The Year 2012 will probably go down in Indian automotive history as the year of the people-mover, or MPV. Over the year, Toyota gave its hugely popular Innova a facelift, Mahindra updated they Xylo with refreshed styling and a new engine, and even India’s largest manufacturer Maruti entered the MPV ring with the incredibly well-received Ertiga. Amongst this action there’s also been news of Ford and Honda secretly developing their own family for India. Clearly manufacturers are convinced MPVs are the next big thing in the Indian car market and demand is only set to grow by the day. To cash in on this demand, Nissan has Just introduced its own MPV, the Evalia. Does it deliver all that an MPV buyer would want in terms of space, comfort and refinement? A day’s driving near Banglore gave us some answers.
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION
MPVs have always been more about space maximisation than style, but as the Innova and Ertiga have shown, they can be reasonably appealing too. Sadly, the Evalia looks a few rungs down on the MPV evolutionary ladder. It’s tall, boxy and, frankly, looks more like a cargo van that’s been adapted to carry passengers than your typical modern MPV; because that’s exactly what it is. Nissan sells the Evalia in many international markets as the NV200, where it is primarily used as a load lugger.
The saving grace is the frontal styling, which is quite neat thanks to the smart, V-shaped grille the gently flows into the rising headlamps and the distinctive upswept front windows. The rest of the Evalia’s design, though, is quite drab and devoid of stylistic flair. There is a prominent crease on the sliding rear doors and one lower down the flanks as well but most eyes will lock on to the rear windows, which simply look too small in proportion to the vast metal area. Even the 14-inch alloy wheels look undersized on such a large vehicle, but since they don’t require large wheel well, they actually aid the Evalia’s smart packaging and interior space. There’s more of the ‘form follows function’ approach in the squarish tail too. It may look ordinary, but the Evalia’s massive tailgate opens wide and the boot has a very low loading lip, which is a real boon if you have heavy luggage. In fact, one physically challenged Autocar reader has been waiting for a year for this car, simply because it’s the only MPV that can take a wheelchair.
Also, the low floor is just one of the many advantage the front-wheel drive, monocoque-bodied Evalia has over the Mahindra Xylo and Toyota Innova, both of which use the less space-efficient body-on-frame, rear,-wheel-drive setup. Another, of course, is weight. The Evalia weighs in at 1426kg, which makes it 200kg lighter than the Innova and a full 400kg less than the Xylo!
Just like the exteriors, the Evalia’s cabin looks a bit utilitarian too, with the emphasis on practicality. Sure, the beige plastics and bright seat fabric help it look more upmarket than the version sold abroad, but it still can’t match the Innova for plushness or fit and finish. There’s nothing radical about the dashboard either, but it’s well thought out and comes with a pair of bottle-holders at either-end. The smart and very van-like positioning of the gearbox on the dashboard also frees up space between the front seats, which in turn is taken up by a concealed and decently large (if slightly flimsy) storage box. Oddly, there is no lid on the glove compartment, which means anything you store there will be plainly visible to passersby.
What’s a bit disappointing is that even the top-spec XV trim does without climate control and the rotary controls for the air-con don’t feel nice to use. Drivers are also likely to rue the absence of audio controls on the steering wheel, which itself is a straight lift from the Micra. But some other bits are actually quite nice. The large speedometer is really easy to read and the digital readout beside it relays a whole host of useful information, include real-time fuel economy and a distance-to-empty meter. The screen also doubles as the small but legible bar-type digital tachometer, as well as a reversing camera display on the top XV model. While the camera is helpful when parking the large Evalia, the screen gets obscured by the steering at certain degrees of lock, so you will have to rely on the electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors on most occasions.
But what you will unquestionably like the Evalia for is the space it has to offer. Front-seat occupants have plenty of room, frontal visibility is great and while you can’t escape the heavily raked van-like steering position, the seats are comfy too. There’s ample space for middle-row passengers as well, and this is despite not having the option to slide the seats backwards, as on rival MPVs. The flat floor (another benefit of the Evalia’s front-wheel-drive layout) and generous width also make the middle seat suitable for three passengers, though the seat itself is somewhat lacking in thigh support. But the bigger problem for middle-row passengers will be the windows, which feel a size or two too small. To make matters worse, they don’t roll down either, and only come with a restrictive butterfly-type opening.
