Datsun's new Go review, road test

Autocar India
First Published: 18:32 IST(7/4/2014)
Last Updated: 16:09 IST(8/4/2014)
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Nissan has resurrected its brand Datsun, which was phased out in 1981. And for India, the carmaker has positioned the brand at the budget end of the spectrum. Its first car, the made-for-India Go, has just gone on sale. Datsun’s ‘go local’ approach is in sharp contrast to parent brand Nissan, whose range of cars is designed to cater to a global audience.
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And while the Nissan range starts with the Micra Active, Datsun will have two hatchbacks occupying the big-volumes space below it. A smaller, even more affordable hatchback is in development, but for now let’s focus our attention on the Go. Clearly the company has delivered on its promise of affordable pricing, with the range starting at an incredibly low Rs. 3.12 lakh and topping out at Rs. 3.69 lakh. When Datsun said its new hatch would cost less than Rs. 4 lakh, we didn’t think it would be so much less!

It may be a car tailor-made for Indian requirements, but that also means it’s not quite built to global standards. So the question is, do you get enough for your money, or does the low price tag come at the expense of performance, refinement and safety? 

You won’t be wrong to think the new car belongs to a segment or two above; it’s that much larger than similarly priced rivals like the Maruti Alto K10 and Hyundai Eon at one end, and the Maruti Wagon R at the other. Comparable in size to the Micra (with which it shares its underpinnings and 2450mm wheelbase), the Go immediately makes an impression on the price-to-size front. But it’s not the size alone. The styling doesn’t reveal that this is, in effect, a budget car either. There are no straight lines or easy-to-produce flat panels in sight, and that says a lot.

The front is dominated by a large hexagonal grille, which is a detail that will be seen on Datsuns of the future as well. Lending a healthy dose of aggression to the design is the bold V on the bonnet and that smartly sculpted front bumper. The large, swept-back and beautifully detailed headlamps look neat and also serve as the starting point for the well-defined beltline. In profile, you can see a nice balance in the design, with a hint of the Nissan Leaf in the raked rear windscreen. Sadly, you also can’t escape the impression that it is under-tyred. The diet 155/70 R13 tyres look two sizes too small and lost in the large wheel arches. Further up, an interesting detail is the black cladding just aft of the rear windows; it helps mask some of the bulk of the thick C-pillars. But what will really grab your attention are the muscular haunches that originate at the rear doors and flow elegantly into the outward-bulging tail-lights. Even the tailgate has nice surfacing, with a central ‘platform’ for the Datsun logo. All in all, it looks smart, modern and robust, yet steers clear of looking overstyled like the Hyundai Eon.

Like the current-generation Micra and Micra Active, this hatch is built on a modified version of Nissan’s V platform and features similar front MacPherson-strut and rear torsion-bar suspension. However, it uses different ‘high-response’ linear dampers (which Nissan claims is technology derived from its luxury brand Infiniti), and even the electronic power steering has been tweaked. But the bigger difference is in its weight. At just 788kg, it is a full 110kg lighter than the Micra Active. The weight savings have come from optimising the thickness of the metal across the body, and from a greater use of plastic all around. However, it is likely that, in a bid to pare weight, Nissan has also done away with some reinforcements required to meet the best crash norms. Speaking of safety kit, the Datsun Go does without ABS or airbags, and these are not even offered as optional extras. There’s no rear wiper or defogger either, and only a single (albeit speed-sensing) wiper up front. 

Lift the door handle, open the light door and what you get is a very roomy cabin. Among other things, you’ll immediately notice the unique 5+1 seating arrangement. The +1 here is courtesy the extended front passenger seat, the base and backrest of which stretch to the driver’s seat to form a sort of a bench. The middle section is not meant to be used as a seat (there’s no seat belt or headrest) and Datsun engineers insist it’s solely intended as a place for ladies to keep their hand bags. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if some owners use the space to seat a child. For their part, the front seats, though flat, are quite supportive, if slightly lacking in thigh support.
 

