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Datsun Go : Experience Drive

  • Oct 30, 2014
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[caption id="attachment_14723" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Datsun GO Experience Drive Datsun GO Experience Drive[/caption]

The Datsun brand had been phased out by Nissan in the early 1986. After nearly three decades of suspension, Nissan resurrected the Datsun brand in the year 2013. The company then announced of launching an entry level hatchback in India as its first offering post the revival of the Datsun brand. Billed as the GO hatchback, the car was launched in the Indian car market early in 2014.

The GO hatchback is an important product for Nissan or Datsun. First off, it is specially designed for developing countries like India, South Africa, Indonesia and Russia. It is for the same reason that it is marketed as a budget brand. Nissan chose to sell the GO first in the Indian market since Datsun’s future will largely depend on its reception in a country which is a hub for small cars.

[caption id="attachment_14726" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Datsun GO Experience Drive Datsun GO Experience Drive[/caption]

Datsun did all their homework before launching the GO here, and is pretty confident that it is the best car in the segment. We have already reviewed the GO hatchback in a detailed road test when the car was launched, and we were fairly impressed with what it offers for the price. Datsun, however, wanted us to know more about the engineering and technicalities that go behind manufacturing the GO hatchback. So, we were invited for a one day long technical training at the Renault-Nissan manufacturing facility in Chennai, where the GO is also manufactured.

At first we were told it is a ‘technical training’. Our initial understanding of the event was that most of time will be spent feeding our brains with numerics rather than seeing some real world, on the road antics. Once everyone settled down in the conference room though, the Datsun team took over and briefed us on the so called, “Techincal Training”.

[caption id="attachment_14727" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Krishnan Sundararajan, Chief Vehicle Engineering, Nissan Motor India, briefing us about the drive Krishnan Sundararajan, Chief Vehicle Engineering, Nissan Motor India, briefing us about the drive[/caption]

For the first hour in what was going to be a day long event, we were explained about the finer nuances on what went, and rather still goes, behind building the Datsun GO. This meant going through umpteen power-point slides with eyes peeled on some unfathomable graphs while also having to consume a lot of mathematics. In short, it was reminiscent of a physics lesson at school, but only so much more intriguing. While that might have sounded boring for the first 5 minutes or so, once you start to pick up those mathematical expressions and start understanding those graphs, you quickly realize how engineering, even on the basic or entry-level cars, is a relentlessly complex task for automobile manufacturers/engineers to work around!

The Datsun GO, says the company, is designed based on prospective customers’ inputs. In essence these inputs are what a majority of customers seek in a car at this price point. And because Datsun is talking about Indians here, we are pretty certain that some fairly demanding suggestions must have been received by the company. Which was sort of true since as per Datsun’s survey, acceleration, fuel efficiency, roominess, utility, ride comfort and handling were all among the top priorities by customers in this segment.

[caption id="attachment_14728" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Datsun GO Experience Drive Datsun GO Experience Drive[/caption]

The GO hatchback as a result is designed keeping in mind all the aforementioned parameters. Datsun further goes on the say that with the GO hatchback the company is offering the best consolidated package as compared to any of the other cars in the segment. The statement of course can be backed up by measurable statistics and numbers. While Datsun did make us go through all that, that wasn’t clearly the idea behind inviting us all the way to their manufacturing facility in Chennai. Datsun wanted us to get hands-on experience with the car on the company’s test-track and let us decide for ourselves if those mathematical equations have in actual successfully translated into real world driving conditions.

Post this technical presentation, all of us were relegated to the test-track where two Datsun GO hatchbacks along with Nissan’s R&D team and a test driver (who had flown all the way from Japan just for this one-day event) were waiting for us. We were quickly briefed about the track layout and how we were supposed to drive the cars; more emphasis was laid on driving the car under track speed limits. The main motive will be to understand the vehicle’s behaviour like its dynamics, ride, braking, etc, without acting like an overly enthusiastic lunatic behind the wheel.

[caption id="attachment_14729" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Datsun GO being taken around the Renault-Nissan Test track in Chennai Datsun GO being taken around the Renault-Nissan Test track in Chennai[/caption]

The Renault-Nissan test track at Organdum is divided into two oval shaped test-track sections. If it is to be described in simple words, Section 1 is fast whereas Section 2 is slow. How? Section 1 is divided into 4 sectors and starts with approximately a kilometer long arrow straight runway. The first three sectors are done within this much distance only. To enter into the 4th sector you simply take the hairpin bend at the end of the aforementioned straight; run through the sector/course and get back to starting position again.

Section 2 has a similar design layout but the track surface is coarser, and throughout the distance it changes from being harsh to bouncy, to vibrating at times.

Our group of journalists was divided into 2 subgroups and we were made to go around each of the sections in a team of 2 while we were also being accompanied and guided by Datsun’s test driver and one member from the company’s R&D team in India. So, 4 guys at a time inside the car.

[caption id="attachment_14730" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Datsun GO Experience Drive Datsun GO Experience Drive[/caption]

After a brief explanation about the track’s layout, surface, purpose, driving instructions etc., we were finally ready to take and experience the GO on Datsun’s very own engineering parameters around the test track.

