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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hexa Experience in Chennai: Photos, videos and updates!

After media and blogger drives in Hyderabad, Tata Motors is taking the soon to be launched SUV Hexa to the people. An event called #HexaExperience is being conducted in various cities. It was held in Gurgaon, Bengaluru last year and happened in Chennai this weekend. Next in line are Mumbai, Hyderabad and more cities.

I have already been part of HexaExperience bloggers meet held in Hyderabad in October. Read my event experience here, full review of Hexa here, a post on 4x4 (offroad) abilities here, Hexa Manual vs Auto differences and decision making explained here and Hexa's comparison with XUV and Innova here.

Once I learnt about Hexa's Chennai edition, I promptly registered. But didn't get any email acknowledgment. However the agency handling social media for the event asked me if I can attend the event and thus I got to attend. October bloggers meet was 3 months old, so I was keen to find out what's latest with Hexa, the offroad setup here looked different from the one we had experienced during bloggers' meet and then, why miss another chance to drive the Hexa?

This post brings you all the update I collected during the HexaExperience event in Chennai.

I reached the venue at about 10.45, registered and was asked to sign up for either or both of the experiences on offer- An Off road experience and a test drive. I signed up for both, got a token number. Was the first one to register for both activities that day.
The Test Drive:
A short drive in the automatic version around the campus-It felt good to drive the Hexa one more time after 3 months. Have covered the experience in my earlier reviews- nothing new to add.

The Offroad Experience:
This was the main attraction. An elaborate setup was done in YMCA grounds to help visitors personally experience Hexa's off-road capabilities. Watching videos and reading about it is never a substitute to personally experiencing it, so Tata Motors is making all attempts to ensure that as many prospective buyers as possible get an opportunity to experience Hexa's potential upfront. I was told about 300 families experienced Hexa on day 1 in Chennai (Jan 6th) and over next 2 days (weekend) I am sure even larger number of families got to feel the car and its potential.
That said, let us look into details. Before I proceed further, I would like to offer a comparison of Hexa's off-road experience with that of Mercedes Benz LuxeDrive I had experienced in May 2015. The first 2 pics below are of Hexa's offroad setup in Chennai and the next pic is of Merc Luxedrive setup. You will immediately realize that Hexa's set up is twice as tall, steep and complex compared to Mercedes Benz. These setups are designed keeping in mind the capabilities (or the lack of it) of the car.


Cross Axle/ Stability
First obstacle was a tactically placed set of 2 elevated platforms, positioned such that only two of the four wheels will be on the platform at any time. By climbing on the left side platform, Hexa tilts to the right. Mid-way, the right front wheel climbs the right side platform. At one moment, front left and rear right wheels are suspended in the air- this is called a cross axle situation. As the wheels spin, vehicle realizes that two of the wheels are not getting any traction. Vehicle stops sending power to these wheels and diverts power to remaining wheels that have some traction. Using this extra power now available to right set of wheels, Hexa can pull itself off the tricky situation with comfort. (Traditional SUVs supply say 60% power to front axle and 40% to rear. In cross axle situation only 50% of actual power will be usable, as remaining 50% (30% to front left and 20% to rear right in our example) goes to wheels that have no traction and is wasted. Hexa can ensure that 50% power is sent to each wheels that have traction, ensuring 100% power utilization) Next moment vehicle suddenly tilts to the left, lifting its rear right side on to the air. Participants pull themselves together while the Couguar Motorsports staff manning the wheel ready for next obstacle…
Rollers: Next set of obstacles were rollers. Rollers are hard to grip. With left side wheels slipping on the rollers, most power goes to right side wheels, ensuring that vehicle climbs up the rollers without any concern.

Wooden logs: Next obstacle is designed to test vehicle’s suspension. A send of vertically placed wooden logs of different lengths (most of them just short of Hexa’s ground clearance of 200mm), with their top flat are positioned for Hexa to navigate. Hexa clears this with comfort, without the passengers feeling any major jolts or violent vibrations, with Hexa’s suspensions absorbing most of the impact.
Hill Climb and descent: Next activity demonstrates Hexa’s key features- Hill Hold Control, Hill Descent Control and ability to climb steep inclines. Hill hold control ensures that vehicle doesn’t accidentally roll back in inclines. Even after leg is lifted off the brake pedal, it retains braking for about 3 seconds, enough time for driver to press the accelerator pedal. This setup at Hexa Experience was twice as tall, steep and complex than the Mercedes Benz LuxeDrive that I had attended.

Above picture when viewed from down under...
Tilt:  Hexa can apparently tilt up to 40 degrees. Vehicle is stable despite this steep banking.
Steps: Next obstacle was climbing the steps on one side- With 19 inch tyres, climbing steps is not that difficult and Hexa manages this with comfort.
Water wading- Hexa gets 450mm water wading depth. That is 150mm more than Safari and just 50mm short of LandRover Discovery Sports.  Very useful when streets get flooded. Next best thing to owning a submarine. This section was also most photogenic- so I spent more time here clicking.
 
