Snapshot: The Datsun Go is a nifty performer and is well loaded at the price point it wants to come in but airbags and ABS are not even on the options list. Pricing will be cruicial to its success
The Datsun brand name, owned by Nissan is now back in India and it is going to lead a revolution in the small car industry. At least, that is what the ‘Go’, a new small car from the resurgent Datsun brand, promises! Interestingly, the Datsun Go has been designed specifically for India and hopes to attract a new set of consumers – the young, trendy and hip Indian who is upto 33 years old and is looking for his first small big car – literally a person on the move. From the first indications, they seem to have succeeded, though at this point it would be premature to pass judgement on the ‘Go.’
For those of you who think the name is weird, it comes with a purpose. The first Datsun, back in the early 20th century in Japan was called the ‘DAT-GO’ and at that time it stood for values of aspiration and trustworthiness and brought mobility to a whole lot of people who had previously only dreamt of motorized transport. With this car, Datsun along with parent company Nissan hopes that a new wave of customers will eagerly adopt this car as family. The ‘Go’ will be manufactured at Renault-Nissan’s plant in Chennai, and as per the company they have started manufacture in January of this year and hope to do a formal launch by the latter half of this month.
When designing the car, the designers started with a clean sheet of paper. The brief was simple: the design should be unique and modern but at the same time it should have a distinct brand identity, in sync with the Datsun philosophy. One of the biggest elements in the front hence designed has been the ‘D-cut grille.’ Chrome-plated with a honeycomb mesh, it looks like a large ‘D’ from the front. Keeping Indian traffic and road conditions in mind, the bumpers are reinforced. Then there are the large headlamps, which give an excellent illumination and beam spread, a feature very useful on our pothole-ridden roads. Prominent shoulder lines run on the sides, right upto the rear combination lamps, which by themselves are very pretty. The rear hatch lid is also very smart, and there is a lot of useful space inside.
What is also nice about the car is the excellent ground clearance of 170mm, which ensures that it does not ground even on the worst of speedbreakers. It looks good, and it looks premium – almost like a vehicle worth at least 50k more than the asking price! At 769 kg, the ‘Go’ is also a very light car, and this payoff can be seen in the performance and fuel economy figures.
The interiors follow the same philosophy as the rest of the car – they are light, airy and functional. The instrumentation of the car is unique – unlike conventional gear-change indicators, the speedo dial has gear markings on appropriate gear change areas. Couple this to a smart on-board computer, and you will see exactly why the ‘Go’ represents value for money. The only point of criticism here is the bar graph tachometer, which is really small and seems to be more of a gimmick than an actual utility item. Interestingly, the engine is shown to be running out of breath at 5,500RPM on the display!
By far the best part of the design is that the front seat is like a bench seat. The gear lever and the push/pull type handbrake are mounted on the centre console, thereby freeing up the centre area. The advantage here is that too many times, we have all been stuck at parking lots, where someone parks so close to your parking door that you cannot get in. In this case, just get in from the other side, and you can make it comfortably to the drivers’ seat without twisting, turning or trying to contour your body profile. The centre area can also be used to keep stuff like bags etc. There is a 12-volt supply socket as well, to help you charge a mobile phone etc.
Another feature, which was really appealing, was the mobile docking system (MDS). For those of you who like to think out of the box, the MDS is a nifty idea. It consists of a basic stereo, which has a mobile holder. An Aux-in port takes care of sound connectivity and a USB port the charging part. Sound is basic, tinny without much feel or warmth, but on the positive side one can use Google maps to navigate, use internet radio for music and all other functions of a smartphone. If however the stuff is not to your liking, then the standard 1-DIN slot will accept any standard stereo.
Other trim parts in the interiors have clearly come from the Nissan parts bin – whether it is the design of the air-con vents, the seat fabric, the door trims or various other parts of interior trim. The rear seats have decent legroom and headroom so even taller people will not have a problem sitting comfortably. To the credit of Datsun, the entire floor area is fully carpeted. There are also a lot of other cubbyholes for storing stuff, including generously sized bottle-holders, which can hold 1.5-litre bottles. This easily makes up for the absence of a regular glovebox.
There are other nifty features too – an intelligent wiper system which can vary itself based on the speed of the vehicle and ‘follow-me-home’ headlights where you can pull the indicator lever to leave the headlamps on for a fixed interval of time.
Engine & Transmission
From the word ‘Go,’ the brief was very clear to Datsun engineers. They had to use a powerplant, which was fuel-efficient as well as powerful. Normally these two would never go together; hence the Datsun engineers had their work cut out. The three cylinder 1.2-litre doing duty in the Micra Active was chosen, as it’s a lightweight engine and has a good power versus fuel-economy relationship. Performance is sprightly. With only 68 bhp on tap, the ‘Go’ seems to be underpowered but real world statistics show that the ‘Go’ is quite a runner, with the 0-100 sprint coming up in a shade over 13 seconds – that is very good. The engine itself is very advanced with extensive use of aluminum and counter-balancers to remove vibration.
Power is transmitted via a 5-speed gearbox to the front wheels. The feel is average, with downshifts being a little more cumbersome than upshifts. This is especially noticeable when shifting from 5th to 4th and 3rd to 2nd. It’s a box that does not like to be hurried and the clutch is also a tad heavy, meaning long drives in bumper-to-bumper traffic could be tiring.
A combination of a light engine with a lightweight body means that apart from straight-line performance, fuel economy figures are also very good and as per Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), the ‘Go’ gives around 20.6 kmpl, which is the best in its segment. This is one petrol car with diesel engine fuel efficiency figures!
Braking and Safety
Braking is conventional, with a ventilated disc in the front and drums at the rear. Stopping distances were good and braking performance is strong, though no passive safety measures like anti-lock braking system (ABS) or its derivatives are present. Airbags are not even an option on the car.
What we think
The Datsun ‘Go’ is a vehicle that was built for India, rather than adapted to Indian conditions. Currently, its value propositioning looks great and it is a great vehicle to drive as well. What would be crucial to the market is its pricing and this is where Datsun will have to get its figures right. The company is talking about a sub 4-lakh rupees price for the car, and if it makes a base version available below Rs. 3.25 lakh, it will have its day made. Over that the choices are larger and more established players are ruling the roost. Will Datsun make it? Judgement day is not far away.
The two biggest competitors that the Datsun ‘Go’ will have to face are the Hyundai Eon and the Maruti Suzuki Alto 800. The Hyundai Eon is a very good-looking vehicle and being a Hyundai, is loaded with features. It even has the option of a driver’s side airbag, which the Datsun ‘Go’ does without. However, the Eon has a smaller 814cc engine, which does not offer the drivability and the linear power delivery of the ‘Go.’ The Eon starts retailing at Rs. 2.86 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi for the D-Lite model. The other competitor to the ‘Go’ is the Alto 800, which is currently the market leader in the segment. Styled a bit oddly, it is nevertheless quite a fuel-efficient thing albeit with an 800cc engine. The Alto 800 also has an option of a driver’s airbag and yes, a proper glovebox! The Alto 800 price starts at Rs. 2.95 lakh for the power steering variant.