It is best not to use terms like ‘all-new’ and ‘next-gen’ when it comes to each successive Tata Nano, as that is not Tata Motors’ strategy for this car – at least for now. Like we’ve seen over the years since its launch, the company prefers to give its small city car sequential updates annually to make it more appealing, rather than massive overhauls. That’s understandable, as a whole load of updates at once would push the price of this car up and prove counter productive.
So, over the last few years, we’ve seen the addition of gloveboxes, a left wing mirror and an audio system, to name a few, and improvements to the suspension, seats, ergonomics, engine and gearbox – basically just about every single part of the car. Which means, in essence, this Nano is far improved from the one Tata Motors launched back in 2009.
Now, for 2014, there’s just one mechanical update, but it’s a big one, and one that’s been a long time coming. As you may have guessed from the suffix given to this latest version – Twist – the Tata Nano is now available with power steering. It’s a brushless electric power steering (EPS) unit that’s been developed specially for the Tata Nano Twist by ZF in collaboration with Bosch. This may be the most affordable car in the world, but there’s no stinting when it comes to essential bits; these suppliers are some of the best in the world.
So what has it done for the Tata Nano? In a nutshell, it’s made it much better suited to its purpose – of being a compact runabout for the city. On the non-power-assisted car, you have to wrench the wheel around at parking speeds and low-speed agility is really poor. All the effort and concentration required meant you often preferred not to change course and just dive in an out of gaps. Not anymore. Continued..
On the new Tata Nano Twist, you can twirl the wheel with your index finger even when the car is stationary. Parking is a breeze, and the sensation of wiggling the car’s teeny dimensions into a small parking slot is now rather gratifying. The biggest step forward, however, is when you are on the move. Driving this car at regular speeds is just so much more relaxed and what’s nice is that the steering hasn’t been made super light and totally devoid of feel either. It’s no BMW 3-series, but you do get a nice combination of low effort and some amount of road feel, and this allows you to enjoy the easy manoeuvrability and the responsive nature of the motor much more. It’s fair to say the power steering elevates the whole driving experience. What’s also nice is that the speed-sensitive steering cuts off, quite seamlessly, at 80kph, allowing you to get some real feel at higher speeds. So it’s good at both low and high speeds.
Tata has also given the car a segment-first ‘active return’ feature that returns the steering wheel to the centre after you have twirled it one way. Needed due to a lack of weight on the front wheels that helps return the steering naturally, this system uses torque sensors and the steering motor to lightly push the wheel back towards the centre position. The system works reasonably well, but only after you’ve driven a bit. This is because it works with the help of past data and Tata has deleted the bit that stores the steering system memory.
Tata Motors gave the Nano its last round of updates at the Horizonext event in June 2013, and the only change to the cabin for 2014 is the new instrument cluster. It’s far more detailed than before, with LED bars for the fuel and temperature gauges, and a digital trip computer that now features live fuel consumption and distance-to-empty readouts. We’d have liked a tachometer though, and while we’re at it, wider front tyres, larger rear view mirrors, a five-speed gearbox and disc brakes would have been nice too. But we guess these will have to wait.
For now, however, the combination of this new power steering system, better ride, comfier seats, lighter clutch, better gearshifts and improved refinement at idle and on the move, make the Tata Nano Twist finally feel like a complete city car.
At Rs 2.36 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the top-end Nano Twist XT (the only variant with power steering) only costs Rs 13,000 more than the current non-power-steering top LX model. So, it's still great value for money considering its combination of space, fuel economy and comfort.