ROAD TEST: Nissan’s sharper Note

Nissan Note
Nissan Note

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 are the order of the day here.

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.

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 tweaks for an even more engaging driving experience.

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.

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 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.