First Drive: Nissan Note

Nissan’s Note was a worthy if unremarkable small MPV. Easy to drive, but lacking any kind of wow factor, it was exactly the sort of car that a power-hungry, oversteer-loving road tester would avoid. Now there’s a new Note, so does this one strike a chord or is serving up a bum note? I put the racing gloves to one side and find out.

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At first glance there’s not much difference between the outgoing model and the new Note, but the Nissan designers have done a surprisingly effective job of making that traditional one-box design appealing. There’s a wide, almost smiling, grille flanked by sharply pointed headlights that lead down the side of the car to reveal thick swage lines that break up the acres of sheet metal.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be craning your neck to look as one passes by on the road, but you also won’t be offended by the anonymity of it.

Step inside and you start to find out why this is really an all-new model. There is so much space it’s a job to know what to do with it all, despite the fact that the outside is no bigger. It’s like the Tardis has had a facelift.

Nissan Note 2013 Phil Huff Rear SeatsOne Nissan representative told me that there is as much legroom in the back of the car as you would find in a BMW 7 Series. That’s an odd benchmark to use, unless BMW are planning a low-cost 713i version, and I sadly didn’t have a BMW 7 Series to hand to fact check with. I did have a Volvo XC60 parked at the hotel though, and there is no doubt about it – the Note was more spacious.

Nissan hasn’t just shrunk the boot to provide more passenger space though, as that has also grown in capacity from the last model. There’s also a special hidden floor that can sit at one height leaving a flat load surface, or it can be lowered down to release more storage space.

Nissan Note 2013 Phil Huff InteriorBehind the wheel it’s all a little generic, with plenty of bland plastic on show that’s a little too hard and feels a little too flimsy. Everything is where it needs to be, with clear dials ahead of you and switchgear sensibly placed around the dashboard, but it lacks any flair.

It’s also disappointing that the steering wheel only adjusts for angle, remaining at a fixed distance and preventing some people, myself included, from getting a truly comfortable driving position.

Nissan has fitted plenty of safety gear to the Note, and are rightly proud of some of it. There are cameras dotted around the car that provide a 360 degree view of your surroundings on an LCD screen, while lane departure warnings are in place, as are blind spot indicators and moving object detection.

None of this affects how the Note drives on the road, which is completely and utterly ordinary. Don’t take that badly though, as it means that everything just works. It’s like going to Nando’s for dinner; you’re quite happy with it, but it doesn’t leave you fully satisfied.

Push too hard and physics dictates that you’ll get a little understeer, but keep the speed down and it grips and turns reasonably well. Oddly, as speeds increase the car becomes more comfortable, feeling a little jittery at low speeds.

Nissan Note 2013 Phil Huff Grille DetailThe 1.5 litre diesel engine in the model I tested pulls the car to 60 mph in 11.9 seconds while returning 78.5 mpg and attracting no car tax at all. Every model also includes stop/start to boost economy, as well as cruise control and a speed limiter.

So what we have here is a car that ticks all the boxes that need ticking. Practical? Yes. Spacious? Definitely. Economical? Absolutely. Good value? You bet. Able to set lap records at Brands Hatch? It’s probably best to leave that to its GT-R big brother.

You won’t be excited in the same way as you would be driving the GT-R, but there’s no way of transporting five people in comfort, along with luggage, while sipping at fuel and costing virtually nothing to run.

If that’s the side of motoring you need, and don’t care about the latest 600bhp track racer, then the Note could suit you very well.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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