Tata Harrier First Drive Review: Better than the Mahindra XUV500 & Jeep Compass?

Tata Harrier. This has to be the most awaited SUV of 2018 by all means. First showcased at the Auto Expo earlier this year in February in the form of the H5X concept, its almost unbelievable that Tata Motors has managed to pull off proper pre-production units so quickly for automotive journalists to lay their hands on.

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We drove one for two days around Jodhpur in Rajasthan to see if this one has been worth the wait. And of course, all your questions regarding the Harrier are right here in this review. Read on…

Does it really look stunning? 

Yes. I had been drooling over images shared by Tata Motors a few days before we were scheduled to get our hands on the Harrier and yet when I saw it in flesh at the porch of Hotel Taj Hari Mahal in Jodhpur, my jaws dropped in disbelief. It is that good. SUVs are supposed to be big, muscular and intimidating and the Harrier does that and more. It looks beautiful and sexy for a SUV and it goes without saying, this one enjoys enough street cred to rub shoulders with larger SUVs like the Fortuner and the Endeavour.

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We are all a big fan of the slim and stretched front DRLs that also work as indicators. They look great while doing so and are so bright, can be seen from a kilometre away on a dimly lit day as we found out while leaving Khimsar yesterday morning at sunrise. And then the massive bumper that houses the actual headlamps – functional and aesthetic. The wheel arches are flared and look massive – the reason why even these 17-inch alloy wheels are unable to fill them well. Talking of which, why not have smoked blacked or machined alloys here in the top spec trim Tata Motors?

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While the roof line doesn’t slope in much towards the rear, the shoulder line rises well into the D pillar. There are no roof rails here but the D pillar is interesting with fusion of the body color, black inserts and chrome treatment. The rear continues to make this one hell of a looker with the horizontal black insert, LED tail lights and a substantial spoiler. Look closely and you also notice the twin exhausts outlets which are crafted really well at either ends of the bumper. Nice work there.

Do the interiors match up?

The doors open wide which allows for good ingress and once seated, you can’t help but appreciate the work that has gone in. Im glad there is no beige or cream color treatment in here but darker shades that go well with premium-ness. The faux wooden inserts run across the length of the central fascia while the silver finish under it looks and feel stunning. Ditto for the massive door handles and even the quality of leather used for the seats of the top spec version.

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Another highlight is the massive 8.8 inch touchscreen interface that is not only the largest in the segment, but also belts out the best audio quality. Again, for reference, even cars that cost double the price do not offer such a set-up. This 9 speaker JBL unit comes with its own amplifier and subwoofer and with enough bass heavy songs in my playlist, we had a blast on the open roads of Rajasthan. Music, pure music. The interface also provides a host of information including ‘Drive Pro’ that scores on various parameters and shows information like seat belt usage, gear that is used the most, top speed, economy et al and even the number of times you accelerated or braked hard. We are guilty drivers will improve their habits with this.

The second screen is in the speedometer console. While the speed display is analogue, the tacho and other vital information is shows in a LCD. You can even configure the system to show navigation parameters here. Operating this is a breeze and every single parameter is shown to the driver. The steering itself is similar to most other Tata cars and feels nice to hold.

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The central console has the buttons for driving modes, fog lamps and air-con functions. Below it is a clever space for your wallet or mobile – however, this place also has hidden outlets for USB and Aux-in. Difficult to operate and take time getting used to. And then there is the rotary knob for the terrain response system – we will come to this later on. Moving on, the Harrier gets an aircraft style hand brake lever and has two cup holders behind it. The front arm-rest does not get a slide function but has a cooled compartment that surprisingly not very large and hence not useful for proper large cans or a bottle. Duh!

The front seats are massive and comfortable. There is ample under thigh support and ditto for the bolstering. Infact, I was dropped back to the airport in an Innova Crysta and the front seats of the Toyota definitely felt inferior.

Getting into the back is easy and once seated, passenger space is definitely far more than the Creta and the Compass. You also sit higher and hence have a better view of the outside world. Like the front ones, the rear doors to open very wide and this is a good thing for the elderly or little ones at home. The central transmission hump is intrusive which means the rear bench is best for 2+1. That said, no dearth of headroom or shoulder space here. The rear part of the front armrest has a nifty place to keep your mobile phone(s) while on charge. Talking of which, the Harrier surprisingly has just one, yes ONE 12V charging outlet. The USB outlet up front though supports fast charging.

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As much as I like the 2nd row of the Harrier, its a surprise that it does not get a proper air-con unit. The vents are placed in the pillar, like the XUV and air throw isn’t very impressive. Given the huge cabin size, rear occupants might have a tough time in peak summers. Also, the 2nd row cannot be reclined back for added comfort. It makes up for this by offering excellent comfort – the seat base is long and though they feel a tad firm initially, for prolonged non-stop drives, the foam density is excellent.

