Tata Hexa MT and AT Review: Inbred T-Rex

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Added in: Reviews

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Will it (the Hexa) be the best Tata (vehicle) yet? I mused as I crammed my bag with more clothes than necessary before flying down to Hyderabad to drive it. I mean, there are at least a couple of reasons for it to be the best. Firstly, it does look like its designers know a thing or two about designing cars. While Aria’s parents struggled to find him a match, Hexa’s a born lady-killer. Straight away, Tata Motors can triumphantly claim that their Hexa is the best looking in its segment, and nobody’d bat an eyelid. Secondly, the Hexa is the first pan where some of the honey from the fruitful ownership of Jaguar Land Rover has been accumulated. Yes, the Hexa does get some Land Rover influences. Right then, time to find out a few more reasons.

What is it?

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A luxurious, go anywhere vehicle, as Tata Motors would like you to believe, the Hexa’s been around since 2014. Yes, it is built upon the Aria, but gets the same chassis hydroformed and stiffened. Then, it does alarmingly well to shed the ill-fated people mover’s staid image. Now, let me clear the air about it being a SUV or a crossover. As I found out later, it has the capabilities of a true-blue SUV, combined with the space, comfort and practicality of a MPV. So it’s all of both. Which is mighty impressive.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Design

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I’ve already waxed eloquent about how good the Hexa looks, but I’m going to do it again anyway.

Here though, I’ll tell you how it looks in person.

Astonishing. Impactful. As Pratap Bose, the Hexa’s design boss wanted it to be.

The Hexa looks confident. Purposeful. And big.

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At 4,788 mm long, 1,903 mm wide, 1,791 mm tall and sitting on wheelbase of 2,850 mm, the Hexa is longer than both the XUV500 and the Innova Crysta, while also being wider than them both. It’s taller than the Mahindra as well, but just a shade shorter than the popular Toyota.

Dimensions

Tata HexaMahindra XUV500Toyota Innova Crysta
Length4788 mm4585 mm4735 mm
Width1903 mm1890 mm1830 mm
Height1791 mm1785 mm1795 mm
Wheelbase2850 mm2700 mm

2750 mm

The details also look lovely in person. Consider the Aria like that high-school girl who had a crush on you, but it didn’t work out because she was the homely, girl-next-door kinds who didn’t titillate your youthful vigour. The Hexa is her smoking hot, grown up, vamp of a counterpart whom you most definitely regret not going out with, and if you’re particularly useless these days, you stalk her online all day. Worse, she’s over you.

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Back to the Hexa’s details, they’re what’s going to make the Aria’s re-design win beauty pageants. The smoked headlamps add mascara to the Aria’s eyes, while the new grille with a firm, brushed silver finished jawline reaffirms the successful plastic surgery. The bumper-work is particularly tasty as well, with a massive, trapezoidal intake that looks like it’d eat its rivals whole, or whatever passes through that giant honeycomb mesh patterned grille insert. The intake’s flanked by housings that host the Hexa’s jewels – both the LED DRLs and the fog lamps. The new, sculpted, clamshell bonnet is also nicely done.

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The sides are where the Aria’s influence is visible the most, because the bodywork is similar in places. Still, they have been re-treated well, with lower body cladding that plateau out over the chunky arches, and a chromed beading that underlines the window line. The latter also gets a small, pointy kink just after the C-pillar to break the monotony. However, the highlight of the Hexa’s sides must be the good-looking wheels. Measuring 19 inches in size, the rims feature interplay of chrome and piano black finishes surfaces on each of the five spokes, adding glint to the Hexa’s footwear both when rolling or at a standstill.

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At the back, the Aria’s “Christmas Tree” lamps have been given the boot, with the Hexa getting conventionally styled, horizontally aligned, full-LED tail lamps. The new tail gate has a thick chrome strip running across it, bridging the tail lamps. The crisply styled rear bumper comprises of new reflectors and fog lamps, along with a brushed aluminium skid plate that hosts dual, chrome tipped exhaust finishers, one at each end.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Interiors

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If you’ve ever been inside an Aria and scorned at the austerity, you’re in for a surprise the minute you step inside the Hexa. It’s a cut, scratch that, two cuts above the Aria’s interiors. Inside, the Hexa exudes this distinct, upmarket charm that can be felt in the materials, the 50 Shades of Black colour palette, the multi-coloured mood lighting, and the way things have been put or sewn together. The new dashboard is all about straight lines, with rectangular vents and full sized, soft touch plastic inserts that mimic leather.

