วันเสาร์ที่ 8 พฤษภาคม พ.ศ. 2553

The right Choice

Published: 30/04/2010 at 04:55 AM
Newspaper section: Motoring

The country’s first Ecocar has enough substance to appeal to buyers needing good value for a product priced at B500k

I t’s not surprising to see Nissan receiving orders of at least 8,000 for its March in just over month of its launch in Thailand, the first country out of over 160 worldwide to get the brand’s all-new small car.

Thanks to Ecocar privileges, the March enjoys some B100,000 price advantage over other B-segment contenders like the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris and more or less competes in price with A-segment players like the Kia Picanto and Proton Savvy.

Automatic climate control is available in higher versions.
When we first drove the March last month at Nissan’s factory in Thailand, we came away impressed with the package that manages to match even that of the Mazda 2 or Suzuki Swift.

A remarkable aspect in the March is the capability to seat four adults in comfort without deficiency in either head or legroom. The only factor that fails to make the March a proper B-car is the width — you can feel its narrower body, especially when three are seated in the rear bench.

This rather makes the March more of a sub-B car, even though Nissan claims otherwise — exactly the same way when the brand claims the Tiida to be a C-segment car when in fact its width is that of a notch lower (read: sub-C car).

Which then makes perfect sense for Nissan at its own game because the March and Tiida can co-exist together in a market where rivals usually stick to a more universal norm with genuine Band C-class members.

To avoid any confusion, let’s just say that the March has created a new car class in the country below the Yaris and its likes. And to summarise its packaging credentials, the March is a spacious four-seater.

Design is tidy rather than exciting.
Since the March is intended to be a small car for city-driving, Nissan is making no bones that it can carry as much luggage as a Jazz. The March’s boot is only suitable for hand baggage and has rear seats that don’t fold flat. The Mazda 2 isn’t any superior but crucially gains on the width factor.

Since the March is about simplicity, the interior is easy to live with and features a fascia design that looks quite decent to the eyes and works equally well in functional terms. The driving position feels natural with various instrumentation logically placed.

The centre console, plastered with silver-coloured trimming, neatly houses the controls for the (good-sounding) audio system and automatic climate control (available in V spec).

The remaining plastics may feel hard and hollow but are well-constructed together and don’t feel cheap like in many A-segment cars. In terms of perspective quality for a B500k car, the March hits the right buttons.

It doesn’t look cheap either on the outside. Unexciting it may be, but the exterior is still neatly designed, apparently combining the best of cues accumulated from other brands put together into a single package.

Three-pot engine yields adequate performance.
The large air vent in the front bumper (with a chrome rim on our test car), for instance, reminds you of a Peugeot 407. Such a feature helps rid the March of that cheap-car feeling.

Technically speaking, the March doesn’t resort to tricks of yesteryear. Indeed, the 1.2-litre HR12 three-pot may appear a little too tiny for the stereotype (Nissan doesn’t want you to think of it as the Tiida’s 1.6-litre HR16 four-pot with a cylinder lopped off).

But the 74hp petrol unit works reasonably well in unison with a CVT automatic — a transmission type that’s now unique in A-B cars after Honda has pitifully dumped it in favour of a normal auto in the current City/Jazz.

Low-end grunt, in particular, is more than enough making the March a fine mover in the city. Performance only becomes modest when you take the March to its less natural environs like on the highway where you can increase responsiveness via sport mode on the transmission.

Low-speed ride can feel jittery at times.
While the overall drivetrain is basically smooth in the CVT sense, the engine can become vocal at times. At least, it isn’t hard on the ears and sometimes sounds like a Boxer engine (meaning a little musical, which is to say better sounding that the more conventional four-cylinder motors).

We also had the chance to sample the five-speed manual version which provided equally sufficient performance, although the clutch wasn’t as light as one might would expect of a car of this nature.

Whatever transmission type, the March returned expected fuel economy figures during the driving trials held in Phuket last week. Around the city, we managed some 12kpl rising to 17kpl outside, which is more or less what we once achieved in the Savvy.

But what really separates the March and Savvy on the move is the transmission; the March has the smooth-shifting CVT, while the Savvy comes with the jerky automated manual.

Nissan claims that the March will do 20kpl because Ecocar rules require so. But whether you can achieve that in real-world driving is not easy as the automatic stop-and-go feature of the engine only works when the air-con compressor is switched off (Consumer Protection Board beware).

Boot space only good for hand baggage; seats don’t fold flat.
But as said earlier, the March is economical by being more frugal than the usual B-car suspects. More importantly, it goes well together with budget-minded car buyers needing to foot a B500k bill.

And being cost-effective doesn’t necessarily mean compromised driving dynamics. In fact, the March drives quite okay for its size. The suspension setting seems to be on the right side for Thai roads: enough suppleness at low speeds and ample grip on the legal limit.

The same goes for the steering that’s delightfully light and direct in towndriving and not vague elsewhere. Only delicate drivers will moan some body roll and steering numbness, although they would be able to note the merits of the compact engine that helps iron out some nose-heavy edge to a front-wheeldrive car.

Driving position feels natural with instruments within easy reach.
As a car used primarily for getting from point A-B, the March is utterly easy to drive — which is exactly the main point of cars like these. What could have been better though is the low-speed ride which is jittery on rough surfaces, especially if the March is on 15-inchers.

Talking of specification, buyers need to be a little cautious when balancing their priorities.

There’s a B150,000 span in the range; half of it contributing to either manual or CVT automatic.

And if you want safety kit, you need to go as high as the B500,000 version as highlighted here. Just don’t go expecting to see features seen in European models like cabin-filled airbags or head restraints for five people.

What you get instead are gimmicky frills like that automatic air-con, and if you go top of the range, keyless start and some silly (cute for some people) things like a birthday reminder.

Rear is roomy enough for two adults.
But if you are questioning the driving part more than stats on paper, we can say with confidence that the March delivers enough to justify its price. Coupled that with a roomy package enough to make punters of the pricier Yaris/2/Swift think twice, the March is also good value.

It’s quite easy to summarise the March this way because it has yet to see a direct rival. But there could be a problem for potential buyers of the CVT model.

Although Nissan has refused to reveal an exact time for customer delivery, we have heard from some dealers that the wait could be as long as six months.

Sounds a little frustrating for eager first-time car buyers