Hail the Nano! It's not a "nono" at all,judging from this and many other reviews.in fact I'm like lakhs of Indians going to book one for the firm to be used as a city runabout.Let me tell you from my knowledge of paris and Parisians,that the Nano will be a massive hit there.It will be to them,"Tres chic" and envirofriendly,with the Europa version.Paris,Barcelona and many UK cities will be the Nano's happy hunting grounds.AS th Times says,the Nano will be the "most influential car on the planet".Hail Tata and his team of Indian designers!
Boy racers and farmers, your ride is here. Why this new runabout will be the most influential car on the planet
You get into a car costing a lakh rupees (100,000 rupees, or £1,390) with zero expectations. Things are bound to break, you tell yourself, and you drive gingerly. Being Indian, I forced myself into a charitable frame of mind, ready to overlook its faults (not unlike the Americans when faced with a new Mustang or British magazines every time an Aston Martin comes along).
But the Nano doesn’t need you to be kind: it will impress you on its merits. If it sells in anything like the numbers that its maker predicts, this cute, snub-nosed runabout could become the most influential car on the planet. It will mobilise millions in India and across southeast Asia on a scale not seen since Giovanni Agnelli transformed post-war Italy from a nation of Vespa riders into a society of proud Fiat 500 drivers.
Ratan Tata, the man behind the giant industrial conglomerate that owns Jaguar and Land Rover, shared Agnelli’s vision of affordable four-wheeled transport for the masses when he began work on the project in 2003. “I observed families riding on two-wheelers — the father driving the scooter, his young child standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby. It led me to wonder whether one could conceive of a safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport for such a family.”
The result, after five years of development and numerous setbacks, was this low-cost four-door, rear-engined family transporter that copes with potholed Indian roads with aplomb, even with four six-footers inside. Thought the Toyota iQ was radical? Think again.
For the Indian market, there will be three variants of the Nano — standard, CX and LX. The standard really is bog standard — rexine seats, no air-conditioning, no frills; and because there’s less weight (to the tune of 60kg) it is the boy racer’s choice, being slightly faster than the more deluxe versions. Our test car, an LX, boasted air-con, electric front windows (rears remain wind-down), central locking, front and rear fog lamps and full fabric seats.
The engine is a tiny 623cc, four-valve, all-aluminium twin-cylinder unit, fed by a cheap Bosch fuel-injection system. It makes a measly 33bhp of power and 35 lb ft of torque so it’s a relief to know there’s only 600kg to lug around. Fuel economy is claimed to be 67mpg, and CO2 emissions are 110g/km or less. That may not sound impressive in developed European markets, but here it’s claimed to be 12% lower than any motorbike in the country.
From the outside it sounds like a slightly muffled auto-rickshaw and when worked hard it takes on a pleasant phut-phut sound. The deluxe version gets to 37mph in 9.8sec, which in Indian traffic means it can comfortably keep pace. After 50mph it struggles, and getting to 62mph takes a yawning 35.1sec. It peaks at 65mph, which is probably a good thing because braking is the one area in which the Nano is slightly iffy. The brakes aren’t progressive and emergency stops make the rear feel a tad loose.
It’s a city car, then, and in the environment it’s comfortable in, it is a hoot to drive. The steering is quick and direct, almost to the point of being like a go-kart’s. The four-speed manual gearbox makes easy work of keeping the engine on the boil and it can dive between buses, squeeze past bikes, nudge to the front of the queue and undertake with glee. The 26ft turning circle means it can U-turn pretty well anywhere and though I didn’t try, I suspect it could even jump onto cycle tracks — in India everything goes. It’s so quick through the city that, hard though they tried, the Tata engineers keeping me company couldn’t keep up in their Indica. Remember that Pac-Man arcade game, in which you had to eat the dots while being chased by ghosts through a maze? You’ve now got the picture of a Nano in the city.
It’s a happy little thing. It brings a grin to your face. It is easy to curse the Nano for the prospect of millions of them jamming up our already congested roads, but it is cute enough to make you smile, and then it’s got you.
