The Nano has been the most awaited car in Indian history and could be the most important too. The well-publicised delay in bringing it to the market (after the Singur imbroglio) has only heightened the sense of anticipation.
<b1>Questions have been flying thick and fast. Does Tata’s little Nano drive and feel like a real car? Can it provide the comfort, performance and economy expected of it? Or has Tata’s self-imposed price target of Rs 1 lakh made it too much of a compromise?
Sceptics will be in for a shock. The Nano isn’t a rickshaw with four wheels or a glorified golf cart but every inch a proper car. What makes it special is the way it’s been designed for Indian conditions and pockets. The interiors are basic but more spacious than any small Maruti. The best bit is how easy it is to slide in and out of the flat seats.
Packaging the Nano to allow four six-footers to sit in reasonable comfort hasn’t left much space for luggage. In fact, a majority of the ‘boot’ space is taken up by the engine. The small luggage area at the back can only be accessed by dropping down the rear seats. My biggest grouse is that the fixed rear glass can’t be opened.
Within a few metres of driving, you realise it’s sprightly enough to keep up with city traffic. The engine chugs along merrily with a muted ‘phud phud phud’ and in the first two gears there’s sufficient punch from the engine. What makes it a brilliant city car is the view you get from the high seat and the unbelievable turning circle.
The Nano can do U-turns where an 800 would have to reverse. On the highway, however, the Nano runs out of steam and beyond 80kph progress is painfully slow and overtaking manoeuvres need serious planning. What is impressive is this little car’s stability and its ability to tackle potholes and rough roads with astonishing ease. In fact, it’s the robustness of the body and the ability to take heavy loads that makes the Nano stand out from other small cars twice the price.
For a car that has been made to such a price target, there are compromises. There’s no brake booster on the base model, a lot of the parts look and feel cheap and there’s not an iota of luxury. But these are shortcomings owners, mostly upgrading from bikes, can live with. The genius of the Nano lies in its finely judged balance of skimping where it doesn’t matter and pampering owners where it does. This is Indian ingenuity at its best.
(Hormazd Sorabjee is editor of car magazine Autocar India)