Looking back, the Maruti 800 is perhaps the most important car of our times since shortly after Independence. Indians had to make do with antiquated and poor quality cars. The Maruti 800 was India’s first whiff of modern car technology. Under the hood was a 796cc in-line three-cylinder engine that was both peppy and frugal. It had a monocoque chassis, overhead cams and disc brakes. It was cheap, reliable, nimble and fun to drive. Also an increasing number of women took to the wheel for the first time thanks to this little car.
The little car was originally designed for the European and Japanese markets but here it was happily doing duty in India’s hinterland, crammed with people with their luggage on the roof rack! Little wonder then that for years the Maruti 800 has remained the largest-selling car in India. Today, the numbers may have dropped however it continues to sell. But its days might be over – the Tata Nano is here...
The Nano is the new status symbol. Stop anywhere and crowds will gather. They want to touch it, see it, sit in it and even ask to drive it. So why does the Nano catch more eyeballs per kilometre than even the Ferrari’s did on their Magic Tour of India? The reason is not hard to see. The Nano is a car that the common man can aspire to own. The 800 too has received similar welcome aeons back. In 1983 there were queues outside Indian Oil petrol pumps where the 800s were first displayed for the very same reason.
Twenty-six years separate the two cars. So let’s see if the Nano gives you more bang for your buck in 2009 than the 800 did in 1983? Or did the 800 in 1983 offer more value for your rupee? Let’s look at the facts with AutoCar (Sept. ’09)...
Under the Hood
The M800’s 796cc engine develops 39bhp. The Nano’s 624cc engine develops a near-identical 35bhp. The 800 has a three-cylinder motor, the Nano uses two. Both use two valves per cylinder driven by a single overhead cam. Though both cars generate about the same power, the 800 is quicker and peppier. The Nano takes 9.1 seconds to get to 60kph. The 800 reaches there a second faster. The gap widens at 80kph and 100kph. After you bury the accelerator to the floor, you have to wait nearly half a minute to see 100kph on the speedo. The Nano is nearly four seconds faster but that doesn’t really matter.
On the Roads
The Nano is designed for the narrow crowded streets of small town India. For broken village roads and crush-hour traffic...and despite the lack of grunt, it does its job brilliantly. Keep the engine on the boil and the little car will jaunt along happily. The peppier 800 has no advantage – so this one is a tie.
Place the two cars side to side and you will be surprised at how much smaller the 800 really is. The Nano dwarfs the 800. The Nano seats 5, the 800 squeezes in 4. Plus you sit higher in a Nano. Hop into the 800 after spending time in the Nano and you will discover two important things. The 800 suddenly feels so much more claustrophobic and its small dimensions make you feel more vulnerable on the road. The Nano is the big winner here.
Both score equally on adequate safety so let’s look at the feel good factor... back in 1983, when one sat in the 800 after being used to Ambys and Padminis, the cabin felt upmarket and of high quality. The Nano’s cabin doe not give you the same feeling. After the quality of cars that are available today – it feels crude and cheap. But one does not quibble about it because of the price. One is ready to compromise. So the 800 scores here.
Now let’s talk about comfort. Comfort is a function of space and suspension. As we know, the Nano beats the 800 on space so that’s half the battle won. What seals this in the Nano’s favour is that the old 800 came with leaf springs in the rear and the Nano’s independent suspension provides a better ride. This along with the car’s massive 180mm ground clearance means that the Nano handles rough roads, potholes and ditches with an aplomb few other hatchbacks can match.
But which one is more fun to drive? The first time you drive the Nano you will bounce off the redline in the first two gears but will quickly learn to stay in the engine’s mid-range. On the other hand, when the 800 was launched it fulfilled many a boy racer dream for young enthusiastic drivers.
So which car gives the customer more value for money? The M800 cost Rs. 48,000 when it was launched. And the price of petrol was about Rs. 6.20 per litre. So the cost of a Maruti 800 equalled 7741 litres of petrol. Today the price of petrol hovers around the Rs. 48 mark. If the cost of a Tata Nano too equalled 7741 litres of petrol, the price would be Rs. 3.7 lakh. But the top-line Nano costs just over two lakh.
So the Tata Nano gives you more bang for your buck. And while on the topic, it also gives you a better mileage than the 800. To sum up, in 1908, Henry Ford slashed the entry cost of car ownership and brought the car to the masses. It took a hundred years and an Indian company to do it again...