Lem Bingley road tests and reviews the new Note to discover whether Nissan’s new baby can compete with the Ford Fiesta.
Nissan’s new Note is a deliberate departure from the previous model of the same name, which was pitched as a compact people-carrier. This one, known as the ‘Versa Note’ in the United States, is a more straightforward car, aimed squarely at mainstream rivals in the crowded supermini sector. The Ford Fiesta, in particular, seems to be sat in Nissan’s sights.
The new Note will be built in Britain, but we needed to travel to Vienna to sample a couple of early cars, thrashing them to Bratislava and back to see how they measured up.
First impressions of the new Note are positive. While most production cars look like the shrivelled husk of their shiny concept car forerunner, the Note hasn’t fared too badlyWhile most production cars look like the shrivelled husk of their shiny concept car forerunner, the Note hasn’t fared too badly in its transition to showroom spec. The glossy, wide-mouthed grille still stretches up into the headlamps in friendly frog fashion, and a curvaceous crease still flicks back on itself along the car’s flanks. Nissan people called the bold crease a “squash line”, which was baffling until it was revealed that they were talking about the arc traced by a squash ball as it pings from racquet to wall to floor.
Alas the interior doesn’t quite meet expectations set by the bodywork. The dashboard features a glossy slab of centre console set in an aluminium-coloured frame, but that is one of few highlights among an otherwise drab collection of disappointing pieces of plastic. Chromed metal door releases try their best to lift the mood, but they face an uphill struggle.
The cabin seems well built, though, with no rattles or squeaks evident even when traversing rough cobbles and tramlines on the streets of Bratislava.
The Note’s exit from the MPV sector means there are no clever doors to compete with the Ford B-Max or Vauxhall Meriva, but the car is still in with a shout as versatile transport. Most notably, there’s business-class legroom in the rear – more even than you’d expect to find in a hatchback the next size up. The rear doors also open out to almost 90 degrees to help in the process of strapping kiddies into car seats.
At 4.1m long the Note is about 4cm longer than a Fiesta, with 11cm extra between the wheels to provide the roomy cabin.
Some trim levels get tray tables for rear passengers, plus a rear bench that slides backwards and forwards through 16cm of adjustment, to trade legroom against luggage space. Boot volume swings from 325 litres to 411 litres as a result, though.
Performance & Handling
Three engines are available from launch: a weedy 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine peaking at 80PS and 110Nm of torque, a 1.2-litre DIG-S triple-cylinder supercharged petrol producing 98PS and 147Nm, and a 1.5-litre dCi diesel that can manage 90PS and 200Nm. All come with five-speed manual gearboxes, while a CVT automatic transmission is an option with the DIG-S engine.
We sampled only the DIG-S and dCi engines, both with manual gears. Neither felt particularly potent, with the petrol needing plenty of revs to drag the 1.1-tonne Note along at any sort of clip. A six-speed gearbox might have helped to avoid that sensation of flooring the throttle to no detectable effect, but there are only five cogs to choose among no matter which engine you select.
The scrabble to 62mph takes the DIG-S car 11.7 seconds, while the dCi needs another two tenths. Plus, the cheerful hums and whistles of the supercharged unit are much kinder to the eardrums than the dismal drone of the diesel, giving it a clear edge. We didn’t try it, but we’d guess the entry-level petrol engine is best avoided.
Bald figures aside, the DIG-S car feels a lot keener, partly due to stiffer suspension with less tendency to wallow in corners. It’s also noticeably better damped over ragged roads, feeling much more composed than the soggy, jiggle-prone diesel. The electrically assisted steering is also sharper in the DIG-S edition, a vast improvement over the standard helm which felt as if it might be communicating with the front wheels via Morse-code flashes of torchlight. Even the better of the two cars we tried felt as happy on a twisting country road as a hedgehog with a gammy leg.
