Living with the Tata Nano

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After spending much time in what was hailed as the car to revolutionise the Indian car scene, we, fairly, practically and frankly, report as to what the Tata Nano means…

…to your wallet

This is the cheapest – both in terms of running costs and buying-in price – method of comfortable, four-wheeled, private transport, ignoring, of course, the used car market. Tata is baiting customers with tempting EMI schemes starting with just Rs 25,000 as down payment and Rs 3,192 as EMI, calculated with Delhi prices and that, along with a tonne of marketing, is helping them push sales figures close to the 9,000 mark per month. Not great but remember where they used to be?

 

Even at the pumps, your wallet doesn’t spontaneously self-combust because even with a heavy foot, you can expect at least 14-15 kpl in the city. You can even get better figures if you avoid constantly flogging it like we do. In a combined cycle, you can expect close to 17-18 kpl and highway-only mileage figures are close to 19-20 kpl, with the AC running throughout. Speaking of which….

 

…for your peace of mind

Yes, the AC seems like it magically teleports a cold downdraft from the Arctic to make Indian summers more tolerable and it really is excellent – better than even some much more expensive cars. Besides, it’s hassle-free to commute in, easy to park and even manages to be fun at times. But the manual steering requires far too much effort, especially at parking speeds, so old folks will struggle with it. It’s not the ` 1 lakh car any more, so it will be nice at least have the option of a power steering.

Plus, for all the talk about it being the ultimate city weapon, while it is sorted size and visibility-wise, its running gear still needs work. The motor needs some more torque down low, the clutch (that feels like its connected to a wine cork) needs to feel more progressive and the 105 kph top speed limiter needs to be increased. After all, with an on-road price approaching Rs 2.5 lakh in Mumbai, it cannot afford to be a car with such limitations.

…to the traffic around you

What they should be thankful for is the minimal footprint of the Nano. Unfortunately, the reactions to the Nano always tend to fall on extreme sides of the emotive spectrum – some people are really courteous, letting you pass, cross, park or whatever with a smile but on the other hand, there is a seemingly less-than-intelligent subsection of the populace – mostly yellow plate types – that tend to ignore its very existence. I’ve seen that most Nanos are driven rather too meekly, when they don’t need to be! I mean, with a little bit of technique, I get to places at least as fast as I do with other cars, and quicker still through traffic. And anyway, in the event of any bumper contact, you’d be paying less for repairs than he’d pay as tax on his bill.

 

…for your family

If you plan on using it as a daily commuter in the city for a family of four, you’re pretty much sorted. But this isn’t a complete family car yet, like, say an Alto or the Maruti 800. It can run Indian highway speeds just fine  – though it struggles to track true – and there is good amount of space for four people, but where do they put the first thing you think of on an outing – the luggage?  Yes, the primary assignment for this car is the city, no doubt, but Indians would rather that they didn’t have a car with such limitations.

…for your status

Er…hey, lunch is here! Ha ha. But seriously, it’s not going to do wonders, to be honest. That said, a lot of well-off people use the Nano as a daily runabout and they adore it for the sheer practicality. That said, if you’re in college, unless you look like Brad Pitt, get a nice motorcycle, dude.

…as your first car

It’ll serve the requirement well. And make almost every car you upgrade to seem luxurious, dynamically sorted and refined.

Should I buy it?

Depends on what you want. If your use is primarily around the city for up to four people, there isn’t any new car on the market that can offer you so much car for the money. If you frequently hit the highway or transport stuff, read the next question.

 

This or a used hatch?

Figures vary vastly but as a guideline, a 2009-10 Santro or a Wagon-R LXi would cost you somewhere in the Rs 2.25-2.5 lakh bracket. For that money, you get a proper car without the limitations of the Nano, replete with more creature comforts and refinement. Ultimately, a more complete package. It won’t be as cheap to run as the Nano and maintenance cost will be higher, but if you can stomach those and don’t care about the fact that it’s a used car, go for it.

Is the Nano diesel the answer to our prayers?

As an idea, yes. But in reality, it’s not so simple. It’ll be torquier and supremely economical but refinement and costs remain the main hurdles. And no one wants their car to sound like the little neighbourhood noisemaker, no matter how economical it is.

For a motoring enthusiast on a budget, is there any hope at all?

Well, sort of. For roughly the price of a new top-end Nano, you can now buy the recently-launched Pulsar 200 NS and a reliable ‘06 Wagon-R for the family. Hop into the car for all practical purposes and when you’re bored, an enjoyable motorcycle is at hand.

What other similarly priced alternatives can we expect in the future?

Of all the rumoured ones, we think the Maruti-Suzukis replacement for the 800 – called the Cervo – is the one you should wait for. Knowing our market, it could well be India’s new favourite car.