Nissan Note review
All-new Nissan Note now straddles the supermini and small MPV classes. We tested it in Ireland.
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe

Published on October 3, 2013

Good: spacious, well made, high-tech safety gizmos, sweet engine

Not so good: handling and steering too bland, styling, some cheap cabin trim

It's always confusing when a car maker replaces one model with an identically named successor, yet claims that the new car exists within an entirely different sphere. That's what Nissan has done with the new Note, moving the car away from the original version's small MPV marketplace, and instead putting it head-to-head with the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris.

In spite of which change, the Note remains a very spacious and roomy car, with cabin space that verges on that offered by the likes of the Ford B-Max or the Citroen C3 Picasso. In fact, the only direct rival I can think of to the Note is the similarly spacious Honda Jazz. There really is adequate legroom for one six-footer to get comfy behind another in the Note, and at 325 litres, the boot is bigger than average for the class. Better still, the rear seats are on runners, and if you slide them all the way forward you can increase that boot space to 411 litres, a figure that trumps the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. On top of that, fold those rear seats flat and load the Note to the roof, and you'll squeeze in 2,012 litres of whatever it is you're carrying.

All of which makes the Note pretty much unbeatable on a practicality for your money basis. Thankfully, Nissan hasn't done this at the expense of equipment and the base XE model comes with six airbags, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring, electric front windows and central locking. Upgrade to our €16,995 SV test car and you'll also get air conditioning, Bluetooth, rear electric windows and steering wheel mounted controls. Interestingly, there's no CD player on the base model, just an aux-in port for you iPod. Sign of the times, I guess.

Also on the options list is the Nissan Safety Shield - a group of safety gizmos, which, sadly, doesn't come with a miniature electronic Mr Chekov who raises and lowers them for you. Still, a blind spot monitor, lane departure warning and a moving object monitor (which sounds an alarm if a pedestrian steps carelessly into your path) are not to be sniffed at at this price level, and you can have the lot in a pack for €1,000. They also come packaged with a birds-eye-view parking system that uses tiny cameras mounted at the corners of the car to give you a fake view from on high as you swing into a space. A major boon in tight city centre car parks, and rather like having your own personal spy satellite.

The entry-level engine, and the motor which Nissan Ireland reckons most people will go for, is the 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol, and it's a good 'un. Tuned to a robust 80hp, it pushes the Note along just fine. A 0-100km/h time of almost 14 seconds doesn't look too hopeful, but row the short-throw five-speed gearbox along and the Note feels like it has just about enough propulsion. Mind you, that's with only me on board. Load it up with kids, shopping and luggage and it may not cope quite so well.

To drive, the Note is basically fine, but the keen driver will find little or nothing to reward them here. The steering is light, springy and entirely free from the encumbrance of any feel, and while grip levels seem fine and body roll is kept in reasonable check, the Note is quite simply no fun at all in corners. It's not bad and it doesn't misbehave, but it's also not entertaining at any level. The ride gives a better performance - it's quite firmly damped and the return-spring motion after a bump can be a little sudden, but other than that it's good at soothing away urban lumps and scars. On road refinement is fine too, with wind and tyre roar kept in reasonable check and the pleasant rasp from the three-cylinder engine fading away into the background on a trailing throttle.

Speaking of which, there's an Eco mode that will admonish you with a blue light if you're too heavy with your right foot, and reward you with a green light if you're just sipping fuel. I never got the green light to come on during my brief test drive, which either means that I'm un-frugal, or that Nissan's claim of better than 60mpg is just bobbins.

The cabin, aside from its spaciousness, has little else to recommend it. The plastics are mostly hard and a bit scratchy, the round central console layout for the heating and air conditioning looks odd and can be awkward to use and the main instruments look a bit cheap. Still, there's plenty of space for oddments thanks to deep cupholders and a double-level glovebox and it should stand up well to the rigours of family life, which is, I guess, the point.

It's not an exciting car, the Note, which is a shame, as the Invitation concept car that preceded it promised rather more in the way of styling flair. As it is, it's fine: functional, well-priced, well-equipped and with Nissan's impressive reliability and quality legacy backing it up. A purchase for the head, not the heart, but none the worse for that.


Tech Specs

Model testedNissan Note 1.2 SV
Price as tested€18,395 (pricing starts at €15,995)
Engine1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmissionfive-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door hatchback
RivalsFord Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Toyota Yaris
CO2 emissions109g/km (Band A3, €190 per annum)
Combined economy67mpg (4.1 litres/100km)
Top speed168km/h
0-100km/h13.7 seconds
Power80hp at 6,000rpm
Torque110Nm at 4,000rpm
Rivals to the Note