Driving through the streets of Pune — Tata Motors’ home town — we were mobbed every time we stopped to take pictures. The next day the local newspaper featured our test drive. Every man, woman and child waved, yanked out their mobile phone and fired a million questions. An army general sent his flunky to ask about the car.
When we stopped to take pictures on a farm, two villagers pulled up on their motorcycles, had a poke inside and said they’d pool resources and buy a Nano instead of two bikes. That’s exactly what Indian bike manufacturers are scared of — that rural India’s car-buying aspirations will find fulfilment and cheap and dreary 100cc bikes will become unwanted. It is why the second largest bike maker, Bajaj Auto, has teamed up with Renault to make its own lakh-rupee car.
Light grey colours give the cabin air and while the plastics are cheap they’re not nasty. Fit and finish is good, with no yawning panel gaps. The dashboard is basic, with a central instrument stack that means both left- and right-hand-drive markets are already catered for. The base for the Nano is a monocoque in which two cross members are welded to the shell, taking most of the load and allowing the upper structure to be thin and light.
Without performing an impromptu crash test, the one thing I can’t say for sure is how safe the Nano is but it certainly complies with all the rules so it will be as safe (or unsafe) as any Indian car. Tata engineers are keen to stress that it meets India’s tightened regulatory requirements, including those on frontal crashes; head and body impacts on the steering wheel; and seatbelt anchorage strength. There are crumple zones in the front, reinforcement in the doors to resist side impact and a strong passenger cell that allowed the Nano to survive roll-over tests.
For a car that’s only 10ft long and 5ft wide, it’s surprisingly spacious. The 80-litre boot is under the rear parcel shelf (the tailgate doesn’t open) and as it’s above the engine you might not want to leave any ice cream there. But flip the seats and you get 500 litres, which is more than enough for a week’s groceries. The space in the nose is taken up by the spare tyre and fuel filler pipe, firmly ruling out golf clubs.
It rides on tiny 12in wheels; grip is decent, allowing it to be thrown around with surprising verve, and it feels safe and understeery. In fact, the Nano is extremely good fun to take out. Its rear-wheel drive means you can pull miniature powerslides on gravel roads. Body roll is pronounced but it never feels as though it’ll land on its roof.
So the Nano is a match for cars that are double its price yet it doesn’t feel like half a car. Ignore the cheap rubber parts, forget it has a coat or two less paint and only one wing mirror, and there are no visual signs of cost-cutting. Ultimately that is what will make the Nano India’s class-buster.
It’s a car that rich folk will buy for their college-going kids. It’s a car middle-class Indians will buy to run to the grocer’s. It’s a car rural India will buy to trundle down dusty tracks. There honestly isn’t anything to hate about the Nano, and provided Tata can get reliability right, I can guarantee half of India will be lined up to grab a booking form. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised, come launch day, to find myself elbowing my way to that reservation counter.
Sirish Chandran is the editor of Overdrive magazine and host of the Overdrive show on Indian television
STRONGER, SAFER, SEXIER: THE NANO HEADS FOR EUROPE
The Nano is coming to you, but not immediately. Tata Motors is working on a higher-spec Nano, shown in concept form at the Geneva international motor show, which will meet basic European safety standards. The Nano Europa will come with antilock brakes, an electronic stability program and, yes, airbags, and the target is a minimum three-star Euro NCAP rating, if not four.
What else will change? The Europa looks a lot classier thanks to its sculpted bumpers and cooler-looking wheels. The bumpers are actually fatter than the Indian equivalents because of increased crumple zones, and the Europa’s track is also wider than that of its Indian cousin, to give it better handling.
All this adds weight, so Tata is also working towards replacing the Indian two-cylinder unit with a three-cylinder petrol engine with 98g/km C02 and 67mpg, as well as a diesel engine in due course.
Of course all this won’t come for a lakh rupees — expect it to cost in the region of £4,500 when it comes to Europe in 2011.
ENGINE 623cc, two cylinders
POWER 33bhp @ 5250rpm
TORQUE 35 lb ft @ 2500rpm
TRANSMISSION 4-speed manual
FUEL/CO2 67mpg/ 110g/km
ACCELERATION 0-62mph: 35.1sec
TOP SPEED 65mph
TAX BAND n/a
VERDICT Destined to be the biggest small car in the world