Tata Punch: First Drive Review

Defeating cars like the Maruti Swift and Hyundai Grand i10 Nios is not easy. A task attempted by Ford, Mahindra and Chevrolet on many occasions but with little success. To win over these two stalwarts, you need a car with a different approach, one that possesses skill sets that go well beyond what they offer. Tata has tried to do just that by bringing in a mini SUV to knock out the hatchback kings with the Punch. So is the Tata Punch good enough to do just that? Read on to find answers.

Looks

As far as looks are concerned, the Punch looks attractive. Up front it appears imposing thanks to the high bonnet and puffed up panels. The LED daytime running lamps and projector headlamp placement reminds you of the Harrier and Tata designers have also added a tri-arrow pattern on the grille and lower half of the bumper which lends it some flair. In profile it definitely makes a case of it being an SUV thanks to the upright A-pillar and the height, which is more than even its bigger brother, the Nexon. There is no shortage of muscle too, just look at the flared wheel arches! In the top variant you also get a dual-tone paint job and the sharply cut 16-inch alloy wheels complete the look. On the lower variants you have to make do with 15-inch steel rims but in the one below the top Accomplished variant with the help of the option pack you can opt for the same 16-inch alloys along with projector headlamps, LED DRLs and blacked-out A-pillar. The rear design too is muscular and you will find the same tri-arrow pattern on the bumper but the highlight are the tail lamps. In the top variant, you get LED lighting and teardrop shape with the tri-arrow pattern which looks fantastic lit up.

What helps the Punch look even more imposing is the size. Compared to its competition it is wider and taller and is just a bit shorter in length than the Maruti Swift. In fact, heightwise, compared to the Nexon it is taller and slightly smaller on other parameters. Even when you look at its 190mm of ground clearance it’s as if this car is trying to convince you of being an SUV rather than a hatchback.

Interior

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

Compared to the shouty and in-your-face exterior design, the Punch’s interior looks a lot simpler yet modern and classy. Thanks to minimal physical buttons on the centre console the dash design looks clean and the white panel gives it a nice flow and also helps the cabin seem wider than it is. The floating 7-inch display is placed high on the dashboard which makes it easy to use even on the move as it comes just below your eye line.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

Speaking of quality, which traditionally is a weakness of Tata vehicles, it seems to have changed with the Punch. Of course like its rivals the Punch also doesn’t get soft-touch plastics but the textures that Tata has used help it feel properly premium. The white panel on the dash, for example, has a fading tri-arrow pattern that looks unique and even the black insert above has an interesting texture that looks appealing and feels premium to the touch. Even the plastics used lower down on the dash have the same graining as the upper portion of the dash, which helps the quality look consistent across. The touchpoints too like the gear lever, power window buttons and stalks are well finished. The steering wheel is shared with the Altroz and its small diameter and chunky wrapped rim help it feel sporty.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

Thanks to the low dash and window line visibility up front is good except the thick A-pillar does create a bit of a blind spot, especially while crossing junctions. In terms of driving position, like in the Altroz, the steering wheel is positioned slightly to the left from your body, which takes some getting used to. Apart from that, the long range of adjustment for the seat height and steering tilt help in finding your preferred driving position with ease.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

In terms of comfort, the front seats are wide and well-contoured which make them comfortable even for long journeys. The back seat surprises you with the amount of space on offer. You get more than enough knee room, headroom and thanks to the high-mounted front seats you get loads of foot room to stretch and relax. The bench itself is well shaped with ample under-thigh support and the backrest angle is comfortable too. If we had to complain then it would be about the seat cushioning which is a bit too soft and you could experience a bit of discomfort over long journeys.

Practicality

In terms of practicality, front passengers will be happy. Up front you get a big glovebox with a separate compartment to keep the car manual and papers. Door pockets aren’t massive but are well designed and can accommodate a one-litre bottle with ease. You also get a mobile or wallet cubby on the right of the steering column and even below the centre console. The two cup holders behind the gear lever are well designed but they are placed a bit too behind as compared to the passengers-and that’s because you have to share them with the rear passengers ‘cause they don’t get any! In the top-end variant, you do get a rear armrest but no cup holders and rear passengers don’t even get a USB or 12 V charging port. On the upside, you do get sizable door pockets and seatback pockets.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

When it comes to boot space, in this price bracket you won’t get anything better. The 360-litre boot is well shaped, deep and can easily gobble up a weekend’s worth of luggage with ease. The loading lip however is a bit high, which can make loading large and heavy items a pain. The rear seat folds to give you extra loading space when required but the seats don’t fold flat and there is a huge ridge to contain with.

 Features and Safety

Pure

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

When it comes to features the base variant doesn’t get much kit. It gets basic things like front power windows, tilt steering and body-coloured bumpers. But with the help of the option pack, you can get an audio system with steering-mounted controls fitted to the car.

Adventure

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

Next up, the Adventure variant adds important features like a USB charging port, electric ORVMs, all four power windows and remote keyless entry. With the help of the option pack, you can also add a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a 6 speaker sound system and a reversing camera.

Accomplished

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

With the Accomplished variant, you start to get some feel-good features like LED tail lamps, cruise control, height-adjustable driver’s seat and push-button engine start. With the option pack, you can also add 16-inch alloy wheels, LED DRLs, projector headlamps and a blacked-out A-pillar.

Creative

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

In the top Creative variant, you start getting premium features like auto folding ORVMs, automatic climate control, 7-inch drivers display, and rear seat armrest. You also get some headline features like automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, IRA connected car tech as an option and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Unfortunately, the infotainment system feels a bit old as compared to the rest of the car. The screen resolution is not that great, the graphics feel a bit dated and the fact that you don’t get any physical buttons makes it all the more difficult to operate, especially on the move.

