Tata Punch: Mini-SUV with max potential

by Mayank Dhingra 09 Oct 2021


Tata Motors is looking extremely confident with its new sub-compact crossover – the Punch – unveiled on October 4, and slated for launch on October 20.

The crossover is being positioned as an entry-level SUV, to rival products such as premium hatchbacks, compact sedans, as well as tall-boy hatchbacks, at a competitive price tag to sway buyers towards its compelling SUV cues, which include a high 187mm unladen ground clearance, high seating for a commanding view of the road, and tall stance for easy ingress and egress.

Tata Motors believes this is exactly what buyers in the Indian passenger vehicle (PV) segment have been looking for in an affordable package, and it has “identified this white space”, where there has been a “long-standing product vacuum in the market”.

The company is betting big on this sub-compact model that would grow its UV market share from the existing 6 percent (April-August 2021) to 10 percent by end of FY2022. “It should help us do better numbers overall,” said Anand Kulkarni, VP, Product Line Head, ALFA architecture and passenger EVs, Tata Motors.

Head of marketing, passenger cars at Tata Motors, Vivek Srivatsa conceded and said, “It is going to be one of our top-selling models.”

The Punch is based on the company’s Agile Light Flexible Advanced (ALFA) architecture that also underpins the Altroz, which has already proven its mettle by surpassing 100,000-unit sales mark within 20 months of launch in January last year.

Tata’s claims of offering a commanding driving position are instantly recognisable with the Punch offering a great view from the height-adjustable driver’s seat, including visibility of the bonnet’s edge, which amplifies that SUV driving feel.

Punchy design
It’s designed on company’s Impact 2.0 design philosophy, and strikes an immediate connect with the onlookers, especially with the gloss-black grille that is flanked by sleek LED DRLs on either side. A unique tri-arrow motif on the left half of the grille seamlessly serves as the vent for the horn, but could look awkward when one goes close and finally realises the positioning of the horn behind.

The headlamps sit flush in the bumper and offer a halogen-projector setup in the higher trims, along with halogen fog lamps placed lower down. The air dam at the bottom also gets the tri-arrow signature motifs to be in sync with the design theme. The face has a resemblance to the bigger Harrier and Safari models, courtesy the split headlamp design.

The side profile is marked by stylish 16-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, riding on 195-section tyres, housed inside flared wheel arches that add to the muscle. The doors are concave and there is a strong shoulder line running across the side and the integration of the rear door handle into the C-pillar is an attempt to flaunt the well countered sheet metal on this SUV.

There are flush-fitting roof rails too and the rear gets wraparound tail lamps with Y-shaped LED elements inside. The Punch moniker sits in the centre of the lower half of the boot, which also gets a heavily-chiseled look. The rear bumper doesn’t protrude out much and is completely black to seamlessly merge with the chunky body cladding running all around to complete the rugged look.

On the inside, Tata Motors has played around a fair bit with the material textures, design and colours. The dashboard gets a layered design with a floating 7-inch touchscreen mounted at the centre while the rectangular AC vents get brush aluminium surrounds, and are placed above an ivory insert that runs across the length of the dashboard to break the all-black monotony of the cabin. The centre console gets the automatic climate control switches, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel gets leather wrapping on the higher trims. There is a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster available on the higher variants as well.

The door pads get ample space for storage and is finished in a dual-tone black-and-ivory tone too. There is plenty of headroom, legroom and shoulder room inside this wide cabin, which aids to the overall feeling of spaciousness and airiness inside the Punch, which is elevated by the six-speaker Harman audio setup that offers good tones for a pleasing aural experience.

Reworked powertrain
While Tata Motors has plonked the same 86hp, 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, naturally-aspirated, petrol engine into the Punch from the Altroz, it has made some changes, for instance, to the air-flow circulation to improve low-end response.

The company has christened this engine in the Punch as the Revotron with ‘Dynapro’ technology and the tweaks include a top-mounted air filter with its plumbing routed from behind the grille, to force a ram of cold air into the engine in the shortest possible path.

