The Tata Vista Ini, gasoline fuelled base-variant of the larger successor to their popular Indica diesel mini-hatch, delivers an interesting torque curve that could be driven diesel-like with fuel-saving short-shifting, or strong and conventional to get it throaty and zippy in city traffic. You just have to decide which way you want to go on roll-out, and stick to it.
Driving the Tata Vista Ini 1.4L, my expectations were not high. For a base variant, the Visa Ini is well appointed: power windows and locks, hydraulic-assist steering, adjustable steering wheel, the usual adjustments on the driver’s seat plus an extra one for lumbar support, and all-important folding rear seats to expand the cargo capacity from 232 liters to over 600 and turn the hatchback into a flexible hauler. But I had misgivings about the engine.
The Vista Ini mounts a 75PS petrol engine (that PS stands for metric horsepower, equivalent to 99% of imperial horsepower, the familiar kind). It seems to have replaced the 65PS 1.2L engine that had been the base variant’s engine in other markets, but the 75PS still delivers 15PS less than does the 90PS engine that’s an option for the hatchback, also in other markets.
The Vista Ini is the most basic of four hatchback and sedan variants, the four Vista and Manza variants available in the Philippine market. Here, there’s the Vista Ini base variant mounting a 75ps 1.4L Safire gasoline burner, and the top-end Vista Ignis with its 75ps 1.3L Quadrajet diesel. The Manza sedan has similar distinctions between a base and a top-end variant: the Manza Ini with 90ps 1.4L Safire gasoline engine, the Manza Aura with 90ps 1.3L Quadrajet diesel. See the table, Vista & Manza Variants, Philippine Market: put together, the four specific variants, combinations of hatchback/sedan types and gasoline/diesel engine options, describe a swinging price ladder (Vista to Manza to Vista to Manza) from P565K all the way up to P738K.
I had driven the Manza Ini and the 90PS 1.4L on the Vista’s sedan counterpart felt just right, pushing it along in fast enough, stately-but-strong fashion. So, on the Vista that’s just 50kg lighter than the Manza sedan, I expected that disproportionately large 17% reduction in power to result in sluggish performance, and this in contrast with the hatchback’s sportier silhouette. I was wrong, should’ve known better.
Enough power, and then some
A conventional shift schedule—up-shifts at 20, 40, 60 and 80 km/h, shifts happening with the engine usually turning at above 2000rpm, to get from 1st to 5th gear—makes the Vista a smart mover. This, even with five people on board. It’ll rev up so easily on a conventional shift schedule, those 3000 will quickly turn into 4000rpm, or even more, when you’re in 1st or 2nd gear.
When I tried it, 2nd gear got me to nearly 60km/h, the tachymeter peaking near 5000rpm. Get to a 100km/h cruise and that stint in 5th gear won’t feel like the end of the road. Cruise will be at 2500 to 3000rpm and, if you’re looking to stay under a speed limit, you’d then have to finesse the throttle because there’s enough torque working through the gearbox to still accelerate smartly. So, apparently, there’s more to those 75PS of the Vista Ini.
All engine options are sourced from Fiat. The Vista’s gasoline fuelled Safires and diesel Quadrajets are from Fiat India Automobile, a joint venture between Tata Motors and the Italian company that has been more successful, so far, at supplying car and SUV engines in India rather than marketing the Fiat brand there. The Safire name is a derivative of Fiat’s original FIRE trademark which stands for “Fully Integrated Roboticized Engine.”
See the table, Tata Vista Safire Options, Global. In other markets, Tata’s home market of India included, the Vista’s gasoline powered variants mount a 65ps 1.2L, the 75ps 1.4L, or a 90ps 1.4L Safire engine. These renamed FIRE engines are designed to be modular, configurable for assembly on completely automated assembly lines. All Vista Safire engines have the same 72mm diameter bore, with the 65ps 1.2L engine having a shorter stroke of 72mm compared to the 84mm of the 75ps and 90ps 1.4L engines. This is how displacement is varied on the different FIRE engine variants, at least from 1172cc on the 1.2L to 1368cc on the 1.4L, by varying stroke lengths through what could be a common sized cylinder block. Modular, as you can see.The 75PS 1.4L shares some characteristics with either the smaller 65PS 1.2L, or the more powerful 90ps 1.4L Safire. It takes the cylinder head with the SOHC 8 valve valvetrain of the 65ps 1.2L and puts it atop the cylinder block and crankcase of the 90ps 1.4L Safire. The effect of using an 8-valve valvetrain on the middle engine is to make torque peak early, and linger there, from 3000 to 3500rpm.
