Nissan's 'Supermini with a little extra', the Note, has much to recommend it, thinks June Neary
Will It Suit Me?
People move up to larger cars often without thinking. Just why do you need a Family Hatchback for example, when one of the latest 'MPV-style' superminis would probably do just as well? These are small cars that are anything but small inside, instead boasting MPV-style versatility that would put most Focus-sized Family Hatchback-class cars to shame. Nissan's second generation Note is a typical example of the supermini-MPV breed and I thought I'd put one to the test. First impressions were promising, car looking practical but purposeful and benefiting from the more streamlined headlights and neater nose than its predecessor. It's also less boxy than before: Nissan also wants this car to appeal to buyers in search of a conventional Fiesta-sized supermini. But you don't buy something like this for its looks.
Inside, it's very spacious. Though the seat backs don't recline in the rear, the whole bench does slide back and forth, providing you avoid entry-level trim. It also offers a centre armrest with hidden cupholders and if you push the thing right back, you'll find yourself with an enormous 639mm of knee room - more even than you'd get in a huge BMW 7 Series luxury saloon. Of course, you won't always need all of that, so the bench has 160mm of fore and aft travel and even with it pushed right forward, it's possible for two 5ft 10-inch adults to sit in reasonable comfort. Either way, it should be possible to find the perfect compromise between space on offer for people and the packages they must carry behind. As for the cargo bay, well lift up the light tailgate and with the seat pushed right back, there's still 325-litres on offer, 20% bigger than a Fiesta or a Corsa and 45-litres more than the MK1 Note model could offer. Push that bench right forward and the figure rises to 411-litres, way more than you'd get from a Focus-sized family hatch from the next class up. You can really use this space too: there's a deep space beneath the boot floor and, on models with the sliding rear bench, a Flexi board multi-level panel that can be used to divide the load area and stop shopping bags from rolling around if you haven't attached them to the two hooks provided. If you do need more space, then pushing forward the 60/40 split-folding seatbacks can free up as much as 2,012-litres, a figure no other compact car can match.
Behind the Wheel
And up front? Well Nissan hopes to snare a younger age of customer with this cabin but the driving position is still quite high-set and supermini-MPV-like in style while surrounding you with trim and design that, despite the brand's protestations of trendiness, errs very firmly on the sensible side of stylish. To be fair, you can see that some efforts have been made here - the glossy black centre stack with its trendy circular climate control console looks fashionable enough - but you'll mostly look in vain for soft-touch plastics and splashes of chrome. Still, it's a practical cabin which makes up for its small door pockets with plenty of cupholders and a double-deck glovebox that neatly shuts away devices you might have connected to the USB and aux-in sockets you'll find there. Overall build quality from the UK factory in Sunderland seems strong and the materials should certainly be hard-wearing. Most of them, Nissan says, are sourced locally to the plant, so good news there for British jobs. As for engines, well I tried the entry-level normally aspirated 80PS 12v petrol unit but before choosing it, I'd suggest you insist that your dealer lets you have a run in its pokier 98PS supercharged stablemate. That car's badged the '1.2 DIG-S', the letters standing for 'Direct Injection Gasoline unit with a Supercharger' and designating technology delivering the appealing combination of perky performance with near diesel-levels of efficiency. There's also a frugal 1.5-litre dCi diesel.
Value For Money
So let's get down to specifics. You're looking at paying somewhere in the £12,000 to £15,000 bracket across the five door-only Note line-up. So in other words, expect a model-for-model premium of around £2,000 over a smaller, less practical Nissan Micra with the same engines and underpinnings. The starting point for the Note range is based around entry-level Visia trim which offers 1.2-litre 12v petrol power or, if you can find the £2,000 premium, a 1.5-litre dCi diesel. Better though, to start your search, as most Note buyers do, with a midrange Acenta-spec model, the kind of variant including the clever cabin flexibility features that really make this car. Pricing here begins at just over £13,000 and at this level, if the £2,000 premium to get yourself a diesel is too rich to stomach, then just £1,000 extra over the cost of this base 1.2 will get you the clever DIG-S supercharged petrol version offering most of the extra performance and more efficient running costs that a dCi black pump-fuelled Note model would provide.
Could I Live With One?
Overall, I liked the Note enough to question why anyone would buy a Micra - or any other conventional supermini come to that. If you're shopping for a small car, you really owe it to yourself to check out this clever sub-niche of the market.