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The next Tata GenX Nano represents two giant steps in the Nano’s long struggle to break free from its budget car shackles. One of those two steps the Nano desperately needed; the other helps raise its city-car game. This is a car that Tata Motors has been constantly working on, improving it, polishing its rough edges and after driving this new Tata GenX Nano, I can safely say it is the best Nano around. But is it the best city car?
The first answer lies at the rear – that openable hatchback infinitely improves its practicality and when you do open the hatch, you’re greeted by a 94-litre boot (110 litres if you do not opt for the new transmission that I’ll shortly come to). Pains have been taken to not barbecue your luggage – there’s a neatly integrated heatshield that separates your suitcase (well, small suitcase) from the heat that the rear mounted 624cc engine throws up. The second step is the new five-speed Automated Manual Transmission (AMT). In traffic, this clutchless shifter takes the load off your left foot and all you have to do now is point and squirt the dinky Nano through traffic. It has a built in ‘creep’ function that moves the car forward (or backward) slowly without any accelerator input, much like a torque converter, and helps in stop-start traffic. On the move, there are a few problems and one of them is with the quality of gearshifts – AMT’s aren’t the smoothest shifting units around and there is some of that head-nod effect every time the robotic clutch deep in the gearbox disengages and engages for a gearshift. It is admittedly smoother than other AMT equipped cars but the head nodding is noticeable especially when you’re pushing on.
The other more serious problem happens when you want a quick burst of power. The AMT takes its time to downshift and then, in the middle of an overtaking manoeuvre, it shifts up. Which, ideally, wouldn’t be a problem except there’s a fair bit of delay between gears which forces you to think ahead lest you get caught on the wrong side of the road at the wrong time. There is a ‘sport’ mode that improves engine responsiveness and quickens gearshifts and this is the best mode to drive the car in. The gearbox also saps some of the engine’s power, and at 37bhp the Nano cannot afford to be charitable with its power and torque. Because of this, the AMT Nano doesn’t feel as peppy as the manual. When asked, Tata engineers said it is because of the 65kg of extra weight that this new Nano carries around. That weight comes partly from the AMT and partly from the extra chassis bracing, stronger crumple zones and side impact beams that are now built into the Tata GenX Nano, which is very good. The car is safer now. There are other engineering improvements as well – the radiator is now mounted in the front of the car to improve cooling and there’s an additional fan next to the engine that helps suck out heat from the engine bay. There’s also an ECU tweak that bumps up fuel efficiency by a bit and this, along with the bigger 24-litre fuel tank (the old Nano had 15-litres) ups the real world range to around 500km on a tankful.The other thing that makes the Nano really appealing is the ride – at low city speeds, it is genuinely pliant and there is sophistication in the way the dampers absorb our potholed roads. There is some of that old choppiness when you up speeds but it’s not too bad. The flipside is that it doesn’t like quick direction changes – the rear suspension feels too soft and it’s not a car that likes to be hustled.
So, while the Tata GenX Nano is compromised on an open highway, it is a very usable, easy to live with city car. Tata Motors has been working hard on smoothing out the rough edges – the interior trim looks far more upmarket than when the Nano first made its appearance and even things like the well-finished, slick to operate gearlever look and feel appealing. There’s quite a bit of equipment as well – things like remote locking, power windows and four-speaker Bluetooth audio point at Tata making all the right moves to raise the Nano’s game and make it even more value for money than it is. Speaking of which, the Tata GenX Nano Easy Shift is the cheapest automatic- transmission car available on the planet. It is also cheap to run, surprisingly spacious, superbly maneuverable and now has improved practicality – and I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t buy one if you’re looking for a cute little city runabout.
Words: Ouseph Chacko