Bringing back basic

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TATA VISTA

TATA VISTA

HATCHBACKS are great fun. It does not matter if one comes with a snooty or a plebian badge, lavished with premium kit or stripped of any, polished or shoddy, it will be zippy and stylish and practical and get you all giddy when you drive it.

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The Tata Vista hatchback is an exception.

The car, along with stable-mates Manza sedan, Xenon pickup and some mini trucks intended for commercial use, spearheads Tata Motors’ official entry into the Philippines. (True, there were a couple or so Tata models sold locally in the mid to late ’90s but the brand’s operation, it turns out, was not sanctioned by the Mumbai office—where Tata is headquartered.) The Vista and the other Tatas landed on local showrooms in April, with the diesel-burning version of the car, called Vista Ignis, following in July.

The Vista is powered—all right, it is moved—by a four-cylinder, 1.4-liter, 74hp, 113Nm gasoline engine that bolts to a five-speed manual transmission. Sourced from Fiat, the engine is as tepid as its output figures suggest. It also has a hole in its torque curve the size of India, meaning there’s very little oomph (well, there’s very little oomph to begin with) from idle speed up to around 2,500rpm. So when you’re crawling in traffic you need to floor the gas pedal in order for the revs to rise—which eventually do—and let you plug gaps that routinely pop up between the Vista and the car in front.

That said, the engine is surprisingly smooth-revving and quiet, even at higher speeds, that it’s difficult to tell if it’s hitting the redline. It does not help that the car’s rev counter is the meter placed farthest from the driver; it’s the rightmost one on the instrument cluster. Which sits on the center of the dashboard.

As a car built in India, and for India, the Vista rides tall and cushy, its suspension designed to take on really bad roads. It wafts over ruts and broken pavement. It floats above wrinkled asphalt. It softens craggy concrete, filtering out noise, vibration and harshness from entering the cabin—like it’s intended to do so.

Did I say “intended?” Yes. At Tata’s vast manufacturing complex in Pune, India, during a trip that preceded the brand’s official foray in the Philippines, the carmaker showed us its facilities for weeding out NVH from a car. Tata even has a huge acoustic-research hall there.

In the Vista, all the suspension lab work paid off. In fact, Tata did such a good job at isolating the car from the road that the Vista’s steering wheel does not feel like it’s actually connected to the front wheels at all. Speaking of which, wheels are 14-inch steel ones, and are grabbed by a disc/drum brake combo.

Like in virtually all Tatas, including the diminutive Nano, the Vista has a roomy cabin and can fit five people comfortably enough. Head- and legroom is good, even in the back. And if that sounds hokey, especially considering the car’s subcompact cut, realize that most Indians are tall. Trunk space is not bad either.

There is nothing fancy with the Vista’s interior kit, mostly basic stuff like a 1DIN tuner/CD/MP3 with aux connector, and polar-grade air-conditioning. Only the front windows roll down electrically. Need to adjust the side mirrors? Each has a lever.

Exterior features don’t get much fancier, the car lavished with plastic black trim. The Vista isn’t bad-looking, with a shape that recalls many European hatchbacks. Its rounded, sloping rear end, as are its taillights, are particularly appealing.

It’s not a bad effort, the Vista. But coming from India it’s disadvantaged by costlier freight costs and duties. So priced at P565,000 it ventures into the territory of such blue-chip hatchback bets like the Mitsubishi Mirage and Toyota Wigo—both of which are zippy and practical.

The Vista is practical.

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