“There’s a perception bump the Nano needs to overcome. With this GenX version, we are confident that customers will see just how much value the Nano provides.” These are the words from a top Tata Motors official, and that’s exactly what we’re here to find out.
Indian car buyers are both demanding and value conscious. So, for a car to sell in numbers to make it a bona fide success, it has to satisfy all that the customer demands, be cheap to buy and run and lest we forget, exceedingly fuel efficient as well. That’s the tall order that the new GenX Nano seeks to fulfill.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. The Tata Nano was launched with much fanfare, with a starting price of just Rs 1 lakh, as promised by Tata boss Ratan Tata himself. Of course, it was a bare-bones automobile, but then that wasn’t what Indian buyers wanted. Fast forward half a decade, and we are where we are today, sitting inside a Tata Nano which has, among various other features, a boot and tailgate, power steering, power windows, automated manual transmission and an audio system with Bluetooth connectivity. In fact, throw in a sunroof and you might actually pass it off as a luxury car!
Jokes aside, the new GenX Nano shows just how serious Tata Motors is with this car. Forget cheap – this Nano is all about value.
Design & Engineering
So, what’s changed? The rear hatchback is the first and biggest change to the structure of the car. The Nano boasts of a monocoque chassis, which is to say that the body forms the structure of the car, with all the mechanical bits bolted to it. Creating a fifth door at the rear has meant that reinforcements and strengthening to the rear section of the car was necessary to ensure it maintained the strength and rigidity required. Additional steel sections brace the C-pillar and floor of the Nano, in the process adding approximately 35 kilos to the car’s kerb weight.
The Nano continues to have a spare wheel under the ‘bonnet’ in the front of the car, and now there’s even a front-mounted radiator to cool the engine. Packaging constraints with the new AMT gearbox meant that some additional room was required, and this was achieved by moving the radiator to the front of the car. This also helps to balance out the weight distribution somewhat, but the Nano still has a rear weight bias.
The automated manual transmission or AMT is actuated by a mechanism supplied by Italian specialists Magnetti Marelli, the same supplier to Tata Motors for its Zest AMT, and to Maruti for the Celerio and Alto K10.
The new GenX Nano will also have the option of a 4-speed manual gearbox, in addition to the 5-speed AMT. In the AMT version, the first 4 gears are the same as the manual Nano, with a taller fifth gear. The final drive ratio in the AMT is shorter however, which allows stronger torque transfer when starting off. This also hints at a possible 5-speed manual Nano in the near future. Once again, ‘more is better’ in the minds of the Indian consumer, and hence a 5-speed manual is perceived to be ‘better’ than a 4-speed manual.
Significantly, the new Nano has a 24-litre tank as compared to 15 litres previously, reducing the frequency with which customers will need to head to the pump. This lso created an impression in the minds of customers that the Nano wasn’t particularly fuel efficient, because of frequent trips to the filling station.
Interiors & Comfort
Huge-domed centre console can actually create a blind spot when turning left.
The Nano’s somewhat ungainly silhouette is carried over unchanged, but what such a shape achieves is a voluminous cabin. The seating is upright, both in the front and in the rear, but leg and head room seem adequate for four adults. The interior ergonomics feel a little strange though, especially the position of the steering wheel and the high dome of the centre console, which seems entirely out of place. The two scooped-out nacelles on the dashboard have now been converted into ‘proper’ gloveboxes with a lid on them. To either side of these, you will find a speaker.
The new GenX Nano comes with a Bluetooth compatible stereo, with USB connectivity and an auxiliary input too. And it has 4 speakers. Wow! You won’t get steering-wheel audio controls, but the wheel itself is new, borrowed from the bigger Zest.
Quality of the plastics and fabrics used for the upholstery is vastly improved. In fact, this was one of the first things I noticed about the new Nano. Even the door seals and rubber beadings are of a higher quality, which shows that the thinking within the company is changing for the better, too, with a greater emphasis on quality.
One design element which has been repeated ad nauseum throughout the new Nano is the infinity motif, which you find on the upholstery, door pads, front and rear grille etc. It’s different, and seeks to create a sense of continuity inside and outside the car.
