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Car reviews - Nissan - Tiida - ST-L 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, refinement, dynamics, styling, comfort, quality
Room for improvement
No centre-rear lap-sash seatbelt, no standard ABS, some cabin space issues, obstructive child harness

19 May 2006

In-betweenie: adj. A compact Nissan that's bigger than a light car but smaller than a small car, as defined by VFACTS.

IN THIS day and age of ever-increasing fuel costs and road congestion, it appears that Nissan is missing a trick with the Tiida, its long-overdue replacement for the Pulsar small car.

You see, the Tiida is built off the Nissan-Renault B Platform, which also – by the way – underpins such luminaries as the sadly AWOL Micra, 2007 Renault Clio and a whole host of other Franco-Nippon littlies.

And can’t you pick the Renault influence in the hatchback model, with its Euro-centric nose and Megane-like proportions. Yet the odd tallness, origami-like sharp corners and slabby sides are very Japanese, making for a very distinctive – and quite attractive – visual hybrid.

Indeed, being a hybrid of sorts is the very essence of the Tiida.

Because, for all its roominess, 1.8-litre powerplant and $20K-plus pricing and positioning, the little Nissan is really a bigger B-segment light car – or, if you like, a slimmer C-segment small car.

But, priced from $19,990 to $26,490, the newest Nissan is up against C-segment leaders such as the Holden Astra, Mazda3, Ford Focus and the sharp new Honda Civic.

Against these, the Tiida’s sorry lack of a centre-rear three-point seatbelt and standard anti-lock brakes (it’s a $1000 option – along with more airbags – on the base ST) betray its baby car origins – although the base Mazda and Focus do also lack ABS in their respective Neo and CL openers.

Plus the Nissan’s 1695mm width is wanting when weighed up against the others’ circa-1750mm measurements.

What we're left with here then is a real in-betweenie. And slower-than-anticipated early sales seem to show that Australian small-car buyers may be less than convinced.

So rather than push the Tiida into a segment where it is a little out of its depth, maybe Nissan should actually celebrate all the unique points that make the Pulsar replacement a chirpy and extremely likable little city runabout that’s also great on fuel.

To kick things off, it should ditch actor Kim Cattrall’s dubious TV ads for something else.

Perhaps Nissan should be revelling in the Tiida's in-between-ness by hiring, say, world-famous middle child Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch instead, to point out the virtues of coming in-between.

And if she’s not available then there are always other famous ‘middles’ like that Baldwin boy in-between the young one and Kim Bassinger’s ex Mallory Keaton from Family Ties or even Prince Andrew Windsor.

Seriously, this would add humour, relieve the burden the Tiida has against its more grown-up competition, and get Nissan off the hook for not offering the real C thing.

More importantly it would be in keeping with the car’s sense of fun – because, and this is no middling surprise, the Tiida is quite an enjoyable little car to punt around.

As a driver’s device it runs rings around the Holden Viva, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Cerato, Mitsubishi Lancer, Suzuki Liana and Peugeot’s 307.

Central to this is an all-new twin-cam four-cylinder engine that offers 1797cc against the N16 Pulsar’s 1769cc.

Now on paper it seems like nothing special, dishing out just 93kW of power at 5200rpm and 174Nm of torque at 4800rpm – around the same as Toyota’s (detuned-for-2006) Corolla 1.8.

Yet, aided by variable valve timing that increases engine performance and efficiency, the Nissan 1.8 loves a rev (and does so with plenty of gusto) while remaining sweet and melodic throughout. You could even call it ‘sporty’.

If you’re familiar with the Pulsar 1.8, then the Tiida’s is as sweet as that one was a coarse old nail.

Factor in a good power-to-weight ratio (the lightweight Tiida weighs between 100kg and 200kg less than some rivals), as well as a slippery shape, and you can see why it barely raises a sweat keeping up with the larger littlies both at the traffic lights and on the open road.

So its excellent real-world fuel economy – Nissan’s claim is 7.6L/100km average – is icing on an unexpectedly tasty cake.

So far some reviewers have lashed out at the six-speed manual gearbox’s long and snappy shift.

But other than the fact that it is quite loud in its movement, the lever’s sureness and positiveness are bonuses, and soon become second-nature – surely a sign of a good gearbox.

If still in doubt then sample the Viva’s dreadful shifter.

Keen drivers may be less charitable about the Tiida’s overly lightweight steering, which errs on the feel-free side. At least it is responsive enough to translate into sharp handling and fluid cornering, with a hint of oversteer if you’re determined.

If you’re starting to think GoAuto really enjoyed driving the Tiida ST-L manual hatchback then you’re right.

A four-speed automatic Ti sedan also sampled seemed a little hamstrung by its limited gearing, lacking the mid-range response needed for instant overtaking manoeuvres, for example. Nissan should be offering the Tiida CVT instead.

Yet both Tiidas impressed with their supple ride properties, with plenty of absorption over bumps big and small. And the Nissan glides over the bitumen quietly too – unlike the droning Mazda3 or Focus.

Strong brakes – aided by ABS with EBD and BA in the ST-L upwards – also do the trick.

Only some floatiness in crosswinds remind an otherwise satisfied driver of this car’s abnormal height and relative narrowness.

But there are also issues inside for some.

If you’re much over 185cm you’ll find the driving position cramped for legs and feet, despite a VW Golf-beating 2600mm wheelbase.

Some drivers also find the lack of telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel a hindrance to finding an ideal driving position. This 178cm tester certainly did.

And the extra-wide upper console area fouls big knees, resulting in an awkward legs-together seating position for passengers.

But these – as per usual with the Tiida – are size-related issues. If they don’t apply, then you should be extremely happy with this little car.

And why wouldn’t you be? It’s a cinch to park, courtesy of a great turning circle, deep side glass area and lofty driving position.

All controls are easily sited and fall handily to place – although the radio’s central volume control looks as if a set of tweezers rather than fingers is needed to operate it.

And the seats for four not-too-tall occupants are amply spacious and supportive – with the front ones in particular offering comfort and relaxation.

The lack of a rear centre lap-sash seatbelt is almost gob smacking in this day and age. If you need a five-seater then stop reading this altogether.

If you’re still with us, everything else about the Tiida is rather good.

The dashboard is modern and seems extremely well built – with neither Tiida example driven alluding to even a hint of rattle.

But, let’s face it, the design and layout is definitely more light-car smart than small-car stylish – and there’s nothing wrong with that of course, unless you’re expecting something as striking as the Mazda3’s fascia, for instance.

There’s ample storage space around the driver, as well as a surprisingly capacious luggage area behind the rear seat, that splits and folds in the ST-L and slides forward and backwards in the hatchback’s range-topping Q.

But it does not fold flush with the floor for a flat load space. The child anchorage points are inconveniently located away right in at the rear of the car, so their tether straps will impede luggage-carrying capabilities.

Adding insult here is the lack of ISOFIX anchor point availability. All these seem to betray the Nissan’s light-car origins.

The Tiida bucks convention by falling between the light and small-car camps, and so a change in thinking (and perhaps a new definition) is needed for this particular in-betweenie.

After all, it’s fun to drive, cheap to run and small enough for the cut-and-thrust of big-city commuting, while providing eager performance, a quiet and supple ride and a good deal of room for four adults – like any proper small car should.

But here’s the rub for Nissan: the more you spend on the Tiida, the less value you seem to get.

The trick then is to pick the ST (and add ABS) or haggle hard for a good deal on the ST-L, and forget about the unconvincing Q or Ti, as they are priced – and fall short – against the small-car hotshots.

For it’s the base Tiidas that best define what the new small Nissan is all about.

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