TEST DRIVE: Nissan Note

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Steve Sharpe drives Nissan’s small MPV/supermini

Nissan is riding high at the moment, with the all-conquering Qashqai at the top of the heap for crossovers and the funky Juke a familiar sight on the roads, especially here in the North East.

Yet the Note, the manufacturer’s mini MPV / hatchback –which is also made just up the road at the Sunderland plant –isn’t such a familiar sight.

In a sector dominated by cars like the Fiesta and the Golf, it’s tended to be a little overshadowed by the big names from across the Channel.

But Nissan hopes this will all change with this new version of the Note, the first of which were delivered late last year.

The new version looks very different to its predecessor, more stylish and modern, with a versatile new cabin design, a load of space and lashings of new technology.

It certainly looks better than the previous version, which seemed to lean too far towards an MPV in identity.

This one, although from some angles still resembles a small MPV, appears more of a supermini.

There’s a new front end with a bold new headlight design which sweeps back up the sides of the bonnet and there are stylish and unusual grooves cut into the flanks which work well.

From the rear the Note has more of a look of a small MPV but it still looks good.

Inside the cabin things are equally stylish. The dashboard is unusually angular in places, with ridges and contours that might have looked odd but don’t.

The heating controls are set in a large circular formation in the centre, set in glossy black plastic, and the speed gauge and rev counter in front of the driver are extremely bright and crystal clear, with a very attractive lighting display on startup.

It’s a very smart looking interior, a little different to the rest, and although some of the plastics are scratchy and hard the build quality is good, and it all looks like it will stand up to a hammering.

The seats are comfortable and grip you around your ribs, and with a driving position slightly higher than a normal supermini there’s a great amount of visibility all around.

Space is important for families and the Note scores extremely highly in this category.

There’s plenty of headroom and legroom in the front, and there are really impressive levels of headroom, legroom and a huge amount of knee-room in the rear.

The boot is large and well shaped, with a useful and practical two-tier formation – and the rear seats fold down for even more space.

A clever handle at the base of the rear seats allows you to slide the back seats forward and backwards smoothly to increase the load area

It means the Nissan has plenty of space for a family’s bits and pieces, and for the family itself.

The Note is powered by one of a choice of three engines – a 1.2-litre 80PS three-cylinder petrol, a 98PS 1.2-litre supercharged DIG-S delivering only 99g/km, one of the best in class for B-segment petrol models –and a 1.5-litre 90PS dCi diesel delivering 92g/km. A CVT transmission is available on the 1.2-litre DIG-S engine.

I drove the 1.2 DIG-S with a manual five-speed transmission, the most powerful version of the Note available.

Despite this, the 1.2 petrol engine dips below the magic emission threshold to qualify for road tax exemption.

You need to work the 1.2 engine to get the best out of it but when you do you get a nippy little supermini performance.

The gears are well spaced and slip nicely into place, and by keeping the revs high you can accelerate through to cruising speed comfortably.

Although the 0-60 figures come in at a sedate 11.7 there is power available for acceleration, especially at lower speeds and from stationary.

Most Notes will spend the majority of their lives in and around urban areas so it’s more than happy to zip in and out of town.

Good levels of visibility give fine manoeuvrability in and out of spaces, and a good turning circle and light steering mean that it’s quick to react to awkward situations.

Nissan’s Around View Monitor is also included, a feature that provides drivers with a 360-degree bird’s eye view.

Already available on the Juke and Qashqai, it’s a brilliant bit of equipment that appears to give you an overhead view of your car, and its position in relation to surrounding objects.

Combine that with parking sensors and rear camera and there’s no excuse if you come a cropper.

Out of town the Note can comfortably cope with motorway cruising, and out on winding country lanes the stiffened suspension on the DIG-S version means that the Note, although quite a high-sided car, will corner well, with little lean and decent levels of grip, with the light steering keeping you in control.

It does have its faults – the engine sounds throaty and when you keep the revs high it can be quite noisy in the cabin, but it comes together as a decent compromise between performance, comfort and practicality.

As well as an emphasis on practicality, Nissan have ensured the Note is packed to the rafters with top-notch technology.

This is the first Nissan in Europe to feature the company’s Safety Shield, which combines Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning and Moving Object Detection to bring premium technology to the small car sector for the first time.

There are good levels of equipment available right through the range. Even the entry-level Visia trim features Stop/Start, front electric windows, remote central locking and cruise control.

Acenta models add alloy wheels (15-inch as standard, 16-inch on DIG-S), air-conditioning, Bluetooth and the sliding rear seat bench.

The range-topping Tekna model features NissanConnect, 16-inch alloy wheels, part-leather seats, Around View Monitor and Nissan Safety Shield as standard, along with Intelligent Key with start/stop button, leather steering wheel and automatic air conditioning.

The Tekna model is also available with an optional Dynamic Styling Pack with unique alloy wheels and deeper front and rear bumpers.

The DIG-S model I drove comes with a unique suspension and steering set-up along with 16-inch alloy wheels, and you can stipulate a CVT automatic transmission too

As is the fashion these days, there are also many ways to personalise your vehicle, even more than just calling it a silly name, which will also be rolled out across the Juke and Micra range.

The Note is a likeable, easy car to drive with a lot going for it. It looks much better than the old model, adding something a little different to the class, and drives well.

It’s priced competitively in relation to its supermini rivals from mainland Europe, with the range starting at around £12,000, rising through to £17,000 for the top-spec Tekna trim.

With no road tax and mid-60’s economy figures and large amounts of room, especially in the rear seats, the Note well worth considering as a roomier alternative to a conventional supermini.

Fact file

Nissan Note
Engine: 1.2 litre petrol

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

0-62: 11.7 seconds.

Top Speed: 112.5mph.

Economy: Avg 65/7mpg

Price: £15,395