20140914

Driven #26: 2014 Datsun Go


When Nissan announced the resurrection of its low-cost ‘Datsun’ brand in pursuit of increased sales and market share in emerging markets like India, Russia and South Africa, the automotive fraternity welcomed it with much fanfare. In an era that saw the demise of quite a few brands, this was indeed a welcome move. ‘Go’, an entry-level small car and the first Datsun in 27 years, had a global premiere in India last July followed by a commercial launch earlier this year. With lot of expectations to boot, Datsun Go’s sales in the first few months has been underwhelming to say the least.

Is the Go competent enough to lead Datsun's revival? Should it be enjoying more popularity and sales than it currently does? We find out by taking the top-end variant of the Go out for a quick drive.

TO LOOK AT:


Cars competing in the budget end of the small car segment are not known to have ‘good looks’ in their list of priorities. Take the Alto 800, for instance. It might be the largest selling car in India but it hardly attracts a second glance. In stark contrast, Hyundai Eon tries too hard to look good. That’s probably why the Datsun Go comes across as a whiff of fresh air. It is neither drab nor flashy. There is a surprising level of maturity in its design, the stance and proportions are just right and it isn’t awkward from any angle.


Spearheading the revival of Datsun, the Go debuts a few exclusive styling elements that would be prominent fixtures on all future models of the brand. The signature ‘hexagonal’ grille, that looks quite pleasing with its honeycomb mesh pattern and a thick chrome surround, is one such element. Though the grille looks quite close to that of a South Korean competitor, it lends a touch of finesse and a lot of character to the Go. The Go might compete in the budget end of the small car segment but that hasn't stopped Datsun from putting in lot of efforts to make it look sporty. The prominent creases in the hood, the kinks at the edges of the front bumper and the boomerang-shaped line that signs off an otherwise-staid looking profile hints just that. The interplay of surfaces created by the strong shoulder line, the thick C-Pillar and the arching character line that runs from the rear door to the hatch outlining the taillights on either sides look interesting. The large, rather squarish taillights and the rounded windshield are the highlights of the rear.


On the flip side, the wheel wells that already look empty with those puny tires are made to look further off the mark by the raised body. The tipped-forward stance won’t go well with some onlookers either. All said and done, the Go would end up pleasing most and offending none, which is extremely critical considering the fact that it is gunning first-time car buyers.

Though it isn’t evident at first glance, there are some places where Datsun has cut costs to ensure the pricing is right. The single windshield wiper up front and the lack of insulation under the hood and inside the wheel wells are some of those. Even if you are willing to pay, body-colored rear view mirrors, fog lamps, rear wiper and demister aren’t part of the standard kit even on the top-end variant.

TO SIT IN:


The Datsun Go makes no fuss about the fact that it is a basic car. In fact, the moment you pull the flap-type door handles and open the ultra-thin doors to step in, the first thing that strikes is the barebones interior. The basic steering wheel is quite large but has useful thumb recesses at the right places. The instrument cluster is simple and legible with a full Multi Information Display that houses an odometer, a trip meter and displays for fuel efficiency and distance to empty. This is a welcome move as Datsun has ensured that the driver doesn't have to compromise on the information he needs on the go. Interestingly, the gear-shift indicators are printed in the speedometer itself.


Moving on, we have to admit that the rest of the interiors left us with mixed feelings. The air-conditioning vents, door pads and layout of the center console are borrowed from the bigger Micra and hence, look and feel good. The overall build quality, fit and finish are impressive too and are capable of standing the test of time. The air-conditioner is a chiller and kept us comfortable on a sunny day in Chennai. Three big, plasticky knobs control the air-flow and temperature while a flimsy slider lets you toggle between fresh air and recirculation modes. Ergonomics are a mixed bag. The dashboard-mounted gear lever frees up space between the seats and Datsun has smartly used it to provide nifty seat extensions that has turned out to be a big marketing point. Its usefulness is still a question though. The handbrake lever is oddly placed and its pull-type mechanism takes time to get used to. 

There are a few places where the cabin lets us down. Those two open recesses in the dashboard, one each before the driver and the front passenger, not not only looks spartan but are also sure to invite trouble from prying eyes when parked in a public place. This is one thing that Datsun shouldn't have overlooked. How much are a couple of plastic lids going to add to the overall cost? Another irritant is the absence of a proper music system. The only way to play music is to connect your smart phone through the Aux port. The USB port next to it can only charge your phone! A mobile phone holder is standard though.


