Compiling our first-drive impressions of the Tata Altroz DCA automatic
Words: Neeraj Padmakumar Photography: Sanjoy
An automatic transmission has always been missed on the Tata Altroz since its market debut in early 2020. You and I have wished for it, with every possible update that this premium hatch has had over the years. We first heard rumors of Tata prepping a DCT for the Altroz, at around the time of the iTurbo launch. These, however, dissolved off in no time and it is only in 2022 that we get to have the Altroz automatic roll out, with a rather smart ‘DCA’ nameplate, signifying ‘Dual Clutch Automatic’. From the name to the features, there is a lot to talk about this transmission…
Altroz DCA is available in 7 variants including two Dark editions. We have talked in detail about these in a previous story in which the variant-wise prices and the price premiums over the corresponding manuals are also listed. Our test car here is the top-of-the-line XZ+ with the new Opera Blue paint on it.
Tata Altroz DCA Changes:
Save for the transmission, no major changes have been incorporated into the Altroz automatic. The design remains the same as before and is obviously something we have all fallen in love with. Quite frankly, even after being in business for over 2 years, the Altroz still looks fresh and catchy! We had talked in detail about these design ethos in our Altroz diesel review.
To make things sweeter for the DCA, Tata Motors has introduced a new Opera Blue colorway. This shade bears obvious resemblances to those of some of its rivals. You might feel this to be a shade or two deeper than the Baleno’s Nexa Blue or slightly like VW Polo’s now-discontinued Night Blue. In any case, the color looks stunning on the Altroz.
It complements the design well. With the new shade in, the Altroz DCA is now available in a total of 7 shades including a Dark edition. Interesting here is the fact that Altroz’s palette already has another shade of Blue- Harbour Blue, that had premiered through the iTurbo. The choice between these two, could be made considering the character-depth you would want on your car. Harbour Blue is funky whereas Opera Blue looks mature and suave!
Interior And Features
No major changes have been implemented inside the cabin. Almost everything looks the same and is equally appealing as the 2021 Altroz. Most of the familiar fancy bits like the wearable key and ambient lighting have been retained. The change, however, would be the new shifter lever and the pedals. The shifter is good-looking and gets ‘Tri-arrow’ patterns on it- quite a Tata signature indeed! Its base has P, R, N, and D written neatly alongside the Tiptronic indicators. The same would be displayed on the instrumentation screen as well, something which Tata prefers to call ‘Driver Assist Features’ (Quite a ‘heavy’ name for what it actually is!). The pedals are quite friendly with a broad brake pedal and a decent-sized dead-pedal for comfortable long drives.
About The Gearbox
Here’s the whole point of this car- the gearbox. Altroz DCA comes with a 6-speed wet-clutch DCT seamlessly adapted for Indian conditions. Though there were previous rumors of Tata sourcing it from Schaeffler, the transmission (the hardware to be precise) on the Altroz DCA has been sourced from the Belgian vendor ‘Punch powertrain‘. Tata has contributed greatly to the development of the gear logic and software for this unit, hand-stitching it to suit the Indian consumer needs and the road and weather conditions here. The transmission, essentially an improvement of the Punch DT1, could be a notch better than many DCTs of the day.
Being a wet type DCT, this transmission has an immense focus on cooling and effective heat management. It has what Tata calls ‘Active Cooling Technology’ that aggressively monitors the oil temperature at the rate of 100 times a second. Tata claims that the gearbox will always stay comfortably below the critical temperature, meaning zero heating issues in even the most extreme scenarios.
A smart bit here is the ‘Auto Park Lock’ feature, which automatically senses vehicle motion and engages the Park mode, if the driver forgets to do so after having parked the car on an incline, and in neutral (N).
The DCA transmission is available with the 1.2L NA petrol engine alone. Mated to the DCT, the Revotron engine churns out the same 86hp and 113 Nm as before, and feels decent to drive. Let’s face it, the 1.2 NA petrol has never been a bomb to drive! It’s always been that decent family car with no major excitement on offer for the driver but a comfortable ride and livable space for the occupants. Altroz DCA adds a bit of spice to this. It gives the driver additional comfort and convenience of not having to play with the gears in traffic and out on the highways.
