With everyone wanting a crossover, even small cars are looking like SUVs these days. People love the styling, the image, the perched-up seating position, the better visibility and are willing to pay a premium for all this. So it’s only logical for car manufacturers to give people what they want and Tata Motors has delivered exactly that with the new Punch.
It has a good presence and looks the part with Harrier-inspired styling bits at the front. The 16-inch wheels are suitably large and good-looking. The side profile has a tipped forward stance with a bigger front overhang than the rear, much like a Rhino. At 3827m length and 1742mm width, is only about the size of a Swift but generous 1615mm height puts it along with sub 4m SUVs. Tata emphasizes that it has 190mm ground clearance, a 370mm water wading capability along good approach and departure angles.
Based on the Altroz platform, the Punch has 90-degree opening doors which along with the raised seats make getting in and out an easy affair. The visibility out of the front seats is something everyone will appreciate. The minimalist dashboard has nice textures, feels modern, and is well put together. The rear seat is also generous with good headroom and knee room, but the lack of width makes the Punch a four-seater at best. It gets a lot of features like rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, electric folding mirrors, climate control, fog lamps with cornering function, etc. The boot is big at 319litres.
Under the hood is a 1.2L, 3 cyl naturally aspirated engine from the Tiago, putting out 86bhp and 113Nm. It has reworked intake and shorter first and second gears for better drivability. Refinement isn’t great and within the few hundred meters you realize that it lacks…erm..Punch too. 0-100kmph comes up in a leisurely 17.1 seconds while something like the Ignis is nearly 5 seconds quicker. Overtaking someone needs to be planned and takes a bit of getting used to on highways. The engine is okay for sedate driving in town. The manual gearbox is not as smooth as we’d have liked, but the clutch is light and easy. The AMT is even slower taking 19.6 seconds to do 0-100kmph but it is quite drivable with smooth shifts and decent creep.
The Punch redeems itself when it comes to riding and handling. It smothers potholes and bad roads like a much bigger car. Drive it over a bad section of road at speed and it exudes a sense of indestructibility and displays great straight-line stability. The steering is great and well-weighted, the Punch turns in and grips well, the chassis feels taut – all leaving you wanting for more power. Tata has also given the Punch some traction mode where it brakes the front wheels individually to mimic a limited-slip diff for better traction out of low grip surfaces.
The Punch is an SUV-shaped alternative to the regular hatchback but it has a lot going for it. It has a good presence, the interiors are nice, the seating position is comfy and it has a great ride and handling balance. The engine is weak, but it is still usable around town. The pricing puts the top-end model dangerously close to turbo petrol variants of the Magnite and Kiger, along with lower/mid-variants of other more accomplished subs 4 meter SUVs.
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