So, what Tata did was give the Vista hatchback better city car torque by swapping out the DOHC 16-valve cylinder head and replacing it with an SOHC 8-valve. With peak torque numbers virtually equal at 84lb-ft on the 75PS and 85lb-ft on the 90, the seemingly less powerful engine actually has the better street-going profile with torque peaking much earlier and staying there from 3000 to 3500rpm. Ideal for stop-and-go city driving, even for driving on rough roads between cities, and, ultimately, for cruising with as little revs as possible. It’s an elegant way to tune the Manza sedan’s 1.4L 4-pot engine to be more responsive for the Vista hatchback. But others have thought the 75PS to be underpowered, and I know why.
Drive it like a diesel
The Vista Ini rolls out with hardly any pressure on the throttle. In fact, you could manage to roll off with zero throttle, conserving revs and letting these dip ever so slightly below idle by feathering the clutch to get the car moving. This seemingly abundant torque lets you drive the Vista like a diesel, easing in the clutch before initially stepping on the gas at roll-out, or when again giving it some throttle after an up-shift, and the Vista can be short-shifted at 15, 30, 45 and 60km/h, the engine not even reaching 2000rpm before shifts, to get from 1st all the way up to 5th gear.
It takes practice, timing throttle action an instant after letting in the clutch to put load on the engine before revving up, but this analog of a diesel drive might actually have been intended by Tata since the Vista supersedes their Indica hatchback which gained popularity with its compact size and diesel engine combination. Done right on the Vista Ini’s gasoline engine, short-shifting will deliver a reported 12.5km/l in city traffic or 21.2km/l on the highway.
The tricky part is that your own muscle memory could fool you into mistaking that strong roll-out pull to mean a gasoline engine with over generous low-end torque, enough torque to shift early for aggressive acceleration (instead of that laid-back short shift climb to cruise). There’s so much torque in 1st gear on roll-out that you’ll be tempted to go to 2nd gear too early with the fractional momentum you’ve built up, and then punch the gas. This early up shift, if you’re looking to punch it, it’s what causes the Vista to stumble.
The Vista’s C 549 5-speed gearbox has an unusually deep gear ratio on 1st (4.273 instead of the typical 3.830) but a typical one on 2nd (2.238 which is close enough to the usual 2.200). So, when you shift to 2nd early, counting on that torque to be there to offset momentum not yet built-up, things will go off the rails a bit. There’ll be a shudder, the engine flirting with a stall, the moment you let the clutch back in and step on the gas. There’s just too big a spread between those 1st and 2nd gear ratios.
This or that
Shift early to 2nd, no problem, but stay the course and stay relaxed with diesel-like short shifting with 15km/h increments all the way to 5th gear. Otherwise, if it’s smart acceleration you’re looking to get from the Vista’s gasoline engine, stay on a conventional shift-schedule, 20km/h stages, and fall back on familiar, simultaneous rev-up and clutching as you go through the gears.
Just make the decision as you roll-out though. If it’s conventional you want, smart and consistent gas-engine acceleration all the way on a run, there’s this rule of twos you could use as a mantra: don’t hit 2nd gear until you’re at around 20km/h or have about 2000rpm.
I can’t blame you if you’d want to go strong most of the time. Despite excellent fuel-economy with short-shifting, there lingers this compelling reason to still go conventional, after all. Get those revs up near 3000rpm and the 75PS 1.4L Safire will start to show its Fiat origins, sounding satisfying, throaty, and Italian.