But a bigger issue is the one-size-fits-all driving position. You can’t adjust the seat height or the high-set steering, and for shorter drivers that could prove a problem in terms of visibility. And that’s a shame, because the two-generation-old Nissan Micra (code: K11) that served as the inspiration for the Go, was known for its large glass area and excellent visibility. The ergonomic issues don’t stop there either. Even the dash-mounted gear lever is positioned a tad too high, while the space-saving, pull-type handbrake that sits beside it is a bit tricky to operate on hill starts, especially for first-time drivers.

There’s only exterior adjustment for the rear-view mirrors, which is the norm for the class, but what’s annoying is that driver has a power window switch only for his window; you have to stretch across to the passenger side to operate that window. Also, there is no day-night rear view mirror on the inside. And while we are nitpicking, the digital screen for the tachometer, distance-to-empty and average fuel economy readouts is also too small to read comfortably on the go. But to give credit to the hatch, the fairly comprehensive trip computer is a segment first, as is the ‘follow me home’ light function.

The dashboard is pretty functional, with lots of usable space. There’s a useful recess on the dash top and a large shelf under the steering column. The glovebox too is large, but shockingly, it comes without a lid, which effectively makes the cabin devoid of any concealed storage areas. However, as an accessory, Datsun will offer a storage box under the passenger seat for your papers.

The bench seat leaves no space for cupholders, but the door pockets make up for this with large bottle holders. Sadly, there’s absolutely no storage at the rear of the cabin. Rear-seat passengers will also have to contend with a limited view forward thanks to the unusual bench seat in front. Moreover, the bench blocks the flow of air from the AC vents, and though this wasn’t an issue during our test, we are not sure if it will affect cooling during summer.

The rear seat is quite flat, could’ve provided more thigh support and should have come with larger headrests. There is, however, good legroom and headroom on offer and the best bit is that it’s wide enough to seat three adults quite comfortably in the back.

Where it scores, and scores big, is with its massive 265-litre boot. It’s large enough to accommodate big suitcases flat, rather than vertically as in other hatchbacks. Sadly, you can’t conceal your luggage, as there’s no standard parcel tray. Also, since the hatch doesn’t have a key lock, you have to open the car and unlock the boot from the internal boot release next to the driver’s seat every time you want access.

It doesn’t take long to spot other areas where Nissan has saved costs. The boot lid lacks cladding, the seat fabric is pretty average, the rear seat belts don’t retract automatically and the front passenger gets no grab rail to hold. There’s also some parts-sharing with the Micra Active, and that’s a good thing. Bits like the door handles, air-con controls, vents and meaty stalks feel nice to operate. In fact, it is quite well screwed together and overall quality is actually good for this price.

Equipment levels are decent for the class, so long as you opt for the top T version featured here. The base D spec gets black bumpers and comes without air-conditioning and power steering. The middle-spec A version adds power windows and the audio system with its mobile phone stand.

With a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol motor already doing duty in the Micra and Micra Active, its carmaker didn’t have to look too far for an engine. In brief, it’s an all-aluminium unit that produces 67bhp at 5,000rpm. And with just 788kg to hurl around, it does a rather impressive job of giving the Go some real go. A bit of hesitation at low revs apart, it feels very peppy at typical city speeds and responds well to light throttle inputs. You can also pull away from low engine speeds in higher gears with ease, which means fewer gearshifts. Part of the credit for this goes to the smartly chosen (if slightly tall) gear ratios. Interestingly, it doesn’t use the Micra’s Renault-sourced gearbox (code: JH), because it was too expensive. Instead, Nissan has dusted off an older five-speed unit (code: FY) and pressed it into service here. This is not the most modern of gearboxes and there’s a noticeable whine at all times. The gearshift is slightly notchy too, but doesn’t require much effort. Neither does the clutch, which is light and progressive.

 

The mid range and top end of this motor are the best bits, with power flowing seamlessly and never leaving you wanting for more. There’s a delightful little surge every time you floor the throttle in the meat of the revband. The engine does get noisy after 4,000rpm, but never to point of feeling strained or harsh. That’s probably because Nissan has fixed the rev limiter at a rather low 5,250rpm in the interest of fuel economy, so you’ll often find yourself maxing the car in each gear earlier than you’d expect.

But it’s not that you really need to press on, because the Go gets to 120kph without much fuss. For the record, it managed a relatively quick 14.54-second dash to 100kph, a speed it will happily hold all day.

