Life in a Nano
Reams have been written on the Nano: about how it is a proper car and not a four wheeled rickshaw, how it is a fairly pleasant vehicle to drive, how it isn't the death trap that many feared it would be and so on and so forth. But would it be like, living with the Nano day in and day out? Would the initial fascination wear off quickly? Would we prefer a motorcycle? Would the editors actually swap their big cars for the teeny Nano?
And so calls were made and a Nano landed in our basement, the idea being we all would spend quality time with the car to answer the all important question - would we buy one ourselves.
A week in the Nano and I wanted to get a gun
Living with the Nano isn't as simple a task as you would expect it to be. First there's the way I feared society looked at me - that despite all the glamorous cars I drive every week on my journalist salary this was the best I could get. There's the peers club all of who, when I turned up at the hangout in it, ended up ROFL. Forgive the short forms but then this isn't a very large car so to speak. Oh and then there are the curious types who just couldn't help but poke their heads past the windows and straight into my face, "How much did you pay, how long did you get delivery in, do you smell something burning?" One week in the Nano and I wanted to get a gun!
The Nano was aimed at capturing a lion's share of the lower middle class market, it ended up sadly capturing a lion's share of headlines. At the beginning it was for the revolution it was, later on for the illusion it turned out to be. Don't get me wrong, mechanically this car ticks all the boxes, even emotionally it plays the right chords, yet what Indians want above all else is paisa vasool and a status symbol, preferably at the same time. The Nano for the average Joe on the street just couldn't replace the two-wheeler when affordability showed up at their door. And well the Nano is the world's-cheapest-car - the next most affordable car is nearly twice the price - so it does take steely nerves to accept the fact, live with it and forego the lack of status.
But I'm not going to get into the philosophical how's and why's of the Nano. I did spend a week driving the car in Mumbai and as I mentioned at the beginning it was eventful. First though words of praise for the dimensions, the steering wheel and the engine which are quite simply spot on for any developing nation with a government that has lent a deaf ear to its nations infrastructure needs. In India's case that for well over forty years. So in Mumbai the Nano isn't just another car it's a marvel of mobile space management. It just fits, everywhere! In a three lane highway inundated by seven lanes of traffic it will still manage to create an eighth. And just for turning every auto rickshaw driver green with envy I could give it every award of the year.
The steering makes negotiating all those inch perfect maneuvers fairly simple, I admit the car we drove didn't have power steering but did I get a workout? No. The Nano's small 12" tyres have a very low coefficient of friction, so while they aren't the grippiest tyres I've driven, they reduce steering effort considerably. That however is also an issue since the lesser friction compromises braking but if you're smart enough you wouldn't tailgate anyone ahead.
As for the engine that displaces just 624cc, it's quick, zippy and full of energy. If there's one thing I truly admire about this car it's how this engine is tuned. It responds quickly, delivers power almost instantly and for all the buzzing around I did in the city it got me decent mileage. Could I ask for more? Yes.
The problem I felt with the Nano is that it does not have this sense of completeness. Sure it's innovative and has solutions that are really out of the box, but perhaps I'm still inside that box and have a bit of a narrow view of what my cars should feel like. The Nano to me feels like a bunch of very brilliant SAE students building their project for the next global engineering convention. It all works nicely but just does not feel like it was built professionally. There are build quality issues everywhere and the material quality is something you'd want to cover up with a fancier set of upholstery. Not everything that's visible works as it should, and these details despite the terrific drivetrain and some of the other mechanicals create a lot of negativity.
As for the burning issue, well a few days of pedal to metal action under the blistering summer sun with the air-con switched to full only torched a lot of misplaced assumptions. The Nano in just one word, worked!
Drift King in the making?
The first time I drove the Nano was at the MMRT race track, pedal to metal down the main straight and then C1 appeared and I turned white. As it went up on three wheels I realised this is not a car to be pushed around a race track. This time around I drove the car around Pune's most crowded streets and was mightily impressed. The Nano has an unreal ability to fit into the tiniest of gaps where only autorickshaws dare go. At the same time, the high seating position and small turning radius has sure helped me get out of many a sticky situation. The best part about the Nano is the ease of ingress and egress. It is by far one of the easiest cars to get in and out of, and I am sure this is one feature that will impress my mother to no end. This should also be of great use to senior citizens, who otherwise have a problem getting into cars.
The Nano is India's first car to feature a RR (rear engine, rear wheel-drive) car layout, something seen on... Well... Porsches. Of course the Nano is no Porsche but I did manage to get its tail to step out on loose gravel, almost into a drift. Drift King in the making? But my joy was short-lived given the lack of power from the puny 35PS engine. On the other hand, for commuting, the power output feels adequate. And while I do not have a girlfriend yet, Abhay's girlfriend sure drools over the Nano, and so do several other girls. (Maybe this is the chick magnet you need - Ed?).
Sorely missed while driving around was the left ORVM, especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic. My friend Pavan who recently purchased the Nano was shocked to find out that the mirror is not even available as an original accessory as it hasn't been designed yet.
Out of adoration for its cute looks I even went ahead and bought myself a Nano scale model, which now adorns my desk. And interestingly, the scale model does have a left outside rear view mirror! When can we expect the same on the real car, Tata?
It's a proper grin inducing car to drive in the city
I have to admit, I was pretty pumped up about driving the Nano. Rear wheel drive and a rear mounted engine had lurid images of Porsche 911's running smokey circles around my mind. One quick corner though and my dream lay shattered with me almost having a nasty accident in my pants as well. It was quickly established that I'd have to wait a bit more for that Porsche experience.
