’s possible to seat one six-footer behind the other, something the Ritz and Punto can’t manage in comfort, and the cabin feels especially wide. Though the design of the dash is quite ordinary the car is loaded with electric folding mirrors and two airbags. We found the plastic quality, especially on the centre console to be quite average. Though the i20’s interiors feel well-screwed together, it lacks that all-important upmarket feel the jazz and Fabia possess. Hyundai’s brown-and-beige theme is also something you either love or hate.
The Vista is more spacious than the i20 when it comes to passenger room and, given its proportions, feels oversized from the inside. The rear seats are exceptional with a broad seat base and lots of legroom. The front seats are generous too and get lumber support. Also, while plastic quality is much improved, there are still some really cheap bits like the door handles, air con dials, central console buttons and power window switches. Tata still needs to improve. Though some of the cars have more space than the Fabia, none of the others can match the pure comfort of the Skoda’s seats which feel as comfy as a massage chair.
Thigh, shoulder and back support are spot-on, with tee only slight blemish being a slightly vertical back rest at the rear. The interiors are also very robust and the quality of plastics would not be out of place on a Rs 10-lakh car. The Fabia has a long feature list but vitals like climate control is missing. Also, the air-con doesn’t work brilliantly in summer.
In terms of boot space, the Jazz wins hands down. It’s the biggest, has the flattest floor and a low lip for loading. The Fabia and i20 have similar –sized boots and can swallow the extra bag that neither the Vista nor the Ritz’s tiny boots can take. The punto has decent-sized boot too but the boot is high which makes it difficult to load.
The larger the car, the heavier it is and the more power and torque you need to move it – there’s no arguing with the laws of physics. Most of these cars start with a disadvantage as they have small-capacity motors pushing large comparatively heavy cars. Cars that get the power-to-weight and torque-to-weight ratio right will stand at a distinct advantage.
The Punto’s basic two valves per cylinder, single-cam 67bhp motor has the lowest power-to-weight, and torque-to-weight and torque-to-weight ratio here. The heavy Fiat keeps up with the others till 60kph; it’s only around a second slower to this speed but after that the others just blow past. It’s four seconds slower than the Honda to 100 and even the Fabia is approximately a couple of seconds quicker. In real-world driving, the Fiat’s short gearing and peak torque that comes in at a low 2500rpm help give this car some legs. It keeps up with its competitors as far as in-gear acceleration is concerned and the smooth motor is pleasant at low engine speeds. The midrange is weak though and while power delivery improves towards the redline, the motor feels strained.
The Honda’s 1.2 feels anything but and just loves to rev. 89bhp from 1.2 litres is seriously impressive in its own right, and Honda has also included a low engine speed valve-closing mechanism. One inlet valve is closed below 2100rpm, which results in an increase in airflow speed for greater responsiveness. So a dab on the throttle at low speed gets the Jazz moving smartly, vary important in traffic. The midrange isn’t very strong and when you floor the throttle at low revs, the Jazz takes awhile to get into its stride. Get into the power band and once the i-VTEC system flips to ‘power mode’, it’s difficult to believe this is merely a 1.2-litre engine. The Jazz is easily the quickest car of this lot.
Suzuki’s twin-cam 16-valve motor is no slouch either and also begs to be wound hard. In fact, it’s very close to the Honda in refinement. Smooth and punchy, Suzuki’s amazing K-series engine is reason enough to buy the Ritz. In a drag it can keep the Honda honest till 120kph. The bottom end of the rev band is a bit weak and you have to work the gearbox in traffic keep the engine on the boil. However that’s the only weak link in an engine that is otherwise simply outstanding.
Hyundai’s Kappa motor is a DOHC unit too, and it’s a strong performer in the i10. But it’s pushing a heavier car here and it struggles a bit. Its responsive bottom end makes getting away from rest relatively effortless and the i20 likes beings driven on a light throttle. It can’t match the Ritz’s motor for sheer refinement and doesn’t have the same rev happy nature. The kappa engine labours towards the top end of the rev band and by 5500rpm begin to sound strained.
The Vista uses the same basic Fiat motor as the Punto, but in a slightly different state of tune. The rated power is lower but Tata has used taller gearing. This helps more than you can imagine and the lighter Vista is actually faster than the Punto. The bottom end is not as strong but the midrange is better and that makes it quite decent to punt along. If you’re in a hurry, you need to pile on the revs to get this two-valve per head motor to perform. Like the Punto, performance is more acceptable than strong.
The Fabia uses the only three-cylinder motor here, It’s not as smooth as the rest especially at idle, and just after take-off there is some hesitation and vibration too. But once this motor gets into its stride at 2000rpm, its immediate torque delivery from those larger pistons gives it a generous slug in performance.
The Fabia emerged as the fastest car in our 20-80 third gear slog and astrong midrange makes the Fabia quite nice to drive when you get up to speed. Its’ more than acceptable in the city and once on the highway, where you use spend more time in the midrange, it runs without too much effort.
The Fabia also has the best gearbox here. All you need to do to select the right gear is nudge the gear lever in the right direction and the gear almost selects itself. The Honda is almost as nice, even lighter and just as precise. The Punto’s box is accurate but has a long throw; the Vista and Ritz need a bit more effort. The i20’s gearbox is sloppy and baulks at times.
The Punto’s ride and handling is in a different league. The weighty steering bristles with feel and feedback, the car steers with uncanny accuracy and stability at any speed is brilliant. At any speed is brilliant. It’s ironic that the car, which is the slowest of this bunch, has the best chassis and body control. There’s hardly any roll and at the limit the Punto gently understeers, the limiting factor being the weedy 165/80 R14 tyres which run out of grip quite easily. Ride quality on the 80-profile tyres though is beyond reproach and it’s often hard to judge how bad the road is!
