The Nano’s best trick is an astonishing ability to get in and out of unimaginably tight spots. Gaps that are impossible for any other car to slot into, the Nano wiggles in with ease. The easiest car to park then? Not quite. This brings us to the worst bit – the steering. It’s just too heavy for a car of this size and weight, and you need strong triceps to make full use of the Nano’s amazingly tight 8m turning circle. So the irony is that even when I see a tiny gap the Nano could easily be parallel parked into, I pass it by. It’s because the thought of struggling with the wheel makes me hunt for a spot that would call for a fewer number of turns, lock-to-lock. The heavy steering doesn’t make it convenient to fully exploit the autorickshaw-like manoeuverability of the Nano and that’s a real shame.
That said, my first week with our long-term 2012 Nano saw me squeeze through a gap I thought was impossible. You see, an inconsiderate Elantra driver had blocked me in the visitor’s parking lot of a high-rise. The thought of hunting the idiot down to get his keys left me seething. There was a small gap between the car next to me and in front of the Elantra’s bumper. Hmm. Could it squeeze through? Why not give it a shot? If I added another scratch or two to the Elantra’s already scuffed bumpers along the way, it wouldn’t really matter, and would even serve the owner right. Damage to my own car? How much could a touch-up on a Rs 2-lakh car actually cost? A bit of wiggling within my parking slot to align the car at an almost 45-degree angle before threading it through the narrow gap did the trick, and without a scratch. If it were any other car, I may still have been ringing the bell on all 20 floors to find out where in hell the driver was.
If there’s one thing the Nano gives you on the chaotic streets of Mumbai, it’s confidence. It stems from the rather nice and high seating position, the great visibility all around and the ridiculously short overhangs, which makes it so easy to tell each edge of the car. You soon realise that you don’t need fantastic judgment to punt the Nano around and this makes it an ideal car for first-timers with limited skill. But again, how much damage can you do to a Rs 2-lakh car? It’s dangerous to keep thinking like that because with a bumper that costs only Rs 1,200 or a headlight that won’t set you back by more than Rs 1,300, it’s tempting not to give way to the cabbie who has chopped across your lane without any warning.
Thankfully, the Nano hasn’t picked up a scratch so far and in fact, with just over 2,000km on the clock, it looks and feels like it’s just rolled out of the showroom. With such little mileage you would expect any car to feel brand new, but what you don’t expect in a car of this price is how well put together it is. The short wheelbase, fixed rear hatch and beefed-up suspension points help the torsional rigidity of the body shell considerably. There’s not a squeak or rattle despite the pounding over Mumbai roads – which by now are possibly the worst this side of the Sea of Tranquility.
What bad roads do highlight is the choppy ride of the Nano, and on those tiny 12-inch wheels, it bucks a fair bit. You get tossed around a little and that can get pretty uncomfortable, but a big respite in the 2012 model is the seats, which have more cushioning than before. Perhaps too much cushioning – the front seats have an excess of under-thigh support.
With the engine upgrade that came with the 2012 model, the Nano is now much nicer to drive. First gear is still short enough to make a quick getaway from a traffic light and, except on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, the Nano just doesn’t feel like it’s desperate for more power.
Living with the Nano, you learn its little idiosyncrasies and how to make the most of it, but above anything you begin to warm towards it. Largely because of the peace of mind you get from
a car you don’t really have to worry about.
Odometer 2200km Price Rs 2.40 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)
Test economy 17.45kpl (Overall) Maintenance costs None Faults None