|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
The thing is: you have to look beyond the looks to appreciate it. Even if it’s decked in a not-so-subtle Spice Red, the Tata Manza Aura is a messy collection of angles, angles, and more angles. Cars of late use a lot of creased sheet metal, so what went wrong with the Manza? Well, it’s all in the proportions. Every single angle you look at it from dead-straight to three-quarters, there always something wrong. The front-end is too stubbed and low while the rear is just too long and high. And the lamps just don’t communicate well with the surrounding bright work. It’s as if the design is just used to cover the drivetrain, the chassis, and the four wheels without a care for aesthetics. Yet, you cannot deny that the Manza feels sturdy from tip to stern. The metal itself is of a thick gauge and even the paintwork is lusciously deep. It even sports 15-inch Bridgestone rollers. These are the things some luxury cars are made of, and I kid you not, the Manza in that respect, feels expensive.
Inside, the Manza Aura is equal parts retro, equal parts utilitarian. The dashboard, side trims, and even the seats all look hard wearing and feel like they’ll last a million years. Like the exterior, the interior’s fit and finish is consistent with nice, crisp controls. And despite the layout, everything is easily reachable and, for the most part, easy to operate with a simple reach and touch. The centrally-mounted gauges are very reminiscent of the Vios/Yaris, and like those found in the Toyota, tend to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing. Personally, I find no offense since the tachometer and speedometer are large and legible enough. However, as you travel at speeds above 60 km/h, the speedometer’s needle will block the clock/trip meter/odometer display. I do find offense in the audio system though with its small screen with even smaller graphics. It gives a wealth of personalization functions including Bluetooth hands-free and even customizing the Bass decibel by-pass, but you’ll have to navigate through layers of sub-menus to get to them. It doesn’t help either that the controller’s a four-way pad no bigger than a Nintendo game pad. It’s definitely not something you want to do at speed.
With a footprint measuring in at 4,413 millimeters in length and a wheelbase at 2,520 millimeters, the Manza is quite an average-sized vehicle for its class. But dimensions only tell a part of the story since it’s actually pretty roomy whether you’re in the front or back. The seats offer exceptional support, especially for those seated at the back with cushions that actually extend almost near the knee. That’s something you can’t find in a Japanese or Korean sub-compact. Ingress and egress is quite easy with doors that open wide sufficiently. The oddball shape contributes to a surprisingly large trunk. It’s deep and wide, but numerous protrusions do limit the overall flexibility. A nice surprise is that it uses heavy-duty spring mechanisms to hold the lid open; like something ripped straight out of a Mercedes-Benz.
Undeniably, the best part of the Manza isn’t the space, it’s the driving. Getting into the driver’s seat, it’s easy to adjust everything to my liking. The seat itself offers six-way manual adjustment with lumbar support, a treat for those with sensitive backs. It’s also worth noting that the front passenger seat gets adjustable lumbar support as well. Besides the seats, the Manza offers tilt-adjustable steering equating to a good, comfortable driving position. And as previously mentioned, the dials are easy to understand. If there’s one thing I just don’t get with the Manza though, it’s the mirrors. I don’t get why you get lit vanity mirrors when you have to adjust the side mirrors using 80’s style rods. And yet, the rest of the car offers the complete power package.
With a subtitle ‘Aura’, as opposed to ‘Safire’, means this Manza sports a 1.3-liter Quadrajet 90 diesel engine. It’s a Fiat-based motor that pulls out 90 horsepower and 200 Nm of torque from its modest displacement. As you’ve come to expect from a diesel motor, it pulls eagerly even from a standstill thanks to its flat torque curve (1,750 to 3,000 rpm). It also reaches triple digit speeds in no time and with little effort. The engine is as clattery as diesels get, but there’s little doubt to its high level of refinement. The 5-speed manual has a close ratio and engages positively with an ultra-light clutch. The ratios make the Manza Aura feel more like a gasoline-engined car. Starting from second gear (something you can typically do in a diesel), can’t be done here and 100 km/h is reached with the tachometer reading almost 3,000 rpm in top gear. This certainly punishes highway cruising mileage, but it also means it gets stellar fuel economy in the city. In a purely urban environment, it reaches 15.93 km/L without a sweat. However, it’s pretty sure the Manza Aura will have a hard time breaking the 20 km/L on the highway unless you give it an extra tall sixth gear (the motor can certainly take it).
Handling-wise, the Manza Aura is a mixed bag. On straightaways, it’s surprisingly stable with light and effortless steering. The high speed ride is equally good. However, as the roads become patchy, the suspension absorbs ruts quite abruptly causing certain shimmies and shudders to infiltrate the cabin. In bends or switchbacks, it exhibits copious amounts of understeer. Again, the car feels largely stable overall, but there are certain circumstances where you feel more road feedback would have been welcome. It’s worth noting though that this peculiar suspension set-up gives up driver feedback for a crossover-like ground clearance: 165 millimeters of it! As such, it has zero difficulty tackling on- and off-ramps and steep parking garages. The brakes bite well, but pedal feel could be improved.
Overall, the Tata Manza feels like a surprisingly dynamic small sedan that’s more than just the sum of its looks (or origins). That said, the P 738,000 price tag is prohibitive for first-time car buyers or for those who’re looking for something rather different. It would have been an easier pill to swallow if it was kitted well. As it stands, the similarly priced Hyundai Accent CRDi easily beats it in everything. Still, at least it’s worth noting that Tata’s doing something right with the Manza Aura. Suddenly those curry jokes don’t sound so funny anymore.
2014 Tata Manza Aura
|Ownership||2014 Tata Manza Aura Quadrajet Diesel|
|Body Type||4-door sedan|
|Engine / Drive||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Aspiration||Turbocharged, Common Rail|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||Inline-4|
|BHP @ rpm||90 @ 4,000|
|Nm @ rpm||200 @ 1,750-3,000|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Diesel|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,210|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut|
|Rear Suspension||Twist Beam Axle|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Wheels||Steel with Cover|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||No|
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt|
|Steering Wheel Material||Urethane|
|Folding Rear Seat||No|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|No. of Speakers||4|
|Steering Wheel Controls||Yes|