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2017 Nissan Note 1.2 VL review

Like the Almera saloon, the Note hatchback comes with class-leading levels of rear legroom — and the same dated engine and transmission

Photos: Sattaphan Kantha

Of all the new cars launched in the Thai mass-market scene this year so far, the Nissan Note is probably the one most people would find as interesting because it never existed in showrooms.

But although the Note is all-new for Thailand, it's merely an updated version of a model already on sale in Europe and Japan for some four years already. As many of you may already know, the Note is part of the brand's Ecocar Phase I project using the technical credentials of the existing March hatchback and Almera saloon.

That's why you can sense some blandness in the Note's exterior design, although there's some fresh air in the way the brand's V-Motif front grille has been penned. The same goes for the interior, which has been spruced up by a new flat-bottomed steering wheel and helps offset the dated cockpit ambience the Note shares more with the Almera than the March.

And when compared with rivals in the Thai B-segment, the Note, just like the Almera, trumps all of them in one outstanding aspect: rear legroom whereby seated occupants can easily sit with their legs crossed. Yes, it's that long (but not wide) and Nissan likes to rub it in. The Note is also reasonably practical, as well. The doors have wide opening apertures for easy entry and exit, while the boot is equally impressive in terms of space.

However, versatility is on the shoddy side of things, thanks to rear seats that don't tuck away neatly when the user requires additional cargo space. As well, the floor isn't flat because Nissan has left the problem-rectifying shelf as an accessory in showrooms.

Yet, the Note is still a far better hatchback than the March for buyers prioritising usable interior space over compact driving agility the latter boasts. That could be one reason why the Note made a belated entry into Thailand because Nissan probably wanted to preserve sales of the March.

But there's no hiding the fact that the Note's interior feels just like in the Almera or March, judging from the kind of materials the trio of Nissan's Ecocars share and the similar way their cabins look and smell.

Occasionally knobbly ride is just like in the March and Almera. 

The Note sees a sea of tacky plastics being used throughout the cabin and is a far cry from the higher material quality found in the Mazda 2. Oh, and that touchscreen from Kenwood to operate various infotainment isn't user-friendly and feels too aftermarket for a car from an OEM manufacturer.

As the Note shares the V platform, 79hp 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and CVT transmission with the Almera and March, there are hardly any differences among them on the move.

Around town, the Note is at its best with effortless oomph, light steering and easy handling of a car in tight spaces in spite of its relatively long body. But the faster you go, the lazier the motor gets and the more inaccurate the steering becomes. Similarly, the Note has an occasionally knobbly ride over imperfect road surfaces.

Nissan is claiming an identical 20kpl fuel economy average and 120g/km CO2 rating for the Note, which is a little confusing because it's bigger and weighs more than its two other cousins. In real-world driving conditions where we usually attained some 17kpl in either the Almera or March, we got 15kpl in the Note.

Of course, Nissan merely made the Note to suit Ecocar Phase I regs, but the kind of performance and fuel economy it yields isn't impressive anymore in 2017. Simply put, the way the Note drives feels just like a six-year-old product, made only fresh by the way the car looks. And yes, that roof-mounted rear spoiler is just for show, given the kind of pace the Note has to offer.

And while the airbag count is limited to just two frontal ones, there are some driver-assist tech to complement the existing range of active safety features (traction and stability control is standard). Features that might prove useful to many people these days who tend to pay less attention at the wheel are all-round view monitor, lane departure warning, frontal collision alert and emergency braking at low speeds.

But these items are only available in the range-topping VL trim at 640,000 baht. The spec without them is 568,000 baht. Lower grades have yet to come because the super-ageing March is still lurking around in showrooms and occupies the price range lower down. This possibly means that cheaper variants of the Note will eventually come on stream after Nissan decides to pull the plug off the March.

And with many Thais preferring roomy interiors over driving agility, the Note could be the better companion than the March in sitting alongside the Almera in showrooms for the long run, especially in next-generation forms.

But for the time-being, the Note is merely a Nissan B-segment hatchback that's roomier and more practical than the March. Other than that, the Note feels like a car of yore.

AT A GLANCE

Styling 6/10

Small design details help spruce up a somehow bland package.

Performance and economy 6/10

Six-year-old tech means meagre power and fuel efficiency.

Handling and ride 6/10

It's an easy steer generally, but driving dynamics aren't sparkling.

Practicality 8/10

It offers best rear legroom in-class, but versatility is a bit shoddy.

Safety kit 7/10

Airbag count is average and some driver assist tech come at a price.

VERDICT 6/10

If a stretched cabin with hatchback practicality is all you need, this is it. But the rest of the Note feels too dated to really be considered good value at such prices.

New flat-bottomed steering wheel helps offset the dated cockpit ambience. 

The rear has oodles of leg room, but it isn't about width. 

Cargo space is decent, but its versatility is on the shoddy side of things. 

The 79hp triple feels sluggish above town speeds and isn't that frugal on fuel.

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