Nissan Note 1.5 dCi Tekna
Sensible, yes. Robust and economical, yes. But oh for a dash of eccentricity...
You can buy a Note for less than 10k. That's the thing to bear in mind - 10k and you can have a spacious mini-MPV which really will seat four 6-foot adults in comfort, or split and slide its seats in various ways to make room for your family's skis / surfboards / kitchen sinks. But 10k is the entry-level price and we drove something a bit smarter: a 1.5 diesel model in the upmarket, 'Tekna' trim, which would set you back £14,290.
Most mini-MPVs are a bit strange-looking but, compared with such duck-billed oddities as the Fiat Qubo, the Nissan Note is rather restrained. Too restrained, perhaps. If you're going to plump for the practicality of a cross between a van and a car, you might as well have something that looks fairly funky. The Note is about as funky as my dad at a football match. Struggling to find something visually striking to comment on, there is - I suppose - the top, rear corner, where the rear light cluster is built up above the roof, and then descends in curly pod-shapes round each individual light. But that's about it.
Still, on with the show. Inside the Note (and I'm doing my best to avoid musical puns here), there's a high-quality feel, and the Tekna trim level offers seat-trays for rear passengers, plasticky and sharp-edged but useful for hungry children on a long trip. I just can't get rid of the image of cleaning sticky drinks and hardened egg out of the fiddly bits. You know how seatback trays on aeroplanes always have a faint, sickly odour? Ugh. Better than the foldaway tables is the satnav, standard on the Tekna trim, which is easy to use and works brilliantly - it even found our out-of-the-way rural house, which stymies many systems.
Perhaps the most impressive bit of the Note is the headroom. There's masses of headroom in both front and rear; genuinely enough for four six-foot adults - or even taller. That's a claim often made by manufacturers but rarely true. The bootspace is merely adequate, however (for an MPV). With the rear seats up, there's a shallow area which can be enlarged by removing two pointless-seeming shelves. I see from the brochure, however, that these are not merely pointless shelves. No. They are a 'Flexi-Board boot storage system'. And under THEM is the space-saver spare wheel.
The interior might be well-designed and 'quality' (as my grandmother used to say), but I wasn't able to get comfortable on a long journey. There's plenty of seat adjustment but that just gave me the option of being uncomfortable in several different ways, and I never did find a setting which supported my throttle leg. Perhaps the pedal is too high off the floor for my tiny trotters? But then size 5s are pretty average, aren't they?
Nor was I bowled over by the engine. Small diesels are rarely smooth and quiet but soundproofing meant it was peaceful in the cabin. Opening the window, however, let in a range of thumpings, wheezings and whirrings from up front. Economical (62.8mpg and 119g/km of CO2) it certainly is, while easily swift enough for a van-car, yet the Note's engine felt lumpy in its performance. I suspect I would much prefer a petrol-powered Note which, while thirstier with higher emissions, has similar performance for far less cash. The Note is without doubt a rugged and economical choice for car-van motoring. It's just that I've read some rave reviews for Nissan's little MPV, and I came away feeling faintly disappointed: perhaps my expectations were too high.