Tata Zest AMT Test Drive Review
2014 Tata Zest – Click above for high resolution picture gallery

2014 Tata Zest AMT Review

Car Tested: 2014 Tata Zest AMT Diesel XMA

Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 8.43 lakhs

The Tata Zest diesel with the AMT box is the cheapest diesel automatic car in the country

India loves America, there is little doubt about that. We also tend to copy the Americans when it comes to food or clothes, and even cars. That’s why, we love anything and everything which is big. Our craze is more towards sedans and big fat SUVs, similar to the Americans. Another trend is now emerging, yet again quite the same as in the States, the demand for automatics. In Uncle Sam’s country, almost 90% people drive an automatic but the percentage is the exact opposite in our country. Still, demand for automatics is soaring, only being hindered by the lack of affordable options. The cheapest diesel automatic car was the Hyundai Verna as the Tata Zest now becomes the most affordable diesel automatic car you can buy in India. How does the MultiJet and AMT combo work? We drive the Tata Zest diesel automatic to find out.

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The alloy wheels on the mid variants are different, they have 18 spokes

Exteriors – Tata Motors isn’t offering the diesel AMT Zest in top trim and the mid level XMA variant of our test car had a few things differentiating it. For starters, it doesn’t get daytime running lights next to the foglights and hence the chrome insert is easily visible. The vehicle also doesn’t get 8-spoke alloy wheels, instead it gets 18-spoke alloys which look good too and give the car a different sort of appeal. On the AMT model, you get the F-TRONIC badge on the right side of the boot while everything else remains the same on the outside, the Zest is one smart looking vehicle which looks modern and stylish.

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The AMT isn’t offered in the top-end XT trim but the mid XMA is also loaded

Interiors – The interiors of the AMT equipped Tata Zest are similar to the petrol model, even the instrument cluster doesn’t see any change. However, as the AMT variant isn’t offered in XT trim, it drops a few features. There is no touch-screen infotainment system (this uses a 3.5-inch display) and reverse parking sensors have been omitted too. The ConnectNext system still gets Bluetooth connectivity with 8 speakers, the steering mounted controls and voice commands haven’t been skipped either. Other features which have been removed include driver’s side seat height adjust and rear defogger. The handles on the roof are fixed and aren’t a movable type like the top-end variant, they don’t have hooks either.

Tata Zest AMT GearboxTata Zest Rear Seat Space

The diesel Zest is offered with an AMT gearbox and the lever has a light action; cabin space is generous

The Tata Zest has a well packaged cabin, the dashboard is attractive and the attention to detail is truly worth an applaud. The cabin is roomy with the seats having excellent cushioning for all passengers. Generous equipment, coupled with good quality really make the interiors of the Zest an excellent place to be in. The audio system offers a range of connectivity options and sound quality is phenomenal. The only gripe being the lack of storage bins and a rear seat centre arm rest. The boot isn’t the largest in the segment but the minor tradeoff in trunk capacity is more than made up for by excellent rear seat.

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Tata engineers have re-tuned the 1.3-litre Fiat sourced diesel engine for the Zest

Performance – The diesel powered Tata Zest uses the same 1.3-litre Quadrajet engine which is sourced from Fiat. It outputs 90 PS at 4000 RPM and 200 Nm between 1750-3000 RPM. This motor is coupled to a 5-speed gearbox, with both manual and AMT options being offered. The AMT unit makes the Zest the cheapest diesel automatic car in the country, the technology is sourced from Fiat owned Magneti Marelli. An Automated Manual Transmission is basically a gearbox which is nothing but a regular manual transmission with an electronic control unit and a hydraulic system which supervise the use of clutch and gear shifting. It uses hydraulic actuators to shift gears. The biggest advantage of an AMT gearbox is that it’s much cheaper than a traditional torque converter AT. It also makes the car return similar mileage figures as a manual box.

