Nissan sounds a low Note
Despite the hi-tech gadgetry and spacious interior, the new Nissan Note still can’t compare with the Qashqai
Date Reviewed: October 1, 2013
Nissan needs another hit. Oh sure, it has the monstrously successful Qashqai on its hands – a car which came out of nowhere and pushed Nissan to the top of the European and Japanese best-seller lists and which remains a firm favourite with families both here and on the Continent. But one runaway success does not a company make, and Nissan needs to use the Qashqai’s popularity to lift the sales of all its models.
So, over the next 12 months, as well as the imminent arrival of an all-new Qashqai, there will be a raft of new or reinvented Nissans to accompany it, including the slick-looking new X-Trail SUV and the updated Micra which arrives in showrooms this week.
And then there’s this, the new Note, which I guess you’d have to say is in both the new and reinvented categories. Whereas the old Note was a straightforward rival to the likes of the Opel Meriva and Citroen C3 Picasso, the new car straddles both that class and the Fiesta/Polo/Yaris class below it. It’s priced against the Fiesta (starting at €15,995 for a quite well-equipped 1.2 XE model) and yet its interior space is a rival for the larger B-Max.
Which makes the Note an exceptionally practical car. The boot, for instance, is already bigger than most other cars in the supermini class, at 325 litres. Push the rear seats forward, though, and you can expand that to a Focus-busting 411 litres. Fold the seats flat and you can load up to 2,012 litres of whatever it is you need to carry, effectively making the Note a small van.
It’s not van-like when it comes to refinement, though. The 1.2-litre petrol three-cylinder engine (which Nissan Ireland reckons will be the best-selling model) rasps and growls entertainingly when you rev it, but at cruising speed it fades away into the background, and tyre and wind noise are, if not totally smothered, then decently well-managed.
Space in the cabin always makes any car feel a touch more luxurious, and the Note has space in abundance. It has far more rear legroom than any of the likes of the Fiesta or Polo or Yaris. A six-foot rear passenger can easily get comfortable behind a similarly sized driver.
But that, sadly, is where the luxury ends, and if you were wondering how Nissan managed to get the price of a larger, more spacious car down to supermini levels, just look at the cabin. It’s very plain, very simple and with some quite hard and scratchy plastics. It’s not bad, but it’s certainly not great, and the slightly narrow and perched-up driving position won’t endear it to taller drivers. Still, quality levels are as high as you would expect for a Nissan, and it should prove to be ruggedly reliable and resistant to the rigours of family use.
If it’s sophistication you’re looking for, then the Note can certainly provide that, albeit optionally. It’s available with a package of safety systems called Nissan Safety Shield, which is a combination of lane departure warning, a blind spot monitor and a “Moving Object Detector” which raises the alarm if a pedestrian steps into your path. All very sophisticated stuff at this level, and when included with the birds-eye-view parking camera system, not bad value at €1,000.
If you were hoping for starship performance to go with the space-age tech, however, then I’ll have to disappoint you. The 1.2-litre engine gives an impressive 80hp, and while a 0-100kmh time of almost 14 seconds sounds rather sluggish, in practice the Note feels rather more peppy than that would suggest. I suspect that Nissan’s 68mpg economy claim will be rather hard to match, but there is standard stop-start to help you, and it’s a pleasantly revvy, sweet-natured engine.
To drive, The Note is entirely conventional, has steering that provides little or no feedback, rides well over urban surfaces and generally gets about the place without bothering the driver very much at all. While it’s true that the average Note buyer probably has no clue that a car such as the amazing Nissan GT-R even exists, it would be nice if Nissan were to allow a little more entertaining feel trickle down to its more bread-and-butter models.
Will the Note emulate the Qashqai’s success? I doubt it. It’s too plain (inside and out) and too unrewarding in its driving . The Qashqai filled a niche for buyers who wanted a conventional family car that at least looked like a rugged SUV. The Note has none of that appeal. Sensible family buyers will appreciate its talents and its space, but I suspect the rest of us will just wait and save up for the new Qashqai.