The lower hatchback segment in India is the one that generates the most sales, and has been dominated by two carmakers in recent years—Maruti and Hyundai. While other manufacturers have managed to make an impact in higher segments, no car has ever proved a serious challenge to the combination of affordability, reliability and low running costs that these two makers offer. However, Nissan thinks it has the answer with Datsun, its new brand of budget vehicles, and the Go, the first car to wear this new badge.
The first thing you need to know about the Go is its price. Datsun says it will be priced under Rs 4 lakh, but that’s for the fully-loaded variant. We hear that the base model could start at as little as Rs 3.2 lakh—and that means it will worry cars like the Maruti WagonR and the Hyundai i10. However, while it is priced like a small hatchback, it is as big as (and also cheaper than) its relative, the Nissan Micra, when it comes to size, so you are really getting a lot of car for your money.
So how exactly have they made such a big car so affordable? Datsun has used a combination of different bits from various existing Nissan models to save on costs while building this car. It has the same wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) as the Micra, and the boot actually appears to be slightly bigger. However, the Go about 100 kg lighter than the Micra, which most likely means that it’s not as strongly constructed—which may not bode particularly well in an accident.
The engine is also from the Micra—a version of the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol that has been de-tuned to produce less power but give better fuel economy—an all-important selling point for buyers of affordable hatchbacks. The car’s lighter weight should help in this regard too. In fact, keeping the running and ownership costs of this car down has been a priority for Datsun, as the company is targeting first-time buyers with it. As with most cars in this budget price bracket, there is no diesel engine option, as that would have pushed the cost too high up.
What’s really interesting is that despite its budget pricing, Datsun has made sure the Go doesn’t look ‘cheap’—something it says it will follow with all its future models. All the body panels are contoured and sculpted, unlike the flat, featureless body panels of other budget cars like, say, the Mahindra Verito. The front is dominated by the smart hexagonal grille, which will be a defining characteristic of all Datsun models. The angular headlamps rake back across the V-shaped bonnet, and have very nice detailing inside. The lines from the contoured front bumper extend into the doors and continue down the car.
Even the boot hatch and rear bumper have nice contours on it. Perhaps the only thing that looks out of place on this car are the small, 13-inch wheels. However, upsizing to 14-inch or even 15-inch wheels should not be a problem, as the wheel arches are really large; this car was designed to have good ground clearance. There’s no denying the youthful appeal that Datsun was aiming for with the styling of this car.
The big news is in the interior, where the Go ticks almost all the boxes Indian buyers want in their hatchback. First, there’s space, and lots of it. This is further enhanced by the big windows and the two-tone, beige-brown colour scheme of the cabin. Here, too, there are bits borrowed from the Micra that you might recognise—most notably the air-con vents and the door handles. The instrument cluster has an electronic trip meter and a single dial (there’s no tachometer, only a speedometer), but that can be expected in a car at this price. The single-DIN audio system cleverly omits a CD player and even its own display, instead giving you a mount for your mobile phone and USB and aux-in ports, which will be sufficient for many. The steering wheel looks good, too.
However, there are a few missteps in the cabin. For one, although there are two recesses in the dashboard and one above it, as well as bottle holders in the doors, there is no glovebox. And as we’ve seen with cars like the Tata Nano, which was recently given gloveboxes, it’s a must-have feature for Indians. The other thing is the ‘twist-and-pull’ handbrake, which is mounted on the dashboard and might be seen as too cheap and utilitarian—the Toyota Qualis had one.
But there’s a reason the handbrake, as well as the gearlever, is mounted on the dashboard rather than the floor. That’s because Datsun has put a small bench and backrest between the front seats, effectively making for a three-seater bench in the front as well. There’s no seat belt for this middle seat, and the company says the space is for things like bags, but since families are happy to travel four-up on a motorcycle, there’s no reason they won’t put a child in the middle front seat. However, because of the lack of space and the gearlever directly ahead, this is a very unsafe place for anyone to sit in.
Will launching a new brand like Datsun really work? Judging by the Go, it has a good chance. It’s a handsome-looking, practical product that offers a huge amount of car for not too much money and promises to be cheap to run as well, and that’s just what we want from our cars these days. A first drive will reveal more, but that will have to happen closer to the car’s launch early next year. We just hope Nissan and Datsun use that time to make sure the after-sales and service for this car are strong enough.
Heard of Datsun?
Strictly speaking, Datsun is not a ‘new’ brand, but instead was the name Nissan used for its cars when they were exported outside Japan until 1986. So if you find the name familiar, that is why. Now the brand is being brought back as a range of very appealing, but budget models that will be more affordable than similarly sized Nissan offerings. It’s a brand targeted at developing nations with a rapidly growing middle class that desires stylish yet affordable vehicles, so it’s no surprise that Datsun’s global launch happened in India. However, while cars from ‘budget’ brands tend to look plain and built to a cost (for example, Renault’s Dacia-sourced Logan and Duster), Datsun promises that its cars will be styled to look premium.
So, will Datsun catch on in India? If the Go and its knockout price tag are anything to go by, it has a really good chance.
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