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A lot of thought has gone into designing the Hexa’s cabin. There are as many as 29 utility spaces, except for the fact that the floor console wouldn’t hold a decently sized smartphone, the third row occupants get dedicated AC vents, while the door trims have been finished with soft touch materials so that your elbows don’t get abraded, especially during a strong bout of off-roading.

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A note of appreciation for the build quality. Honestly, with the Tiago, I was convinced that Tata Motors had outdone themselves as far as build quality goes. But the Hexa takes it a couple of notches higher. Before we take a seat, let’s go about the layout of the interiors. The Hexa can be had with either six or seven seats. The six seater version will get you two, individual Captain seats in the second row, while the seven seater version comes with a bench seat (with a 60:40 split) in the second row. As for the third row, the Hexa gets a couple of full sized seats with a 50:50 split.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Space and comfort

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The commanding driving position isn’t as commanding as the Safari’s, but you do feel like an authoritative figure on the road. Then there are the seats. Designed using Land Rover’s seating cues and made from variable density foam, they are perforated leather (with white contrast stitching) upholstered works of art. The comfort that they provide is unmatched, with terrific under thigh support, fantastic bolstering and great lumbar support. In case you opt for the six seater version, that kind of comfort extends to the second row as well, where you’re further spoiled by as many as four AC vents – two on each of the B-pillars, and two on the floor console. Tata Motors insist that the Hexa will be chauffer driven as well, so they left no stone unturned to provide full comfort to the boss.

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The seven seater version gets you a bench seat for the second row, which gets an integrated, drop down, central arm rest. Its comfort can’t match the Captain seats, but is still commendable, apart from of course, the lack of under thigh support. The easily accessible third row is surprisingly spacious, as Tata Motors claim that the Hexa was designed to be a true six seater, thus the name. There is no dearth of leg or knee room in the third row (comparatively), even for a six-footer, which is an appreciable feat. While there’s no under thigh support whatsoever, you don’t have to sit with your knees touching your chin. Third row occupants even get their dedicated AC vents on the C-pillars, apart from a couple of glass holders and 12V power outlets each. As for headroom, it is never a problem inside the Hexa, be it any row. And if you’re unusually tall, you wouldn’t mind grazing your head against the beautifully finished, off-while headliner.

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None of the seats are electronically adjustable, which is a pity. The driver’s seat is 8-way adjustable though. Boot space of the Hexa with all the seats up is rated at a measly 128 litres. However, with the third row completely folded flat, the Hexa releases 671 litres of boot space.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Infotainment

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In the centre console of the Hexa lies the familiar 5-inch touch screen that’s the window to the ConnectNext infotainment system designed in association with Harman. It bundles audio playback via FM/AM, USB, iPod, Aux, SD card, along with voice recognition, Bluetooth telephony & audio streaming, navigation, on-screen SMS display, SMS readout and rear view camera display. It can even be controlled by the ConnectNext App suite, which includes the NaviMaps app for navigation with offline maps, the Juke-Car app for music streaming from up to ten smartphones, a Tata Smart Manual app that features the car’s manual in AV mode, and the Tata Smart Remote app which, amongst other things, lets you control the car’s mood lighting via your smartphone. How cool is that?

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But the highlight of the infotainment system is the 10-speaker JBL sound system with 4 door speakers, 4 tweeters, a centre speaker, a power amplifier and a sub-woofer. Sound quality is rich and deep, flooding the voluminous cabin with a quality of sound that its rivals can’t match. Tata Motors say that more than 1,000 hours were spent to custom tune the music system on the Hexa. This was to be expected, considering the Bolt, Zest and Tiago have the best-in-class sound systems.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Safety and features

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The Hexa will come loaded with a gamut of comfort and convenience features like automatic headlamps, rain sensing wipers with 7 modes, automatic climate control, sun blinds for the second row, cruise control, follow-me-home approach lamps, electronically adjustable and foldable ORVMs, USB charging points in the second and third row, along with a rear view camera.

As for safety, the Hexa’s comprehensive safety suite includes as many as six airbags, ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), traction control, ABS with EBD, Hill Hold Control (HHC) and Hill Descent Control (HDC).