At 425 litres, the Harrier’s boot is smaller than that of the Creta’s. But that said, there is more than ample space to keep in luggage for five for a few days’ adventure trip into the unknown. The spare wheel in our test car wasn’t a full size 17″ inch but an inch lower at 16. The version you see is the top spec XZ that comes with a lot of kit. That said, there are key features missing – from a sunroof and wireless charging to powered driver’s seat and even ambient lightning. One more grouse that I have with the Harrier is fit and finish at places – pull the hand brake lever and it exposes cheap rubbery mat with poorly cut gaps for the lever to come outwards. Ditto for sharp unfinished edges around the horn pad on the steering wheel.

SUVs are supposed to be powerful. Right? 

While 140 PS of power and 350 Nm of torque are definitely not in the league of cars like the XUV500 or the Compass, it is far more than that of the Hyundai Creta. Not many know that this 2.0 diesel unit is the same one that powers the Jeep Compass but is in a lower state of tune. And it works well in real world conditions. I purposely drove it under 1500rpm in the first four gears inside the city of Jodhpur was blown away with the tractable nature of the motor. No protest, no engine drone, no judders – it picks up speeds cleanly, even with four on board and air-con running.

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Out on open roads once speeds rise, the engine continues to belt out enough juice to satisfy the quickest of overtaking tricks. And it pulls hard in the process, registering speeds in excess of 160 km/h with ease. At the same, cruising at 2000rpm is a breeze with the car doing over 100 km/h and delivering an easy 16-18 kmpl in the process. The engine comes mated to a 6 speed manual gearbox and an automatic will follow, but not before March-May in our opinion. The 6 speed gearbox has short lower ratios for better initial pick up and city runs – for example, the 2nd is good for just 80km/h flat out. The gearshifts, though nice, have a slight rough edge to them, thus taking away the pleasures of using a manual ‘box.

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The Harrier comes with driving modes, similar to the one we seen on other Tata models but more than that, this gets Terrain Response modes, even for this FWD (2WD) set-up. We did try the ‘Rough’ mode while tackling uneven un-hill sections towards a windmill farm near Jodhpur and were taken aback by the capabilities of the Harrier. I could sense the ESP sending in power only to the wheel that had traction – as a result, we could climb up the sandy and tricky path to the spectacular location for the photo-op. I am assuming the Wet mode will likewise come handy for snowy excursions up North in these winters.

What about ride and handing then? 

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The Harrier is based on the D8 platform that is used by Land Rover, a company that is owned by Tata Motors. Ofcourse this platform has been modified to suit the Harrier and to meet Indian road conditions but even then, drive the Harrier off the road or over broken roads at speeds and you realise how good this monocoque set up really is. Yes, like the XUV, the Harrier too gets a monocoque set-up to benefit weight reduction and better handling / safety. Our night drive on the first day towards Khimsar was through narrow state roads that had no tarmac layer whatsoever and given the isolated stretches, we did push the Harrier and drove on at 60-80 on such stretches – it remain composed and ate up undulations well. Still not in the league of the Hexa but far better than the Creta and the Compass. The front suspension is a carry over from the D8 platform which means the Harrier gets Discovery Sport’s independent front suspension. The rear is new and has been tuned by UK based Lotus Engineering – so you do get best of both the worlds. For example on the smooth four lane from Khimsar to Jodhpur, at over 100 km/h and thereabouts, the Harrier felt rock stable. It does feel comfortable and even plush to an extent, something we have been with the Hexa and Safari.

Slow speed ride however is a bad of mixed beans. Sharp undulations, cement joints and other imperfections are surely felt easily and if you are the lone person on board, be ready for some judders. Its not bad per se, but can be felt easily. The steering is a bit heavy at parking speeds but weights up nicely. We didnt have any hilly or curvy roads to see how the Harrier behaved when thrown into a corner but changing lanes at triple digit speeds didnt upset the dynamics much. Again, knowing you have a dozen aids backing you up in the advanced ESP does help a lot.

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One issue I have with the Harrier is the design of the lower fascia – it interferes with the left knee of the driver. Even if I, at 6 feet, sit in the co-driver’s seat, the same issue happens with the right knee. This is irritating and is a big safety issue incase of an accident. Likewise, though the large external mirror gives you a great view of whats happening at the back, it creates a big blind spot in traffic. The ORVM is at your eye level and you have to move around to see slow moving two-wheelers during rush hour commutes. A big big issue during daily drives IMO.

The best Tata yet? 

We said this for the last three Tata cars we drove – the Tiago, Tigor and the Nexon. The Harrier is no different and pushes the envelope further. It looks absolutely bonkers, like a baby Range Rover, has spacious and well laid interiors, the engine is a blast for highway usage and yet usable for city runs and finally the comfort levels – Tata Motors has really worked hard here. However, the Rs 12-16 lakh SUV market is very very competitive. Hyundai sells over 11000 copies of the Creta each month, the new updated XUV has improved massively and the Compass is a brilliant American product at Indian prices. This is where Tata has to price the Harrier at a point where the customer has no choice but to walk into their showrooms.

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I would buy the Harrier for the looks alone – watching one in my rear view mirror on the drive was exciting enough. But I will hold my judgement till the prices are out next month. If the base XE can start under Rs 11.5 – 12 lakh ex-showroom, the Harrier will fire enough crackers in the segment. Else, salesmen at Tata showrooms will have a tough time convincing customers.

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