The second-generation Nissan Note is a spacious Fiesta alternative, despite dynamic dullness compared to the Ford

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The new Nissan Note occupies a segment that's tough to love: that of the supermini-size MPV.

As packed with cost-effective worthiness as they may be, most inflated superminis inspire a level of must-have desire roughly equivalent to that of a built-up shoe.

Nissan has packed a great deal of safety kit into the Nissan Note

By seeking to do an unglamorous job in the most inoffensive way possible, most disappear under the car-fancier radar and get hoovered up by mature buyers who sensibly value decent ingress and egress more than a raked B-pillar.

This self-limiting fact has clearly not passed Nissan by. The previous Note was typical of the breed, and although it found a grateful audience (not to mention a four-star road test grade), it was too tall and boxy to effectively battle the cutely turned – and massive-selling – Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio.

The current model, underpinned by an entirely new platform and cleverer engines, seeks to redress that balance. As before, the Note is built in Britain at Nissan's Sunderland factory. Its 'V' (for 'versatile') platform is shared not with the new Renault Clio, despite the Nissan/Renault alliance, but with the current Nissan Micra, albeit suitably enlarged in this instance.

It still claims highly competitive practicality but has adopted a much more typical supermini body that, Nissan hopes, will prove more palatable to a much wider pool of potential customers.

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From summer 2017, the Note will be phased out with Nissan replacing it with the bigger fifth-generation Nissan Micra. The move comes as Nissan has developed the new Micra to compete with European B-segment hatchbacks which means it will occupy the same space as the Note does currently.

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Nissan Note rear

Nissan's Note is a part of the manufacturer’s new global small car family. Although the previous version sprang from a lengthened Renault-Nissan supermini platform, this one has more in common with the Indian-built Nissan Micra than the current Renault Clio.

That’s thanks to Nissan’s ‘V’ platform, which allows more than 80 per cent of componentry to be sourced locally by the relevant factory, in turn avoiding unnecessary import and tax cost. In the Note’s case, that factory is Sunderland.

The rear doors open to almost 90deg to allow for easy entry and exit

The platform has also allowed far fewer parts to be used in this car than in its predecessor, taking complexity and weight out in places and, Nissan says, putting strength and refinement back in. Our test car registered just 1095kg on our scales – 75kg less than the three-cylinder Renault Clio that we road tested previously.

Nissan’s big ambition was to take much of the apparent mini-MPV out of the car, with the aim of creating a much more desirable mainstream European supermini while retaining most of the old car’s extraordinary cabin space. Although the result was always going to be compromised, they’ve done that quite well. The new car is only 20mm less tall than the old one but, from the outside, you’d guess that the difference was greater thanks to the much more muscular bodyside styling.

There are three engines: two 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrols, one of which is supercharged, and one 1.5-litre turbodiesel. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all, but you can specify a CVT automatic on supercharged models.

The car has MacPherson struts and a torsion beam, both subframe mounted and both tuned for a much tauter feel than the Micra’s. The Volkswagen Polo was the Note’s dynamic benchmark, says Nissan. We’ll see how close Nissan has come to matching it.

Nissan's Note also brings to the supermini segment safety technology of the sort that some manufacturers have yet to offer in their large saloons, and it does so in a particularly clever and cost-effective way.

The Nissan Safety Shield, fitted as standard to range-topping Tekna-trim models and cars with the additional Comfort Safety pack, combines a blind spot warning system with a lane departure warning system plus a moving object detection system that alerts you to moving objects behind you when you’re reversing. It delivers all three via the same wide-angle camera located on the tailgate. Larger cars often rely on separate networks of sensors and processors for these individual functions.

Its rear-facing camera is, therefore, an important part of the car’s active safety set-up – which is why it also has a novel built-in automatic cleaning system that Nissan calls ‘intelligent wash and blow dry’.

