30 September 2013

First Drive: Nissan Note

Maybe it's because I haven't driven a Nissan for quite some time that I was surprised when I got into the new generation Note at the Irish launch last week, writes Brian Byrne.

Not because of the high level of perceived quality — I've owned a couple of Nissans and quality was never an issue — but because it immediately made me say 'hmm, I think I'm going to enjoy this one'.

Nissan has previously designated the Note in the small MPV sub-segment here, in an automotive arena responsible for a quarter of all car sales in Ireland.

Along with the Micra — traditionally one of Ireland's favourite superminis — and the Juke at the small SUV/crossover, the Note helps to provide something for everyone in the segment. Looking at their presentation on the new one, though, it seems as if the Irish distributor is directly targeting the supermini leadership with the new generation — Fiesta, Yaris, Polo and Clio.

With the current Micra, updated in a number of ways for 2014, on the small side against those, the Note can offer more room than any of them, and yet doesn't look like an MPV.

The main style cues of the previous car have been retained, but the latest one has a more svelte appearance, especially with the dropping of the older brash rear lights styling for a much better integrated set. The car's profile is more a hatchback car, swish character sculpting making sure it looks fast as well as being practical.

Inside there's more space than you can find in many compact hatches in the segment above. Certainly for me, the room in all dimensions in the rear shows up a number of recently launched 'larger' cars, the Audi A3 saloon being a case in point. In fact, though I didn't have the measurements, I'd reckon there's nothing to touch the Note in this respect either in B or C segments, except maybe the new C4 Picasso from Citroen, and there's a big price difference between them.

The style inside is neat, with a good strong presentation of instruments and entertainment/comfort controls. It's still hard to beat the traditional 3-dial analogue design for speed, revs and fuel/temperature, and in the new Note's case it is bright, clear, and unobstructed.

There's a lot of technology available here, including a set of Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Moving Object Detection systems, and an Around View Monitor which gives a 360deg 'bird's eye' view when parking.

The 1.2 petrol 3-cylinder engines are enthusiastic, especially the 98hp supercharged one which is also available with a CVT automatic. The manual transmissions throughout are 5-speed, and tidy to use. There's a 1.5 diesel, familiar from a number of Nissan and Renault cars down recent years. All are frugal, in A2-A4 Road Tax bands.

In a first drive, and a relatively short one, the car felt good, holding well on some fairly indifferent and undulating surfaces around the ancient Irish trading and religious centre of Clonmacnoise.

A full judgement will be given when I have had the new Note for a while, but for now, that first 'hmm' has been justified.

Prices range €15,995-€22,745.