Driving the Nano in the city was a completely different story. I actually think the first gear is quite tall though nobody agrees with me. And then there's the size; the Nano is the closest you could get to a bike on four wheels. Pictures show how small it is but seeing it in the flesh really drives home the fact that this car is positively tiny. You can squeeze it into gaps that are scarcely believable for a four wheeler and it's a proper grin inducing car to drive in the city. In fact you tend to start driving a bit too quickly which you realize when you first jab the brakes. The Nano's brakes feel wooden and you have to give them a proper shove to get the thing to stop. Hit them too hard though and they lock with the skinny tyres giving up far too easily. That does tend to put a dampener on the whole slicing through traffic style of driving.
I wish Tata hadn't skimped out on the simple things like a glove box to hold the car papers and a passenger side RVM. Our car actually came with the car papers stuck on the left side of the windscreen for want of a better place to store them. Sure the car has been built to a budget but how much of a problem would it be to at least offer them as accessories if not standard on the top LX model.
Driving the Nano turns you into a super star of sorts with people asking a horde of questions and throwing long, longing stares at the car. Which is ironic considering I didn't get half the attention driving around in a sweet open top BMW just a week earlier.
So there you have it. Living with the Nano is a breeze in the city, not so much on the highway and turns you into a celebrity and a half when cruising around in town, although how long the fame lasts is another question altogether.
I'm impressed enough to consider buying it for my father
What is its mileage? Is it safe? How is its ride quality? How many people can sit in this car? What's the cost? Everybody had a bloody question to ask, making me feel like a salesperson for Tata Motors especially when the neighbors' children coaxed me into taking them for joy rides.
Anyways here goes - mileage is great, it feels safe, it costs next to nothing and if you're thinking of buying one go ahead. It is a joy to drive in the city, the ride quality is okay until you hit a pothole (take my advice, don't hit a pothole), my six foot frame fit in comfortably (something I can't say about too many small cars) and four of my friends fit in comfortably at the back (again something that cannot be said about most small cars). All in all I'm impressed enough with this car to consider presenting it to my father - heck, even on a journalists salary this doesn't pinch. Things I need? At least a 25litre fuel tank capacity and a passenger side mirror.
Corner hard and you often find yourself on three wheels
It's the best thing to have happened to me since motorcycles. I simply loved the Nano. It's the ideal car for city commuting and a stereo would have made it perfect. Using the car in Mumbai for a couple of days made me realize what a boon the Nano could actually be if more people embraced it as their preferred mode of transport. It makes more sense than any other car for commuting purposes and parking it is a breeze.
I've always been a fan of the Nano's design and I've left it at that. I didn't ponder much over its pocket-sized engine and all the technology (or the lack of it) involved. But come to think of it, the layout of components is quite supercar like. Rear engine, rear wheel drive, direct steering, rear tyre wider than the front and hardly any luggage space.
But this is no supercar mind you. I drove it down from Pune to Mumbai and it feels completely out of place on the expressway. I have never been overtaken by a bus before and here there were these big Volvo 9400 inter-city buses that were overtaking me left right and centre. Apart from reaching a top-speed of just 110kmph the Nano also feels unstable at high speeds.
Try cornering hard and you might often find yourself on three wheels. A feat which I managed a few times on the expressway. To be honest, it's a bit tiring to drive the Nano on the expressway and I don't look forward to doing it ever again.Whatever the Nano lacks on the highway it gains in the city. It's effortless to park and to maneuver. It's comfortable even for a taller than average person like me, the cabin feels airy and the visibility is good all round. I'm certainly contemplating getting one for my family. It seats four comfortably and is one of the best cars you can buy if the status associated with the 'cheapest car in the world' is not an issue for you.
As much as the Nano irritated me, it made me smile even more
A cheap car has no right to entertain but one thing's for sure â" there's never a dull moment in the Nano. For starters everybody looks at you. Kids point, dads stare; behind the wheel you don't know whether to feel embarrassed or proud. So you step on the accelerator to duck those stares and that makes them stare even more and wonder how the bloody hell the Nano moves so quickly. To me it's the most startling aspect of the car, there might only be a teeny-weeny engine at the back that sounds like a rickshaw but when asked to she does motor along rather briskly. If it weren't for the rev limiter cutting in too quickly (and too abruptly) the Nano could outrun a fair few vehicles in the city. Only thing other road users make weird faces and inquire whether you have a death wish.
Drive like you have that death wish though and the Nano can be seriously hilarious. The steering is ridiculous â" ridiculously heavy while parking, ridiculously disconnected to the tyres while doing anything else. The brakes feel like the un-assisted brakes on my rally car and deliver retardation as and when the fancy takes them. And the handling limits are best left unexplored. And yet she managed to put a smile on your face as I scooted around Pune. Or maybe I didn't drive her long enough for that smile to be wiped off my face?
Let's face it, the Nano doesn't drive like a normal car. It drives like a Nano. It has its own unique driving signature (which is good and bad in equal measure). The driving characteristics are far removed from a cheap and cheerful 800 but maybe that's why every drive in the Nano is so entertaining. You won't tire of squeezing into gaps a car could never fit into. The high seating position offers extraordinary visibility allowing you to drive it like you would ride a bike. The space inside is even more extraordinary. Carry speed round a corner and you feel like you're about to die â" yet she refuses to land on her roof. And you will never tire of cursing the fuel filler lid hidden underneath the bonnet.
As much as the Nano irritated me, it made me smile even more. Everybody in office wanted joy rides. Everybody smiled after the drive. Everybody had a million things to say. For weeks we only talked about it. If you want a cheap cheerful city commuter this is my pick. And when the day came to give it backâ¦ Nobody shed a tear.
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