The British-built Note has proven to be one of Nissan's biggest hits and the second generation model looks to build on that success with a different twist. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Nissan Note moves towards the conventional supermini in second generation guise but it's still set to be a family favourite. Better quality, sharper styling, interesting safety gear and a fascinating three-cylinder engine with a decoupling supercharger are the order of the day here.
Certain cars were always going to be hits from the moment the designer's pen left the sketchpad. The success of others wasn't so easy to predict. Nissan's Note falls into the latter category. Yes, it's clearly a well-built family car that appealed across a broad customer base, but that could be said of a number of its rivals. Where the British-built Note scored was in offering Nissan's renowned build quality at very accessible prices, building on the success of the Micra, a formula subsequently reprised by the massive-selling Qashqai and Juke crossovers. The first Note models appeared in 2006 and the car was refreshed at the start of 2011 but that was just to tide Nissan over until this second generation Note appeared. Debuting at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, the latest Note tones down the supermini-MPV approach for a more conventional family hatchback look and feel.
Nissan is a company renowned for its engineering innovation but sometimes that high-tech approach fails to filter down to its more everyday models. Not this time. Take the petrol engines in this Note. The entry-level is a three-cylinder 1.2-litre 80PS unit. So far so unexciting. But you can also buy a version of this engine, the 1.2-litre DIG-S, with a supercharger that boosts power to 98PS. Ah, but aren't superchargers notoriously fuel-hungry things, running all the time whether you need them or not? Most are but not this one which uses a clutch pack to disengage the supercharger when running at low speeds. This engine also uses the Miller Cycle, a system which keeps the inlet valves open longer to help efficiency, as is also offered with CVT automatic transmission. Should you prefer, you can also get a 90PS 1.5-litre diesel engine. The Note has been extensively developed in Europe to offer a driving experience that's right for our road conditions. With a distinct set-up from that of the Japanese and US market, the European version has unique steering, suspension and chassis settings. The 1.2-litre DIG-S model has further dynamic tweaks for an even more engaging driving experience.
Design and Build
The old Note was a neatly styled if somewhat anonymous-looking thing. The latest car has a good deal more styling going on and a more expensive look and feel, both in and out. You'll spot the chrome grille that seems to take a bite out of each headlight, the nicely chamfered wheel arches and the detail lines in the flanks that help avoid a slab-sided look. Nissan calls this the 'Squash Line' because it was apparently inspired by the angles a squash ball takes around a court. There's not too much squashing going on inside. There's a decent amount of room and the materials quality has improved considerably, although some of the minor switchgear still looks old and cheap. The dash is all hard-finish plastic, although the piano-black centre console lifts things. It's a bit odd that the door pulls are the only items finished in chrome in the whole front cabin too. The rear isn't bad for legroom thanks to a sliding rear bench, although taller occupants may find headroom a push. They'll also have to watch out for the fixed grab handles that can deliver a good clonk to your head as you get in and out. The luggage compartment features a dual height boot floor and can become quite pinched when the rear seats are slid to their rearmost position.
Market and Model
Prices sit in the £12,000 to £18,000 bracket and the Note is offered in four familiar trim grades - VISIA, Acenta, Acenta Premium and Tekna. All models feature stop-start ignition systems, six airbags and cruise control with a speed limiter. Mid-spec Acenta models add air-conditioning, Bluetooth connection and rear electric windows, while top grade Tekna models feature the Safety Shield pack, Nissan Connect, Around View Monitor, part leather trim and keyless entry with i-key. There are a number of equipment items for the latest Note that look distinctly intriguing. The key one is Nissan's Around View Monitor (AVM) which uses four separate cameras to put a bird's eye view of the car and its surroundings onto the 5.8-inch dashboard mounted screen. While AVM is a familiar innovation to many Qashqai drivers, the Note adds to the technology as the first model to feature the Nissan Safety Shield pack, comprising Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Moving Vehicle Detection. With all three Safety Shield technologies (plus the rear wide view of the Around View Monitor) relying on the tailgate-mounted camera, maintaining a clear view from this device is paramount. Nissan engineers have developed the ultimate solution - a built in camera wash and blow dry system.
Cost of Ownership
The Note has campaigned on the basis of low running costs and that isn't about to change with Generation Two. The entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine gets 60 miles from a gallon of unleaded and even if you opt for the more powerful 98PS DIG-S supercharged version, you'll actually be looking at improved economy; a return of 66mpg should make this one a popular choice. Emissions? Again the DIG-S engine comes up trumps. This gets 99g/km with the manual gearbox, but you'll have to watch the CVT auto option which bumps things up to 119g/km and could have expensive tax implications for business users. The base 1.2 manages a reasonable 109g/km with its manual 'box. Of course there will be many who will look at nothing but a diesel engine in this class and the 1.5-litre DCI powerplant won't disappoint. This returns an incredible 78mpg on the combined cycle and emissions are tied right down at just 95g/km. Nissan's start-stop ignition system is fitted to all models.
The Note marks an intriguing change of direction from Nissan. Back in the days when every major car manufacturer followed the rigid guidelines of passenger car sizing, Nissan was the first to rebel. It ditched cars like the Almera and the Primera in favour of a range that majored on sports utility vehicles and people carriers, later developing the crossover theme. Now with this latest Note, it finds itself regressing back to the mainstream with a straightforward supermini design. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. The convergent development of small MPVs and family hatchbacks has blurred the boundaries and the result is that these categories become increasingly ill-defined. The second generation Note instead concentrates on the things that really matter to the end customer. That means better fuel economy, an interior that feels better built, more space, increased efficiency and classier exterior styling. Nissan has taken a small gamble here, but one that looks worthwhile. This is a company on a strong run of form and the Note doesn't look like putting a blip in that form line any time soon.