January 2024 | 836 words | 2-minute read
With CNG cars, you get the benefit of lower running costs and lower emissions compared to regular petrol and diesel cars, but there has always been some compromises, like boot space and drivability, that has discouraged potential buyers. Until now that is — enter the Tata Altroz iCNG.
Space and safety
The Altroz iCNG’s USP is that you don’t have to sacrifice boot space entirely. Tata Motors has used an innovative twin-cylinder setup for the CNG tanks that are placed under the boot floor, which liberates a decent 210L of space. And you don’t miss out on a spare wheel as that is mounted underneath the car and can be released by loosening a bolt inside the boot.
Safety is also a cause for concern in CNG cars. So, the Altroz gets a fire extinguisher and a system that automatically switches to petrol if a leak is detected. In case of a fire, the system will cut off CNG supply and will release the gas into the atmosphere. The Altroz’s CNG tanks also sit in a cradle, which prevent them from entering the passenger compartment in case of a crash. But one thing you will still have to contend with is the CNG infrastructure in our country, or the lack thereof, and the long queues for fill-ups.
Engine and performance
Powering the iCNG is a 1.2L, three-cylinder engine that puts out 73.5hp and 103Nm in CNG mode, and 88hp and 115Nm in petrol mode. The Altroz can be fired up directly in CNG mode, which saves petrol.
As for performance, there is a noticeable difference between the two modes, but it’s not as large as you would expect. For starters, the engine doesn’t feel strained when running on CNG, which means you’ll be happy to let it run in that mode most of the time. But performance was never this engine’s strong suit. It builds speed in a laidback manner and there isn’t much to extract at the top end even if you rev it out. It’s not very refined either, as you do hear a lot of the engine inside the cabin. The clutch, however, is light and easy to modulate, but the 5-speed gearbox takes some effort to slot in.
To compensate for the extra weight (150-200kg), Tata Motors has stiffened the rear suspension by ~15%. It does feel stiffer, especially at lower speeds, but it’s never uncomfortable. It continues to feel comfy and composed over bumps and that feeling only increases as you pick up pace. The Altroz was also one of the nicest handling hatches around, and that’s still the case. If only the engine had the performance to match this chassis’ superb dynamics.
There’s not much to discuss in terms of design as almost nothing has changed, barring the iCNG badge on the boot. But nothing needed to change as the Altroz remains one of the most stylish hatches in the market.
Inside, the biggest change is the new 4-inch LCD digital instrument cluster, which features two fuel indicators — for petrol and CNG. It does look out of place on a premium hatch though. Other changes are a CNG button on the right-hand side of the steering and the omission of the drive mode button. Space inside the cabin also remains a strong point.
Another thing that prospective buyers will appreciate is the variety. The iCNG is available in six trims — the base XE to the top-spec XZ+O (S). This gives buyers the liberty to choose a trim that best suits their needs without compromising on features.
Speaking of which, the XZ+O (S) model we tested was equipped with a sunroof (a first for a CNG hatch in India, which can also be operated via voice commands), leatherette upholstery, 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, connected car tech, a wireless charger, dual airbags, corner stability control and more. However, more features like drive modes, cruise control, the digi-analogue cluster from the regular Altroz, LED headlights, Tata Motors’ new 10.25-inch touchscreen, more airbags and ESC would have been nice in this premium hatch, but are perhaps being saved for a later update.
In conclusion, the Altroz iCNG does a good job of making a CNG car feel premium and not something that’s just reserved for taxis and commercial vehicles. Sure, the top-spec variant is pricey (it costs more than the highest-spec Altroz diesel), but it gives you the option of having a fully-loaded CNG car, which wasn’t the case earlier. If you are one of those who thinks CNG cars will never have the practicality or premiumness of a petrol or diesel car, the Altroz iCNG will make you think again.
The Tata Altroz iCNG XE is priced at ₹7,55,400 (ex-showroom).
Soham Thakur is a senior correspondent at Autocar India. He has five years of experience reviewing and testing cars for the publication in print, online and video formats.