Think of superminis and the Nissan Note is unlikely to be the first model that comes to mind. Not that there was ever anything fundamentally wrong with Nissan’s mini-MPV, just that it has never really captured the public imagination in the way that, say, the Honda Jazz has done.
All that could be about to change, however, with the launch of the revamped Note, this time powered by one of Nissan’s new petrol engines.
Manufacturers are increasingly meeting the need for outstanding economy and emissions by downsizing their engines, often reducing the number of cylinders as well. In the case of the Note, Nissan are clearly marching to a different tune, for whilst the Note may now have only 3 cylinders, this is not accompanied by the expected commensurate cubic capacity reduction. Thus, whilst the Qashqai makes do with a comparatively small 1.2 litre engine, the 1.2 DIG-T 4 cylinder turbocharged unit which impressed AutoNews recently when tested in a Qashqai, the Note also has a1.2 litre motor, not particularly small for this class of car. The Note engine is however, unusually, supercharged rather than turbocharged, hence the designation 1.2 DIG-S.
Enough of the fine detail about the engine, what about the car itself? First impressions on delivery were that the Note is, perhaps, a little more stylish than some of its similar-sized competitors, notably the Honda Jazz, which manages to look resolutely slab-sided, as do a number of other competitors. This is mainly due to Nissan incorporating a prominent styling feature into the body side, starting low at front wheel hub height and swooping upwards to meet the rear door handles, continuing upwards to blend into the rear lights. This effectively disguises the height of the car, and it is interesting to note (no pun intended) that Honda did try a blander version of this with the Jazz some years ago, and preview images of the forthcoming Jazz update appear to show a more prominent identical styling feature almost identical to the Note!
The test car was equipped with a “Style Pack” comprising a body kit and a smart set of diamond turned alloys, fortunately fairly well protected from the inevitable kerb strikes by a decent amount of tyre protruding beyond the rim itself. Body kits are normally a bit so-so, however this one is very subtle, and the lower side skirts do seem pretty effective at limiting road dirt being thrown up by the front wheels onto the side of the car, so you may think the Style Pack is worth an extra £800. Topping it all off, the metallic Force Red paint finish showed the lines of the Note off well and helps to give a premium appearance to the car.
Inside, the Note was functional and neatly styled, with, again, excellent fit & finish. Whilst most trim panels were of fairly hard plastic, the material used is definitely a cut above that offered by other manufacturers. The seats in this Tekna-spec car are nicely finished in part leather, but at first glance looked a little flat & unsupportive. Appearances can deceive, however, as we shall find out later………….
The rear seat slides, allowing the option of maximising either legroom or boot space. However, even with the seat fully forward, there was still adequate legroom in the rear seat for most folk.
The boot itself features a useful two-level floor, which, in its uppermost position, provides a fully flat load floor flush with the rear bumper together with a cavernous hidden underfloor stowage area. Even with the removable boot floor in its lower setting, there is still a usefully sized compartment under the boot floor ideal to keep cameras, laptops or handbags and the like out of sight. It is particularly pleasing to see that Nissan have incorporated simple notches to keep the false boot floor in its raised position – no more having to balance the boot floor on your head when using both hands to find things in the lower boot!
All of this makes the Note a pretty useful load-carrier – we were able to accommodate a fair bit of stuff in the back during the obligatory trip to B & Q, including several 2.4 metre lengths of timber.
Such carrying capacity comes at a cost: as with many cars these days, there is no spare wheel, only a can of sealant.
So far, so typical supermini. The real surprise came when taking the car for a drive. Given the competitive price of the Note – the test car was £17,100, around £300 cheaper than the nearest Jazz specification – the expectation was that the 3-cylinder motor would be harsh & noisy, particularly with the test car’s 5-speed manual transmission. Not a bit of it! At idle the engine note was barely noticeable, deepening when accelerating hard to a subdued growl more akin to a much bigger power plant. The auto stop / start was one of the smoothest and unobtrusive I have ever experienced, with the rev-counter being the only way to identify whether the engine was running. Restarting was instant, perhaps the only criticism of the system being that it restarted with the slightest touch on the clutch pedal, meaning that it was easy to restart inadvertently when moving your foot away from the clutch after coming to a halt.
On the move, the ride was smooth for a supermini, and those seats which had initially looked rather unyielding proved very supportive and comfortable over a long motorway run. Indeed, motorway driving was surprisingly relaxed, with the engine note subdued. Motorway waft-ability was helped by the fitment of cruise control, which was easy & intuitive to operate, unlike some.
The gearshift was a little rubbery, which seems to be a typical Nissan trait, as the Qashqai we tested recently felt similar. However, the gears selected cleanly enough so this is more an issue of personal preference. One area Nissan could do with rethinking is the gear shift indicator. Most cars have a fairly prominent display of the gear selected together with an arrow indicating the need to shift up or down. The Note does its own thing here: I spent the first few days when driving the car idly wondering why there was a little symbol of a chess pawn tucked away in the instrument panel display before I realised that at times it was accompanied by a little up or down arrow. Reality dawned – the chess pawn was in fact a highly stylised gear lever – maybe I should have read the manual sooner!
Braking efforts were entirely acceptable. Interestingly, Nissan have retained drum brakes at the rear, presumably on cost grounds, however this should give the Note’s owner freedom from the rear disc problems which can beset similar front-drive cars with lightly used rear brakes.
Steering efforts were well-judged, and the car went exactly where it was pointed in a safely neutral manner. The leather-rimmed multi-function steering wheel adjusted for rake but not reach, and it was necessary to adopt a straight-arm driving style as the wheel seemed a little too far away. Again, this was a purely personal observation – my 5 foot better half had no such issues finding a comfortable seat position.
The Note in Tekna spec features Nissan’s acclaimed Safety Shield. This package includes a raft of useful features such as lane detection and blind spot warning as well as moving object detection, all of which worked effectively and unobtrusively and could, just, one day be life savers.
The Around View Monitor, initially considered a bit of a gimmick, was actually extremely useful. Activated when reverse gear is selected, it provides a truly birds eye view around the car which is shown on one side of the centre multimedia screen, the other half showing the view from the reversing camera. In practice, this simplifies reverse parking in tight bays by showing you exactly where the white lines between the bays are in relation to the car………..how often have we all carried out what seemed to be a perfect reverse parking manoeuvre only to jump out of the car to realise it is resolutely parked skewed across the bay?
One feature of the Tekna spec which seemed of limited value was the Eco drive mode. In essence, this comprises a circular display at the centre of the speedo, the scale reading depending on how hard the throttle is being pressed. This is backed up with a green band illuminating the upper part of the instrument display when driving economically, fading out under more aggressive driving. All of this adds to what is already a slightly cluttered display.
Fortunately Eco mode can easily be switched off if not required!
Superminis are expected to be economical, and the Note achieved an indicated 52mpg in our testing. Whilst this is some way off its claimed 65.7mpg on the combined cycle, this is still an impressive level economy which is approaching diesel levels without the attendant concerns about diesel emissions. As with a number of cars today, the fuel gauge was very non-linear, with over 300 miles being covered on the first ¾ of a tank, followed shortly thereafter by the low fuel warning alerting the driver that the remaining range from the last ¼ of the tank was only 25 miles.
To sum up, then, the Note is a pretty competent performer which should be on the shopping list for anyone in the market for a supermini. Although not particularly cheap in the spec tested, price wise it is comparable with most other competitors optioned up to a similar level. And remember that the Note range does start from a very reasonable £9,995, which is a whole £1,700 cheaper than the base model Honda Jazz!
Interested? Find out more on Nissan’s Note website here.