Tata Nano Makes a Positive First Impression

By Michelle Krebs March 25, 2009

By Nick Kurczewski

Tata nano and India street scene - 292.JPG PIMPRI, India -- Instead of racing to jump behind the wheel of the fancy top-of-the-line model as they do at other vehicle introductions, journalists scrambled to grab the lone base version of the Tata Nano -- black plastic bumpers and all -- to take it for a spin on Tata's test track in Pimpri, two hours outside of Mumbai.

Indeed, it is the price tag -- the equivalent of $2,000 -- that has caused the tiny Tata Nano to capture everyone's attention as it is currently the world's cheapest car.

The Nano comes in three trim levels: the Base, CX and LX.  None are exactly what could be called Tata Nano Interior - 214.JPG luxurious. The highlights of the range-topping LX include air-conditioning, power windows (front only, the rears remain hand-crank units), and power brakes.

Yet it is the famous "1-lakh" (100,000 Indian rupee) model that Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, promised he would bring to market that grabbed the attention of journalists on test day. 

Much has been made about what the Nano doesn't have -- about any modern convenience or safety feature you can think of. The shocker is that even the base model has plenty of functionality and fun built into it. 

It's fun to drive, so long as you don't need break-neck acceleration. Power from the 624-cc two-cylinder engine isn't phenomenal, but with a curb weight of only 1,400 pounds it was more than Tata Nano battery 195.JPG enough to let the Nano keep up with traffic during a short run outside Tata's test facility. The suspension coped with wheel-gobbling potholes, and the sharp steering allowed us to dodge trucks, pedestrians and the occasional stray dog.

In its current form, the Nano is not about to make the leap across the Atlantic. But Tata Motors has confirmed that it's working on a more refined, safer and more powerful model for Europe and the U.S.    

Still, our first impression was a positive one. The basics exist for a solid, well-behaved ultra-cheap vehicle that, with fine-tuning, could surprise more than a few car buyers in Europe and the U.S.A.

Photos by Makarand Baokar of Auto India magazine

1 - The Tata Nano was designed to be affordable enough that people could move to a four-wheel vehicle from the so-prevalent two-wheel ones in India.

2 - The battery for the Tata Nano is located beneath the seat.

3 - The Tata Nano's "map pocket" is little more than a snap-on felt pouch.

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