Over Christmas I optimistically nominated the Tata Nano as my car of the decade, even though I hadn’t actually driven one. It’s social significance and engineering achievement was what appealed to me.
I put that straight yesterday, though, on a half-hour adrenalin-charged drive through Mumbai’s crowded streets. To be honest it wasn’t the car raising my pulse to a steady 150bpm, it was the crazy driving conditions here. It’s like being bombarded with one of those tennis ball serving machines or being on the top level of a video game; things come at you so randomly and so fast that you’re just fire-fighting to stay out of trouble.
Thousands of pedestrians, other cars, street traders, cows, buses, taxi cabs and the odd dog are all sharing the same space.
Timidity means failure though; you’ve just got to grit your teeth and go for it or else some crazy cabby will be occupying the piece of tarmac you’ve got your sights on. And keeping his hand glued to the horn whilst he does it. Then again, while such a system shouldn’t really work, here it kind of does.
Anyway, most of my time in the Nano was spent preserving it, me and the lads from Autocar India in the back. I did find out, however, that it’s way better than a £1500 car deserves to be. The ride is surprisingly good for such a short car that has to bounce over Mumbai’s chronic roads. The two-cylinder motor is not the quietest device but its low-down grunt is ideal for town work - and quick squirts to get out of the way of slower obstacles. It also feels stable and well-planted on the road. The unassisted steering, too, is sweet and communicative if predictably stiff at parking paces.
Best of all though is the Nano’s space. It’s barely bigger than a Smart but four big blokes can easily squeeze in. And four of us did in search of yet another amazing Indian meal. It also feels extremely well made. Sure the cabin is basic and the driving position too high for my tastes, but I reckon that our 4000 miler will still feel solid in 10 years time.
The main consideration with the Nano though is that it was Ratan Tata’s vision to get some of his less fortunate countrymen away from transporting their entire families on a scooter (you see thousands of them) and into four-wheeled transport. Yet, it’s far from being just utilitarian transport - it’s way too good for that.
So anyone who voted for the Range Rover, the eventual winner in our poll, or anything else - sorry I think that you were wrong.