That said, even the better of the two cars we tried felt as happy on a twisting country road as a hedgehog with a gammy leg, responding to urgent demands as if it might only recently have woken from hibernation. Keen drivers will prefer the superior poise and sharper reflexes they’ll find in a Fiesta.
Economy & Environment
All versions of the new Note come with a stop-start system that is active as standard, together with a fuel-saving eco-driving mode that runs by default from startup. A green button adjacent to the handbrake lever switches the eco nanny off, releasing the full responsiveness you’ll be needing for any overtaking manoeuvres. Another button by the door controls the stop-start.
The instruments also attempt to keep the driver on the narrow path to fuel efficiency. There are gearshift reminders as well as a readout showing how much throttle travel remains (should your ankle not be sufficiently calibrated). A row of five green lights blink on or fade away in sympathy with squandered fuel, while a strip at the very top of the binnacle lights up blue to remind you when eco mode is active.
The Note is also as slippery as a greased eel, boasting a drag factor of 0.30, compared with an average among the competition of about 0.32, according to Nissan.
These and other measures help the new Note to achieve scores of 99g/km with the DIG-S petrol engine and 95g/km with the diesel. Choosing the automatic gearbox drags the CO2 out to 119g/km, however.
Equipment & Value
The new Note’s four-model range starts from £11,900 for the entry-level Visia spec, bringing steel wheels and a notable lack of air-conditioning to a party where remote central locking and cruise control seem to have arrived by accident. An £800 optional styling pack is also available for the Tekna, adding shinier wheels and deeper bumpers.
Acenta trim starts at £13,250 and adds alloy wheels (15-inch as standard, 16s for the DIG-S), air-conditioning, Bluetooth and a sliding rear bench. Acenta Premium variants start at £14,150 and feature the NissanConnect infotainment system, climate control and automatic lights and wipers.
The range-topping Tekna grade begins at £15,950 and brings 16-inch alloys, part-leather seats, 360-degree parking cameras, keyless start, a leather steering wheel and automatic air conditioning.
You can order a new Note today, but the first of the UK cars won’t arrive until October.
All variants of the new Note come with an electronic stability system as standard – useful for keeping the car’s two ends the right way around.
Nissan has also come up with a clever way to add lane-departure and blind-spot warnings at modest cost, by creating a bug-eyed reversing camera that can peer out sideways from its hideout at the rear of the car, complete with its own wash and blow-dry system to keep its eyeball clean.
The camera-based safety features work surprisingly well, though they
share a single on-off button, meaning you must delve into the
touchscreen menus to select blind-spot warnings without lane
complaints, or vice versa.The warnings sound like the beeps from a cheap alarm clock and might get a little wearing if you’re in the habit of switching lanes without indicating.
Additional cameras on the nose and door mirrors are fitted as part of the Tekna trim, or as a £400 option on Acenta Premium cars. These allow the driver to summon a top-down overview of the car’s perimeter on the central screen, plus either the view ahead or to the rear depending on the gear selected. Nissan kindly demonstrated this parking-speed safety feature by covering up the Note’s windows and letting us loose on a short course of cones, most of which we didn’t squash.
The viewscreen will also flash up an amber warning if anything in the image is moving relative to the car, drawing attention to unwary pets or children gambolling around behind a reversing Note, for example.
The new Note proves itself a thoroughly mixed bag of good and not so good. Handsome looks, excellent safety systems, competitive economy and class-leading cabin space meet lacklustre interior trim, indifferent handling and engines that could use a little more puff.
The new car should fare better than the outgoing Note, which in seven years clocked up fewer than half a million cars worldwide. But we doubt the new Note will put much of a dent in sales of the Ford Fiesta.
Model tested: 2013 Nissan Note
Engine: DIG-S 1.2-litre supercharged three-cylinder petrol
Power: 98PS (97bhp) at 5,600rpm
Torque: 147Nm (108lb ft)
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 11.7 seconds
Top speed: 112mph
Price: From £14,250 in Acenta trim or from £15,950 in Tekna trim