India is a country where it is not uncommon to find an entire family of “Hum Do aur Hamare Do” and at times even “Hum Do aur Hamare Teen” riding a puny and relatively underpowered two wheeler. In this perilous situation, Tata Nano raised a lot of hope for the country’s masses who were largely deprived of a reliable, safe and affordable personal transportation option. But then the adage “man proposes but God disposes” came true and it was all lost in a spate of petty politics, cars on fire media reports and marketing glitches due to the avowed positioning of the car as a poor man’s car when even the subcompact CAR still remains an aspirational product in our beloved country which is still a developing country.
Well the failure of Nano to take the sales chart to stratosphere is history but thanks to TATA Motor’s commitment level, the Nano, the little darling of a car, is still an enduring presence.
As a concept Nano is simply path-breaking – rear engine, rear wheel drive car with oodles of interior space but as a finished product, initially there were a lot of rough edges. Most of these have now been smoothened due to a continual improvement program but the world has moved ahead and these days even the entry level cars come with much higher power than what the two cylinder unit supplies the Nano’s rear wheels. Not that the lower power output is a deal breaker, in fact in the urban environment which happens to be the natural environment for this cute car, the power output is more than adequate. It is only on the highways that the deficit is felt.
Now, coming to the point specifically to the car bearing the Nano name suffixed with AMT, let me allow to digress a bit and say something about AMT (Automated Manual Transmission). AMT is fast becoming the key word in the Indian automotive environment. And that is for pretty good reason. AMT is a smart solution to get rid of the clutch pedal and automate the process of shifting gears. It uses sensors and microprocessors in tandem with actuation mechanism to do the shifting of gears and in effect automates the entire process without resorting to any of the three other technologies applied in conventional automatic transmission – viz. torque converter based transmission, dual clutch transmission, continuously variable transmission. AMT utilizes the conventional manual transmission box designed for and installed in a conventional automobile and converts it into a fully functional auto tranny, and that at minimal cost and minimal loss of efficiency. The stress is on minimal additional cost and minimal loss of efficiency, the two most important factors when we deal with the small car category (entry level) lest we forget that the entry level category still accounts for the king’s share in the Indian automobile market where Alto still remains at the top in the number game– as per sales data of August 2015.
After a gap of more than two and half years when I had reviewed the TATA Nano, recently I had the opportunity to drive the latest iteration of Nano and this one provided relief to my left foot – it came with the AMT. The AMT works as designed and no complaints on that count; it has the normal driving mode and a “S” mode available on the press of a button which allows the gears to be held longer and results in a slightly better acceleration over the normal mode.
Owing to the obviously conservative amount of torque available, the AMT, in either the normal mode or even the “S” mode certainly dulls the performance of the car as far as outright acceleration is concerned but the saving grace is availability of a “Manual” mode on the shifter where the driver can choose to shift up or down as needed. Whenever extra pep is required, the driver would be better advised to use the absolutely glitch free “Manual” mode by moving the shifter to the left and then shift gears by fore and aft movement of the stick. Present day AMT by design is not capable of shifting gears as quickly as the famed Dual Clutch units when in automatic mode but when the “Manual” mode is used, the shifts take place at a noticeably faster pace with much less loss of momentum in the interim as the clutch remains disengaged for much shorter time.
As the current AMT in Nano is applied on a five speed transmission, Nano gains one more gear ratio and that seems to take care of the comparatively tall first gear in the non-AMT version of Nano but the gap between third gear and fourth gear is still a big gap as the fourth gears seems to be much taller than third. Limited availability of torque and somewhat sluggish nature of AMT further accentuates this.
Anyways, all said and done, Nano AMT returned an overall fuel consumption figure of over 16km/litre during my daily commute and a short highway run during the weekend. This figure was obtained with normal driving with a relatively heavy right foot due to the fact that more often than not I am in a rush during my daily commute to office. As a reference point as well as a comic relief I must add that the usual set of wheels that I use on this route is a motorbike bearing the moniker KTM and it returns the figure of 24-25 km / litre. So I had the opportunity to luxuriate inside the cool cabin of Nano fully oblivious of the dust and heat even if it meant some extra fuel to be paid for, but I hope the point is made – 16-17 km/litre in real life condition while driven aggressively is quite good. Yes, a more powerful engine could have been more efficient as it would not have been as stressed as the present one was while being held under the whip continuously.
Coming back to the Nano as whole, the car seems to have improved a lot. It is much more refined, the interior is much better with a couple of usable covered storage space on the dashboard and the interior material quality is quite good. The central console is a huge improvement; the power window switches are much more accessible.
Openable hatch has made the luggage space perfectly usable whereas in the earlier models it could be accessed only after folding the rear seat. The drive range has increased due to higher fuel tank capacity.
The music system comes with Bluetooth phone integration and the dashboard display provides a host of information related to instant fuel consumption, average fuel consumption, distance to empty (DTE) apart from the usual dual trip-meter. Addition of electric power steering has made the car much more agile during a street-fight where rubbing shoulders with three-wheelers and two-wheelers could be a daily affair in smaller cities. And finally there cannot be any complaint with the air conditioner; even in this record breaking temperature surge during the month of October, Nano’s air conditioner brought down the cabin temperature in a jiffy. All in all Nano feels like a much up market car and doesn’t feel like it is built under the strict supervision of an eagle eyed accountant.
All these AMT equipped car manufacturers should get together and lobby for a separate category of driving license for “small cars with AMT” like the “motorcycle without gears” category. This could open up the market and allow people less endowed with clutch pedal actuation skills to drive AMT equipped small cars without any hassles.