No car ever caught the collective imagination of a country like the Tata Nano did. It did not live up to the pre-launch hype, but the company is not giving up. The car needed improvements... power steering, better interiors, a sound system... a new avatar may be just the twist that the Nano needed. Now, will it spark a turnaround?
The new Nano is a step forward
Old design, funkier colours
This is by no means a mid-life facelift, though there is need for one. The Nano Twist has the same dimensions and chubby design as the original Nano. All cars in this category ride on skinny 12" wheels that give exceptional fuel economy but dodgy ride and handling, and the Nano is no exception. It remains the most fuel efficient petrol car, and the new funky colours add zest to the nameplate.
Plushest interiors in the category
Tata has made big changes inside the cabin in an attempt to move away from the "cheapest car in the world" tag. Additions include a capable music system that also supports bluetooth, and a bigger steering wheel. Welcome additions are twin gloveboxes on the dashboard (pic, above). Overall fit and finish have gone up a notch, and it remains a very spacious car. However, the 80-litre boot restricts it to being a strictly city runabout.
Power steering a plus, but flaws remain
The biggest talking point in the Twist is the new power steering, the absence of without which it was cumbersome, especially to park in tight spaces — a major flaw in a city car. The introduction of power steering has made parallel parking a breeze. The lighter steering also fully exploits Nano's peppy engine.
Despite having a small 624cc 2-cylinder engine, the Twist punches above its weight in start-stop driving. Where it falters is in refinement and stability. The engine is noisy, and the noise-insulation in the cabin is notably deficient, letting in road noise like a three-wheeler. Due to the height and skinny tyres, there is perceptible body roll as well, and anything above 80 kph (easily achieved seating two) makes the car nervous.
The Nano has always evoked extreme reactions: a breakthrough innovation, or a stillborn baby. But the car does grab attention, with Santro, Wagon R, Alto and even Swift drivers seeming to feel insulted at being overtaken by it (the engine really is peppy), and trying to cut us off while testing.
The Twist is definitely a step in the right direction. This is the car that Nano should have been at the outset. But skepticism is so deep-seated that despite a decent price tag, additional features and a famed fuel economy (we still got 17.5 kpl plus under hard acceleration in city with AC on), the Twist may not undo the all the past damage.
But a quick follow up variant with a bigger engine, a more sorted ride and a proper boot may spell the first serious signs of a revival in the Nano story.