While this also ensures that there is a minimal drop in pressure of the gush of air, the fueling strategy has also enabled the company to offer good low-end torque.The result is apparent while driving this crossover, as the Punch offers adequate response between 1,800 to 3,500rpm, with the in-city drivability also aided by the short gear ratios complemented by the extremely light clutch.

“SUVs have to bear abundant abuse of the clutch, and therefore, it has to be a very thermally stable component. We have made appropriate changes to the clutch as well,” said Anand Kulkarni.

The Punch is being offered in a combination of 5-speed manual and aMagneti-Marelli-sourced 5-speed AMT drivetrain option, and gets Eco and City driving modes in both variants. There is a perceptible change in the engine’s performance when toggling between the two modes, wherein the Eco mode restricts the engine’s revolutions beyond 2,500rpm to help fuel efficiency.

It also gets an intelligent smart alternator and IBS sensor on the battery which continuously monitors its state-of-charge to accordingly deploy the engine start-stop system to lower the car’s fuel consumption by turning it off at idle.

The Magneti-Marelli-sourced AMT unit gets a unique ‘TractionPro’ mode to help navigate low-traction situations like mild slush, by locking one of the front wheels and powering the crossover out by sending the entire power to the other wheel.

Driving impression
The Punch accomplishes what it intends to do by offering reasonable amount of power in the lower band of the rpm – 1,800-3,500rpm – to make day-to-day city driving a convenient affair. While performance isn’t brisk, it could do with a slightly better mid-range punch as well.Tata Motors says the platform is also ready for a turbo-petrol unit from the Altroz, but the consideration set of customers looking for the higher-powered version would be relatively small.

On the other hand, the gearshifts, while not slick, have well-defined gates that make them slot into position easily. The AMT is very well calibrated too and offers a smooth-shifting experience with light throttle inputs, and head nods becoming prominent only under hard acceleration.

The Punch’s steering wheel is conveniently light at city speeds and weighs up well on highways too, but the feedback from the road feels artificial. The brakes which have a unique anti-sway control active safety feature, also lack the initial bite after pressing the brake pedal.

But Tata Motors has almost aced the suspension setup of the Punch, which gets dampers from Monroe, and there is an underlying maturity to the way it feels at high speeds, as well as over bumps and potholes. The ride quality is pliant, with the crossover rummaging bad patches with aplomb. Although there is body roll that is evident while changing lanes at high speeds, the Punch attacks corners with confidence and straight-line stability is commendable too.

Aggressive pricing will be the Punch-line 
Tata Motors seems to have gone all out with its latest crossover as the company has not just invested into the model, but also upgraded its assembly line at Pune to improve the production quality and fit-and-finish on the Punch.

There is laser welding on the Punch’s roof and the weld line at the company’s Pune plant gets 90 percent automation. While the ALFA architecture has proven to be safe too with the Altroz getting a Global-NCAP rating of five stars, expect the Punch to perform on similar lines.

However, the big challenge lies in the company’s ability to price this crossover aggressively, and with up to 92 percent gross localisation, there is a fair chance to accomplish that as well. The sheet metal with 40 percent high-tensile steel, underpinnings, suspension, AC and transmission components are all locally sourced, whilewhat is still getting imported are the proximity sensors for the rear parking sensors and the scroll mechanism of the AC’s compressor.

But “the ability to manage costs starts early in the development programme. It’s all about making the right choices and not starting from scratch for every component”, as per Kulkarni.

“The Punch cannot be a niche product. It has to be a mass-adopted vehicle and help Tata Motors achieve volumes. There also has to be an optimal mix of profitability (built into the product) as well as volumes for every product,” Kulkarni signed off on an optimistic note, leaving all answers to the pricing of this crossover, which could come as a disruptor to also challenge the likes of the Nissan Magnite, Renault Kiger and Maruti Suzuki Ignis.

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