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Producing 90 PS and 200 Nm, the diesel Zest offers linear performance with no lag

Tata Motors has re-tuned the diesel engine to improve overall performance and that is quite apparent when you get going. Firstly, there is almost no turbo lag and power delivery is linear with no kick in the pants feel. The low and mid-range of this motor is strong while power tapers off sharply at the top-end, drivability is excellent and so is the refinement. You do hear the motor but the insulation of the cabin is good and the oil burner is vocal on the inside when you go heavy on the gas pedal. Since this is an AMT, if you are in drive mode on a slope, the car does move but when you turn off the ignition, the transmission locks the vehicle in gear and prevents the vehicle from moving, even on a slope. There are three modes on offer with the AMT – Normal (City in Tata Motors speak), Sport and Manual (tiptronic with a gearshift indicator), each mode having a very different gear shift pattern. 0-100 km/hr comes up in 15.31 seconds.

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The AMT gearbox offers smooth shifts on part throttle but gets jerky at times

The City mode is the best as you drive sedately and can barely notice the gears changing, the cog swapping is smooth but happens under 3000 RPM. You can double tap the accelerator pedal if you want a downshift and the AMT box obliges, pulling till 3900 RPM in each gear. This is where you notice the Achilles’ heel of the AMT unit. The jerkiness of the transmission is very apparent and there is a pause before an upshift happens. When you are aggressive with the throttle, you run into the redline abruptly and it sort of feels like you have hit a wall, there is quite a pause. In Sport mode, the engine revs till 4200 RPM while in manual mode (Sport mode doesn’t work in manual), it pulls till 4500 RPM. If you don’t upshift in manual mode, it does upshift on its own. The diesel engine has a lot of pep and offers good performance but with the AMT box, it’s best to drive with part throttle as it feels the best that way. Fuel economy is very good, the vehicle should return upwards of 16 km/l.

Tata Zest AMT Review
The diesel model is heavier and is thus more stiffly set-up, it handles better

Driving Dynamics – The diesel Tata Zest is slightly heavier than the petrol model and to take care of the extra weight, the suspension is more stiffly sprung. The diesel model handles better than the petrol, although both cars have some body roll and understeer kicks in quickly when you corner really hard. The steering isn’t light at low speeds but weighs up well at high speeds, it’s the centre ahead position where it feels lifeless and a bit disconnected. The Active Return feature works well and makes it a boon when taking u-turns.

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Ride quality is excellent and so are the brakes and stability of this compact sedan

The ride quality on the Tata Zest is excellent and the diesel model fares very well here too. There is that maturity in the way the suspension goes about doing its job, absorbing everything in its sight without notifying occupants about the irregularities of our roads. The car remains stable at speed and although it has good brakes, the front-heavy diesel tends to nose dive a bit when you stomp the brake pedal hard. Still, the overall balance between ride and handling is excellent and the Zest is a car which will please most buyers with its neutral balance.

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The Zest with an AMT box is bound to attract more buyers to the Tata brand

Verdict – When Maruti Suzuki launched the Celerio with an AMT gearbox, it completely changed the game as the vehicle became the most affordable automatic in the country. Now more and more people are opting for automatics, still the shift in demand is slow as there is no affordable diesel automatic car in India. However, the Tata Zest aims to change that. The AMT box brings affordability while also offering the convenience of an automatic. Factor in the diesel engine which offers slick performance and the well engineered package of this sub 4-metre car and instantly the AMT equipped diesel Tata Zest becomes a very practical alternative for those who want the best of both worlds.

The AMT gearbox on the diesel Tata Zest is sure to win many customers as it brings the convenience of an automatic without costing as much as a traditional AT. The diesel engine offers fantastic performance and is very frugal too.

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The diesel Zest feels faster than the petrol Zest but both are strong on drivability

What’s Cool

* Diesel engine performance
* Automatic gearbox convenience

What’s Not So Cool

* AMT gearbox feels jerky at times

Further Reading:

Tata Zest Revotron Review
Tata Zest vs Maruti DZire
Tata Zest vs Honda Amaze vs Maruti DZire vs Hyundai Xcent
Tata Zest vs Ford Figo Aspire vs Hyundai Xcent vs Honda Amaze