India is home to the 2nd largest passenger car market in the world and the entry level small hatchback segment alone, under Rs 4 lac, has over a dozen offerings for the customers. Even a half-done job or a decently good hatchback ends up selling over a thousand units per month! This segment is ever growing and the end consumer is never short on available choices. However that said, Datsun believes that this segment is still devoid of a car that a first time buyer, and his family, can term as being perfect. This is the reason why the company, and its officials have been reading and evaluating the market since as long as 2006!
Over the years, they have met families, prospective customers and customers of other models in the price brand to understand the real needs of a car that sells in the Rs 3-4 lac bracket. It took them years but finally, Datsun, the low cost brand of Nissan, is ready with their first offering for India and they claim, it’s the best in the segment, offering what a typical first time buyer and his family want, wish and desire.
To test their claim, we drove the car for a couple of days in and around Hyderabad and this is what we think of it. It’s called the “Go” – interesting name, but can it be an alternative to the Eon, Alto and WagonRs of this world?
Looks and Design
The Go is a substantial hatchback by all standards. At 3785mm, it is a good 290mm or almost a foot longer than the Hyundai Eon. Likewise, at 1635mm in width, the Go is a good 160mm or half a foot wider than the Wagon R. It doesn’t look like any of the rivals too – the design is fresh and brings along a sense of richness and boldness in the price band.
Datsun has really worked hard to make the Go look pleasant. A cheap entry level car shouldn’t look like one and in this regard, the car does the job very well. The huge grille, biggest in the segment, for example dominates the front end along with the well-crafted bumper that has no less than 3 well marked air-intakes. Fog lamps however are missing here. The bonnet too has a pronounced character line and at the side, the shoulder line rises gradually before merging into the tail lamps. The best in class wheelbase of 2450mm however makes the 13-inch wheels look very small. Datsun could have given the Go bigger 14-inch wheels for added visual appeal. At the back, the big Datsun logo takes centre stage the metal part of the boot is pulled out for that luggage extra space on the inside. Cost cutting is evident with the absence of twin reverse parking lights.
The Datsun Go will be offered in only four color options of Light Blue, White, Silver and Red. Alloy wheels are not being offered, even as optional extras. Overall, if not the best looking, the Go is certainly one of the better designed cars in the segment.
On the inside?
One crucial aspect that most of the low cost entry level hatchbacks miss out in India is space. The Go fares very well on this account. To start with, the long wheelbase liberates acres of room on the inside. To make the front the best in segment, Datsun has re-positioned the gear and the hand brake levers ahead so that they could fit what they term as "connected" front seats. These do remind us of the good old Padmini and Ambassador models but in reality, they do the job very well. While this does mean a driver can step out of the car from either side (no obstructions you see), we say that the omission of a key-hole on the left door means locking / unlocking is only possible from the driver’s side – a perfect example of a good idea that has not been executed perfectly well! Further, this also means there are no cup-holders up front at all.
The seats are very spacious and comfortable and can be reclined or pushed back individually. There are many cubby holes and storage places but none is lockable / closed. So if you want to park your car in a public parking and walk away for a few hours, everything from cell phone chargers, documents to even your wallet/purse will be visible to the outside world!
Up front, cost cutting is evident – the internal outside view mirror has no day/night functionality – night glares can get irritating and we feel this should have been standard on the top models. Likewise, the outside mirrors are not internally adjustable. There is no vanity mirror either – come on Datsun, shouldn’t a first time buyer and this better half be made to feel special? What is really good is the inclusion of a driver information display – we think this is one of the best ways by which a person can alter his or her driving habits in order to increase fuel economy.
At the back, space is good if not very generous. Though its feature stripped with no power windows, rear speakers, bottle or cup holders, parcel tray etc, the big windows add to the overall airy and big car feel. Datsun has also done away with retractable seat belts at both the ends but they do claim that these static belts work as good as the normal ones. For the rear passengers however, floor space is not good – the lower back part of the front seats is designed in a way that a rear passenger simply cannot push his feet forward, even by a few inches. This could get irritating on a long trip we reckon.
The boot space however is massive – at 265 litres, it is 30litres more than the Celerio, 85 more than the WagonR and 47 more than the Santro!
To summarize, while the Go does score a lot on the space front, its feature stripped with most of the rivals and cars in the price band offerings more features.
Smart features – are there any?
The Go comes with what the company terms as MDS or Mobile Docking Station. This system allows the owner to attach his smart-phone on the docking station and use the Aux-in cable to play music. The system comes with only two front speakers with no provision for an equalizer – the smartphone will do all that for you! The docking station also means you can use the phone for navigation and answering calls on the move. Smart thinking this, Datsun! Another thoughtful function are the follow me headlamps – these can be programmed to stay on for 30,60,90 or 120 seconds. Brilliant!
The Go’s headlamps are also unique and very powerful. They throw beams upto 2 meters wider and 10 meters longer than others in the class. The Go also gets EPS or Electric Power Steering, ventilated front disc brakes and front seats that Datsun claim to provide extra spinal support.
Engine, performance and economy
One of the biggest USP of the Go is the 1.2-litre petrol engine under the hood. This 3 cylinder engine is the same seen in the Micra, Micra Active and the Pulse. Like in the Micra Active, it puts out reduced power as compared to the Pulse and the conventional Micra – 68PS and 104Nm. For this segment thought, not only is the engine the biggest, it is also the most powerful and puts out the highest torque. Futher, the Go is a light hatchback and all this translates into peppy performance and zippy acceleration. Part throttle response from the engine is very good and this makes the Go a lively hatch in city traffic. However, if you are driving in a higher gear with the air-con running and need to overtake a slow moving truck or a scooter, pedal to metal is where the engine doesn’t respond at low revs.
The engine is mated to a 5-speed gearbox that does its duties pretty well. Shift action isn’t exactly smooth but compared to most of the rivals, we don’t have a reason to complain here. The only downfall here, if we may state, are the poor NVH levels – the engine does get very vocal at high revs. Out on the highways, the Go feels at home at triple digit speeds, something that rivals can’t match up to. Claimed economy stands at 20.6kmpl and expect to see 14-15kmpl easily in city conditions.
Ride and handling
The Go is a big car on the outside and feels so once on the move too. Small, entry level cars often come with low rent suspension set-ups but in this case, Datsun has made efforts to make the overall ride comfort very good. The Go uses a sophisticated double pivoted lower arm front suspension with a torsion beam at the rear. The suspension travel is also longer than the rivals and this along with ‘high response’ linear dampers go a long way in making the ride feel very planted and comfortable. Ofcourse, driving over bad roads does result in movements but drive others cars under Rs 3.75 lac and you will notice the difference easily.
Driving the Go is also pretty effortless – good visibility, a steering that doesn’t require much effort and a peppy motor means this hatchback is a fuss-free car to drive across various conditions. Ground Clearance, at 170mm, is more or less similar to other models.
The Go is a very promising hatchback without a doubt. However, it does come with its own set of limitations. When you make a vehicle for entry level buyers from scratch, you can easily incorporate a lot of thoughtful features. We feel Datsun could have included some bare basic features – we know the costs have to be kept down but in this tough and competitive segment, rivals, with discounts and more features will pull away customers into their showrooms.
The Go is a substantial hatchback with impressive space, a potent engine and excellent driving dynamics. However, what’s missing is the ability to pamper a first time buyer and his family. That said, if the company can price the base model at Rs 3 lac, all the shortcomings will take a back-seat. We shall wait till the 3rd week of March then, when the company will announce the prices officially. Do keep an eye on this space again!