The first proper facelift to the Nano was due for a long time. Launched in 2009 it was riding the hype of being the cheapest car in the world and at least initially India was besotted. The cheap tag however became its curse and Nano soon symbolised a compromise--either it was your second/third car or you bought it because you could not afford anything else. Tata tried to undo some of the damage with the Twist a couple of years ago, adding features like power steering and a proper music system. The price also went up to shed some of that cheap tag but the success has been mixed at best. Six years on, the hype is long gone and Nano needs a serious makeover. Is the GenX what the doctor ordered?
Looks and styling: Nano gets a proper boot now. Well almost.
The biggest talking point as far as the exterior of the car is concerned is clearly the openable boot that finally turns the Nano into a proper 5 door hatchback. Plonking a door at the back of a car may sound simple but in reality it is anything but that. The car had to be re-engineered a bit to enable it hence the slight increase in the length of the car. The hatch has also made the boot more spacious with luggage space going up from 80 litres in the Nano Twist to 94 litres in the top end Genx AMT and 110 litres in the three conventional geared versions. As the engine sits below the rear seat, the boot sits quite high and there is only a small opening between the floor and the parcel shelf (that houses the 2 speakers in the AMT). Even then, it is big enough to fit in an average sized overnight trolley bag and an extra backpack or two shopping bags. The rear seats can also be folded to enlarge the space to a decent 500 litres.
Car Review: The new automatic Nano GenX is hip but not happening
Dimensions are somewhat identical and though the car is marginally wider, it retains its high gawky stance. The cosmetic changes include new smoked head lamps redesigned grille and large circular fog lamps. While the position of the engine has been retained at the back the radiator has been moved up front to help balance the weight of the car. That promises better driveability. The fuel tank has also been expanded from 15 litres to 24 litres so on a full tank the car can go even further. Colour options have seen a few additions as well but overall compared to the Twist this isnt radically different to look. Perhaps the car needed an extra dose of creativity. Or the designer a plain piece of paper.
Interiors : More of the same
The interiors of the car also remain largely the same as the Twist. Ground clearance has been hiked up further to 190 mm (at par with..gasp..an Innova) from 180 mm, which means you sit even high up. The view from the driver's seat helped by the short bonnet is commanding. Space is abundant both in the front and the back. The company claims it has 4% better shoulder room and 6% better leg room than the K10 AMT. The large glass area actually makes you feel it is more than that. The air conditioning is the best you can get in a small car below R 4 lakh and music system with 4 speakers and USB/bluetooth connectivity deserve mention. Yet, some familiar flaws remain. The power window switches just ahead of the gear-levers is inconveniently placed and cumbersome. There is not one proper bottle holder as the door pockets are good enough only to hold a newspaper or a magazine.
How good really is the AMT?
The addition of the automated manual transmission (AMT) will surely make the Nano the cheapest automatic car in the world ahead of the Alto K10 AMT (see table). AMT is not very new to India now. We have seen it in the Celerio, K10 and Tata's own Zest. Nano GenX gets the 5 speed version with sports drive option but only one variant-- the top end-- gets the AMT. The gearbox uses electronic control unit and a hydraulic system to automise the clutch. It is not as sophisticated or refined like normal automatic cars but costs less and does not harm the car's fuel economy. At the same time without a clutch or a gear, it drives just like any automatic car.
Inside city, in chock a block traffic situations and on straight roads Nano AMT is a very handy car helped by the electric power steering. The creep function that enables the car to roll ever so slowly without hitting the accelerator pedal when the car is is put in either forward or reverse gears is useful in the city as well. Whats really hampers the deal in the Nano is its puny 2 cylinder 624cc engine that offers just 38PS power and 51 NM torque on the tap. It makes the car sluggish, power delivery is not very linear or consistent and the car starts to gasp for breath at the hint of a gradient. The high ground clearance coupled with skinny 12" tyres induces generous body roll. With four people and AC on, the car will be at its absolute limit overhauling the flyovers in Delhi or any major Indian city.
Unlike in the K10 AMT or the Celerio where Maruti claims absolutely no compromise on fuel economy versus the geared versions, in the GenX Nano, Tata has accounted for a slight buffer. So the AMT version is a little less stingy on fuel than the conventional geared version. Yet, we found the car to be quite fuel efficient. The on board fuel guage gave us a best fuel economy figure of 19.5kpl when driving leisurely in city and 17.9 kpl flat out on the highway. For a petrol engine and an automatic these are good figures.
Thanks to the increasing traffic congestion in cities across the country--big and small-- there has been a gradual rise in demand for automatic cars over the last few years. The advent of AMT into the mix is expected to act as a catalyst to this. Positioned as a smart city car, an automatic version for the Nano makes perfect sense. Yet for all the changes, GenX Nano is not as hip as one would have liked. The small engine negates the many benefits of AMT. The car is now more refined and sure footed than before and the openable boot is a welcome addition. But Nano is fighting a negative perception and needed much more than just that. For one, it needs to untangle itself from the vicious cycle of pricing and beg, borrow or steal, if need be, a bigger engine and smarter clothes.