Boot space is quite limited with the rear seats in place, and you’ll struggle to get more than a couple of small bags into the boot. Tata Motors claims the new Nano has a 110-litre boot (manual version), and 94 litres in the AMT-equipped Nano. You can remove the rear parcel shelf, and you get a little more vertical room to play with. However, you need to disconnect the rear speakers which are house in the parcel shelf before you do so. Fold the rear seatback however, and the Nano has oodles of space inside. So much, in fact, that you might consider transporting a small refrigerator or even a washing machine!
Performance & Handling
The Nano continues to be powered by the familiar 624 cc twin-cylinder petrol engine, which has 38 PS of power and 51 Nm of torque. At the outset, let me state that the Nano always felt underpowered, and the increase in weight has only amplified this opinion. With the new tailgate and reinforcements, plus the AMT gearbox, the new GenX Nano is 65 kilograms heavier, which is the equivalent weight of an adult person.
Progress is made ploddingly, and taking off from traffic lights can prove an exercise in patience as everyone zooms past you. The Nano accelerates in a leisurely albeit linear manner, the AMT upshifting early in the interests of fuel economy. To its credit, the mid-range appears better, with the Nano pulling gamely even with the AC on.
The Nano has a limited top speed of 105 km/h. When I say limited, I mean it could go faster given some room, but Tata Motors engineers have installed a speed governor to restrict the Nano’s speed to 105 km/h. This has been done in the interests of safety. With the car’s rear-biased weight distribution, any lane change manoeuvre could potentially disturb the car’s trajectory, tipping it onto its side.
Which brings me to the handling. In city traffic, the Nano Twist with its power-assisted steering, short wheelbase and accompanying tight turning circle is a breeze to pilot. However, these very same attributes are to the car’s detriment on the highway. It appears a little nervous at speed, and you do feel vulnerable given its tiny dimensions.
Braking is a strong point in the Nano, with the car stopping smartly from the modest speeds it gets up to.
Tata claims the GenX Nano Easy Shift AMT will manage 21.9 km/l. With a larger, 24-litre fuel tank, that translates into a range of 500 kilometres, which is not bad, and should allow owners to realistically use their car for a full week before needing to head for the pump. Hopefully for Tata Motors, this will translate into better perception about the GenX Nano’s fuel efficiency.
Safety is important, no doubt, and while legislation in India still hasn’t caught up to global standards, Indian consumers are more aware than they were before. The new Nano still does not come with either ABS or airbags, and while it may be argued that Indian customers couldn’t care less either way, it does detract a little from the Nano’s safety score. Tata’s argument, and fairly so, is that the Alto 800 for example, is available with a driver’s side airbag, but hardly any customers tick the box while ordering their car.
Tata Motors has worked on the crumple zones of the Nano, and included reinforcements in the form of intrusion-preventing beams in the doors, but this car still does not give you a very safe or secure feeling. You’re literally sitting in a position that gives the impression that in the unfortunate event of a crash, you will be the crumple zone, so to speak.
That perception bump which we alluded to earlier is what Tata Motors has sought to resolve with the new GenX Nano. It is a much improved product in every which way, and, does seem like an excellent solution to the vexing problem of a city runabout. However, it is far from perfect. Build quality has been vastly improved, and the Nano today is as good (or as bad) as any of the other low-cost cars available in India. The tailgate may be a response to a customer aspiration, but realistically the boot is so tiny so as to make this feature relatively pointless. It feels frustratingly under-powered to drive, exacerbated by the weight gain.
Instead, where the Nano’s value proposition lies is the fact that it will be the cheapest AMT on offer in the Indian market. It has roomy interiors and a nice factory-fitted audio system. So there are positives that will appeal to first-time car buyer. For all that, it deserves to do well. Will Tata Motors finally make money on it? That I cannot say, but in terms of getting over that perception bump, they’ve surely made a fist of it.
Maruti Alto 800, Maruti Alto K10 AMT, Hyundai Eon, Datsun GO