Some may also be put off by the van-like sliding rear doors, but they do allow good access to the third row. Sadly, instead of a lever to fold the middle row, you have to pull on some rather flimsy tags to get the seats down. There is lots of headroom in the back and even shoulder room is good enough to host two adults in reasonable comfort. That said, you can’t really spread out here. Recline the middle-seat backrest more than usual and you could find the rear seat quite tight on kneeroom. But unlike the middle row that relies on the front AC for cooling, the third row gets a separate air conditioner with individual controls, something its occupants will appreciate.
But if there’s one area where the Evalia is miles ahead of the competition, it is boot space. Even with all seats in place, you can easily stow two large suitcases vertically. You can also fold the pair of third-row seats sideways and flip the middle row forward to create some serious luggage space. What aids its versatility is that the loading area is well designed, with minimal intrusions and a flat floor.
Take a peek under the Evalia’s stubby bonnet and you’ll find a motor that barely fills the engine compartment. The motor in question is the ubiquitous 1.5-litre Renault K9K turbo-diesel that also powers the Nissan Micra and Sunny, apart from other models in Renault’s line-up. On the Evalia, the engine uses a fixed-geometry turbo and an intercooler to develop 84bhp (just as on the Sunny) and 20.4kgm of torque, both figures that seem modest for such a large MPV.
But it didn’t take much driving to establish that the engine is more than up to the job of moving the big Evalia. Driving through Bangalore’s traffic, we didn’t feel any lack of power, credit for which goes to this motor’s fantastic tractability. It’s really remarkable how smoothly the engine pulls from as low as 1000rpm. As a result, it also requires fewer gear changes at typical city speeds, which is just as well, because the Evalia’s clutch is on the heavier side and shifts on the five-speed manual gearbox are a bit notchy too. However, the well chosen gear ratios help to keep the engine within the 2000-4000rpm band where it feels at its best and provides maximum power.
We were also pleasantly surprised at how well the Evalia coped on the climb up to the Nandi Hills near Banglore. We did need to shift to a lower gear on the steeper sections, but not once did the Evalia feel out of place. The true acid test for the Evalia, though, will be to see how it performs when loaded with seven passengers and their luggage; its relatively small engine could find itself out of depth here. On the flipside, the small engine capacity, cleaver gearing and low weight help the Evalia deliver an ARAI-tested 19.3kpl fuel economy figure which, theoretically, makes it more efficient than either the Innova or the Xylo.
Large as it is, the Evalia is also quite easy to drive in town. Helping manoeuvrability is the tight turning circle (useful in Bangalore’s haphazard traffic) and the steering that is fairly well-weighted for all speeds. This isn’t the sort of vehicle you’d use to dart around corners, but grip from the 165-R14 tyres is quite good and handling is always within safe limits. The Evalia’s tall stance does amplify body roll and wind blast tend to unsettle it too. But on the whole there is a nice feeling of control.
Even the ride quality is fairly good, though it does feel a tad bouncy in the middle and last rows over rough surfaces, and that’s possibly down to its rudimentary leaf spring suspension. While a torsion beam would have helped improve ride comfort, the leaf springs’ relatively low cost, compact packaging and load-bearing ability are sure to have helped justify its inclusion on the Evalia.
EVALIA FOR MONEY
The Nissan Evalia is not the best-looking MPV on sale and for many private buyers it may not exude the right image either. Its cabin too may not be all that luxurious and then there are flaws like the middle-row windows that are too small and don’t open fully. But when you look at it as a practical vehicle to transport the family, it does its job well. It’s easy to drive in the city, the seemingly small motor makes adequate power, and it promises to be fuel efficient too. There is good space in the cabin, but for many the Evalia’s versatility will be its biggest draw. We hear Nissan will price the Evalia in the region of Rs of Rs. 10 lakh when it goes on sale this October. At the price, you get a whole lot of MPV for your money. The trouble for Nissan is that the competition is only hotting up in the MPV segment, and the Evalia might need to offer more than just space and value to win itself customers.