The best thing about this car is the space on offer. Based on the Nissan Micra which is from a segment higher, the Go easily trumps the competition and comes out on top, both in terms of passenger space and comfort. The 'connected' front seats and the rear bench are soft, wide and well-blostered, offering adequate support. Crucially, the Go can accommodate five full-sized adults, which is a boon in a country like ours where cars are still a luxury for many. The boot is reasonably spacious at 265 liters but the loading lip is a tad tall.

Standard across the range is the drive computer, follow me home headlamps and a wiper with drop wipe function. The top end variant comes equipped with a power steering, front power windows, central locking, front speakers, wheel covers, body-colored door handles and the mobile docking station. Some features like retractable rear seat belts and internally-adjustable rear view mirrors are conspicuous by their absence.

ON THE ROAD:


The engine norm of this segment is 0.8 liters, with both the Alto 800 and all but one variant of the Eon powered by engines of that size. The Datsun Go, in contrast, has the same 1.2-liter petrol engine from the Micra under it's hood, albeit in a lower state of tune. This 3-cylinder engine has a power rating of 67 bhp at 5000 rpm and a torque output of 104 Nm at 4000 rpm. That gives the Go with a segment-best power to weight ratio. Typical of a 3-cylinder engine, the Go shakes and vibrates a lot at idle. The vibrations do soften out once we get going. The engine is reasonably peppy and the Go accelerates quickly to the ton, compared to the segment standards. The gear shift is a bit notchy but the throws and the gear ratios are well defined. The Go doesn't feel under-powered and could easily keep pace with faster moving traffic, which is impressive. Don't rev the engine much though, it sounds and feels strained as the rpms climb up.


Ride quality is decent at all speeds and the Go doesn't feel unsettled on imperfect roads. Large bumps and potholes do filter into the cabin and so do tire and wind noise. The lack of sound deadening material clearly makes its presence felt. Handling is neutral and the Go goes about with its job in a predictable fashion. In the short open road that we encountered, the Go could easily reach and sustain triple digit speeds and didn't feel nervous when doing so. The steering, which is light at low speeds, weighs up well as speeds build up and that inspires a lot of confidence. This is where we feel Go's association with the Nissan Micra has strongly helped its cause. It doesn't drive, ride and handle like an A-segment car. The Go feels a whole lot matured.

Though Datsun claims a fuel efficiency figure of around 20 km/l, we managed a respectable 15.5 km/l during our drive. That should keep a majority of Indians happy. The 155 mm Strada tires isn't the best out there when it comes to offering good grip levels. They also contribute a lot of decibels on the move. Ventilated discs up front means that the Go offers adequate stopping power. But, watch out under hard braking. The thin tire section and the absence of ABS makes the car a bit nervous.

SPECIFICATIONS:


| Engine Type: DOHC |
| No of Cylinders: 3 |
| Displacement: 1198 cc |
| Maximum Power: 67 bhp @ 5000 rpm |
| Maximum Torque: 104 Nm @ 4000 rpm |
| Transmission Type: 5-speed Manual |
| Tires: 155/70 R13 |
| Brakes: Ventilated Disc (Front), Drum (Rear) |


WE VOTE FOR:

* Neutral styling
* Spacious interiors
* Mature road manners

WE VOTE AGAINST:

* Evident cost-cutting
* Lack of safety features
* Nissan's sparse dealer network

VERDICT:


After spending a few hours with the car, it is evident that the Datsun Go has a lot of strengths up its sleeve. It is spacious, can easily accommodate five, rides and handles pretty well for an entry-level hatchback, boasts more than adequate power and torque figures and it's neutral styling would please all and offend none. Yes, cost cutting is glaringly obvious at many places, quite a few features are surprisingly not offered even as an option and Nissan's after-sales service has a long way to go before they think of competing with Maruti-Suzuki and Hyundai, the two stalwarts they are fighting against in this segment. But, are these big enough to dent the sales prospects of the Go? In our opinion, they aren't and the Go deserves to sell well in our market. We only hope the market is listening and is ready to give Datsun a chance.

| Photography: Bharath Rengaraj |

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