Words: Mike Humble
Pictures: J A Lawler
Even though small town or city cars are not my personal choice, they represent the Lions share of the UK market. Vehicles such as the Fiesta and Corsa are pretty much the by-word for small cars nowadays but as more and more people downsize from larger family vehicles, the smaller cars just seem to get bigger. Once not that long ago, it would be almost impossible to cram the family into the back of the Mini Metro or Vauxhall Nova let alone stuff the boot with Samsonite. We were keen to try out the only fully British assembled small car on the market – the Nissan Note to see how their mass-produced small hatchback fares in the most competitive market sector.
Well, the term “small” doesn’t really apply as the five door Note is a very cleverly designed and spacious car that has plenty going for it. The tested car was the near top of the range “Acenta – Premium” fitted with the three cylinder 1198cc supercharged petrol engine. The extravagant sounding “supercharged” feature certainly raised an eyebrow in a Roger Moore kind of way but its fitted in the need of economy and efficiency rather than trail blazing performance. That said, it pops out a healthy 98Ps of power with 147Nm of torque – perfectly adequate for what is expected of this type of car.
The Note’s styling is quite restrained and not exactly head turning but the arrow-head looking shape pressed into the side panels looks really cool and as you would expect of an Anglo-Japanese car, the fit, finish and Storm White opalescent paintwork quality seemed very good indeed. On the whole it’s a smart if unassuming looking hatchback with some decent design touches on the inside. Key-less entry is standard on this model and once inside you find yourself in a well supportive seat with a near spot on driving position. Meaty column sticks and nicely damped switchgear bring a welcome subconscious feeling of deep rooted quality and despite most of the interior being made of hard plastic, nothing feels loose or sub standard to the touch.
The centre console is finished off in a glossy piano black effect that also houses the heating controls and air conditioning controls. The blowers have a good output with a very quiet fan and demisting was instant but prolonged periods of idling causes the heaters temperature to drop noticeably. The layout of the buttons and controls are in a large circular effect panel with easy to decipher graphics but the orange backlighting looks garish compared to the white neon of the dials. Other knobs and twiddly bits fall readily to hand the clocks are well calibrated and spaced being easy to read both day and night. A comprehensive trip computer is included but you need to have a play first to get used to it as it’s a little bit complicated at first experience.
There’s amazing head and legroom both front and back while the driver’s seat has ample height adjustment too and you’ll find no problems with storage space. A massive glove box is complemented with another cubby hole above that where you will also find the inputs for USB and iPod / MP3 devices. Down on the floor behind the gear lever is another well sized tray for loose items and all four doors feature storage pockets too, but all the really handy stuff can be found in the boot. A really wide and deep cargo bay swallows all kind of gear and you can trade rear legroom for boot space by sliding the seat forward as well as folding it down. Beneath the floor is a huge deep box for really valuable clutter but items placed here are prone to sliding around during cornering.
On the road the Note is smooth and refined with a typical but non intrusive three cylinder thrum, even when really pushed, the engine never sounds too strained or harsh. It pulls quite well too with plenty of power in reserve but you need to have around 1500rpm on the dial at least as beneath this speed the power tails off noticeably. Road noise is well suppressed as is suspension noise but the ride at low speeds can be patchy and unsettling though this is greatly improved by adding some passengers. The electric power steering is light in action but with less feel at the rim than some of its competitors but the parking camera system and the easy steering make tight spots a doddle to slot into – the camera was prone to dirt and damp in poor weather.
Performance is good enough for the size of car and at higher speeds the 3 pot 1.2 engine is punchy and keen to rev and a switchable eco stop start system helps wring the last drop of fuel for the miserly driver. Driving in eco made adds a pretty blue hue around the clocks and blunts the performance but it can be over-ridden by pressing the throttle pedal hard to the floor whereby you can feel a defined almost kick-down position. When you press the pedal hard the car almost coughs and bursts into life which at first felt like a fault – sounds odd but you soon get used to it. An LED display tells you of optimum throttle position and gear selection reminder but the details look fussy in the display alongside the mileage and trip meter readings.
After a week of driving, I found the Note to be well equipped, refined, and pleasant to drive being seemingly well built too – everything you would expect of its class. But there are some talented vehicles in the class however. The Note is not as dynamic or aspirational as a Fiesta or as premium as a Polo, nor is it cost-effective as some of the Korean vehicles… but it’s a Nissan… so it won’t go wrong. All in all it’s very well equipped for the £15.395 asking price and will last forever if other models from the maker are anything to go by – it just lacks that certain bling and pzazz to really stand out and shine.
OUR RATING? 7/10
THE HUMBLE OPINION
The British made Nissan proves yet again that we can assemble cars as good as anywhere else in the world. The Note is incredibly clever in its packaging and seems to be urban tough for the real world while also being very frugal on the fuel.
The styling is better than the previous model while the handling and performance bring no real complaints. It’s a lovely car to drive on longer distances thanks to the brilliant amount of space – to drive, it feels like a larger car. The only main issue is the lack of image the car has, but it wont hold it back from selling – Nissan buyers are very loyal.
Other main rivals will roundly trounce the Note in terms of sales or trendiness, especially the current Ford Fiesta, but for someone after a well made British hatchback with plenty of practicality with proven reliability – the Note is bound to strike a chord!
POINTS OF COMMENDATION: Clever use of space – Good economy – Well engineered – Good build quality – Refined – Well equipped – Easy to drive – Proven reliability and customer satisfaction – Credible Co2 and emissions – Very smooth drivetrain – Built to go the distance.
RESERVATIONS: Doesn’t have that certain spark – Brakes lack bite – Lifeless electric steering – Confusing and messy economy aids on dashboard – Plastics are hard to the touch – A few exposed screws and fittings easy to spot – Odd lurching sensation when over-riding the eco function on throttle pedal.
Equipment Highlights: All round power windows – Panoramic roof – Perimeter cameras – Reverse parking aid – Sat Nav & Bluetooth connectivity – Alloy wheels – Cruise control – Eco stop-start technology – Keyless entry – Sliding rear bench – Climate control – Auto wipers & headlamps.
THE MAIN STATS:
Nissan Note Acenta Premium 1.2 DIG-S
Price as tested: £16.095.00 (paint £700 extra)
Produced by: Nissan Manufacturing UK Sunderland
Engine: 1198cc twin cam supercharged tripple
Gearbox: FWD 5 speed manual
Power / Torque: 98Ps / 147Nm
Economy: 65.7 mpg (claimed) 56.5 on test
Brakes: Vented discs / Drums / Lever park brake
Steering: Electric assisted rack & pinion
Suspension: Coils all round
Safety Aids: ABS / EBD / TC & Brake assist
Maxiumum Cargo Space: 1495 Litres
For more information on the Nissan Note CLICK HERE