Bad roads: To depict a bad road scenario few tyres were places on the path, which Hexa cleared without any tussle. This marked the end of Off-Road experience and the guests were dropped off. For the expert drivers from Cauguar Motorsports, the ride repeats with next set of guests.

Point to be noted is that despite all these skills, Hexa remains a soft off-roader. It doesn’t come with 4L, 4H, 2H modes like in say Thar or Safari. 4L helps in crawling to negotiate extremely tricky terrain at very slow speeds. What this means is Hexa is a lifestyle vehicle with good off-road abilities. It is not a hard core off-roader for rough and tough and extreme use.

In Hyderabad we had ICE cube test and high speed braking (EBP) demo- these were skipped in Chennai edition, but instead few more obstacles like wood logs, rollers, steps etc are used.

Most guests I spoke to were blown away by the abilities of the Hexa. Few felt it scary.

Inside the Hexa Experience Centre there were many things to keep visitors busy- Tata’s other companies such as Croma, Tata Batteries, Housing etc had set up stalls trying to cross sell. Murugan Idli shop, Dunkin Donuts and few other food and beverage vendors catered to hunger needs of the visitors (no free food). To keep kids busy a few games. The main stage had music bands performing and on 7th evening singer Chinmaya also graced the stage. A Hexa was on display for people to take a closer look

Accessories: Another main aspect of Hexa that I wanted to explore was the accessories part. Many of them were on display at the HexaExperience. Let me explain few important ones:
Sunroof- costs about 90k INR- if you are keen to have a sunroof, you can purchase it at optional extra. In India only minuscule % of cars have sunroof, so it doesn’t make sense to include it as standard accessory (some brands include it in top end variant) and charge everyone for it. Good idea to give it as optional extra- you can buy any variant of your choice and add a sunroof.

Heads Up Display with TPMS: This is the new thing. Heads up display ensures that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to take a look at the map or any other instrument panel. HUD projects key information right on the windshield bottom portion, ensuring a more convenient and more importantly safer driving. HUD add-on will cost you about 12-13k INR. TPMS is tyre pressure monitoring system- shows tyre pressure so that you will know when air is low. I asked about the possibility of showing exact fuel quantity- like why can’t cars display fuel is 23.45 litres- this way once I add fuel I can be sure the fuel added is exactly as shown in fuel pump dispensing unit’s display. I can also calculate fuel economy more precisely. But I was told measuring fuel volume is very difficult- partly because fuel will be in vapour status when hot, and mainly because instruments that measure fuel quantity are still very much mechanical and can’t give reading with desired level of precision.

Chrome Garnish- additional crome around headlamps, tail lamps, side mirrors, door handles etc

Puddle lamp: A fancy thing- displays light on the ground as the door is open and projects Hexa… Easy to get in and out of the car in dark and looks impressive.

Expedition kit- includes a canopy, skyrack and waterproof bag, shovel etc (Note: Cycles are not part of Explorer kit!)

Luxe Kit: Wireless charger for Rs 800, Anti Skid mats for Rs 1000, Illuminated Tata logo for Rs 2k, Puddle lamp for 2k, chiller and warmer to be positioned near hand brake area etc (All prices approx, try for some discount while buying multiple of them)

Tuff Kit: Rooftop box (60k), side skirts, HUD+TPMS etc

A drone was doing rounds capturing things from the air. My wishlist gadget but at this moment it is illegal to use a drone in public areas. Also they have limitations like short battery life etc. Hopefully over next few years drones become more capable, affordable and legal.
I had the opportunity to meet the man who conceptualized and supervised development of most of these accessories- but he was not comfortable being photographed and named, hence not including his pic. I asked about winch- he said that is not possible as it needs structural reinforcement/changes to ensure that winch connects strongly with the chassis. We also discussed about lot of other things- such as Micro-hybrid technology, push button start, that could be done- but the harsh truth is that everything has a cost aspect to it. If one keeps on giving features, the cost will go out of control.

I also spoke to Tata Motors officials about the relevance of 19 inch tyres- which are hard to find (only MRF has supply right now, all other SUVs are managing with 18 inch tyres)- Tata officials said “Someone has to take the lead”- once tyre makers see a market and potential, they will start offering it- It is only a matter of time.

I have made 2 videos- one from outside and another from inside. Watch them below:
Video 1: Hexa's offroad abilities shown in 3 mins [Watch on youtube]

  Video 2: Hexa's offroad abilities as experienced from inside the SUV [Youtube link]

I also learnt that next big thing for Tata Motors after Hexa will be the Kite 5. Looking forward for more details to emerge. Next edition of HexaExperience will be in Hyderabad and Mumbai. Variant wise feature details is now available. Pricing will be known on Jan 18 or 19th.

Had great weekend with Hexa and I wish it all the success!