First thing you notice about the GO is its mature and proportionate design. You must have heard it before as well, but I would still take the trouble to repeat and tell you that the GO hatchback looks a size bigger than its chief rivals like the Alto K10 or Hyundai Eon. From outside, the only giveaway that it belongs to the entry-level segment is perhaps its puny and skinny 155/70 13-inch wheels. That said, on the whole, the GO looks striking and while it may not set everyone’s eye balls rolling with its aesthetics, it certainly is a design bold enough to spark a conversation every time it enters a parking lot or a traffic junction.

On the inside, it’s a similar story. The GO feels as spacious as cars from a segment above. The ‘connected’ seating pattern at front is something that I think goes very well with Datsun as like the brand it is also a going-back-to-the-future affair. However, Datsun clearly states that these seats are not meant to seat any individual, not even a kid! They are only meant for keeping knick-knacks etc., and sitting there may prove out to be unsafe in case of an accident since there’s no seat belt. Although, leaving loose knick-knacks on the centre cushion can prove to be unsafe as well.

At some point in time though, a handful of GO buyers may get tempted to use the conjoined seats at front to sit a third person. But even then it is going to be inconvenient at best since both the gear-selector and handbrake levers are placed on the centre dashboard. Which means every time the driver slots into 2nd or 4th gear, or operates the pull-and-twist handbrake from the dashboard, the person seated in the middle is inevitably going to get even more uncomfortable. Leaving this unusual element aside, the interiors are rather nicely integrated and for the segment they look and feel satisfactory. Although, Datsun could have done a few improvements in the quality of the dashboard material and color tones; something like the Koreans have done on the Eon, which is quite impressive for an entry level hatch.

[caption id="attachment_14731" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Datsun GO goes through the ride and handling test around Section 1 Datsun GO goes through the ride and handling test around Section 1[/caption]

The Drive Experience:

Once I had adjusted the driver seat, positioned all the controls to my comfort and settled in, I was ready to take the GO for a spin. I, being part of the second group, took the GO around Section 2 first. You are already aware about the track layout now, and now you must also know that this section is a testing ground for a car’s ride and handling characteristics. Throughout the course, the track surface is designed and laid based on real world (read: Indian) road conditions. This meant the first sector was mostly a stretch full of rough patches, followed by an uneven and unpaved road surface; before finally ending up on a pair of speed humps and a series of crests.

So how did the GO fare? Impressive, if I had to sum it down in one word. The suspension when it hits rough patched or undulated surfaces makes sounds as if the suspension is stiff and there’s hardly any travel in it. You get the impression that you will feel every jolt in the car when you hit a rough patch. Surprisingly enough none of this happened while I drove the car over those rough road surfaces (at 45km/h). The suspension felt pliant and supple enough to take all the undulations in its stride. There was a lot of noise though, but whether it was due to the rough surface or car’s poor NVH, that only an extensive road test would tell.

[caption id="attachment_14732" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Datsun GO surprisingly takes undulations in its stride comfortably Datsun GO surprisingly takes undulations in its stride comfortably[/caption]

The rear tends to wag around when you are not careful with the throttle and approach potholes and unpaved roads without paying attention at higher speeds. Since Datsun says that the GO’s rear suspension has a significantly higher travel as compared to the front suspension, the movement at the rear is understood. Overall, the ride quality on the GO is sublime and I have to add that unlike other cars in the segment the suspension feels sturdy, without having to compromise on comfort front. Also, it does not bottom out at speed humps even with 2 passengers at the back.

[caption id="attachment_14733" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Even with 4 passengers on-board the Datsun GO does not bottom-out over speed humps Even with 4 passengers on-board the Datsun GO does not bottom-out over speed humps/crests[/caption]

Now came the time to understand the GO’s acceleration, braking and dynamic capabilities. These three parameters in Datsun’s words are the key parameters that make the GO the best in the segment.

After shuffling from the turquoise blue GO to the red one for another round, we were first given a demo lap of Section 1 by Datsun’s Japanese test driver. From the point where the track starts, the first 200m or so were all spent explaining the car’s bottom end power and drivability in stop-go traffic. Nothing much to write home about this. But once you are over this 200m run, you stop the car behind a white strip; build the engine revolutions, drop the clutch and shoot ahead in search of the first three-digit number on the speedo. Once you hit the 100km/h mark, you need to maintain that speed until you reach the next white line on the straight, which is supposed to be the mark from where braking starts (sector 3). Once that is done, you take the hairpin turn at the end of the main straight and are greeted by a couple of well-spaced cones around which the car will slalom.

[caption id="attachment_14734" align="alignnone" width="1024"]The Datsun GO rolls off for acceleration, braking and handling tests The Datsun GO rolls off for acceleration, braking and handling tests[/caption]

Having being accustomed with the GO hatchback in my previous run, I was quite thrilled for this particular test. The first 200m, like said before, are more or less spent conversing with the test driver. Once that stretch is done, you reach the starting point for the acceleration run.