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The door trims get the square-with-rounded-edges design theme of the interiors..

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..while the front door pockets can actually hold up to THREE 1-litre water bottles.

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The rear door pockets, however, accommodate only one.

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The door locks are old school, but we’re not complaining

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Exposed wiring behind one of the stalks is one of rare loose edges that its makers have left on the Hexa.

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The familiar Tata steering wheel gets leather wrapped in this application.

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Shards of piano black finished trim inserts and lashings of chrome lurk around the cabin.

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The 10-speaker JBL sound system. Hear it to believe it.

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That’s soft touch plastic made to look like leather. Feels amazing.

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Second row occupants get spoiled with a couple of AC vents, a 12V power outlet, an USB port and a couple of hidden cup holders, all crammed in the floor console.

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But wait, they also get these B-pillar mounted AC vents. After all, being chauffeur driven has its perks.

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Automatic variants do not get the ‘Super Drive Modes’.

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The instrument cluster gets a couple of angularly sliced chrome pods, with a MID in their midst.

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The MID is a 3.5-inch TFT screen that delivers all the relevant information; however the numerals on the dials could’ve been a wee bit bigger, and thus more legible.

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Hexa branding on the centre console, along with 12V, iPod and Aux-in ports.

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The Hexa gets automatic headlamps.

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The parking sensor on/off and central locking button sit among a row of blanks. In the MT variant, one of these buttons control the HDC.

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The cubby hole atop the dashboard is more storing knick-knacks..

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..while the large glovebox below hides the valuable stuff.

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Rear view camera with virtual guides is a nice touch.

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The knobs and buttons (these are the HVAC controls) feel tactile to use in general.

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Dead pedal for the AT variants is ideally placed.

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Steering is adjustable.

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Access to the third row is via tumbling the second row seats down; is a pretty straightforward process without much fuss.

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Third row space isn’t a crunch at all (person in image is a six-footer and 2nd row is pushed all the way back).

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Even third row occupants get their dedicated AC vents in the C-pillars…

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..apart from a couple of cup holders on each side as well.

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Central compartment under the central arm rest between the front seats reveal a lot of space.

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The roof-liner looks and feels decidedly premium.

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The Hexa also gets sun blinds for the second row occupants.

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Mood lighting comes in eight colours, and can be even changed with your smartphone.

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The sunglass holder positioning above the driver’s window is a nifty trick.

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An array of sensors atop the dashboard control the rain sensing wipers, automatic headlamps etc

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Engine and performance

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Under the Hexa’s clamshell hood lies the 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder, diesel sipping mill output 154 BHP @ 4,000 rpm, and as the name suggests, 400 Nm of torque @ 1,750 – 2,500 rpm. The cylinder block, cylinder head, injectors, pistons, main bearings and turbocharger have been upgraded to deliver the additional performance of the 2.2L VARICOR 400. This is in addition to the recent change to the timing belt system (for all VARICOR engines) which enhanced its service life to 150,000 km.

In the Hexa, the engine is mated to either a 6-speed automatic transmission or 6-speed manual transmission. This is the same engine that does duty under the Safari Storme Varicor 400’s hood, and it impressed us there. Right then, how does it drive?

I hopped inside the MT first, and cranked the motor up. Refinement levels are impressive. Very impressive. Yes, you can still sense that the engine is alive by resting your chin on the seats and feel the minute vibrations, or rest your hands on the controls and feel a distant, subdued hum. Engine noise at idle is barely audible inside.

The self-adjusting dry clutch, which made its appearance with the Storme face-lift is decent enough, and is light for the vehicle’s capacity, but its travel is slightly on the longer side. Still it’s easy to find the biting point and lumber off.

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Performance isn’t nippy off the line, but like the Storme with the same heart, the Hexa’s gait is long legged. Torque at hand is plentiful, and the acceleration, if not a kick-in-the-butt, is seamless and linear. The Hexa picks up speeds with the steady ease of an express train, and maintains it. There is some turbo lag below 1700 rpm, but nothing that’d bother drivability, which is excellent. You can happily potter around town in the lower gears without lugging the engine. Because 400 Nm.

