A number of global car makers from Honda and Toyota in the east to Volkswagen, Skoda and Renault in the west have launched small cars to increase their presence in India. But none of them have launched a broadside at the country’s bestselling car, the Maruti Alto.
Nissan Motor Co. President and CEO Carlos Ghosn poses with Datsun Go - a five-seat hatchback - during its global launch in New Delhi. It will go on sale in India next year. (AP Photo)
To that extent, it is a bold move on the part of Japan’s Nissan, which recently revived the Datsun nameplate, to take a shot at the collective might of the Alto and Hyundai’s Eon with its very first offering.
Its small car Go has been developed quickly, almost in a rush, and has already been on a road show in India. But does it have enough gas to give Maruti and Hyundai a scare in segments where have been untouchable — till now?
Fresh, modern design
Conventional wisdom says a car being developed for a price less than Rs. 4 lakh would be very compact and bear telltale signs of cost cutting. The Datsun Go goes against that notion, to an extent. Not only is it a bigger in dimensions compared to its peers, it also boasts of a contemporary and fresh design.
The diamond shaped grille, which will be a signature Datsun feature, lends it a bold character accentuated by the sharp lines on the sides. The rear hosts an uncomplicated boxy tail lamp cluster reminiscent of the Polo. The only gripe would be the skinny 13” tyres that undermine the car’s road presence.
Interiors: Not plush, but simple and roomy
The Go has a three-spoke steering wheel and a simple instrument panel with a speedometer and digital rev counter, fuel gauge and trip displays. The plastic is par for the course, and not as premium as the Eon. The gearbox is pushed up towards the dashboard like in the i10, which frees up space by the side of the driver — which is taken up by a wide bench seat for the fore passenger. The utility of that remains suspect.
The parking brake jostles with the gearshift on the driver side, leaving the driver a little cramped. The equipment list is not long. There are no steering-mounted controls or airbags or ABS. Power windows are only on the front doors. The glove compartment does not have a lid. No music system either.
What IS present is a mobile talking station that allows music from your mobile phone to be played on the speakers. As standard offering even on the base variant, it may prove a useful feature.
The highpoint is the space. Since it is a bigger car and has a longer wheelbase, it offers much more space at the rear than the Eon or the Alto. It has the largest boot as well.
Peppy city drive
With a 1.2-litre petrol powertrain, the Go has the biggest engine in its category, and that shows. Barring the vibration while idling (a result of cost cutting on insulation?), the Go is happy to be revved and is very nifty at city speeds. Visibilty is good for the driver, and the car comes into its own at over 1,600 rpm, pulling cleanly when accelerating. The higher torque really shows its utility in 3rd and 4th mostly in traffic operation.
Though it is capable of 140 kph or more in helpful conditions, this is not a car for high speeds or for cornering. The suspension set up is soft, and there is perceptible body roll. The skinny tyres also undermine stability in 3-digit speeds, but compensate with a high fuel economy of 20.63 kpl.
As a first product, Datsun has come up with a delightful car. It is roomy, peppy and not bad to look at. The lack of safety features (driver-side airbag is standard on the Nissan Micra) is disappointing. Quirky little bits like the wide bench seat and lack of a proper music system will divide opinions.
In its class it is a more than decent performer and offers a sorted drive. Does it have enough to take on the Alto? Pricing will hold the key, and it may not be as affordable as the Alto 800. However, it is a serious challenger to the Eon and the Alto K10, whose consumers are a little more discerning. As a product there is little wrong with the Go, but it will have to match up to Maruti and Hyundai in after-sales service. If Datsun can bell that cat, the Go will get going.