After exchanging pleasantries with the genial Tata Motors staff, I walked towards the sunshine yellow Nano parked in the middle of the skid-pad at the Tata Motors test track. After writing about it, spreading rumours about it (like almost everyone else), after seeing it and thinking a lot about it, it was time to drive the Nano. It was not a long walk to the car, but with every step there was an overwhelming sense of occasion building within me. I am sure the sensation would be the same in the minds of researchers who were approaching an alien spaceship which had landed on Earth for the first time.
I got into the car, summoned the key and started it. The engine sprang to life with the combined ignition noises of a four-stroke scooter and a car and settled down to a slightly busy idle. Pressing the feeble-looking clutch lever down, I selected first gear. Almost like a racing driver who is about to drive an F1 car for the first time, I didn’t want to stall the car. To ensure that, I ran the clutch a bit as my right leg sank into the accelerator pedal. The car accelerated spiritedly to 35 kph and it was time to shift to second, which took the speedo needle above the 60 kph mark. Third saw the car touch 90 kph and soon we attained v-max of the Nano – 105 kph in fourth gear. There, in a single spirited acceleration run, the Nano had changed everything that I was expecting from the small car.
It was behaving more like a mainstream car and I was expecting a lot more shudder at the launch, more vibrations on the move and lots more noise than what was present. Soon it was time to jab the brake, reduce some speed and enter the smaller skid pad at the other end of the track. Downshifting a gear, I threw the car into the circular bit and went back on the power. Sure, there was an element of body roll, but the Nano levelled out like any mature car and headed for the next straight. The smooth acceleration, well planted stance and the gutsy nature of the two-cylinder engine in that first drive will remain etched in my mind forever. In short, this is not a baby car or an alternate to the car as many, including me, thought it would be. It is a well-engineered product that redefines what a small car platform powered by an internal combustion engine can do. And to appreciate that, you have to leave what you have learned about cars at home and get behind the wheel.
Looks and design
First and foremost, the Nano does not look cheap. It looks like a thoroughly modern small car that could have come from Japan, South Korea or any European nation. Actually no, it couldn’t have come from anywhere but India, where the need for a small car that does not cost the moon is really felt. On closer look, lots of details grab your attention. The single large wiper blade, the three nuts that hold each wheel, beautifully crafted air-intakes on the flanks, the excellent fit and finish of body panels, quality of paint, plastic-to-metal integration and so on. And you also notice how closely related the Nano is to modern Tatas like the Indica Vista. There is a certain crispness to its design that will help it look young years down the line. If you are looking for oddball-ness, then the small tyres stand out, along with the tall stance of the car. This car dwarfs Maruti 800s and Altos and is almost as tall as a Hyundai Santro. Our road test car in yellow was the LX version, with colour coded bumpers, and attracted lots of attention as we hit the road. Where the design triumphs is in the fact that despite the Nano’s utilitarian beginnings and cost-saving development process, this mono-volume car manages to look sporty – a word that couldn’t have been in the design brief. The drooping roof line, the little spoiler and the Gallardo-inspired air intakes are responsible for this. We like rear-engined sporty looking cars, don’t we?