Like the Safari Storme, the Hexa’s an excellent cruiser too, and will happily cruise at 110 kph all day, with the tachometer needle sitting lazily at just a shade over 2,000 rpm. The engine is never shy to be revved out though, and can be pushed beyond 4,500 rpm without complaint. In third gear, the Hexa did more than 110 kph without breaking a sweat and without upshifting.

The six-speed manual transmission is developed in-house and codenamed the G6450. It’s just about alright if you ask me, with rubbery, un-slick shifts that most certainly won’t raise those racer instincts. There is also a fair amount of vibrations that creep in through the gear lever.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Super Drive Modes

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The Hexa debuts with the much hyped ‘Super Drive Modes’, which are broken down into four modes – Auto, Dynamic, Comfort and Rough Road. Loosely, this can be attributed as one of the learnings from Land Rover.

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Auto is the default mode, wherein the car learns the terrain you’re traversing across, and adapts accordingly by deploying its wares. For example, on a nice and smooth highway, the 4×4 system will be put to sleep, and ESP will be a bit regressive. As soon as you hit a trail with no trace of asphalt, the 4×4 system will be deployed (which can be distinctly heard as it crunches into operation and felt as well as the steering considerably weighs up), while the ESP will become more aggressive. In Auto mode, power and torque outputs are maximum.

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Dynamic if for the aggressive driver in you. Like Auto mode, power and torque outputs are maximum, but the throttle response perceptibly increases and steering weighs up a bit more than usual. The 4×4 system is turned off, and the ESP cuts in late to enjoy those curves with a wee bit of tail happy spirit. But still, it isn’t the most fun amongst all the modes.

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That must be the Rough Road mode, which is only to be used when the going gets, you guessed it, rough. Switching to Rough Road mode, a few great things happen. Predictably, the 4×4 system gets busy, while the Torque on Demand feature also makes itself available for the first time. The latter senses which wheel is slipping and is in distress, thereby limiting the torque being sent to it and accordingly transferring it elsewhere, where it is needed more. It works in conjunction with the ESP, which becomes the most aggressive in this mode, and the two limited slip differentials. Even the braking performance is tuned to an off-road setting, causing wheel lock ups in a controlled manner.

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And in case you’re wondering, all of this works like a dream. The Hexa smashes its way through slush, ruts, rocks and sand with a kind of capability that’d easily rival the Safari Storme 4×4, and in areas even over rule it. Its off-road prowess is further aided by the 208 mm ground clearance, the superb, 235/55 MRF Wanderer all-terrain tires, stiffer anti-roll bars than the Aria, and Hill Descent Control along with Hill Hold Assist. The Hexa will comfortably wade through 450 mm of standing water, and negotiate slopes up to 25-degrees. And I still haven’t mentioned the suspension’s stupendous bump soaking abilities.

The 4×4 system is a Borg Warner unit. By directing 25 to 40 per cent of the torque to the front wheel in Rough Road mode, the system can negotiate all kinds of terrain including slush, gravel and slopes. However, it doesn’t have low range.

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The Comfort mode is for the time when you want to relax after a day’s hard driving and off-roading, while also saving some fuel while at it. Power noticeably tapers off, and its solely meant for cruising with the cruise control on and enjoy the scenery.

AT

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The AT variant is the surprise here, with its effortless driving characteristics that the transmission delivers. However, it is not available with the 4×4 system and the ‘Super Drive Modes’, but gets Sport, Economy and Manual modes instead. In the product presentation, Mr. Girish Wagh mentioned that there’s a fair amount of mechanical wizardry that goes into this transmission, but I can’t recollect most of it after attacking few large ones of Black Dog later that night. But boy, does the AT work.

Oh, and he did mention that this AT is already employed in certain “luxury vehicles” worldwide. That explains the behaviour. It totally changes the language of the engine. While in MT guise, the mill feels a bit lumpy and rustic in its power delivery like a hill-billy after a bottle of Scotch, it exhibits a Swiss banker’s proficiency with the AT strapped to it. Almost as smooth talking as a luxury car’s drive, and most certainly smoother than its to-be rivals.

The AT is smooth as silk, with precise and quick shifts (relatively; we’re not talking PDKs here) milking the torque filled power band. The engine feels more at home here, unless you’re going hardcore off-road, revelling in all its torque, while the AT puts home the cogs with deft precision. There’s even a Manual mode, but there aren’t paddle shifts available.