This consists of a jet of washer fluid and a separate nozzle for compressed air. Image processing software decides whether the lens needs either or both as and when it gets dirty. The tailgate camera delivers data for these three active safety systems, as well as imagery for the Note’s reversing and Around View Monitor camera systems.



Nissan Note interior

There are five trim levels are offered: Acenta, Acenta Limited Edition, Acenta Black Edition, Acenta Premium and Tekna. Entry-level Acenta trims include Bluetooth, a CD radio, cruise control, a trip computer, electric front windows, air conditioning, USB connectivity and alloys wheels. Opt for the Acenta Limited Edition and you get some bespoke Note decal floor mats, while the Black Edition comes with a 5.8in Nissan Connect touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav and numerous black exterior and interior details.

The mid-range Acenta Premium trims come with a sliding rear bench, climate control, auto headlights and wipers, and front fog lights, while the range-topping Tekna models get 16in alloys, a part leather interior, keyless entry and start, and a 360-degree camera.

The wheels and pedals are aligned well and sit where you expect them to

The Nissan Note’s driving position is a bit more raised than the typical small car’s and a little more bent-legged. But otherwise, from the front seats at least, this feels like a pretty ordinary supermini, which should be construed as both a good and a bad thing.

Nissan's seats are comfortable and the controls well placed, but it’s high time that Nissan joined the rest of the car-making world in fitting telescoping steering columns to its small cars.

The glossy black centre stack and funky circular climate control console are appealing enough, but they look like a vague nod in the direction of added style rather than a decisive commitment to it.

This is a functional, practical cabin built mainly of robust yet unspectacular plastics and littered with storage cubbies but few appealing flourishes. It’s comfortable and seems durable but does little to massage the senses.

Passenger space is very impressive, though – particularly in the rear. Back here, the seats both slide and fold, and there’s more legroom with them all the way back than in anything in the class. Or the class above, really. The 1000mm of maximum rear legroom that we measured is 40mm more generous than a Citroën C3 Picasso, 60mm better than a current Renault Clio and 100mm better than a Volkswagen Volkswagen Polo.

It’s also within 20mm of a Skoda Octavia, itself a very commodious car. Rear headroom is generous, too, but only by supermini standards. In the boot, we very much like the secondary handle for sliding the second row of seating fore and aft. The folding false boot floor is also useful, albeit less original.

Our only criticism is that you can’t flop the seat bases forward for an extra-large load bay.


Nissan Note side profile

The Nissan Note's engine range starts with a naturally aspirated 79bhp 1.2-litre three-pot petrol. Next up is the 97bhp 1.2-litre DIG-S supercharged petrol version; its supercharger is disengaged via a clutch when not needed.

Nissan's supercharged engine outputs an impressively low 99g/km CO2, but that worsens to 119g/km if the standard five-speed manual is replaced by the optional CVT automatic gearbox

Performance is on a par with its rivals and perfect for general driving

The economy champion is the Renault-sourced 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel, offering 89bhp, 95g/km and, again, a five-speed gearbox.

If you’re after strong straight-line performance, a 79bhp 1.2-litre triple is unlikely to blip particularly brightly on your radar. So although a headline figure of 12.6sec for the 0-60mph sprint doesn’t look sprightly, bear in mind that this is also a claimed 60.1mpg car that emits just 109g/km of CO2 on the combined cycle.

From that perspective, the Note is a pretty competitive performer. The last time we figured a 1.2-litre supermini, it was a Peugeot 208 that, although 15kg lighter and 2bhp more powerful than the Note, wanted 14.2sec across the same benchmark.

The Peugeot did counter, though, with stronger in-gear performance at the lower end of the rev scale; across 30-50mph in third (7.6sec) and 50-70mph in fourth (12.2sec), the 208 is more responsive than the Note (8.4sec and 12.8sec respectively). The Note’s three-cylinder engine is one that likes a few revs; hang on to it long enough and it’ll redline at 6800rpm, although we can’t imagine many buyers taking it there. Certainly, you wouldn’t do it by accident.

