What is it?
Tata’s strategy with the Nano is to give it a small update every year, rather than one big facelift after a few years, as you might see with most cars. While that may not do wonders for resale value, it’s a good way to keep the car interesting. With every year, the car grows up a bit, shedding some of its budget car image and moving a little closer to being a desirable city car. The name gets longer each year too — the one we’re testing today is actually called the ‘Tata GenX Nano Twist Easy-Shift XTA’, in case you were wondering.
We said, after driving the 2014 Nano, that though we would’ve liked to have seen a few more improvements and features, the addition of power steering was a massive step in making this a great urban runabout. This year’s big addition is ‘Easy Shift’ — an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) — which only furthers that goal. The other part of the name — ‘GenX’ — implies that there’s a bit of a facelift too, and it’s the biggest change to the Nano’s appearance since the 2009 original.
At the front, the headlamps now have black surrounds, which really improves the way they look. Between them sits a black band with a chrome strip to liven up the near-vertical bonnet, and the Tata logo has been moved down to this band as well. The new bumpers have a little more sculpting and now house a big, smiley grille that, Tata says, is an interpretation of the ‘Humanity Line’ curve on the bonnet of the Zest and Bolt. This grille also houses new, round fog lamps, and if you look closely, the mesh is made up of tiny ‘infinity’ symbols. A similar grille as been added to the rear bumper, and then of course there’s the new hatch, which for the first time can be opened for conventional access to the boot; you need the key to do so, though. That boot holds 110 litres in the manual version of the GenX Nano (expanded to 500 litres with the rear seatback folded), but down to 94 litres in the automatic version, thanks to the added hardware of the gearbox.
Fewer changes have been made to the interior, with some sporty new upholstery also bearing the ‘infinity’ motif, and a black colour for the centre console. You also get a new steering wheel similar to the one on the Zest and Bolt, and in this automatic version at least, the gearlever and window switches sit on a tall pedestal, which makes for much better ergonomics.
There are some changes you won’t see — the radiator that’s been moved to the front of the car (part of the reason for the big new grille), added chassis stiffening, and a larger, 24-litre fuel tank (up by a whole nine litres), which is the result of feedback from heavy-mileage customers. The weight of the equivalent manual Nano is now around 25kg more than last year’s car. So how has all this affected the way it drives?
What’s it like to drive?
The 624cc, two-cylinder, rear-mounted petrol engine hasn’t changed, apart from modifications to the ECU for a minor bump up in real-world fuel efficiency; you’ll have to wait for a full road test to see how well that's worked. Also, to accurately tell you how much of a difference that’s made to performance, we’d really have to drive the manual version. For now, we just have the Easy Shift automatic, so let’s see how well that works.
For a start, while the manual is a four-speed gearbox, the AMT is a five-speeder. It shares a lot of parts with the four-speeder, but obviously things like the gear ratios have been altered. Tata, of course, is tight-lipped about when (or if at all) a three-pedal manual version of this ’box will be used in the Nano, but we think it’s likely at some stage.
It’s operated by the same, well-finished gear selector you find in the Tata Zest AMT, and like that car, the Nano Easy Shift too has a Sport mode, as well as manual gear selection via the lever. Tata has also placed a sticker with instructions on how to drive an automatic on the driver’s side door, which is handy since, for many, this car is likely to be the first two-pedal driving experience. It’s also been equipped with a ‘creep’ function, which mimics the effect of a torque-converter auto and moves the car forward slowly with no accelerator input. Sure, it’s a little jerky and doesn’t work too well on an incline, but it still proves quite useful in stop-and-go traffic.
In normal automatic mode, the inherent issues of any AMT are present. Pin down the accelerator, and there will be a big pause in power delivery between gears; not ideal in the middle of an overtaking manoeuvre. You soon learn that planning ahead and being gentle with the throttle results in smoother shifts, and even pre-empting the shift with a slight lift-off from the pedal helps a lot. You’ll also find responses at low revs to be a little sluggish, but this improves greatly in Sport mode. This mode is also better at judging when you need a downshift, and lets the motor rev out a little bit more, though without a tachometer you have to anticipate where the shift point is. Overall, Sport seems to be the better choice — there’s perhaps a slight penalty to fuel economy, but even in traffic, you’ll appreciate the quicker responses.
Manual mode is actually the best of the lot, letting you avoid the gaps in power delivery by shifting at just the right time. Yes, that defeats the purpose of an automatic, but should you find yourself on a fun set of corners in your Nano Easy Shift, this is the mode you’ll want to use. Refinement isn’t a strong point of the Nano in general, and along with an ever-present buzz from the engine, you’ll also get a slight whine from the gearbox, and a bit of mechanical noise with each gear change. The gear ratios themselves could have been better judged too. So yes, it’s not perfect, but once you learn to drive around this gearbox’s idiosyncrasies, it’s easy to make smooth and easy progress. And for the convenience it affords, you really can’t hold this against the Nano.
Should I buy one?
It’s all about looking at the bigger picture with this tiny car. The in-built flaws of its original, budget-driven design remain — the top-heavy shape, tiny wheels, limited cabin storage and small boot — but you really have to hand it to Tata Motors for trying to bring it up to speed with the competition. With the addition of comforts like a Bluetooth-equipped audio system, power steering, an openable hatch and, of course, the automatic gearbox, it’s now even better at being an intra-city compact car. This is only helped by its core strengths — passenger space, ease of use, compactness and value. And speaking of value, you must remember that this will likely be the most affordable (and fuel-efficient) automatic car in the world when it goes on sale later in May 2015, and for its target audience, the few inconveniences will be easily overlooked.