While it's refreshing to see more and more manufacturers expressing interest in the local market, Indian car makers like Tata still have a long way to go before achieving the same success as the Koreans, or even the limited acceptance that Chinese makers are begrudgingly given this conservative side of the world.
As such, Tata is going all out in a bid to win over local buyers. And the unique selling proposition that the Indian manufacturer is relying upon is something that the Chinese aren't too strong in.
Tata's lineup is unique among manufacturers in that all its cars are available with a diesel engine. But will that be enough for buyers? Let's find out.
The Manza's design is somewhat schizophrenic in its execution. While the uniquely curvy front end reflects the Tata Vista hatchback which the Manza is based on, it's mated here to a rear section that prioritizes packaging space over everything else.
The narrow set of the front lights and grille simply serves to accentuate the width of the Manza's boxy rear end. Chrome brightwork and foglights dress up the exterior, and the A-pillar-mounted cheek-lights are a cool touch, but the multispoke hubcaps seem a bit old-fashioned for a modern car.
The interior is filled with workmanlike dark plastics and fabrics. Surfaces and controls seem a bit cheap, and there are fit and flushing issues, but nothing rattles over rough roads.
Still, it's easy to forgive trim issues when you consider the incredible legroom and headroom, as well as the nicely cushioned seats. These are important on the Indian market, where six-foot-tall drivers need to fit, turban and all. For Filipino-size drivers, it's a great place to relax after several hours of driving on the track, and the huge trunk swallows a lot of racing gear, although the intrusive shock towers make the front of the trunk rather narrow.
The Manza's real ace is the same 1.3-liter Fiat Quadrajet diesel found in the Chevrolet Spin. Unsurprisingly, fuel economy is great, with mixed trips yielding up to 29km/L, and straight highway economy in the mid-30s. In traffic, the absence of low-down torque or top-end power from the 1.3, which lacks a variable-geometry turbo system, means a lot of gear-rowing to keep up with other compacts. At least, the clutch and the gearshift are light and breezy.
RIDE AND HANDLING
The rest of the Manza feels the same way. While it utterly lacks the handling sophistication of its Japanese and Korean competitors, it tracks straight on the highway and handles predictably. That is to say, it understeers predictably, but I doubt this will deter target buyers. Rather, they'll be more focused on ride comfort.
While the 185/60 R15 Bridgestone B250 tires don't offer much in the way of performance, they cope well with bumps, and the long-stroke suspension handily absorbs jolts that cause other economy cars to go clunk. Aside from the fuel economy, it's about the most impressive thing about the car.
The Manza comes with power windows, keyless entry and a double-DIN radio with phone connectivity and steering-mounted controls. Sound is acceptable rather than exceptional. Aside from that, there's not much here. Where the Chinese might try to load up on the luxuries to justify their price tag, with the Manza, you're paying mostly for the oily bits hidden under the hood.
As such, the Manza is not a book you can easily judge by its cover. Underneath the somewhat unusual sheet metal lies a good suspension and a fantastically frugal motor.
Unfortunately, that motor is worth a hefty premium. At P738,000, the Manza Aura is over P100,000 more expensive than the gasoline model. At this price, the Hyundai Accent CRDi sedan, which is faster and better to drive, becomes a valid option.
Granted, the Accent doesn't have the same level of safety equipment or amenities as the Manza Aura, but again, Tata has a long way to go before reaching the level of market acceptance that Korean manufacturers enjoy.
Still, if you're willing to look beyond the brand, there's a lot to like about the Manza. And it's not just the fuel economy.
SPECS: TATA MANZA AURA 1.3 MT
Engine: 1.3-liter Quadrajet 90 I4 diesel
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power: 89hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 1,750-3,000rpm
Drive layout: FWD
Photos by Niky Tamayo