When Nissan unveiled its all-new Versa sedan for 2012, there was something wrong; several things, actually. With little to recommend it beyond its price, the hatchback model carried on unchanged, operating on a different product cycle – an odd plan for two vehicles that share the same name.
|1. The Nissan Note is expected to arrive in America as the 2013 Versa Hatchback
2. Like the sedan, a 109 hp 1.6L 4-cylinder should achieve as much as 40 mpg highway while a more efficient supercharged 1.2L 3-cylinder, rated at 59 mpg in Japan, could also be offered
3. Other technologies that could make it to America include an idle-stop system as well as an Around View monitor
Months later Nissan revealed its new Note model, billing it as a global sub-compact hatchback, with the obvious assumption that it would form the basis of the next-generation Versa hatch.
With over 18,000 units sold in its first month on sale in Japan, the all-new Nissan Note is a top seller in the country, coming up just short of cars like the Prius and Aqua (Prius c). It’s also one of the most fuel efficient non-hybrid cars in the country and after spending a few hours behind the wheel we came away pleasantly surprised.
Nissan claims the Note, powered by a direct-injection, supercharged 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine is able to return 25.2 km/L (59.2 mpg) on the Japanese JC08 cycle, and during our test we didn’t come too far off that figure. On the US EPA test cycle the numbers are certain to be less dramatic, though still over the 40-mpg mark.
The CVT transmission is partially responsible for the fuel sipping capabilities of the Note, able to keep the tiny engine at the lowest possible rpm for any given driving situation.
Nissan has also finally embraced idle-stop technology, and beginning with the Note, will slowly be introducing it to most of its line up. This is one feature that will be especially handy for those who do a lot of driving in congested cities (like Tokyo), where you spend most of your time sitting in traffic or at red lights. Helping the driver minimize fuel consumption is an Eco mode, selectable via a green button on the transmission tunnel. This will dull the throttle response and alter the CVT’s setting to help get the most out of every drop of fuel.
Once the Note arrives in North America next year, it will likely be equipped with the sedan’s larger 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and an optional manual transmission. Nissan isn’t yet sure if the 97 hp supercharged 1.2L engine will be suitable for our roads, though with Ford planning 3-cylinder models and MINI doing the same, it’s not outside the realm of possibilities.
With just over a ton to haul around, the Note does feel agile through corners, the suspension allowing it to be thrown around to a certain extent but at the same time maintain a good level of comfort. The electric power steering isn’t the most communicative but is light at parking speeds to facilitate maneuvering.
The Note scores high in its “around town” capabilities, which is what it has been designed to do. There is plenty of room inside for four adults and the decently sized trunk (11.6 cu-ft) can swallow up a day’s worth of shopping, with more available when you fold down the rear seats.
While interior design may be very simple with rather hard plastics on all surfaces, the Note makes this up with a decent level of equipment. The car we drove was fitted with an HD navigation system which doubled up as the car’s entertainment system offering a CD player and even a TV tuner, but it was the little LCD screen integrated into the rearview mirror that impressed the most. This is where, once you engage reverse, you will find the rear view camera and a first in this sector, the 360º Around View monitor that is offered on various Nissan and Infiniti models. Automatic climate control finishes things up pretty nicely.
An optional “motor assist” e-4WD is also available, but only for the 78 hp non-supercharged version, adding about 40 lbs of weight to the Note’s curb weight. This hybrid all-wheel drive system packaged in a sub-compact car like the Note is definitely at the farthest reaches of what items might make it to America.
Functional, though not exactly engaging, many of the Note’s best features are unique items that may never make it across the Pacific. Wrapped in a handsome package and with excellent interior room, the new Versa hatch will be a strong model without any of these special extras, though is certain to be better off with them.