Luck, it seems, hasn’t been on the Nano’s side. Apart from the big-bang launch and worldwide attention, the Nano’s journey has been rather bumpy. Whether it’s been political ramifications on the production of the vehicle or product — and distribution — related issues, it has encountered roadblocks nearly every step of the way. If that’s not all, it's not seen the kind of sales it once hoped to enjoy. Nor has its export plans really taken off. An enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears later, the Nano has become famous, but it’s not the kind of fame that Tata Motors expected.
Intentions, however noble, have not seen two-wheeler owners turn overnight into Nano owners as was originally conceived. And the fire incidents were hard to put out, so to speak. Some didn’t find it rich or appealing enough even if they were considering the top-end LX variant, nor did they find refinement levels to be appreciable. It’s for these very reasons why Tata Motors, in what is the first of many such updates/enhancements, has released the 2012 Tata Nano.
The press release says it very clearly — improved, more refined and more efficient, all of which has been the result of customer feedback. But there are also some things that the fine print doesn’t reveal. There is more power — an additional 3 bhp and 0.3 kg of torque, and it's happened by using some time-tested engineering. The ECU has been recalibrated and a knock sensor has been added. The increase in compression ratio from 9.7:1 to 10.3:1 has improved spark timing as well. All of which has led to the increase in power and fuel efficiency as mentioned earlier. Does it change the performance numbers? It definitely does.
Line up at an imaginary drag strip next to a regular Nano and the 2012 model will leave it behind in no time. By the time you are up to 60 kmph, the new car is a good 0.4 seconds ahead, but it’s the run to 100 kmph that is a massive four seconds quicker! Sure, the improvement in compression ratio has improved top-end performance (top speed remains unchanged at 106 kmph), but the driveability too is much better. In our run from 40 to 80 kmph, the improved model is a substantial 4.3 seconds quicker. So the numbers do speak for themselves, but the proof is in the seat-of-the-pants feel. There is a marked change in the way the car takes off from traffic lights and the way in which it keeps up with regular traffic in an even more unstressed manner. Changes that are surely welcome.
The mechanical changes don’t end there. The exhaust construction has changed, especially with respect to its diameter and location of baffles. Customers apparently were not happy with the typical twin-cylinder thrum of the engine and the engineers at Tata Motors made these changes. But it’s not just the exhaust that has been attended to — the noise-vibration-harshness (NVH) levels inside the cabin have dropped by two to three decibels. The body has been stiffened by some margin, while the air-intake has been extended to the L-scoop right under the passenger doors to reduce harmonic distortion caused at the rear. All of these technical changes, to you and me, mean that the Nano is a relatively quieter place to be, though it’s still pretty noisy if you compare it to other regular cars.
The suspension too has been tweaked by reducing spring stiffness, while re-tuning the shock absorbers have helped the car to ride softer. The addition of an anti-roll bar at the front has helped reduce body-roll by a small margin. It’s not apparent at first; it takes quite some driving around bends to figure it out. Ride quality has marginally improved too, though the rocking motion from front to back does make the overall ride slightly bumpy.
Those who aren’t technically inclined and are happy that mechanically the car has become more sound will be rather glad to know that there are more colour options now (ten overall, eight of which are new, including this Papaya Orange you see here) and the top-end LX variant gets new wheelcaps, while both the mid-level CX and LX get a passenger-side mirror as well. The dashboard and seat trim get new beige treatment on the LX variant and in the process make the car feel a little brighter and cheerful.
All in all, our impression of the improved Nano is rather positive. It’s made the car better and the selling proposition even stronger, given the fact that the price of the car remains unchanged. And the fuel consumption figures claimed by Tata Motors should gladden us Indians — the previous Nano’s figure has been bested by about 7 per cent.
However, unfortunately for the Nano, it could be a case of too little too late, for no fault of its own. Given the current economic climate and the state of the automobile industry, any improvement in sales would be temporary and rather tough to hold on to. What Tata Motors needs, and desperately, is a Nano that makes the proposition of owning one a watertight case. The answer lies with the Nano diesel that could possibly arrive sooner than we think.