Tata GenX Nano: First Drive
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The concept behind the Tata Nano was to make an efficient and very easy to drive city only car. While Tata got most of it right, the Nano was still lagging behind on some very important parameters. Now in its latest GenX avatar, Tata hopes to make it a lot more right than before!
When Tata announced the Nano or the One Lakh Rupee car as it was called, its objective was simple, put India on wheels. For the millions of motorcyclists who travel with 3 or 4 people on it, or the common man who aspires to own a set of four wheels or the upper class people who would just use it as their third or fourth car or for grocery shopping. While the idea was right, Tata could not really get the execution spot on and as a result, you see far less Nano’s on the road than what Tata had ideally predicted. Over the years the Nano has been soldiering on with the little car receiving updates all throughout. In its new GenX avatar, the Nano gets pretty much the most comprehensive update in its product cycle. We take it for a short spin to see what is new...
On the outside, the Nano retains the same silhouette and pretty much everything else barring a few updates. Calling it the new Infinity design theme, the GenX Nano gets a new front bumper with a smiley shaped honey-comb airdam which now also incorporate new circular fog lights. The headlights now also get the smoked effect which does look good and a thin chrome strip that runs along the lip of the bonnet (which i found to be a little tacky). The side profile remains unchanged, with even the wheelcap design being the same.
Heading to the back of the car, you might recall a similar rear view however, it now has a very important feature added. The boot is now accessible through an openable hatch which was very much needed. Like in the front, you have a thin chrome strip running across the boot as well and you also get an integrated rear spoiler which gives the car a sporty touch. All said and done, the Nano’s design has aged gracefully and even now the car does not look outdated. The little nip and tuck might not be much to talk about, but have definitely extended the Nano’s life by a couple of years, till the all-new Nano comes out.
Stepping inside the new GenX Nano, your welcomed by the same spacious cabin which has been surprising people since the Nano came into the market. You simply walk into the seats with no crouching at all highlighting its excellent ingress-egress qualities. The cockpit is exactly the same as the earlier car. The large steering wheel touching your legs wondering why Tata had to increase the diameter from the original smaller sized steering now that it has electric power steering.
You have integrated glovebox on both the sides with speakers, the instrument binnacle is retained as well and gets a large speedo, a digital clock, tripmeter and importantly a distance to indicator as well, considering Nano’s in the past were known for an erratic fuel gauge. Additionally, the console also gets a gear shift indicator. The Amphistream music system is retained and now comes with 4 speakers. It has Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player, USB, Radio and Aux options so you are pretty much sorted as far as music is concerned. Its only when you go to shift gears in the top XTA variant that you realise that the clutch pedal is missing and that the gear lever is a little different.
Space remains the same and the Nano is still the spacious car that it always was. Four people can be easily accommodated without a fuss and with plenty of knee room too. 5th passenger can be a squeeze but then its still slightly better than in an Alto. Additionally, the GenX Nano also gets an openable 94 litre boot which might not sound like much, but still pretty handy to for your groceries and shopping bags especially when your cabin is full of passengers.
Engine and Performance
Powering the GenX Nano is the same 624 cc, 2-cylinder petrol engine that pushes out 38.19 PS @ 5500 and a maximum torque of 51 Nm @ 4000 RPM. Now the Nano never really felt under-powered in the city and had enough poke to keep up and overtake city traffic, however to make it an even better city car, Tata has now provided the option of an Automated Manual Transmission apart from the 4-speed manual gearbox. The GenX Nano ‘Easy Shift’ Automated Manual Transmission has an option of ‘Sports’ mode or one can also shift manually as per convenience. The gearbox comes equipped with a ‘Creep’ function as well which helps the car to crawl as soon as the pressure is eased off the brake pedal, without pressing the accelerator. And thats not all. Tata has made some important changes in the car based on feedback as well. The cooling system including the radiator has now been moved to the front of the car, it also gets drive by wire electronic throttle which provides very sensitive throttle response, improved thermal management with a newly designed exhaust and importantly, the latest 4th generation AMT actuator from Magnetti Marelli.
While this sounds promising on paper, out in the real world, performance was a wee bit lacking. Now automatic gearboxes definitely sap more power than any manual gearbox and in the Nano you already have very few horses to play with. Ambling around at normal speeds, the GenX Nano does well in Auto mode. However, a quick dab to overtake that annoying rickshaw and the Nano at times wheezes even though it has a kick down function where it slips into a lower gear for better overtaking. Sport mode tries to hold the revs for a little longer, but frankly does not find much use or reaction in the little Nano. Sliding the lever into manual does provide some solace but only slightly. While the gearbox does have some discrepancies, it feels like an absolute boon bumper to bumper traffic and its impossible for any car to match the Nano’s convenience and user friendliness.
Braking was another area where the new GenX Nano felt lacklustre. While it always had drums all around, the brake pedal felt quite spongy in the GenX Nano and one really had to apply a lot more pressure than expected to get the desired bite. Going harder on it would just lock up the wheels since the Nano does not come with ABS. We are assuming this is a pre-production car and at least some of these issues should be sorted by the time the car is launched and deliveries begin.
Ride and Handling
The Nano is meant to tackle city roads and it does so with aplomb. Only the small 10 inch wheels can be a problem considering the large craters that our roads are decorated with. Other than that ride quality is excellent with brilliant bump absorption qualities and thanks to that massive 180mm of ground clearance, the Nano is pretty much a micro SUV. The electric power steering is carried over from the Twist and endows the Nano with supreme turn in’s. Its light and very direct and now feels extremely agile. Although the earlier Go-kart feeling from the earlier Nano is gone, I’d happily swap it over the electric power steering’s convenience. The tall-boy design and the high CG means the Nano does roll quite a bit when you push it around a bend, but the tyres protests will quickly make you ease of the throttle before you try anything more. Around town, there is nothing more one could ask from the Nano, its pretty much ideal.
Now I have loved the Nano personally and am the owner of a 2010 example myself. And the new car feels plenty better and gets everything that you would expect from a convenient city hatchback. Its spacious with a boot, has a powerful aircon unit, a bucket load of useful features and now comes with the added convenience of giving your left calf muscles plenty of rest thanks to the new AMT gearbox however, the gearbox isn’t perfect and the brakes could be better too which we hope Tata can address quickly. In fact I am extremely tempted to exchange my old car for a manual GenX model. However there is a slight ‘Twist”.
The top of the line Nano Twist XT already costs Rs. 2.43 lakh ex-showroom Delhi. Even the base Nano costs upwards of Rs. 2 lakh albeit it does come with more features than before. But what I am coming to is that the Nano is no more what it originally set out to be. Its only marginally shy of the base Maruti Alto LX variant which retails at Rs. 2.82 lakh and is the best selling car in the world. While product to product, the Nano does score higher in some areas with a lot more creature comfort and space, the Alto is too strong a brand with a huge following to be affected so easily. While we expect prices for the manual transmission variant to be more or less similar to the current prices, the XMT price tag might get a considerable bump, making the Nano’s extremely value for money proposition go even more off-target. If that happens or not remains to be seen with the launch due soon. Keep watching this space for the launch and an extensive road test!