– Refined, economical engines
– Huge flexible interior
– Excellent build quality
– Lumpy highway ride
– Cheap stereo
– Wind noise at highway speeds
Nissan has been busy during the past five years, recovering from near-bankruptcy under the direction of new parent company Renault to become one of the most profitable car companies in the world. Part of this success is a barrage of new products that are taking on the best in the market. The product blitz continues with the new Tiida compact, taking on a popular market segment originally reserved for the Sunny. We got one from Nissan to run around in for ten whole days, enough to thoroughly get to know it well.
The bubbly Tiida is certainly a revelation at first sight. Available in sedan and hatchback form, in S and SE trims, it can be had with a 1.6-litre or a 1.8-litre motor, with either manual or automatic transmissions. Build quality inside and out is impeccable. Though the sedan has an odd profile thanks to a tall body, our hatchback test car is more attractive and hides its height well. We’d guess that the hatch is aiming for a younger crowd than the more conservative sedan, even though both share similar styling cues. The hatchback looks decidedly more European, with obvious edgy Renault influences, and it is an attractive alternative to upscale Euro brands.
Slipping into the cabin with ease thanks to big doors, the interior treatment weirdly reminded us of the Audi A3, a German hatchback that costs almost twice as much for no particular reason. Soft-touch materials were relatively abundant, and there were almost no signs of cost-cutting on Nissan’s part, except for a few hard plastic pieces around the dash and the centre console. There is a choice between fake wood or fake aluminium trimmings, both of which look attractive enough. The patterned beige seats in our tester were of the cloth-leatherette variety, and enhanced the feeling of being in an expensive car. The seats themselves were the one-size-fits-all type, so side bolstering is present, but not enough to provide a glove-like fit for hard driving. The driver’s seat is adjustable manually every which way, along with the steering wheel. All the seats were comfortable in relaxed cruising, with lots of legroom and headroom, both front and back. In fact, interior volume rivals that of most midsize sedans. The foldable 60:40 split rear seats of the hatchback can even be moved completely forward to increase luggage trunk space, though rear legroom is severely compromised if the front seats are moved back in tandem. Standard amenities on the basic S version include multiple cupholders front and back, individual reading lamps for the front passengers, numerous storage compartments in the front, a massive glovebox, centre armrests front and back, headlamp level adjuster, keyless entry and an eerie glow lighting up the front cupholders at night. In fact, the only item hinting at the Tiida’s low-budget roots is the low-rent four-speaker radio cassette player, which can be swapped out easily. Decent 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, power windows and electric mirrors are tacked onto the SE version, while a sunroof is optional. The air-conditioning works well most of the time, but is occasionally outclassed by midday heat during the first 15 minutes of operation. However, it did not seem to drain too much power from the engine when on at full blast.
Casually driving the Tiida is a straightforward affair, with silky smooth electric power steering, infinitely variable driving position and amazingly effective mirrors for excellent all-round visibility. The 1.6-litre mill in our five-door hatchback tester was one of the more refined four-cylinder engines we’ve come across, as good as ones from Toyota and smoother than European ones from Peugeot and even our benchmark Audi. It pumps out only 110 hp so overtaking on the highway is not as quick a task as it should be, but its 148 Nm of torque makes this lightweight jump from standstill, making it practical in city driving. A five-speed manual is standard, but the four-speed automatic in our car shifted with smoothness only found in expensive luxury cars, and it is highly recommended for city driving, even if it only has four gears in this age of seven-speed autos. Fuel economy is excellent, and the small petrol tank, filled up once, will keep you moving for as long as 450 kms. Moving up to the 1.8-litre motor only adds 16 more horses with a little more torque, and the choice of a six-speed manual in addition to the automatic, so we gather the cheaper 1.6 will be the popular choice for most conservative buyers.
The suspension tuning turned out to be a mixed-bag affair. On one hand, body roll was kept well at bay, with little suspension travel during cornering, similar to European cars. This allowed us to corner flatly at speeds, held back only by the limited grip of the thin standard tyres, and we were able to cut the cornering radius at high speeds by lifting off the throttle and slightly sliding the rear tyres. Of course this is beyond the skill level of most drivers, but we appreciated the tight body control relative to a Toyota Corolla. But on the other hand, the straight-line highway ride is quite bouncy on all but the smoothest surfaces. And it breakdances harder than Michael Jackson on gravel roads. Wind noise and road noise become prominent at 100 kph, so highway driving requires cranking up the radio. Compromises were certainly made, though it is up to the individual buyer to determine if they like the end result.
Braking runs with ABS were good enough, but not eye-poppingly spectacular. The front discs and rear drums slow down the car well enough under standard conditions, though distances can get a little long during full-on emergency stops, but well within category norms set by the Civic and the Corolla. With pedal feel more on the light side, it can take a while to get used to braking smoothly. We got used to the brake pedal by the end of the week, and it became second nature for us, so this is a non-issue.
The spacious Nissan Tiida is as delightful to lounge in as a whole host of larger cars. The handling is decent, and the exterior is tightly finished. However, the trade-off is a jiggly ride and a somewhat noisy cabin. For the price, we can’t really ask for more. Props to Nissan for having the guts to lend us the car for more than a week. We found manufacturing flaws in many other brands, expensive ones included, on the first day itself. But the Tiida is built flawlessly, and this bodes well for its long-term durability.