The Micra derived 1.2 litre 3-cylinder engine on the GO hatchback is rated at 68PS and 104Nm. While its power figure is similar to its arch rivals, it is the peak torque of this engine that gives the GO hatchback a slightly spirited driving experience. Pulling the GO hatchback from standstill, with 4 adults on board, I was expecting a lethargic pace from the engine. However, once the clutch was engaged, the GO pulled away effortlessly, picking up numbers on the speedometer briskly. Datsun claims the 0-100km/h mark is reached in 13.3 seconds in the GO. That’s of course the official figure, but even if anyone is not a pro with gearshifts and acceleration runs, it’s fairly easy to judge the engine performance from sitting behind the wheel. The gearshifts are direct with short crisp throws. Although, there’s a lot of wind noise, tyre noise and outside intrusion in the cabin that bothers you most of the time.

[caption id="attachment_14735" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Brakes on the GO inspire confidence and do not fade or lock-up easily despite the lack of ABS Brakes on the GO inspire confidence and do not fade or lock-up easily despite the lack of ABS[/caption]

We were quickly approaching sector 3 or braking zone in Section 1 now. Before I slammed the brakes hard, it was important to keep the speedo needle ticking over 100km/h. I was doing 110km/h. As soon as the car crossed and entered into sector 3. I stood on the brake pedal. Since there are no active safety nets like ABS or EBD on the GO hatchback, you are terrorized that the wheels may lock and the car may skid and swerve. Luckily, none of this happened to the GO I was driving. Infact, it didn't happen to anyone who drove the car that day, indicating the composure of the chassis under hard-braking. The skinny tyres do screech a lot though.

The reason behind this stable braking is the fact that unlike its competition, the GO features ventilated disc brakes on front wheels. This translates into better and efficient heat dissipation as compared to conventional solid brake discs. The Datsun GO happens to be the first car in the segment to feature the same. Datsun also claims the GO has the best in class braking performance, and at the same time, slamming the brake requires less pedal effort than in any of its competitors.

[caption id="attachment_14736" align="alignnone" width="1024"]The GO slaloms around the cone-section in the handling test The GO slaloms around the cone-section in the handling test[/caption]

Post experiencing the acceleration and braking tests, one not only gets to grip with the car but also starts having confidence in the product and its engineering. And the final sector of the Section 1 further cements this belief. In this part of the drive, the GO slaloms round the cones section. It gives you a measure of the dynamically sorted-ness of the chassis, maneuverability, body-roll, handling and agility of the car. On top of that, it is also massive fun!

Again, I was not really expecting a go-kart like handling from the GO while doing the slalom run. It’s an entry level hatchback and razor sharp handing is not really meant to be its forte. The speed limit while encountering this sector was 45kmph. In my mind, I was assured that none of the cones will be staying upright by the time I end up my run.

[caption id="attachment_14737" align="alignnone" width="1024"]The GO understeers wide if you drive and push it enthusiastically, but still maintains its composure The GO understeers wide if you drive and push it enthusiastically, but still maintains its composure[/caption]

When I encountered the first cone I was doing well over 50km/h in over-enthusiasm and anticipation, I believe. I understeered a little wide, but quickly steered and corrected my line. First things first, the steering, even though it is an electronic unit, has a nice reassuring feedback and weighs up perfectly depending on your driving speed. The body roll is pronounced, especially at the rear, plus the skinny 13-inch high-profile rubber runs out of traction way before you expect them to. Even then, the GO maintains its composure and only understeers when you mistake the car for a kart racer.

The GO is surprisingly fun to throw around corners. There are many components that beg you not to do that with the car, but even that does not unsettle you from pushing the car hard. Had the GO came shod with wider rubber, it would have been more fun from an enthusiastic’s point of view. But then, Datsun knows it better than us, and no one in this segment does that with the car. Even if you fancy doing it sometimes, it’s suffice to say that the GO will not disappoint.

[caption id="attachment_14738" align="alignnone" width="1024"]The GO is surprisingly fun to throw around corners. The GO is surprisingly fun to throw around corners.[/caption]

Since it was launched, I always had a soft corner for the GO. In the crowd of bare basic entry-level hatchbacks, the GO certainly looks the part. It is spacious on the inside, drives well and rides even better for our road conditions. The engine performance, braking, handling and fuel efficiency- all the concerns have been fully addressed by Datsun and on all of the aspects it is either better or on par with the competition.

[caption id="attachment_14739" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Datsun GO Experience Drive Datsun GO Experience Drive[/caption]

Having driven the GO around the test-track has further confirmed the capabilities of this product. Of course, there are some glitches and drawbacks. Some of the cost-cutting is clearly evident like NVH levels aren’t up to the mark, the inside rear view mirror does not have day/night functionality and the interior parts’ quality could have been better. Still, considering the fact that it competes at the lower end or entry level segment, the Datsun GO comes as a versatile package with a tempting value for money sticker price. The only thing Nissan or Datsun needs to do now is expand its dealership and customer reach in India. They certainly have a product meeting all the necessary and basic requirements of the masses looking to break into the world of 4-wheelers in India.
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