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NISSAN EVALIA

Standing tall in the sea of sleek cars that is the Autocar UK car park, the Nissan NV200 (or Evalia as it will be known in India) could have been mistaken for someone’s airport transfer to Heathrow. This is not the sort of car that would make it to the pages of Autocar UK, let alone the magazine cover. But in India, Nissan is banking on this very vehicle to entice customers away from the mighty Innova. From what we hear, the Evalia has even got Toyota worried. So is there something to it?



First impressions suggest otherwise. The Evalia is more van than MPV and looks more at home at an airport than in an apartment-block parking lot. It’s not that you would want to rock up to a Bollywood award night in an Innova either but the Evalia, with its flat and boxy body, certainly has an image problem.



The redeeming feature of the evalia’s design is the nose. Viewed head-on, the Nissan mini-van looks pretty decent actually. The V-shaped grille, the air dam and the mildly swooping lights lend it the look of any mainstream Japanese car. The tall windscreen does hint at its boxy proportions but it’s only when you move to the side that you can tell the Evalia been derived from a cargo-carrying panel van. The side panels are as flat as pancakes and the small windows look like they’ve been punched out of the metal. If there’s any design element in the flanks, it’s the curvy front door frame and the smart alloys.



The massive, vertical tailgate, supported by two long hydraulic struts, extends low down and hints at the humongous space there is inside. Like any typical van, the Evalia is a case of form uncompromisingly following function. Even the tiny 14-inch wheels, which take away from whatever little street cred the Evalia may have, play a role in its space efficiency.



PLUS SIZE



This brings us to the interiors, which you easily access via a large pair of sliding doors. If you’re looking for sheer space, nothing on either side of Rs 10 lakh comes close, nothing on either side of Rs 10 lakh comes close. In fact, I don’t think anything you can legally drive with a Light Motor Vehicle license comes close. And that’s why Toyota is possibly worried. The Innova, for all its virtues, isn’t the most spacious MPV around. Beside, the Toyota’s body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive chassis doesn’t offer packaging efficiency of the Evalia’s monocoque, front-wheel-drive design. The Innova certainly looks more upmarket, but then the Toyota’s sleeker looks have eaten into interior space. Time to have a look inside the Evalia – but let’s start form the rear, for a change.



With all three rows in place, most seven-seaters barely have enough space left over for any luggage. At best a couple of small soft bags can be squashed into the Innova, while in a Xylo you would probably have to carry them on your lap. But in the Evalia, you could do a headstand in the luggage area. The Nissan can take two large suitcases places vertically and some more, even with the third row in position, which is seriously impressive. With the rearmost seats folded sideways there’s enough space to do a cartwheel inside, and that’s without flipping forward the middle-row seats. For sheer luggage space, the Evalia just blows everything else away. But what about passenger room?



Again, starting from the back, the third row space is class-busting with huge amounts of leg space and knee room, making it good for adults too. There’s ample space in the middle row as well, while the driver and front passenger enjoy a commanding view of the road ahead.



However, despite all this class-leading space, there is one thing that seriously marks down the Evalia’s cabin. It feels a bit too utilitarian and lacks the class of the plusher Innova. No doubt, the UK spec version, which comes in a very basic trim level and with fixed rear windows, is misleading. Nissan is well aware of the importance of a well-apointed interior in India, especially if the Evalia is to appeal to a regular car buyer and not just the taxi operator. There’s been a huge effort, which we saw at the Auto Expo, to spiff up the India model with beige interiors, better seats and interiors cladding. There are dedicated air-con vents with a separate cooling coil for the rearmost  seats. The seats have got richer fabrics but they are still a bit too flat and thin, and the middle row doesn’t slide.



The big challenge for Nissan is to re-engineer the middle-row windows to open. The decision to go for a butterfly-type opening or a simple sliding mechanism has not yet been taken. But neither option is desirable for a Rs 10 lakh-car buyer, who will want nothing less than power windows all round.



The hashboard is very functional with a fair amount of storage space but the steering wheel is different from what we saw at the Auto Expo. Spy shots, which recently came in, show a Micra steering wheel being used – a bit of parts sharing to save costs.



Perched in the driver’s seat, visibility is just superb. It’s not that you sit particularly high in the Evalia, but the large windscreen and low-set dashboard give you a great view of the road. The UK-spec car came with steering-mounted audio controls, and this will be offered on the higher-spec version in India too.



Three trim levels will be available in India at launch. The top-end version will get features like Nissan’s intelligent keyless entry system. There’s no climate control however, and power windows are limited to the front.



POWER TO THE PEOPLE-MOVER



Powering the Evalia is an engine we are increasingly familiar with – the 1.5-litre Renault K9K diesel which is on its way to becoming the most prolific engine after the Fiat Multi-jet. In the Evalia, the K9K comes with the similar state of tune as in the Sunny and hence develops 85bhp and 20.4kgm of torque. These figures seem worryingly modest to haul a big van with a large Indian family with bags stuffed inside it. Unladen, the Evalia felt surprisingly sprightly on UK roads. But it’s not a surprise actually, because this same engine impressed us greatly in the Sunny with its brilliant driveability. The power delivery is extremely linear and the well-chosen gear ratios are well matched to this engine’s flat torque curve. The five-speed gearbox, operated by a stubby lever that sprouts from the dash, is easy to use, and the rest of the Evalia’s controls are very light as well. There’s a dead pedal too, which should be useful on long drives.



The smaller (and slightly more powerful) Ertiga has a superior power-to-weight ratio. But in the real world, the Maruti MPV with its debilitating turbo-lag doesn’t feel as responsive. Minimal turbo-lag and superb tractability from low revs is the hallmark of this version of the K9K motor and I was amazed at the ease with which you could potter around town in this big van. You don’t need to rev this motor hard (which is just as well because it gets quite noisy at high revs) and you simply ride the torque curve to get by. With seven passengers and luggage on board, we can see the Evalia’s having a bit of a power struggle. The Evalia’s small engine won’t have the sheer grunt of the Innova’s 2.5-litre motor which is crucial for overtaking on single-lane highways. The flip side, however, is fuel efficiency. Company sources indicate an Indian Driving Cycle-certified consumption figure of close to 20kpl! The Innova gives 13.7kpl for the same cycle. Another reason for Toyota to be worried.



EASY DRIVE



Despit its huge dimensions, the Evalia is easy to handle, which plays to its user-friendly character. The steering is pretty good actually – light at low speeds and weighting up in a linear fashion the faster you go. You always feel connected to the front wheels and this is extremely reassuring, especially since cross winds tend to rock this slab-sided van quite a bit. The Evalia is pretty decent around corners too. There’s quite a bit of body roll, which you would expect from such a tall car, but there’s sufficient grip too. On UK roads, the suspension coped well, but I suspect, in India, customers could be in for a bumpy ride especially with the leaf-sprung rear and small 14-inch wheels.



At one level, the Evalia is a completely different kettle from the Innova. The Nissan van is pretty manoeuvrable and responsive for its size, which makes it a great people-mover for the city. But the small engine, tiny wheels and bluff shaped don’t give it the highway capability of the Innova.



Where the evalia and Innova are in the same race, is for space, and it’s in this crucial contest that the Evalia wins. Superior fuel efficiency and a very tempting price (estimated at Rs 10 lakh at launch) drive home the Evalia’s advantage further. But though this Nissan has the practicality of a Swiss knife, its delivery van silhouette gives it the appeal of a toaster. In a class-conscious market like India, that could be a big hurdle. But with not many full-fledged seven-seater around, it could be a massive opportunity too.



Source: Autocar June 2012

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