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Then there’s the Race Car Performance function which is the icing on the cake. It’s only available in Sport mode, when the mood lighting glows red and you’re in a bit of a hurry. It holds on to a gear for a longer period, and by longer, I mean upwards of 4,000 clicks. On a diesel engine. That doesn’t bother the engine, because as mentioned before, it’s never shy when asked to rev out. Essentially, the Race Car performance function always keeps the engine in the meat of its powerband, ensuring maximum punch every time you mash the throttle. What’s more, the shifts get more aggressive, and the downshifts happen like it idolises Porsche. It even automatically blips the throttle upon downshifting. On a diesel engine.

In Sport mode, you can drive the AT variant carelessly fast with gay abandon, and get carried away by the power-train’s sheer untroublesome demeanour. So be careful while throwing the car around as ESP or not, this is ultimately a near 2.3-ton vehicle with six seats. In normal D mode, or Economy mode, the engine and AT are your best allies as you effortlessly make progress with barely perceptible shifts and a strong engine chugging you along, as you sit back and enjoy the 10-speaker JBL music system. It also has a creep function for traffic clogged situations, wherein the vehicle will move at speeds up to 7 kph just by releasing the brake pedal.

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This AT is a gem, and unleashes another side of the potent engine. It dresses the mill, which is 30% agricultural, with crisply pleated suits, and books him an appointment at Truefitt and Hill, one of the best male groomers. Both AT and MT variants serve up distinctly different driving characteristics. While the MT is a bit butch in its delivery because of the nature of the shifts and the slightly gruff action, the AT is a smooth, smooth operator.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Ride and dynamics

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The Hexa rides on a tried and tested suspension setup that include a double wishbone type with coil springs in front, and a 5 link coil spring type at the rear working on that rigid rear axle. Just like the Safari Storme, the Hexa rides like a dream. It simply annihilates the kind of bumps, potholes and undulations typical Indian roads offer. It glides over them with the nonchalance of an air suspension setup, with barely a thud or two filtering inside the well-insulated cabin. It is so good that it makes you wonder if you should stop for a bad patch of road that’s looming ahead, or just thunder over it with grace.

If you’ve ever taken a corner in a Safari Storme at a decent speed, you’ll remember clinging on to the steering wheel for dear life as the vehicle tips to the side like a container ship negotiating wild seas. Not so much with the Hexa. Yes, there’s still a fair amount of body roll around corners, especially tighter ones, but that’s expected from a vehicle that weighs the thick end of two tonnes, carries more people than you have close friends, and doesn’t even have a monocoque structure. However, what surprised me was how confidently the Hexa took long, sweeping corners in its stride. It stayed planted on those kinds of curvatures on the road at speeds of over 100 kph. Of course, the ESP and traction control system with roll-over mitigation are working overtime to keep you from the bushes as you drive hard across a corner, but the Hexa’s dynamics left me impressed too.

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The steering setup is hydraulic, and though not the best in terms of feedback and direct-ness, it is fairly accurate and weighs up nicely with speed. Unlike the Safari Storme’s setup, which’ll leave you with toned arms after a day of driving, the Hexa’s setup has been tuned to be way lighter for ease of manoeuvrability in the city. A 5.7-metre turning radius isn’t that bad too. The brakes are brilliant, with discs all around aided by ABS with EBD, and stop the juggernaut at the drop of a hat. The brake pedal feel is also very progressive and confident inspiring.

2016 Tata Hexa MT and AT Verdict

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The Tata Hexa left a twinkle in our eyes when we first saw it in person. It left us feeling distinct, better, and distant from the world from its plush cabin; even while we comfortably snoozed in the capacious third row while it pounded Indian roads with utter disdain. It left us with our palms rubbing in glee as the instructor took us around the off-road track. It left us with our ears ringing from the stupendous sound quality of the 10-speaker music system. It left us with moments where we kicked off our boots and enjoyed the scenery and the music, as the AT effortlessly glided the Hexa. It left us floored with the build quality and refinement, apart from the slightly agricultural shifts of the MT. It left us..enough..this is the best Tata yet. Period.

Bookings for the Tata Hexa open on 1st November 2016, while the launch will take place in January 2017. Till then, watch this space for the variant and price list.

Check out a mega image gallery of the car below. Click on the thumbnails to expand