The supercharged engine doesn't quite live up to its billing. It feels a bit overwhelmed by the Note's bulk, although the deep three-cylinder sound is appealing. You'll probably enjoy the impressively torquey diesel more; it offers up a reasonably modest 89bhp and 147lb ft, meaning acceptable performance.

What power it does produce is delivered smoothly, but it is a grumbly unit under acceleration. Better is its high-speed refinement, which is broken only by a modicum of road noise. Our test route saw it return an excellent 62mpg, which was achieved over a mix of roads.

Although the Nissan Note is quite happy to be threaded with a little enthusiasm around town, the gearbox takes a bit of stirring on the open road. Thinking about pulling out on the motorway with some traffic closing behind from a distance? You’ll probably be wanting fourth gear. The same goes for increasing speed on an incline.


Nissan Note cornering

Create an imaginary template for a wholly conventional supermini with a small petrol engine and the chances are that you’d finish with a result very much like the Nissan Note’s. There’s a slight forward weight bias, a five-speed manual gearbox, electric power steering with three turns lock to lock and tyres with generous sidewalls.

Safety and security are our concerns here, but if there’s the opportunity to gain a hire-car grin, too, then happy days. The Note is as straight as they come and drives that way, with a relatively pliant low-speed ride (thanks to the 65-profile rubber) giving it an easy-going gait around town. Pedal and steering weights are all well matched and easy to rub along with. They are positive, precise and of similar lightness.

Despite what you might expect, the Note is quite good to drive

This consistency of response is retained as speeds (slowly) rise. On a country road, there’s just as much precision to the steering while, thanks to the generous flex in the rubber, the damping has been left tight enough to control body movements without compromising ride comfort.

Nissan's Note is no Ford Fiesta in terms of feedback, response and dynamism, but it’s leagues better than its Nissan Micra sibling. As for high-speed cruising, any issues are driveline based, rather than ride and handling. It’s stable and solid, with acceptably low noise levels and fine long-distance comfort.

The Note has stability and traction control as standard, with a switch to disengage it that, we suspect, most owners will only ever touch if they want the extra traction that a spinning wheel can offer on very low-grip surfaces like snow and ice.

For that reason alone, we’re happy to see it there. It disengages both systems fully at once after a full prod. Either way, the Nissan Note is a relatively engaging car. It’s light and has a free-revving engine, a combo that makes it feel positive and enthusiastic.


Nissan Note

The new Nissan Note range kicks off not too far north of where the old one began, and you also get the considerably more economical 1.2-litre engine.

However, the Note's price tag puts the car among the angels. Both the mid-spec, three-pot-powered Ford Fiesta 1.0T EcoBoost and Renault Clio TCe 90 will match those running figures and do so while delivering a far more rewarding driving experience. The Note’s advantage – as it was before, and as we’ve already highlighted – is that neither rival can compete with its purpose-built practicality.

The Note should retain its value about as well as its rivals do

Measure it by this yardstick and its closest rival is an old foe: the Honda Jazz. Such a closeted comparison might return Nissan to precisely the same niche that it was hoping to avoid, but at least here, by roundly trouncing the elderly mover on running costs (and the Hybrid on price), it can persuasively claim to be an outright class leader.

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Nissan Note rear quarter

Fitness for purpose: that’s the key to the Nissan Note achieving a four-star rating here because, largely, this isn’t a car for enthusiasts.

Don’t misunderstand us – we like a hugely practical supermini as much as the next person. But, when it comes to cars, we can’t see any reason why space can’t be teamed with a little verve and imagination and dynamism.

Not quite up to disrupting the top three but very creditable

That’s why the Ford Fiesta is our favourite supermini and why this new Note largely picks up where the previous version left off.

It may look more like a conventional supermini from the outside, but it’s the same spacious and darned useful car on the inside.

It’s one that we might not recommend to people who are passionate about cars, like you or us, but it is also a car that is very easy to suggest for anyone who has more objective needs.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Nissan Note 2013-2017 First drives