Pure Adventure Accomplished Creative
Front power windows 4 inch infotainment 7 inch touch screen 16 inch alloy wheels
Tilt steering 4 speakers 6 speakers LED DRLs
Body coloured bumpers Steering mounted controls Reversing camera Projector headlamps
USB charging port LED tail lamps Roof rails
Option Pack Electric ORVM Front fog lamp 7 inch driver’s display
4 inch infotainment All four power windows Push button start Auto headlamps
4 speakers Anti glare interior mirror Cruise control Rain sensing wipers
Steering audio controls Remote keyless entry Height adjustable driver seat Auto folding ORVMs
Wheel covers Traction Pro (AMT Only) Automatic climate control
Body coloured ORVM Cooled glovebox
Follow-me-home headlamps Option Pack Rear wiper and washer
16 inch alloy wheels Rear defogger
Option Pack LED DRLs Puddle lamps
7 inch touch screen Projector headlamps Rear seat armrest
6 speakers Blacked out A pillar Leather steering and gear lever
Reversing camera
Option Pack
IRA connected car tech

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

In terms of safety features, the Punch comes with the same list right from the base variant. You get dual airbags, ABS with EBD and ISOFIX child seat anchorage points for the rear seat. If Tata would have offered more airbags in the higher variant or even ESP, the safety package could have looked even better. Also, the Punch has received a 5-star Global NCAP safety rating.

Engine and Gearbox

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

The Tata Punch comes with just one engine option: a 1199cc three-cylinder motor that makes 86PS of power and 113 Nm of torque. This is the same motor that you get in the Altroz but Tata claims that they have made some changes to improve performance and refinement.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

The improvement is noticeable as soon as you start the engine. You experience fewer vibrations and the motor also idles more smoothly and quietly. Of course, the motor does get quite vocal when you rev it past 4000rpm but it never feels too intrusive. This engine also makes the Punch a relaxing city commuter thanks to its responsive nature at low engine speeds. It pulls strongly and cleanly from as low as 1500rpm, which means that gearshifts are kept to a minimum. Even the gearshift quality is one of the best we have experienced on any Tata car. It has a positive action, short throws and slots into gear easily. The Clutch too is light and feels progressive in the way it bites. But for city driving our choice will be the AMT variant. This basic automatic transmission feels smooth on light throttle and ambling along in traffic is very easy. The shifts too are surprisingly smooth at low speeds which makes it an ideal companion to tackle our urban jungle. On the downside, if you do go hard on the throttle to execute an overtake it does take its own sweet time to downshift and this is where this gearbox feels slow.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

It is out on the highway, however, that the biggest drawback of this engine shows up. The punch cruises well at around 80-100kmph but when you want to execute a quick overtake, you feel the lack of outright punch. This motor struggles to gain momentum quickly and does feel a bit out of breath. This problem is even more accentuated when you are driving uphill, where you have to constantly shift to make decent progress.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

We strapped our VBOX timing gear to find out how the Punch’s acceleration stack against its main rivals and the figures tell you the same story. The 0-100kmph sprint takes 16.4 seconds for the manual and a leisurely 18.3 seconds for the AMT. As you can see in the table below it is way slower than its rivals.

Tata Punch Maruti Ignis Maruti Swift Hyundai Grand i10 Nios
0-100kmph 16.4s 13.6s 11.94s 13s

Ride and Handling

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

Ride quality is one of the biggest strengths of the Punch. Regardless of the road surface it comfortably flattens out almost everything in its path. At low speeds, the Punch deals with the biggest of speed breakers with ease thanks to its 190mm ground clearance and long-travel suspension. Potholes and road imperfections too are dealt with easily and the suspension does its job silently. Even out on the highway, the Punch has a comfortable ride quality and more importantly it feels stable which makes it a comfortable long-distance cruiser.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

In terms of handling the Punch feels safe and predictable but not sporty. It rolls a bit into corners and ultimately it doesn’t have the finesse and poise of a low slung hatch like the Altroz. When it comes to braking, the Punch has adequate stopping power with a good pedal feel.

Off-roading

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

Tata is making a lot of noise of the Punch being a proper SUV and to prove just that, they had created a small off-road course which consisted of inclines, declines, axle twisters, water pit and slippery section to test traction. In all of these tests, the Punch did surprisingly well but we were most impressed with three aspects. The first one was the axle twister test where thanks to its long-travel suspension the Punch was able to find traction where normal hatchbacks might struggle. Next up was the water pit, where we were able to test out its 370mm wading depth. Although by off-road standards it is less (Thar’s water wading depth is 650mm) it will prove to be perfect for cities like Mumbai where flooding during rains is quite common.

Verdict

If we had to pinpoint one drawback in the Punch then it would be the petrol motor. It is good for city commutes but out on the highway, it lacks outright power which stops it from being versatile. Other than that it is hard to flaw this impressive car. It is spacious and comfortable, it is pretty well loaded and thanks to the option packs, even the lower variants can be customised to your requirements.

Tata Punch: First Drive Review

There are four big aspects however where this car stands out from the competition. The first one is the ride quality, which is phenomenal regardless of the road you are driving on. The second one is rough road ability, which is miles better than any of its rivals. The third aspect is the design, which is the most striking at this price point. And the last one is quality: compared to old Tata vehicles, the Punch has taken a huge leap forward and could set a new segment benchmark.

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