Nissan Note on song in an crisis

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The true test of a test drive, or a test driver, is how the vehicle handles in an emergency. Poddling backwards and forwards to Morrisons or a couple of sweeps round Arthur’s Seat doesn’t really show true respect for the designers, the engineers and manufacturers who have invested creative energy, time and millions of pounds in this elegant-looking super-mini.

First impressions are important, and the new Note squatting in the underground car park looked like it was gagging for a real test drive. Shiny and clean and maroon (OK, only God is perfect), our Note was clearly asking for it big time. Slipping effortlessly into the driver’s seat and finding the optimum positioning for action, that initial impression is confirmed. From the driver’s position it feels just right, comfortable and roomy, and the endless numbers of adjustments available suggest it would be possible for any shape or size to be accommodated in the comfort I enjoy.

Trigger the electronic ignition and the real fun starts. Obviously for any test driver this involves exploring the encyclopaedia of functions now available on the multi-functional screen. So to the handbook – yes, the handbook. Sending out a car for demanding scrutiny without a handbook kind of misses the point.

So a comprehensive examination has to wait. Still, we’ve a few days in hand and, luckily, fellow Note driver Sandy Mackenzie from the Nissan dealership in Loanhead is kind enough to give up his bedtime reading.

By that time, the Note has poddled smoothly and efficiently from Portobello to Morrisons on numerous occasions, offering adequate opportunities to examine the storage capacity of the roomy boot and to convey a number of eager passengers aged between eight and 80, who are accommodated to their satisfaction on each trip.

There’s plenty of interior space for four adults to travel in comfort, and there is good headroom thanks to the Note’s high roofline. In addition to the positions offered to those in the front, the rear seat can maximise legroom or luggage space by sliding backwards or forwards and the boot has the option of a split-level floor, which creates a generous flat load bay when you fold down the rear seats. In terms of utility, it must be one of the superest of the super minis on the market.

But the test drive still awaits, and a weekend retreat in wildest, remotest Northumberland suggests itself as the ideal opportunity we have both been waiting for.

Travelling alone in the Note is not a lonely experience. With a multitude of options from Bluetooth mobile communication, a seriously efficient radio and sound system, not to mention the sat nav which is an entertainment centre in itself.

Putting to one side the cosmetics, however, the most noticeable feature is the eco-drive option. Selecting this offers the driver an easy way to track fuel consumption by displaying a changing pattern of coloured light on dashboard. It’s a simple, effective and efficient way of maximising fuel use, without interrupting the driving experience in any way.

The undulating slopes of the A68 offer a none-too-arduous 80-mile journey and, at our destination, the Note’s stylish, racy-looking design draws admiring comments from my weekend companions.

Then Saturday dawns, and disaster strikes. Without warning, in the middle of morning stretches, a man collapses to the ground crying out in agony (don’t ask, it’s another story). A cursory examination by the doctor on the site delivers the prognosis that the injury is beyond first aid and the only sensible option is to designate an emergency driver and vehicle to despatch the casualty to the nearest hospital, a good 30-odd miles south.

Tentatively, the injured party is helped down the rough path to the waiting vehicle. A six-foot tall invalid is not the easiest load to accommodate, but pushing the Note’s passenger seat back to its maximum position and with a wide swing on the passenger door, he slips into his seat with only a few agonising screams to awake the slumbering wildlife.

The satnav is set for the A&E department of Hexham General Hospital, and the assurance of the watching the destination on screen creep ever nearer should provide further reassurance for our victim.

However, tackling the steep single-track roads that will eventually lead us back on to the A68 reveals the biggest flaw in this model, which will go head-to-head on the market with competitors such as Ford’s Fiesta and Vauxhall’s Corsa. For all its slick good looks, the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine struggles to deliver. Transmission proves smooth, which is just as well, because attacking the hills requires continual changing down to push for the summit.

It’s not as though the car was heavily loaded. Two adult males and a backpack shouldn’t stretch the capabilities of a car like this, but even that weight had a noticeable effect of prolonging our journey and demanding an extra level of concentration.

In the end it turned out that there was no need for major surgery. Our medic had perhaps erred on the side of caution and, after a swift and efficient examination, strapping was applied to the torn muscle.

Without the emergency factor, the return journey was a more relaxed affair, but the limitations of the Note were still evident. Striking and smart it may look, but the driving experience is likely to be more rewarding poddling back and forth to Morrisons than looking for a hot-hatch experience in the hills of Northumberland.


Car Nissan Note 1.2 Acenta Premium

Price £14,150

Engine 1.2 l petrol 3 cyl, 79bhp, 81 lb ft

Performance Max speed 106mph 0-62mph 13.7s

Economy 60.1mpg (combined)

CO2 emissions 109g/km