The steering, clutch and gearshift on the Jazz are extremely light, which makes it perfect for the city commute, and the good all-round visibility adds to its urban-friendly character. The electric steering has that typically listless feel and gets a bit too light at highway speeds to inspire confidence. Straight lien stability is nowhere as good as the Punto or even the Fabia and you drop your pace to something that’s more comfortable. The ride quality isn’t bad and the Jazz does a good job of tackling patchy roads. However, the suspension has a harsh edge and sharper intrusions like potholes and ruts crash through.
The Ritz has a softened suspension that works brilliantly at low speeds and cossets you from all the bumps as you crawl through traffic. The suspension is quiet and the pliant ride makes it a comfortable car for long treks across town. The elevated driving position gives you a good view of the road ahead, the steering is accurate and easy on the muscles though it’s not quite as light as the Jazz. But the soft suspension, tall height and short suspension, tall height and short wheelbase mean stability is compromised a tad at high speeds. The car wanders more than a bit in crosswinds and roll when cornered hard.Like the Jazz, the Ritz feels most at home in the city, the environment it is best suited for.
The i20 is a pretyy good city car too. The light steering calls for little effort and keeps you relaxed. The ride is decent for most of the part but on patchy and rough roads, the suspension feels unsettled with sharp vertical movements and big potholes thud through into the cabin. The car pitches a bit as well and the brakes felt a bit grabby. Straight-line stability is pretty good and the big Hyundai hatch feels nice and planted on the highway. The Vista’s ride quality is impressive and though it’s not in the league of the Grande Punto or Fabia it does the job well. The car coasts over Indian roads with aplomb and it’s only over larger bumps that the suspension become slightly clunky and audible. The light steering is good for city use but there’s a vagueness around the straight-ahead position and a general lack of feel, which detracts from any driving pleasure. For sure, this isn’t a car with sporting pretensions but one for just a regular office commute.
The Fabia’s blend of a light steering and supple ride work brilliantly in the city. There’ only a slight hint of firmness at low speed and that’s down more to the 60-profile tyres. The best bit is that the Fabia raises its game for the highway. The steering, which weights up nicely with speed, inspires a lot of confidence. The well-sorted suspension and grippy tyres make the Skoda feel rock-solid on the highway.
Of this lot, the Ritz stopped in the shortest distance but that’s only part of the story. The pedal feel isn’t great and the ABS often cuts in disconcertingly early. The i20 has the same problem. Panic stops don’t faze the Honda and pedal feel is slightly better. The Fiat is the one with the most reassuring pedal feel and bite but it doesn’t have ABS and this car is specced with narrow tyres which increase braking distance. The Fabia brakes are very reassuring and the most fade-resistant. The Vista didn’t impress that much in the braking department and required too much pedal effort. ABS is missing too.
The Jazz is easily the most fuel efficient car here with its well-spaced gearing and efficient, lo-friction i-VTEC motor. The Honda gave an incredible 12.3kpl in the city and 16.9kpl on the highway. The Ritz doesn’t too badly with a city figure of 11.8kpl. If it were not for the lack of grunt low in the rev range, the Ritz would have reqired less frequent gearchanges and could have done better. The i20 is pretty efficient and the advantage of the brand-new kappa engine is obvious in the area. The Vista is slightly down the ladder followed by the Fabia while the Grande Punto, penalized by its weight, brings up the rear.
Fiat Punto
Honda Jazz
Maruti Ritz
Hyundia i20
Tata Indica Vista
Skoda Fabia
Economy cars are meant to be cheap and efficient. The Indica Vista fulfills both these important criteria. For your money you get a large. Comfortant hatch that makes for a decent city runaround. The Vista may not be as accomplished as some of the cars here, or as sophisticated. The quality of the interior trim is not upto the mark and the brakes could be better too. However at Rs 4.5 lakh (on-road, Mumbai), this is almost a bargain.
The Punto even more so. If ever a car looked like a million bucks, this is it. And for ride comfort and handling, the Grande Punto has everyone beaten. But questionable interior quality, a cabin that’s not as spacious as expected ad a lackluster motor prevent the Fiat from achieving its maximum potential.
The i20 seems to have everything – the right size, a comfy cabin and every feature in the book. But look closer and cracks appear. The ride is a bit unsettled, the handling not very engaging and the engine doesn’t have the fizz to match the Ritz or Jazz’s motors.
The Fabia is the car that inaugurated this segment. It put the then disparate words ‘luxury’ and ‘hatchback’ together in the same sentence. And the Skoda continues to impress. Ride and handling are top-class and the build quality of the cabin is simply the best. What lets the Fabia down is the three-cylinder motor that’s rough around the edges, Skoda service that is far from where it should be, and the car is expensive at Rs. 6.7 lakh. The Honda is undoubtedly the best car here. It excels in key areas like space and fuel efficiency and doesn’t do badly in others. It is perfectly suited to city commutes with a lovely motor, light controls, flexible packaging and good quality. That the Jazz also takes the hatchback game forward there is no question. But at upwards of Rs 8 lakh, it is way too expensive. And still Honda shortchanges you – you don’t get essentials such as alloys, seat height adjusters or even a parcel tray.
The Ritz is one of the smaller cars in this group and doesn’t have the same amount of space as its rivals. The boot is tiny and the cabin isn’t as spacious as the others. However, the Ritz is the most user-friendly of the lots The high seating position, cheerful cabin with lots of storage area and a cosseting ride are a big plus when driving in town. But what makes the Ritz leapfrog over the competition is its fabulous engine which we rate second only to the Honda and way better than the others. And let’s not forget the price which, at Rs 5.6 lakh, is superb value. The Ritz simply ticks the maximum number of boxes to emerge a clear winner.

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