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OK Tata

The million-dollar question for the Rs 1 lakh car: What’s it like? Now you’ll know. Hormazd Sorabjee & Shapur Kotwal finds out.

autos Updated: Apr 01, 2009 17:55 IST

The Nano has had a tough time post its rock-star reception at the Delhi Auto Expo over a year ago. Now that it’s launched, the question on everyone’s mind now is — does Tata’s price target of Rs 1 lakh mean there’s been too much of a compromise in quality? Does the Tata Nano possess the comfort, performance and security of a ‘real’ car?

The Nano’s affordability, desirability and downright cute looks make it very appealing. The smiley ‘face’, those soft ‘eyes’, the exaggerated round-shaped roof, the tipped-forward stance, the air inlets behind the rear doors, and the tightly formed rear section, all add to the Nano’s undeniable charm.

The Nano uses a combination of a monocoque chassis and space frame with supports. Two long-members and three cross-members are integrated into the design allowing it to be stiff, 20 per cent lighter, and tall — all at the same time.

The Nano weighs just 600 kg. With the battery and fuel tanks being placed under the front seats and almost 60 per cent of the weight placed over the rear wheels, a capable suspension system is a must. The front MacPherson strut uses a lower A-arm and the independent rear uses semi-trailing arms. There are no anti-roll bars, disc brakes or power steering. Also missing are a second wiper, the left-side rear view mirror and the rear-opening hatch. To top up the radiator you will have to unscrew six butterfly nuts and lift off the engine cover — which restricts easy access to the engine bay.

A 624cc, twin-cylinder, all-aluminium, motor powers the Nano, which is mated to a compact four-speed gearbox that drives the rear wheels. To maximise passenger space, the engine is mounted behind the rear wheels and the ‘boot’ above it holds a measly 80 litres.

Getting in and out of the Nano is very easy. The doors open wide and the high seats allow you to slide onto them with utmost ease. Having no engine in front, the Nano has deep wells that allow front seat passengers to fully stretch out their legs. The passenger can adjust the angle of the backrest from near his right hip just like
the driver.

Long hours behind the wheel revealed that the steering was a touch too low. After the high-set wheel on the Indica, Tata has taken it to the other extreme on the Nano! Nevertheless, a whole day of driving didn’t leave you feeling uncomfortable.

Cleverly designed scooped-out sections on either side of the central console give you a lot of space to throw you personal belongings into. Small conveniences like armrests, door pockets and cup-holders are provided, which goes to show that our awe for the Nano isn’t misplaced.

Offering good seat height, fantastic headroom, good under-thigh and back support, the Nano’s rear seat comfort is simply unreal. However, the metal bar that runs in front of the rear passenger’s shins (for structural stiffness) and the lack of three-point rear seatbelts are indications that safety concerns have been sacrificed.

In the LX and CX versions, the standard air conditioner provides decent cooling for the front passengers but the small 60 cc rotary compressor struggles to keep the rear passengers cool.

Once the key is turned, the Nano doesn’t make an autorickshaw-like racket as many thought it would. However there is some vibration inside the cabin, especially in the doors.

The Nano gets to 60 kph in about 9 seconds, just a second slower than the Maruti 800. There’s no denying that the Nano is better suited to the city and is not meant for overtaking.

Nano’s terrific stability surprised us. After driving a cumulative distance of 400 km in two cars, we agreed that Nano can tackle the worst of Indian roads.

The car’s small wheels often thud through bad patches making you fear for their integrity, but the feel of the suspension and the stiff chassis reassures you. On the highway, the Nano’s straight-line stability is terrific. You won’t really miss power steering except while parking.

The Nano is a credible car that does its job brilliantly as per its target audience (with its record-breaking fuel economy) and even manages to trounce more expensive cars in areas like passenger space. It is not perfect, nor as good as other small cars, but they’re also more expensive than the Nano.

What Tata has achieved with a car that begins at Rs 1.34 lakh is a triumph of Indian ingenuity.

First Published: Apr 01, 2009 17:54 IST