Tata Nano AMT: It's traffic friendly

Tata Motors' compact car, the Nano, has got its fair share of flak from the media and once-potential buyers. Tata Motors' dream of manufacturing a car that would be an easy transition from a two-wheeler fell flat when the tiny car, launched in 2008, was hobbled by the image of being "cheap". However, Tata Motors' has persisted with the car reputed to be the most affordable in the world. Working on the feedback it has got from users, the company has evolved it and started getting many things right.

The first hint I got of Tata Motors' intention to undo the damage was when I drove the Nano Twist last year. One of the major complaints of users had been the lack of a power steering option. So the Twist edition not only got power-assisted steering, but the cabin was spruced up too. Now the car maker has made the Nano a more convenient car to drive by installing automatic transmission, or more precisely, the Automatic Manual Transmission (AMT) system in it. Does this sound familiar? It should, because this is the same technology that Maruti Suzuki employs in the Celerio and Alto. Apart from this, the new Nano has also got an exterior facelift and some new features.

But first, let's see if the AMT makes the Nano a breeze to drive. I had driven the Twist quite a bit last year, and both in the city and on the highway, the 4-speed manual gearbox beautifully synchronised with the 624 cc engine for optimum driving. Sure on the highway, the Nano lacked the top-end power range, but there was still enough punch in it to be able to cruise comfortably. I realised that the AMT, as in the Maruti duo, would only make things better. I was right. The transmission upshifts quickly to ensure the car returns a high fuel economy. According to Tata Motors, the Nano AMT has a mileage of 21.9 kmpl, which sounds quite impressive.

The only problem I have with the quick upshift is that when I wish to rev up a bit and overtake the cars in front of me, I find the Nano is already cruising in the fifth gear. There is a solution for this predicament - the Nano AMT also comes with a manual mode that allows you to control the rev meter. All in all, therefore, driving in city traffic is a good experience in the Nano AMT because I find I am not in a constant tussle with the gear stick any longer.

The automatic gearbox comes with two driving modes: Eco and, believe it or not, Sport. The former option is perfect for commuting to work and back often during rush hour. This also keeps a check on the mileage. The Sport mode is where the engine revs up higher and holds the rpm needle for an extra couple of seconds. So yes, you can feel the difference as the Nano goes from nippy to nippier.

That was the performance on city roads. But since I was in Pune, I decided to test the AMT more comprehensively on a nearby hill. I wanted to see how the car would respond while driving uphill. To my disappointment, the Nano struggled to climb in the automatic mode. This was a letdown because I was the only person in the car. It initially crawled up the gradient, but the AMT huffed and puffed and seemed to raise a white flag and surrender completely when the car encountered hairpin turns. Let me see how it does on the manual mode, I decided. The Nano fared marginally better and gingerly drove up to the top of the hill. My advice is if you plan to head to the hills in the Nano AMT, make sure you let the car build some momentum before it confronts the incline. I felt let down by the AMT also because you can see many manual-geared Nanos driving up the mountains in Himachal Pradesh without any problem. Maybe a bit more torque might help the Nano AMT pull through.

There are two other major changes in the new Nano. One is a usable boot. The previous Nano didn't have boot space, which meant that you had to lug your bags into the cabin. The Nano AMT comes with 94 litres of boot space, while the manual variant has 110 litres. That might not be too much, but if you fold the rear seats you can have 500 litres at your disposal. The second upgrade is in the fuel tank. The new Nano has a 24-litre fuel tank that replaces the tiny 15-litre one of its predecessor. Tata Motors obviously has heeded the demand of a lot of Nano owners.

As for the tweaks in the design, the Nano now has a smiley face with the air vent in the front bumper designed to look like that. It has also been given new smoky headlights. The cabin now has a latte palette that makes it feel airier. Another thing you notice right away is the new steering wheel. It is the same as in the Zest, the company's compact sedan, and provides a good firm feel and lets you drive in a relaxed position. The Nano's instrument cluster looks a lot more contemporary now with two trip meters, instant and average fuel economy calculations and distance-to-empty fuel tank reading. The Nano is also the first car in this segment to have an entertainment system with Bluetooth connectivity.

The Nano has definitely come a long way and is moving towards maturity. Tata Motors is now positioning it as a convenient option, rather than a cheap one, for city driving. The AMT does what it is supposed do: lets you drive in the city without a hassle. For an entry-level car, its cabin feels upmarket and should appeal to the youth, if they can go beyond their prejudice against the compact hatch. The seats are comfortable. The Nano has an impressive 4-metre turning radius, which makes it very easy to negotiate traffic, take tight u-turns and park in narrow slots. It is a capable car and delivers on what it promises. The Nano will, of course, take time to make its image acceptable to people.
Arup Das is Features Editor at AutoX
Engine: 624 cc
Power:  37.5 bhp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 51 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21.9 kmpl
Price: Expected to be below Rs 3 lakh