Nissan Note 2013 Road Test

Nissan is being quite specific in where it's setting its sights with the new Note. The brand want this car to play a pivotal role in their hatchback line-up and is targeting the popular Ford Fiesta and excellent Volkswagen Polo with the aim of beating them on practicality and equipment. No easy task by any stretch of the imagination.

But with a starting price of just £11,900 for the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol - and good equipment levels, it does suggest that Nissan is not in mood to take any prisoners in its quest. It’s far more stylish than before, funky even. There’s a hint of the Juke about it, especially at the front, where its wide, grinning grille becomes the focus of attention.

The slope of the roofline and the design of the rear windows do give the impression that passengers sitting in the rear might be fighting for head and legroom, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Nissan boasts it has more legroom than anything else in its class - the generosity of rear passenger space makes it difficult to disbelieve them. The rear bench, very cleverly, slides forward, to increase boot space, from 325 litres to 411 litres.

Nissan Note 2013 (9)

Yet despite all its spaciousness, the cabin is still quite a drab place, not helped by the acres of cheap, scratchy, dark plastics which seem to dominate. The seats, both front and back, are less than comfortable, making a long journey seem even longer. Even scaling-up the trim levels doesn’t buy that much more interior colour - or a soft-feel dashboard - or seats covered in unicorn leather, stuffed with fairy dust and stitched together with vine taken from the enchanted forest. Instead there are a few more basic niceties like privacy glass and Nissan’s new Safety Shield package. This is a clever piece of kit which uses the Note’s rear-mounted cameras to umbrella the Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Moving Object Detection into one easy-to-use system.

Not that the Visia, the trim which kicks-off the pricing, is lacking in the standard equipment department. Granted, the wing mirrors and door handles won’t be colour coded, nor will it have front or rear armrests, or air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, that sliding rear bench or and a decent set of 15-inch alloys - these are the preserve of the Acenta, Acenta Premium and Tekna. Nonetheless, the Visia gets an acceptable radio/CD player, remote locking and, for the first time, cruise and speed control, plus electric front windows (those in the rear have to revert to the old-fashioned, on-board arm-strengthening method). But, more importantly, it will have six airbags, exactly the same as the rest of the range.

There’s a three-engine line-up to choose from and all have eco stop/start. They consist of a 80PS, 1.2-litre three-pot petrol, which is appealing as a starting price point but struggles to adequately shift the Note’s bulk. Then there’s the DIG-S (Direct Injection Gasoline – Supercharged) version of the same engine. It shares the same block and displacement, only this time, and essentially, it has been gifted with a turbocharger to produce 98PS.

There is a noticeable difference in the handling between the two, assisted in part by the DIG-S handling pack, but it’s still not the sporty driving machine it’s being billed as. Even when either is being pushed to their limits, neither feels as though they are ever likely to endanger a clean driving licence. On the plus side, CO2 emissions are good at 99g/km for the DIG-S and 109g/km for the normally aspirated model, although opting for the CVT automatic gearbox instead of the standard five-speed manual will see that figure rise to 119g/km.

Nissan Note 2013 (10)

Then there’s the Renault-sourced diesel. Out of the three, it is this 90PS 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel which is most suited to the Note. It is marginally slower, taking 11.9 seconds to reach 62mph from a standing start (11.7 seconds for the DIG-S). However, being able to dollop-out 200Nm of torque does have its advantages, more so in this car, because the transformation is immediate, disguising its modest output and making it feel much faster than it actually is. The dCi is also the most efficient, emitting just 95g/km of CO2 with a official fuel consumption of 78.4mpg.

Irrespective of engine, the ride is best described as compliant. There’s a tautness that keeps it true and level on the motorway straights, yet shows little sign of any prevailing bodyroll through the corners. The centrally-weighted steering is a bit too light, and a bit vague, and never truly communicates with the driver. But is that really important? Probably not.

Most buyers of the Note won’t be too bothered by such trivial matters. They will be swayed by its many other and obvious attributes. Immense practicality, build quality, friendliness towards the family, cheap running cost and Nissan’s reputation for reliability. Plus, it’s being built in Sunderland, so it’s keeping the British car industry alive too.

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