Within the city, you’ll like its light steering and small turning radius. The long-travel suspension is also absorbent enough, with the considerable ground clearance coming into play on really bad stretches of road.
 
But the small wheels do crash through larger potholes and you can also always hear the suspension. The poor sound insulation is to blame. This becomes a bigger issue at highway speeds, where road and even wind noise become constant irritants. The lack of cladding in the rear wheel wells also means you can hear everything the tyres throw up at the body.
 

Noise apart, it does make for a reasonably good highway car. Straight-line stability is very impressive for the most part (strong crosswinds do disturb its composure), and the steering feels adequately weighted too. It rolls a fair bit when pushed hard through corners, but the well-sorted dynamics and safe handling allow you to punt the Go around with confidence and ease. Just keep in mind that the it comes without anti-lock brakes and that the tyres respond to emergency stops with lots of squealing and squirming.

Fuel efficiency is one area where Datsun has delivered. The new hatchback gave us an impressive 12.8kpl in the city, and 17.9kpl out on the highway. That gives it an overall figure of 15.4kpl. Once again, it’s the low kerb weight and smart gearing that come into play.
 
A neat touch worth mentioning here is the speedometer, which comes with markings of suggested gearshift points to keep the engine at its efficient best, which is around 1,200rpm.
 
 
The 35-litre fuel tank is smaller than the Micra’s by six litres, but it’s of similar capacity to other budget hatches like the Wagon R, Alto and Eon.
 
It does not get a conventional audio system with a CD player or even a radio. In its place, the top-spec gets what Datsun calls the Mobile Docking Station. It basically lets you connect your phone or music player to the pair of front speakers via Aux-in, also providing a stand to mount it on.
 
 
There’s a USB port too but that’s strictly a means to charge your device. Sadly, the sound quality is mediocre. Datsun dealers do offer a regular music system as well as a pair of rear speakers as optional extras.

Were we to judge the Datsun Go relative to similarly sized hatchbacks, it would come across as a tad underwhelming. But you need to compare the Go to similarly priced competition; that’s when you’ll see it as a clever proposition. A spacious cabin and a big boot are two things you’ll rarely find in a budget hatchback, but it’s something you get with the Go. The car’s attractive styling, class-leading performance, ease of use and good fuel economy are also aspects that will interest buyers in the budget segment, the majority of whom are first-time car buyers. That’s not to say the Go doesn’t have its flaws. The ergonomics, for one, leave much to be desired and there’s some essential kit missing. So there’s clearly a lot of room for improvement. But, given the Rs. 3.69 lakh price tag for the top-spec T version, the Go is hard to beat for affordability. All Datsun needs to do now is bolster its sales and service network to unlock the true potential of its budget car.

Fact File
What it costs
Ex-showroom (Delhi)  Rs. 3.12 lakh
Warranty 2 years / unlimited km
Engine
Fuel                      Petrol
Installation             Front, transverse
Type                     3 cyls, 1198cc
Bore/stroke           78.0 / 83.6mm
Compression ratio  9.8:1
Valve gear             4 valves per cylinder, DOHC
Power                    67bhp at 5000rpm
Torque                   10.61kgm at 4000rpm
Power to weight    85.02bhp per tonne
Torque to weight    55.92bhp per tonne
Transmission
Type                      front-wheel drive
Gearbox                5-speed, manual
Dimensions
Length                    3785mm
Width                    1635mm
Height                    1485mm
Wheel base             2450mm
Boot volume           265 litres
Chassis & Body
Construction            Five-door, hatchback, monocoque
Weight                    788kg
Wheels                    13-inch pressed steel
Tyres                       155/70 R13
Spare                       Full size
Suspension
Front                       Independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs
Rear                        Non-independent, Torsion beam, coil springs
Steering
Type                        Rack and pinion
Type of power assist     Electric
Turning circle                9.2m
Brakes
Front                          Ventilated Discs
Rear                            Drums
Anti-lock                         NA
Performance
0-20 1.21 sec
0-40 2.86 sec
0-60 5.53 sec
0-80 9.15 sec
0-100 14.54 sec
0-120 20.80 sec
0-140 34.08 sec
Economy
City                     12.8kpl
Highway              17.9 kpl
Tank size             35 litres

 


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