It's one thing to write about a car based on other writers' impressions. It's quite another to drive the car yourself, especially in the case of the Tata Nano.
We had a chance to get behind the wheel of the Nano during a recent event hosted in Germany by auto parts giant Continental, which supplies the Nano’s fuel supply unit. It was easily the most sought-after vehicle on the track that day. Few Westerners have even seen the world’s least-expensive vehicle in person, never mind driven it, and it was almost comical to see auto journalists conditioned to driving high-dollar metal swarming over the diminutive sedan like paparazzi on Angelina Jolie.
So what did we learn? You guessed it -- the Nano is small, though slightly bigger than a Smart Fortwo. Its interior was surprisingly spacious, with plenty of head and shoulder room for six-footers. There isn’t a lot of cargo space, especially with four passengers aboard, and there's no trunk; the engine is located at the rear.
The Nano is powered by a two-cylinder 35-horsepower gasoline engine, and Continental states its fuel system was designed, developed, and manufactured in India. The drive was noisy, the engine note is coarse, and the four-speed manual transmission does what it can with the small engine up to a top speed of 65 mph. Sharp turns are out of the question, as the grip of the car’s standard 12-inch wheels is tenuous, even on the wide curves of the test track.
It's safe to describe safety and luxury features as basic. There are seatbelts in front and back, as well as a speedometer, and our CX tester came with air conditioning and an aftermarket radio. Not very impressive, right?
It all depends on perspective. As our German co-pilot rightly pointed out, the base $2500 Nano competes in India against $1000 motorbikes, which are used to transport up to five people -- and their cargo.
Put in that context, and heck, you could call the Nano a minivan for the masses.