The Tata Nano AMT is the first car with an automated manual transmission that I have driven, which is a bit like watching a Ram Gopal Verma movie as your introduction to Bollywood. I was given plenty of warning about its jerky, laid-back nature and its unpredictability. Actions, however, speak louder than words – you never really understand how spasmodic that gearbox is until you actually get behind the wheel, slot it into ‘A’ and hit the gas. The gearbox feels confused more often than not, and when it does make its mind up to change ratios, it takes a surprising amount of time to do so. The shift lag, in fact, is dangerously long; if the gearbox decides to upshift or downshift when you are attempting an overtake on undivided roads, you could be caught on the wrong side of the road at the wrong time.
The nerve-wracking experience of the Nano does not end here. On even the gentlest of turns, there is an overwhelming top-heavy feeling and the smallest of imperfections in the road seem to unsettle the 700-odd-kg weight of the car. Oh, and the speakers are quite bad as well.
But I loved it. Every time I walked into the parking lot, I would look at my old, reliable Hyundai Getz and the Nano, and walk to the Nano. When it comes to moving about in Mumbai, it really is hard to beat. It’s tiny and boasts a tight turning radius, so parking is about as easy as it gets for a four-wheeler. The tall cabin makes the car feel nice and airy and the high seating position gives you a commanding view of the road. Thigh support is great (sometimes too much for shorter passengers), the power steering is easy to turn, and the seats are fairly comfortable for short journeys. And while this may sound a bit hypocritical, the AMT gearbox is actually quite convenient. In bumper to bumper traffic, any automatic gearbox is better than a manual. All you need is either to get used to the fitfulness of that AMT, or move it into manual mode and flick the gearstick up or down to change gears.
Piling on to the pluses, this top-spec variant of the Nano gets Bluetooth connectivity, which is great, and is surprisingly spacious for four adults. It even has a 100-litre boot – that might not sound like a lot, but it comes in handy every now and then.
The Nano, then, is an ideal urban car. Steer clear of overtaking and high-speed cornering, and you see why — the size is great for cramped city spaces, the AMT gives you clutchless convenience in tight urban traffic, and it’s roomy enough for four adults despite its compact size.