Going one better


Nissan's Datsun used to be quite a well-known marque till the early 1980s, when it was phased out by the Japanese car maker. After three decades, the name is being resurrected for the emerging markets. In India, Nissan has launched the Datsun Go in a bid to enter the high-volume, low-price segment without allowing an erosion of its premium brand equity. Nissan has its task cut out to make the Datsun badge more visible and, of course, back the launch of the Go with efficient service and easy availability of spares. As the Go has been specially made for India, the company has focused strictly on the need to prune costs and keep the price down. But this strategy begs the question: has the attention to price led to compromises on the quality of the vehicle?

The Go comes across as a bigger car in its segment than rivals, which include Maruti Suzuki's Alto and Hyundai's Eon and Santro. It is not merely the size, but also the design that makes the Go appealing. The hexagon grille gives the Japanese car a commanding and modern presence that most of its rivals lack. The best thing about this Datsun hatch is that it doesn't look like a cheap car or something you should feel embarrassed about. The pronounced V on the bonnet adds character to the design, while the front bumper has been cleverly planned to have pronounced air vents.

The large wheel arches visually add muscle to the look and Datsun gets full marks for the gorgeous, swept back headlights, which make the rest of the offerings in this price range look ancient in comparison. I must add that the sky blue colour gives the Go a spunky vibe, though it may not be everybody's idea of a spectrum match for a hatch. But I do have a bone to pick: the Go should have at least offered a rear wiper, anti-lock braking system and airbags as optional features.

The door feels flimsy and light, making you wonder about the build quality. Step inside and you are welcomed with cabin space that surprises because most cars in this segment are usually cramped. The first thing that catches your eye is the extended front seat. Joined into a three-seater, it has some space that, Datsun informs, is for storing your wallet, mobile phone or other knickknacks. But honestly, it is just a waste of space as a console between the two front seats with storage depressions would have been more helpful in keeping objects from sliding away when taking a turn. Though the seats are large and provide decent back support, they are flat and lack thigh support. The rear seats are similar to the front seat, but they provide exceptional legroom and, more importantly, shoulder room for three adults. Keeping in mind that the Go will be a family car, Datsun has provided a huge 265 litres of boot space, the best in the class. The only problem is that there is no parcel tray to cover the luggage, plus the boot lid lacks a key hole, requiring you to open it only with the boot-release lever next to the driver's seat.

Look at the cabin build quality and it takes no genius to realise this is where the input costs have been hacked the most. The hard plastic and beige combination makes things even worse, and you start thinking: is the Datsun Go trying to compete with the Tata Nano? I would have preferred an all-black interior since this would have gone a long way in camouflaging the cheap plastic. On the positive side, however, the Go comes with a lot of storage space. This, though, has its own problems. The glove box is huge but the shocker is that it is open-faced and does not have a lid. Would giving it a lid have jacked up the car's price? Below the steering column you will find a similar open-faced space.

Datsun has taken a gamble by not providing a music system, only speakers. But you can hook your phone to the speakers via the auxiliary port. Also, it would have been a good idea for Datsun to have installed at least an FM radio. The centre console comes with a phone holder for convenience and a USB slot for use in recharging a mobile phone and other devices. There are a couple of things that will test your patience - the driver's side does not have controls for the front passenger's power window and the rear-view mirrors have to be adjusted manually from the outside.

Fire up the 1.2-litre engine, which also powers the Nissan Micra, and the cabin fills with noise. Once on the Go (no pun intended), the engine settles down and pulls away smoothly when you accelerate. There is enough power for city conditions and you don't need to fidget much with the gear since the car manages to cruise at low speeds. It comfortably hits the three-figure mark and maintains speed without fuss. The gear transmission is not a smooth affair, but it does not require muscle. The steering wheel is well balanced and makes driving in traffic easy, while the short turn radius helps the Go squeeze past bumper-to-bumper traffic or at sharp U-turns. The ride quality is good as the suspension cushions most of the bumps. According to Nissan, the Go uses high-response liner dampers, a technology that luxury brand Infiniti also employs, to make the suspensions react faster than in other cars.

As a total package, the Datsun Go has a lot going for it - the cabin space, the exterior designing, easy drivability, fuel efficiency, among others. But the interiors make you cringe. So will buyers dare to desert the Maruti and Hyundai offerings? Let's wait for the sale numbers. Arup Das is features editor at AutoX

Engine: 1198 cc
Power: 67 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 104 Nm @ 4000 rpm
Mileage: 20.63 kmpl (ARAI)
Price: Rs 3.12 - 3.69 lakh
(Ex-showroom, Delhi)