February 2022 | 996 words | 4-minute read
The practicality and novelty of the SUV body style has been the reason for its popularity over the last five years. Car makers have attempted to ride this wave by launching models across size and price categories, including the sub-four-metre segment. But many in this segment are really only hatchbacks under the skin.
Tata Motors’ new Punch fills a gap in the company’s passenger vehicle portfolio and brings more choice to car buyers in the volume segment. Can it deliver a true-blue SUV ownership experience unlike many of the competitors?
One of the toughest challenges in the world of cars is keeping the vehicle’s external footprint compact, while maximising cabin space. The Punch manages that well. Tata engineers haven’t attempted maxing out the sub-four-metre length; so, at just 3,827mm long, this is a fairly compact SUV.
Its wheelbase is similar to some hatches in the market, but its taller profile delivers both the stance of an SUV and the cabin space (headroom) expected of one. With a ground clearance of 190mm, good approach and departure angles, and a water-wading depth of 370mm, it is reassuring to know that it can take on some level of off-road terrain. Tata Motors had also laid out an off-road experience where the Punch could be put through its paces; and its performance was impressive.
The Punch has been built on the same ALFA architecture platform as the Altroz and bears several signatures of the Impact 2.0 design language. In fact, it probably gets its SUV design flavour and road presence from the design similarities it shares with other Tata models like the Harrier and Safari. The split headlamps, the humanity line connecting the headlamps and grille, and the layered tailgate design act as connecting links.
From the side, despite its compact footprint, the Punch has SUV traits with its high sprung and upright stance. The waistline remains unbroken on the rear doors because the door handle has been moved to the C-pillar. The rear design gives it a muscular look with the sharp angles and layering reminiscent of the Tiago and Altroz. The tri-arrow design has been smartly included in the LED light configuration for the tail lamps. Overall, the fit and finish is good, and the execution of design elements is excellent.
Getting into the Punch is when one might find it hatch-like. That perception is more due to the shoulder room and breadth of the dashboard fascia than any specifically identifiable feature. Of course, considering its overall dimensions, the cabin’s limitations become clearer. Some of the features and cabin parts are shared with the Altroz like the steering wheel, auto climate control, analogue-cum-digital instrument cluster and infotainment system. The dashboard layout and design is vertical but layered.
My test mule was the top variant, with features like body-coloured accents for the rectangular aircon vents and a dual-tone, granite black and glacier grey dashboard theme. The textured plastic panels of the dash fit flush, imparting it a premiumness. The leatherette-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob add to that impression.
Getting in and out of the Punch should be easy not only because of its higher seat positions but also because of its 90-degree opening doors, a feature inherited from the Altroz. Cabin space is surprisingly good; Tata Motors claims that the hip and shoulder room at the rear are class-leading, the seats are comfortable and sport fabric upholstery with the tri-arrow pattern. The boot offers nearly 366 litres of storage space (319 litres with the parcel tray in use).
The Punch gets comfort and convenience features — auto headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, auto-fold door mirrors — but misses a few like sunroof and wireless charging. I would have also liked a larger infotainment screen, though, in terms of functionality, this one works fine. The company’s own iRA-connected car tech platform is optional.
Tata Motors’ smart marketing strategy should help it achieve two objectives: pricing power and personalised appeal. The three customisation packs of Rhythm, Dazzle, and iRA; and the four variants — Pure, Adventure, Accomplished and Creative — will help customers both personalise and load additional features to the Punch.
The Punch gets one petrol engine and two gearbox options (a manual and an AMT). The 1.2-litre Revotron petrol engine delivers 86PS of power and 113Nm of torque. The engine continues to be naturally aspirated, but changes to the intake tuning and gear ratios enable it to feel more refined and deliver a more linear acceleration. Refinement level is not like some of the competitors’ turbocharged, direct injected 3-pots, but it helps that the Punch is not a heavy car with a kerb weight at just about 1,000kg.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is easy to use with its short throw configuration. The 5-speed AMT gearbox variant seemed hamstrung by a slightly indecisive shifting character; yet it will work for Punch’s segment positioning, given the rising preference for auto transmissions.
The two drive modes are City and Eco. The AMT also gets a ‘Traction Pro’ mode that uses some of the electronic safety systems to detect wheel-slippage in one of the front wheels, to direct traction to the other wheel. This simplistic solution may come in handy in challenging weather conditions.
The powertrain feels substantial at city speeds where throttle inputs are measured, but it does run out of breath in the high rev-range. The Punch takes a huge leap in the ride quality and handling department. The suspension soaks up bad roads with gusto, with a perceived sense of solidity even on potholed roads.
The Punch brings a significant jump in safety for a vehicle in this segment. The safety kit includes dual airbags, ABS (anti-lock braking system) with EBD (electronic break distribution), fog lamps with cornering function and even a brake sway control function to keep the vehicle steady during hard braking. With the highest adult occupant rating from Global NCAP — no mean achievement for any vehicle in India — Punch is the safest car on Indian roads today.
The author, Muralidhar Swaminathan, is consultant motoring editor, The Hindu Business Line.