The new Nissan Note is, the company says, at the heart of its supermini-sized car line-up. It's pitched at the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, and it's designed to beat them both on practicality and equipment.
In reality, though, the competition for the new Note is far more diverse, and will include mini-MPVs – such as the Citroen C3 Picasso – and compact SUVs, including the Renault Captur.
The 2013 Note will initially be available with a 79bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine and an 89bhp 1.5-litre diesel, while a 97bhp supercharged 1.2-litre petrol will join the range in January 2014. All three get stop-start technology as standard, plus the 97bhp petrol is available with a CVT automatic gearbox.
CO2 emissions start at 95g/km, rising to 119g/km. That means all Notes will cost nothing to tax in the first year, and a maximum of only £30 thereafter. Annual tax rates for company car users are also lower than most rivals', ranging from 11% to 15%.
Four trims are available, starting at entry-level Visia and working up through Acenta, Acenta Premium and the range-topping Tekna spec.
What's the 2013 Nissan Note like to drive?
We first tried the 89bhp 1.5-litre diesel, which Nissan expects to account for around two thirds of UK sales. The engine’s 147lb ft of torque helps to disguise its modest power output, because there's plenty of pull from low revs, while the manual gearbox is slick.
True, the diesel engine can be slightly grumbly around town, but it's hushed on the motorway. In fact, cabin refinement is better than it is in most competitors; wind noise isn’t a problem and only minimal road noise creeps into the cabin at higher speeds.
The 1.2 petrol is quieter, with a lot less dirge at low speeds. It's ultimately slightly slower than the diesel, though, and you need to work its engine harder to make good progress.
The supercharged petrol will come with a handling pack as standard, which brings a slightly stiffer suspension set-up to complement the extra power on offer.
In any case, though, the Note isn't exactly fun, but the steering feels natural, consistently weighted and precise. It’s also light enough around town to allow for easy manoeuvring.
Like its predecessor, the latest Note also has a well-judged suspension set-up. There’s minimal body lean in fast corners, and the UK’s scarred roads don’t pose a problem. Over patchy surfaces in town the Note remains settled, while at speed, expansion joints and potholes are rounded off well and stability is good.
What's the 2013 Nissan Note like inside?
The Note's cabin feels more upmarket than the Juke's and the face-lifted Micra's, but it still isn't particularly plush or exciting. At least all the buttons have a precise action, and they're intuitively positioned.
Entry-level Visia trim doesn’t offer seat height adjustment, and taller drivers may struggle because the Note's steering wheels still adjusts only for height, not reach. However, the seats are supportive and all-round visibility is good.
The Note also offers plenty of space in the rear; even taller adults will have enough headroom, while there's considerably more legroom than in a Citroen C3 Picasso.
Practicality has improved over the previous model - there’s now 325 litres available in the boot, expanding to 411 litres with the rear seat bench slid fully forward, although this flexibility isn’t available on entry-level models.
The rear seats split 60/40 and fold almost flat, but it’s a shame they can’t be slid forward and back as independent units.
Standard equipment on Visia models includes six airbags, cruise control, front electric windows, power-folding door mirrors and a radio/CD player with USB input.
Acenta trim starts at £13,250 and adds air-conditioning, Bluetooth, rear electric windows, a multi-position boot shelf and 15-inch alloy wheels. It's also the entry point from which you can specify the supercharged 1.2-litre petrol engine.
Acenta Premium - from £14,150 - also give you automatic lights and wipers, climate control and a 5.8-inch touch-screen satellite-navigation system.
Acenta and Acenta Premium cars can also be specified with Nissan’s Around View Monitor with Safety Shield. This is a £400 option and uses cameras around the car to give a virtual 360-degree view of the surroundings, designed to make parking and low-speed manoeuvring easier and safer. It also includes lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.
Tekna trim costs from £15,950 and - as you’d expect - gets all this technology as standard. It also adds keyless entry and start, part-leather trim, a leather steering wheel, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Optional equipment includes a glass sunroof as well as a styling pack that adds unique alloys, plus sportier front and rear bumpers.
Should I buy one?
The Note offers generous passenger space and is also relatively good to drive. What's more, it looks competitively priced against rivals from Citroen and Honda.
True, the Note has a smaller boot than a C3 Picasso, but it's more comfortable, better equipped and will still be big and flexible enough for most buyers' needs.
It’s also likely to be a reliable car; build quality appears to be good and the old car consistently performed well in the JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
In either of the mid-spec trims, with the frugal diesel engine, the Note is a well priced, very economical and versatile compact MPV. It's well worth considering.
By Ed Callow
What Car? says...
Nissan Note 1.2 manual
Engine size 1.2-litre petrol
Price from £11,900
Torque 81lb ft
0-62mph 13.7 seconds
Top speed 105mph
Fuel economy 60.1mpg
Nissan Note 1.2 DIG-S manual
Engine size 1.2-litre supercharged petrol
Price from £14,250
Torque 108lb ft
0-62mph 11.7 seconds
Top speed 113mph
Fuel economy 65.7mpg
Nissan Note 1.2 DIG-S CVT
Engine size 1.2-litre supercharged petrol
Price from £15,250
Torque 108lb ft
0-62mph 12.2 seconds
Top speed 107mph
Fuel economy 54.3mpg
Nissan Note 1.5 dCi manual
Engine size 1.5-litre diesel
Price from £13,900
Torque 147lb ft
0-62mph 11.9 seconds
Top speed 111mph
Fuel economy 78.5mpg