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Review: Nissan NOTE range

A small car with a versatile remit, Nissan’s Note may be all the family car you need. Jonathan Crouch reports on the revised version

Nissan’s Note sits somewhere between a supermini and a compact MPV but its blend of qualities should prove highly desirable to small car buyers.

Good to drive and pleasantly styled, it’s extremely spacious and very practical for family duties. With Nissan’s first class reliability record thrown in, this is a car noticeably lacking in major faults. And minor changes to its look and equipment levels without accompanying price increases will do it no harm at all.

Just because cost or circumstance means you need a small car, it doesn’t necessarily have to feel small. As customers demand versatility in ever-smaller packages, manufacturers have come up with a couple of options for buyers on a supermini budget who want something with a bit more flexibility. The first little group are based on converted compact vans – models like Citroen’s Berlingo Multispace or Renault’s Kangoo. But if you can’t face the thought of putting the kids into something originally designed for packages and plumbing equipment, then you’ll probably be more comfortable with the second, normally referred to as ‘supermini-MPVs’.

Here lie models like Vauxhall’s Meriva, Renault’s Modus and the car featured here, Nissan’s Note, which in the form we’re looking at here has been facelifted inside and out. All borrow tricks from more conventionally sized mini-MPVs so that a family of five, who’d normally have to squeeze very painly fully into a supermini, can be seated relatively comfortably with lots of space for their odds and ends. And all of this can be achieved without the family in question having to forgo little Johnny’s new shoes because they’ve had to stretch up to something Focus or Astra-sized. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Try and imagine a GTi hot hatch version of the Note. You can’t can you? And that’s just the point. Giving a car like this a powerful engine or stiff suspension would be as pointless as giving a fish legs. It’s not what it’s about. Still, the Note always feels highly nimble on the road with ride firm enough to resist roll and steering that’s light but accurate.

It’s perfect for nipping through the city streets and it inspires confidence thanks to good all-round visibility and a tight turning circle. If you really value supple suspension, one of the Note’s rivals may be a better option but otherwise, this Nissan should suit its intended buyers pretty well. Three main engine choices are offered, all shared with this car’s arch-rival, the Renault Modus. Low mileage buyers will choose between a 87bhp 1.4-litre and 108bhp 1.6-litre powerplants, but those who might want to take their Notes further afield may want to consider the improved diesel engine, a 1.5-litre dCi common rail unit borrowed from the Micra range with 85bhp on tap.

"Just because cost or circumstance means you need a small car, it doesn’t necessarily have to feel small."

In the unlikely event that you fancy giving some spotty oik a run for his money away from the lights in your Note, the 1.4-litre car will get to 60mph in 13.1s, the diesel is fractionally slower at 13s and the 1.6-litre petrol takes 10.7s. None of the engines are what you would call quick but they’re all more than adequate for everyday driving with even the 1.4 pulling reasonably strongly through the gears.

One interesting but useless nugget of information is that this car was designed by Toyota – Taiji Toyota that is – one of Nissan’s most talented stylists. He’s done a good job too, managing to avoid the formulaic box-on-wheels shape that afflicts some of the Nissan Note’s contemporaries.

On paper, this car is roughly equivalent in size to its immediate rivals at just under four metres long, 1.53m high and 1.69m wide. In the metal however, it appears lower and longer with minimal rear overhang and quite a pronounced nose protruding at the front. This car was facelifted not long ago and has been further improved in recent times. From the outside, both Acenta and Teckna grades now feature silver painted door handles and a silver finish for the tailgate trim, complemented by fashionable gloss black B and C-pillars. Choose the Note n-tec and a revised front spoiler finisher and front entry guards also add to the Note’s well-proportioned appearance.

As ever, the interior feels very spacious and that’s in no small part down to the fact that the wheelbase of 2.60m is longer than that of theoretically roomier cars like the Volkswagen Golf. This available space can be optimised between luggage and rear passengers with the aid of a sliding rear bench seat as well as the usual folding arrangement. Cup holders, bag holding hooks and umbrella stowing points also hint at the Note’s attention to detail. There’s room in the glovebox for up to nine cans of drink and you can opt for a connection through from the air conditioning system to keep them cool.

As before, the Note is squared-off at the rear with the natural roofline taking an unusual last-minute jerk upwards to maximise cargo capacity in the back. Raise the rear hatch and, if you’ve ticked the right box, you can check out what remains the Note’s most interesting feature, the optional split level Flexi-Board luggage bay. Here, twin steel-framed boards cover an additional stowage space beneath the floor which is ideal for stowing valuables. With the rear seats in place, there’s 280 litres of luggage space. Slide the rear seat forward (it has a 160mm adjustment) and lower the luggage boards into the well, and you get an extra 100 litres, giving a total load space of 437 litres. Fold the rear seat and 1332 litres is on offer.

It’s likely that you’ll pay somewhere between £10,000 and £14,500 for your Note, depending on the deal you do and the spec you choose. Given that the engines and the ethos are the same, it’s quite likely that you’ll be comparing this car to a Renault Modus, which initially looks cheaper, though only because it has the 1.2-litre entry-level petrol engine that the Nissan doesn’t bother with. Compare like for like engines and the Note is in fact slightly cheaper, despite the extra spaciousness garnered through the fact that it’s actually 20cms longer.

Your view on the Note’s value proposition depends on which rivals you align it with. It’s a touch expensive in comparison to top line of five-door superminis but of course it trumps this class of vehicle in terms of interior space. Most buyers who regularly travel with rear seat passengers will look for something larger and more expensive than a supermini but the Note can fulfil this role and looks good value as a result.

All models come with fully body coloured bumpers, Bluetooth phone operation with steering wheel activated controls, an MP3 auxiliary jack socket, front seat storage nets and foldaway tables, plus front electric windows. That’s in addition to side airbags, a CD player, remote central locking and immobiliser, ISOFIX childseat mounting points and provision for a flat reclining front passenger seat that’s useful should you need to transport long items like bicycles or surfboards. The popular Acenta variants get a better quality audio system these days, allowing drivers to enjoy the benefits of USB, iPod and audio input connections at no extra cost. The n-tec models meanwhile feature climate control, auto lighting and auto wipers as well as a Connect satellite navigation and audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass. Safety is also enhanced with ESP now fitted as standard on Acenta, Tekna and n-tec variants.

The combined cycle economy figure for the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol Note is 47.9mpg and the diesel trumps that with 62.8mpg, this figure recently improved thanks to revised gear ratios. Bringing up the rear but still hardly in disgrace is the 42.8mpg 1.6 but choosing the automatic gearbox option drops this engine’s performance to 40mpg. CO2 emissions are now just 119g/km for the diesel, rising up to 159g/km for the 1.6-litre petrol auto. Insurance groupings range between 4 and 6. Overall then, the Note isn’t going to cost the earth to run.

When they first tested this model, ‘Which?’ magazine decided that ‘a well equipped Nissan Note is all the car you’ll ever need’. If you’re looking for a compact family runabout, that’s as good a recommendation to start with as any.

There’s no doubt that manufacturing a truly practical small car is a difficult thing to do, especially when that practicality must come along with the king of diminutive dimensions that buyers have come to expect from their urban runabouts. Despite this, Nissan appear to have ticked all the key boxes with their Note. It’s well-equipped, versatile, quite fun to drive and affordable - the diesel model in particular offering a tempting ownership proposition if you can justify the premium over petrol power. Try one, then by all means set about trying to find another little car that would better suit your family’s ever-changing and ever-more demanding needs. It may take you some time.

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