A remarkable car, both for what it delivers and that headline-grabbing price tag
Steve Cropley Autocar
15 March 2009

What is it?

This tiny, twin-cylinder four-door saloon represents a history-making attempt by Tata Motors, India’s biggest indigenous automobile maker (and the recent purchaser of Jaguar-Land Rover) to tap into an entirely new domestic market for cars.

The Nano is an amazingly spacious and simple car designed to be made at a rate of 450,000 units a year and sold to Indian purchasers for 120,000 to 150,000 rupees (roughly £1700 to £2200), only about double the price of the 100cc to 150cc motorbikes presently used to transport families of up to five people.

After expected strong Indian demand is met over the next two to three years, Tata plans a more powerful, better equipped Nano Europe as a city car. The company showed an airbag-equipped prototype at Geneva several weeks ago, which has extra length, weight and frontal crash structure to enable it to meet Euro NCAP standards, along with a 50-percent bigger three-cylinder engine to cope with the expected 150-200 kilogram weight gain.

What’s it like?

It’s a four-door one-box saloon, as short and narrow as an original Mini, but more than a foot taller, with its steel monocoque body mated to a tough bit light underbody space frame.

The semi-trailing arm, coil-sprung independent rear suspension and the tiny 625cc, 35 bhp water-cooled, twin-cylinder engine — with integral four-speed gearbox — are carried on a separate subframe, welded as a complete sub-assembly into the body.

The front suspension is also independent, by MacPherson struts, and the brakes are all drums because they resist fade efficiently enough in a car that weighs only 600kg, and don’t require a (heavy and costly) power booster, as discs do. The suspension is designed without anti-roll bars, also to save cost and weight.

Evidence of creative cost-saving is everywhere: flat side glass, a single wiper, no tailgate (you load the boot by folding the rear seat flat and loading through one of the big rear doors), no rear wiper, no passenger’s seat adjustment, three wheel-nuts instead of four, one door lock instead of two.


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If this sounds too spartan for your tastes, consider the remarkable result: this car literally halves the entry cost of motoring for millions of aspiring Indian motorists. Its price is only about double that of a 150cc Indian-built motorbike. You have to go back 90 years for a parallel in automotive history, when Henry Ford halved the price of the Model T between 1908 and 1918 as he learned how to build it more efficiently.

In India, the cheapest Nano costs £1700, and the most expensive (complete with electric front windows, body-colour bumpers and air conditioning) sets you back around £2300. Four large Europeans easily fit a Nano; Indian owners will doubtless find space for more.

On the road, the Nano is a surprisingly decent proposition. The engine starts with a pleasant thrum, the four-speed gearbox is light and easy to use. Power is meagre, but it’ll shift four big adults well enough to stay with busy traffic in town and cruise at 50-55 mph on the (potholed) open road.

Fuel consumption is highly variable with load and speed, but 55mpg seems an easy average. The steering, not power-assisted, is light enough at parking speeds, and reasonably sharp and the Nano has a spectacularly small turning circle.

It rides well over India’s terrible roads, though it’s a bit bouncy and could do with better pitch-damping because pitching gets rather alarming when the car is fully loaded. There’s body roll, but decent grip considering the small-section tyres, which are differently sized front to rear.

Cornering in the Tata Nano is foolproof and close to neutral despite a 60 per cent rearward weight bias, caused by the fact that the little engine and its ancillaries, including radiator and fuel tank, nestle under the rear seat. The tiny fuel tank of 16 litres gives a 120-mile touring range, and emissions are claimed to be around 20 per cent lower than those of a typical Indian motorbike.

Should I buy one?

You can’t, at least not outside India. But were you in the market, the Nano would be nothing less than a motoring New Deal. It simply doesn’t have a rival, because India’s present entry-level car, the cramped and aged Suzuki Maruti Alto, is nearly double the price.

Nano production is predicted to reach 450,000 when a new plant in the north of India hits its stride in 18 months to two years’ time, at which stage the face of Indian motoring will have altered beyond recognition.

Join the debate


23 March 2009

Good job they don't have elks in India. This thing looks nailed on as a 'toppler'.

23 March 2009

Ok, but the real question is: will it drift?

23 March 2009

Having been fortunate to spend time in India and witnesses whole families travelling on a single moped without any protection at all I can see what great sense the Nano makes. it will fast becomes India`s Topolino.

I can also see it becoming very trendy in europe when it finally arrives here. The trendies of Soho will take it to heart. Excellent vehicle so long as they dont add too much unnecessary equipment and make it pricey.

23 March 2009

Brilliant little car. I wonder how much it would be to bring in on a personal import?

Just think, you could even do a one make race series to replace 2CV racing! The potential of this car is endless!

23 March 2009

I concur with horseandcart,

The Nano doesn't look like it can pass the moose (elk) test and will probably need a lot more engineering to pass the NCAP frontal/side crash tests. I think it's an interesting car, but whether it will succeed in Europe and other countries, time will tell.

23 March 2009

I've seen several articles criticising the lack of external boot access, particularly in the Europe model - but the lack of a rear hatch gives it a lot of structural rigidity. It's not just a case of cutting a hole and fitting some hinges and a catch: the whole body frame would have to be redesigned, and would get much heavier and more complicated. A heavier frame at the back means more inertia, which means you've got to have stronger sills and better crash strength at the front, and so it goes on...

23 March 2009

Not a chance. It may be tall but it weighs nothing, there's not enough mass high up to make it topple. I'd bet my house that it would breeze through an elk test.


23 March 2009

When a have my Range rover Sport V8 serviced, can i expect this horrible little car as my courtsey car?

21 July 2013

Just because this is cheaper (by a country mile) than your Range Rover, it isn't necessarily rubbish. It is a city car, not a 4x4. Your Range Rover isn't a city car. It is a luxury SUV. Range Rovers aren't the last word in comfort or opulence, and certainly not in affordability. Anyway, no, you can't expect it as a courtesy car. It isn't in Europe yet.

23 March 2009

Still can't work out why anybody in europe would buy one over a year old Panda.

Fantastic personal transport for India though and hopefully the end of seeing whole families on mopeds.


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