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Tata Nano (2008) CAR review: first riding impressions

Published:08 December 2008

Tata Nano: CAR is first to ride in the new Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
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  • 4 out of 5

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

The new Tata Nano costs as much as a scooter, so can it really drive like a proper car? This is the question we’ve all been asking since news first leaked that the Indian firm was planning to rewrite the automotive rules with a £1300 car. And now, exclusively, CAR can tell you.

We travelled to India and scored the very first ride in the Nano. We haven’t driven it yet, but nobody else outside Tata has experienced it in action. And if you are one of the millions planning to buy one, we’re pleased to be able to reassure that your Tata Nano will indeed drive like a proper car.

But the Tata Nano's engine is so small…

Two cylinders, 624cc and 33bhp isn’t much. But unladen, this four-door, five-seat city car weighs just 600kg, so even with four adults aboard our prototype delivered sufficient acceleration to cope easily with city traffic. Ignore the likely 17-second 0-60mph time. By 60mph the Nano is running out of puff, but to 30mph or 40mph it feels far more competitive.

Stationary, the four-speed gearbox’s shift felt long and lumpy. On a short run close to 60mph the Nano didn’t feel strained or unstable, so it should cope with extra-urban duties if required. Fuel consumption will be around 60mpg, and emissions around 100g/km; on a par with the best European city cars, in other words.

And the Tata Nano's chassis?

We haven’t driven it yet. But from the passenger seat, the ride felt supple and noise and vibration levels were impressive, even over some coarse surfaces in our first ride in India. The Nano is tall and has a narrow track, so it rolls heavily through bends when pushed hard.

But don't forget – in city driving, you’re unlikely to be travelling this fast. And the tiny 12-inch wheels grip admirably and resist understeer longer than you’d expect.

>> To read Ben Oliver’s full, exclusive story on riding in the world’s cheapest car, and the engineering behind it, buy the January issue of CAR magazine, out now


The £1700 Tata Nano must be like a prison cell inside!

There isn’t much kit on the Nano, though air-con will be an option and dealers will offer upgrades like a radio and alloy wheels. But the basics are right. Even in our prototype model, the trim plastics and seat cloth felt of decent quality, seat comfort was good and – incredibly – the Nano will accommodate one six-footer seated behind another.

The boot is tiny though, with just 100 litres above the rear-mounted engine (the Toyota Aygo, by comparison, has 139 litres). And the Nano's boot can only be accessed by folding the rear seats forward; to save cost, there’s no boot hatch. Such money-pinching is what makes the Nano so intriguing...

Does the Nano do without safety features then?

There aren't many, but it’s far safer than the bicycles and scooters that many Nano buyers will be trading up from. Tata’s engineers are working on a series of upgrades, including airbags, anti-lock brakes, power steering, more powerful three-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and five-speed and automatic gearboxes which will allow the Nano to go on sale beyond its home market, and capitalise on the colossal potential created by its base price.

Verdict

CAR's first ride in the Tata Nano felt far more significant and exciting than a first drive in a Ferrari or Lamborghini, because this car’s importance is immeasurably greater. It won’t compete on dynamics or quality with European or Japanese city cars, but it doesn’t have to.

What Tata has achieved at an unprecedented price is astonishing, although we’d guess it will cost Indian consumers closer to £1700 when it finally goes on sale, six months late, in March 2009.

But after experiencing it in action, we’re more convinced than ever of the transformational effect the Tata Nano could have on this industry. And in times like these, we find that strangely comforting.

>> To read Ben Oliver’s full, exclusive story on riding in the world’s cheapest car, and the engineering behind it, buy the January issue of CAR magazine, out now

Specs

Price when new: £1,700
On sale in the UK: March 2009
Engine: 624cc 2cyl 33bhp @ 5500rpm, 35lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission: Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 17sec 0-60mph, 65mph, 60mpg, 100g/km (est)
Weight / material: 600kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3100/1300/1600

Rivals

Photo Gallery

  • Tata Nano: it's back to basics motoring
  • CAR hasn't driven the Tata Nano yet, but we are the first journalists to ride in it
  • CAR's contributing editor Ben Oliver travelled to India for CAR's exclusive ride in the Tata Nano. Read the full story in the January 2009 issue of CAR Magazine
  • As part of CAR's Tata special, we also interview Ravi Kant, Ratan Tata's right hand man who runs Tata Motors. Read the full interview in the January 2009 issue of CAR Magazine
  • Tata Nano: the only new car for less than £1700
  • Check out the January 2009 issue of CAR Magazine for our exclusive ride in the new Tata Nano
  • New January 2009 CAR Magazine has the full lowdown on the 64 most important new cars of 2009

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

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