Is the Harrier a missed opportunity for Tata?
Comes with a sunroof now. But would you pick it over the MG Hector?
I was quite excited about the launch of the Tata Harrier last year. It came with stunning looks, a considerable list of features and a decent price tag. However, the five-seater SUV wasn't flying off Tata's shelves. Part of the reason being no automatic gearbox option with the diesel engine and no sunroof.
Now, the Indian carmaker claims to have addressed those shortcomings as it launched a BS6 compliant Harrier with an automatic gearbox and a sunroof, earlier this year. Were these mid-life additions enough to have the Harrier sales surging? And more importantly, would you still want a Harrier? That's exactly what I wanted to find out.
Styled to get stared at
The car I received was the top-end XZA+ trim spec, and it looked stunning in the flesh. For the first time in a Tata, I received multiple stares instead of unconcerned or disinterested reactions from the passersby. That striking front fascia with those super slim DRLs is where Tata really nailed it, and the newly introduced Calypso Red with the dual-tone black roof has to be the best-looking combination on this five-seater SUV.
Another aspect which I liked about the Harrier was its transparency. What you see on the outside is what you get inside. The Harrier certainly comes off as a big and brawny for the bystander. However, this further entails the passengers enjoy a vast cabin, capable of housing all five commuters as if on a picnic.
Space can be found in abundance inside the cabin. Complaints about legroom or shoulder-room at the rear bench shouldn't be heard, even with three adults on a long drive. That massive panoramic sunroof provides the impression of further airiness in the cabin. And it is only when you open the boot do you realise the availability of almost acres of space. 425 in litres though. And yet it feels big enough to host a children's birthday party. The powered tailgate was missed here, a feature seen on its direct rival - the MG Hector.
The ability to soak up bumps
Then comes the ride. I was left mightily impressed by the Harrier's ability to glide over potholes. The SUV remained stable over broken patches of the road while it soaked up speed bumps with ease as well. The same goes for the road's uneven undulations, which got ironed out by the Harrier's dampers, without breaking a sweat. A comfortable car to be driven in.
Where the Harrier starts sweating is enthusiastic driving. It's not that the Harrier isn't capable of being wrung by its neck otherwise why would it get equipped with a Sports Mode and the corresponding six-speed automatic gearbox setup (sourced from Hyundai) which holds on to gears until you near the engine's rpm redline. However, it is the relatively noisy manner in which this power is delivered is what hints towards the Harrier being better suited as a cruiser.
Slot it in Eco or the standard City Mode, have a light right foot, and you would be amazed by how comfortable the Tata Harrier is. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Kyrotec diesel engine now puts out 170hp (up from 140hp) and 350Nm of torques while being capable of effortlessly pummelling the Harrier to three-digit speeds without making a racket, except in Sports mode. Racking up speeds of up to 120kmph is a child's play, and the car feels planted without putting out any unnerving sensations.
The gearshifts in drive modes apart from Sport are seamless and smooth. Overtakes need not be planned as the six-speed auto transmission swiftly provides you with the required gear, albeit with an insignificant pause. This shouldn't be a point of concern as the six-speed gearbox does its overall job quite well. However, if rapid shifts is on your priority list, then you could be better off with the MG Hector and its dual-clutch transmission (DCT).
Another aspect which I liked was the ease of the steering. For a car as mammoth as this, I expected to have ripped arms by the end of my drive. However, the steering was fairly light at city speeds, had several locks for turns and manoeuvrability around city traffic and weighed up well on pushing it on highways. Although the wheel itself didn't feel the most premium unit to hold with too many similar-panelled steering-mounted controls placed beside each other, it put out decent reactions to my inputs. Further, there isn't much feel being communicated from the road back to the steering wheel, but then again, the Harrier isn't an enthusiastic choice.
The channel seeking toggle button oddly splits the volume buttons. Not the best ergonomics
The Hits and Misses
I believe the interior fit and finish is a key element which decides whether the car is worth its listed price and I found the cabin quality in this Tata to be not great, but satisfactory. For instance, the dashboard sees a variety of soft-touch materials, but the door panels still utilised hard plastics. The seats were well-made, but the seat-belt buckle was oddly positioned, making seat-belt fastening a bothersome task. The 8.8-inch infotainment had a vibrant display, but the touch response was a bit laggy. And the ports for aux and USB connectivity were positioned at an awkward angle. Ergonomics then not the strong suit of this Harrier.
However, Tata did deploy multiple features to make up for the cluttered ergonomics. For example, the Harrier gets a nine-speaker setup by JBL capable of pleasing anyone except mad bass lovers. The 7-inch TFT screen on the instrument cluster is undoubtedly one of the best bits in the Harrier. The same can be said about the speed at which the auto AC cools the spacious cabin, even without the presence of a rear AC vent. I wanted to mention the various off-road centric terrain response modes, but I'll come to that later.
Tilted towards the expensive side
The pricing is where things start to slide downhill for this SUV. The Tata Harrier starts at INR 13.84 lakhs (manual, ex-showroom) and INR 16.64 (automatic, ex-showroom) while stretching up to over INR 20 lakhs (ex-showroom) for the top-spec trim. Now, the Indian customers do have a knack for brand snobbery. Additionally, we also want the best value-for-money product possible.
So, the brand snobs wouldn't be happiest with a Tata badge and could look towards the Jeep Compass instead. The people chasing the best value for money aspect would be getting a better deal with the Kia Seltos as its built well and comes brimmed to the gills with premium features. Which leaves its sole direct competitor - the MG Hector.
The Hector is certainly the more tech-savvy of the two. It even comes with a larger infotainment screen, faster DCT gearbox, a powered tailgate and significantly more connected car features than what the Harrier offers. Even though the Harrier introduced a panoramic sunroof along with an automatic gearbox to counter the Hector, the latter just beats the former with its extensive list of features. And that is where Tata made a mistake.
Verdict: what the Harrier could've been
Instead of throwing in more creature comfort features and trying to convert Hector customers into their own, Tata should've taken the opposite route - make the Harrier a premium off-road SUV. The Indian carmaker already boasts of its off-roading pedigree by utilising Land Rover's D8 architecture in the Harrier (also used in the Discovery Sport) and equipping the SUV with various terrain response modes for Wet and Rough Roads. But will those gimmicks be able to make a significant difference without a four-wheel-drive setup?
Wouldn't it be better if the Harrier came with four-wheel-drive, off-road-centric terrain-response modes and then marketed its SUV as a proper off-roading specialist? Sure, one would say the recently released Mahindra Thar would've been its Achilles heel but doesn't a spacious and comfortable SUV with Land Rover underpinnings and four-wheel-drive enjoyed a niche of its own in that price point?
To sum up then, the Tata Harrier appears to me as a missed opportunity. It tried to be a spacious and comfortable SUV, which it is from each and every angle but failed to rack up the comprehensive features list which its competition so proudly boasts. So, it rounds up to be a good-looking family SUV, capable of hauling people comfortably in the city as well as between cities. The plus-sized boot can take care of the weekend getaway luggage while the spacious cabin renders it as a good road-trip car. Only if certain off-roading prowess could have been equipped to complement the immensely capable underpinnings, the Harrier could've been in a league of its own.
Massive thanks to Yash Bhoopal and Arpit Chowdhary for helping me out. Thank you Anuj Chowdhary and T C Motors Kolkata for lending me the car. You can check out their website and Instagram pages as given below.