The DCA uses ‘shift by wire’ tech instead of shifter cables, and the same has brought down the time gap between shifts to as little as 250 milliseconds. This essentially means that the shifts here feel smooth and nearly seamless. It doesn’t get the jerky shifts we are used to, in modern DCTs.
Also, shifting can be had as and when the driver demands it. However, downshifts are not too aggressive nor is the gearbox too vigorous to shift, like the familiar DCT stereotype. (Who needs them with an NA petrol anyway?!) Shift points and shifting behavior suffice for most city, highway, and overtaking scenarios. I could drive around all day with no major complaints about the transmission.
The DCT uses machine learning to sense and adapt to various driver behavior and terrain conditions, thereby delivering optimum efficiency and ample performance at all times. The algorithm here seems to be pretty flawless. It senses the throttle ramp rates to tweak the shifting behavior accordingly for maximum performance and efficiency. Once you floor the gas, the gearbox senses it accurately and gets the shifts done without any hesitation.
However, if you, for some reason, turn out extremely over-enthu and attempt a very aggressive overtaking, it is advised to embrace the Tiptronic shifts instead of relying completely on the electronic logic. Getting to the Tiptronic (or M mode) automatically drops a gear, to provide some instant boost, and all further controls over the transmission can be done manually by the driver.
The 1.2 Revotron engine used to come with selectable drive modes (City and Eco) on the manual Altroz but ditches the same on the DCA. However, there is no room for complaints as the gear ratios are wisely set to optimize performance. The low-end and mid-range performances are decent. Top-end, however, is nearly flat.
Road Manners And Other Dynamics
Save for the shifts, almost every other aspect of dynamics remains identical to what we had seen on both petrol iterations of the premium hatchback- the NA and the iTurbo. The braking performance also remains unchanged.
How Efficient Is The Transmission Cooling?
Almost all affordable DCTs we’ve seen to date, have been dry clutch units. We are thus well aware of their thermal concerns. However, the real-world behavior of Altroz’s wet clutch DCT is significantly different from these. This box returned no heating issues in any of the bumper-to-bumper runs or tight city drives that we had during our day with it. The performance and efficiency had significant consistency to them.
Would The Wet Clutch DCT Require Too Much Maintenance?
Wet clutch DCTs are more durable and abuse-friendly than dry-type units. The transmission oil minimizes the wear and tear of the components inside. However, the fluid does get contaminated in the process, especially in the long run. Transmission oil changes are the most common maintenance expenses associated with wet-type DCTs. However, in the DCA, things aren’t too bad. Tata has incorporated what they call the ‘ Self Healing Mechanism’ into the box that cleans oil contamination periodically, extending the span between fluid changes.
Tata Altroz DCA Mileage
DCT transmissions can be fuel-efficient. Considering the many examples around, you might find this difficult to digest, but it is a fact! Due to the significantly less number of moving mechanical parts and slipping elements inside, more possible gear ratios, and fast, efficient shifts, DCTs can be more fuel-efficient than a conventional torque converter automatic. Wet types would further benefit from their effective heat management. The Altroz DCA seems to be quite efficient for an automatic. In our tests, we could achieve an indicated fuel efficiency of 13 kpl, with efficient driver behavior. However, if you are to push it hard, expect decent drops in efficiency figures.
The Essence, And Who Should Buy One?
The Altroz DCA is not a fast-shifting, fast-going hot hatch, but a very usable, efficient, and supposedly ‘durable’ (We need to live with it for a year or so to cast a final word on this) automatic hatchback that offers decent performance, fuel efficiency and mature shifting behavior. It is a family car that is convenient and comfortable to drive around in cities and on highways alike. Does it justify the 1 lakh premium in the price? Well, wet-type DCTs are expensive, hence the premiums maybe…