Tata's Nano has got mixed reviews from around the world, with most of those who have test-driven it finding it well-engineered and good value for the price, while others – particularly in France and Western Europe – have slammed its lack of safety features.
News of the Nano launch was carried prominently in the media in the US and Europe, showing their interest in a cheap and fuel-efficient car in a time of deep recession. Most critics praised its spaciousness, but also pointed out its limitations, especially in terms of speed as well as safety.
''The first thing that impresses is the space. Four adults can sit comfortably in the simple and spartan interior. The seats are thin and flat, but surprisingly comfortable. Plastic and fabric quality is better than expected, though the carpet looks cheap,'' leading Detroit magazine AutoWeek said.
''Start up the Nano and you immediately know it's powered by a rear-mounted engine. The all-aluminum twin uses a single balance shaft, yet it is not very smooth or refined and sounds a bit like a lawn mower,'' AutoWeek's reviewer Bob Rupani wrote.
However, he praised the car on many fronts, including the relatively good insulation of the passenger compartment from noise and vibrations. ''Thankfully, the four-speed gearbox is precise, light and pleasing, he added.''
The magazine also approved the car's air-conditioning, and brakes, and its high manoeuvrability – a feature that has caught the eye of other reviewers as well.
''The benchmark for the Nano was not the acceleration figure of 0 to 62 mph, but 0 to 38 mph because it will be primarily used as an urban vehicle. In our tests, 38 mph arrived in about 10 seconds, but getting to 62 mph took nearly 33 seconds. Top speed is limited to 65 mph,'' AutoWeek observed.
Britain's BBC too was generous in its praise. ''Getting in and out of the Nano is easier than in a Mercedes S-class and that's no exaggeration. The doors open wide and high seats allow you to slide onto them with the utmost ease,'' the broadcast and internet news conglomeration said.
''For a car that weighs a mere 600kg, the Nano feels incredibly robust. You expect the doors to rattle, the seats to squeak and those dinner-plate sized wheels to buckle driving over rough Indian roads. But instead, the Nano feels rigid, well-screwed together and deftly darts from one pothole to another with ease,'' BBC said quoting test drive reports.
''The suspension copes with any sort of surface and the Nano's massive ground clearance can shame some off-roaders,'' it said, and also praised the car's manoeuvrability and tight turning radius.
Several commentators, including CNBC, juxtaposed Nano's release with the unveiling in New York of the Baby Rolls Royce 200 EX, one priced at around $ 2500 and the other about a hundred times more expensive and dubbed the ''Recession Royce.''
''Sure, people in the US and elsewhere will chuckle about the Nano coming without air bags or anti-lock brakes, but they are missing the bigger picture. This car will finally put tens of thousands behind the wheel.
''Nano represents the hope for a new era in cars and transportation. Not just for the people of India, but millions others in developing countries,'' the network said, calling the new Tata car a ''game changer.''
''Though not impressive at the test track, in the dense and slow-moving traffic of Pune the Nano acquits itself well, feeling more than adequate and well qualified to play the role of an urban city commuter,'' AutoWeek added.
Commentators in France took a more derisive view, according to the Hindu. Headlines across the nation read: ''Tata will have to demonstrate the security of its Nano,'' ''It's a plastic bubble on four wheels'' and ''Tata will face a distribution problem''. It was also pointed out that the Nano had not yet passed a crash test.
The European version, the Nano Europa (scheduled for launch in 2011) will be longer, and have a bigger 934cc, three-cylinder engine delivering better acceleration and top speeds for highway use, a wider track, disc brakes, ABS, stability control, improved driving dynamics and ride, and interior equipment and finish, along with driver and passenger airbags.
It will also comply with all safety and crash test standards, while still being the cheapest car in the world at less than $ 5,000. ''Add an estimated fuel economy of at least 67 mpg and the Nano Europa may be right for many an economy buyer's shopping list,'' AutoWeek said.