One of the more established Japanese automotive companies around the world, Nissan has struggled in India so far. With a top-down entry strategy, it spent quite a few years in the wilderness with its first two offerings — SUV X Trail and luxury sedan Teana — failing signally. Its third launch, sportscar 370Z, was never meant for the masses.
Its next two products, however, have given Nissan a new lease of life. The small car Micra may not have taken India by storm, but it is doing enough to keep the company ticking. Then came the Sunny, last year — and it has quickly become one of the significant success stories of recent times. Riding the momentum, it is now targeting country-cousin Toyota’s mainstay in India, the Innova, with its Evalia. There have been many failed attempts to upstage the Innova, but Nissan, with its Japanese bloodline and Indian taste, believes the Evalia is the right candidate. Can it justify the billing?
The utility vehicle is suddenly the apple of everybody's eye. Why? Because the big Indian family loves to travel together. Really? Nope. It’s all-diesel and light on the pocket, which entry-level small cars are not.
Maruti’s Ertiga, launched earlier this year, is nimble and suave — reasonably spacious and car-like. The Evalia cannot is not remotely so. Though it is not quite as big as the Innova, at 4,400 mm it is still longer than an Ertiga or even a Bolero. It sits high and has a 180-mm ground clearance that devours our potholes and craters. But does it look good? I am afraid, no. The wrap-around head lamps and flowing grille do impart some aesthetics, but overall it is just short of boxy.
The Evalia is built for space. The driver gets a commanding view and a very comfortable seating posture. This is true for the second row as well. The third row is obviously compromised, but still offers more space than any other utility vehicle around. Even with all the seats unfolded there seems to be ample space at the back. So if you are a family of 6 and are out often picnicking, the Evalia is perfect for you.
Look beyond this, and cracks appear. A few are quite unforgivable. Like lack of roll-down windows on the second row, and the absence of a lid on the glove box. The covered box between the two front seats is a myster. It has no pretensions of being an armrest, but Nissan says it compensates for the lack of a lid in the glove box, and is actually more convenient as the driver can store papers in it. So I emptied a bottle over it, and the water seeped right into the box. Too bad if you’d stored the registration and insurance papers in it!
Ride and handling
The Evalia is powered by Renault-Nissan’s ubiquitous 1.5-litre K9K diesel engine. With its focus on practicality and fuel economy, the Evalia engine develops a teensy 85bhp of power and 200 Nm of torque — less power, but as much torque as others of its ilk. What works for it is the lightweight monocoque body: at 1,426 kg, it is way lighter than an Innova or Xylo and helps car's ride and handling.
The vehicle is quick off the block and nimble in the mid-range, tapering off rather noisily at about 120kph. The handling is good, it corners well and holds its line appreciably. So this is one of the better utility vehicles to drive around.
It is somewhat easy to judge a vehicle like this. It is practical, no nonsense, reasonably capable and unpretentious. Meant as a second car for the medium-to-large families, its USP is space and an easy comfortable drive. ABS and EBD are present, but frills are conspicuously absent — the steering wheel can’t be adjusted, for heaven’s sake!
Which raises the question: is this a car or a people-mover? Call it a van, and it immediately loses much of its sheen — Mahindra Voyager and Mercedes MB100D are cases in point. But that was then, the Evalia is now. Nissan will try to hardsell it as a car with utility features, but make no mistake, this is a van, albeit a very capable one. Once you accept this, you will find little reason to complain. Otherwise just the second row windows alone would be a lifelong grouse.