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Review: Nissan Magnite, a last throw of the dice for India?

After a slew of slow-selling models, Nissan hopes to make a mark in India by entering one of the most popular and growing segments in the market.

After a slew of slow-selling models, Nissan hopes to make a mark in India by entering one of the most popular and growing segments in the market. Yes, with the Magnite, the company has decided to step into the C2 sub-4 m crossover segment, which has some of the most successful models in the country including the Maruti Vitara Brezza, Ford EcoSport, Tata Nexon and the fairly new Hyundai Venue + Kia Sonet. This is also the first full-on launch of Nissan bossman Rakesh Srivastava, who is widely considered as an industry genius.

The Magnite could be the last throw of the dice for Nissan in India, because if it doesn't succeed in this lucrative segment, it is not likely to survive at all. This makes the Magnite an important car for the company. You can expect it to be well-priced and aggressively marketed.  

Aditya spent a day with the Nissan Magnite. Here are his quick & brief observations below:

Nissan have done a good job with the overall design of the Magnite. It is a lot more attractive than the quirky designs that they have been dishing out over the years. The interior too is spacious and well designed. Features such as the rear defogger and wiper are available across the variant lineup and some first-in-class features such as wireless Android Auto / Apple CarPlay and 360 degree camera are available. On the flip side, many of the features available in its competitors such as auto headlamps and auto wipers are missing while the overall quality of the interior is not up to the standards set by the Koreans. The list of engines is also limited to just a 1.0L, 3-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol and a 1.0L, 3-cylinder turbo-petrol. While the former comes with a 5-speed manual gearbox only, the latter gets a 5-speed MT as well as a continuously variable transmission (CVT). There's no diesel option available.

The prices and other details of the Magnite are scheduled to be revealed on December 2, 2020.

Exterior

The car looks good from every angle. It’s a lot more eye-catching than the past cars from Nissan. Many other road users wanted more than just a second look. While I was taking pictures, lots of people stopped to inquire about the car. The only things I did not like was the excessive use of chrome at the front, around the radiator grille and that the tyres are a size too short; they do not fill the large wheel arches sufficiently.

Coming to build quality, the bonnet, hatch & doors are light (as has been the case with all Nissans sold in India). The paint quality and fit & finish are good. Shut lines are consistent, but could have been a touch tighter.

Interior

Ingress & egress are easier than in hatchbacks or low-slung sedans.

On the inside, there are no soft touch plastics used anywhere. As mentioned earlier, quality wise, it is acceptable but not up to the standard set by the Koreans. It does not feel as well screwed together either. The black dashboard with silver and piano black inserts looks good. Space is very good and the ergonomics are spot-on. It doesn't take long to get comfortable in the driver's seat. The driver's seat offers enough support, but the armrest is not adjustable, which will render it useless for shorter drivers.

At the rear, there is a good deal of space. Seat height is comfortable too.  

As with most new cars, the Magnite's head-unit is tablet-like and sticks out from the front of the dashboard. It's an 8-inch unit with NissanConnect telematics, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 6-speaker sound system. Sound quality is average.

The climate control is very effective and chilled the interior in seconds, even on a hot day. The rear air-vents help matters further.

Driving the 1.0L Turbo-Petrol MT

The Magnite is powered by a 999cc, 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. Called the HRA0, this engine produces 99 BHP and 160 Nm, which is healthy, but there are rivals which offer more power. The car weighs 1,014 kg. This gives it a power to weight ratio of 98 BHP / ton and a torque to weight ratio of 158 Nm / ton. While the former is not as high as some of the Magnite's rivals, the latter is better than the cars in the segment. There is enough grunt in this engine to keep most drivers happy.

On startup, being a 3-cylinder, there is slight body shake and some vibrations come into the cabin. Faint vibrations are felt on the steering, pedals and the driver's seat. On the move, there are some vibrations felt on the gear knob as well. While none of these is particularly annoying, refinement is not as impressive as some of the recent 3-cylinder motors we have driven.

The Magnite moves off from a standstill in a clean manner. Despite the turbocharger + small engine size, driveability is good and power delivery is user-friendly. The turbo-petrol has a good low end and can pull from even ~1,000 rpm. With a bit of modulation of the clutch, the car can set off in 2nd gear as well. Some lag is there of course, yet it's minimal & well-controlled. That said, you have to be a little patient when pulling from low rpms in 2nd gear. You won’t need to downshift much in the city. The only time you are likely to feel the turbo lag is on an incline or if you need to suddenly close a gap in traffic. The engine starts coming into its stride above 1,750 rpm. Around town, it can cruise at 40 km/h in 3rd gear with the engine spinning at ~ 1,650 rpm without a problem. Above 2,250 rpm, the engine comes into its power band and you can make good progress.

The open road is where you'll really enjoy this engine. The mid-range is strong with a good surge of power till ~5,750 rpm. Throttle response is crisp too. Keep the revvs in the powerband and the Magnite becomes a quick highway cruiser. The engine revvs till 6,500 rpm after which the fuel supply cuts off. By then however, power has started tapering off and you will have already shifted up. Driveability is good and you won't find the need to downshift often, although there is some lag in the higher gears. So, while passing slow moving vehicles on undivided highways, it is better to downshift, use the mid-range and fly past them. In 5th gear, the car can cruise at 100 km/h & 120 km/h at ~2,300 rpm & ~2,800 rpm respectively.

The Magnite is equipped with 'hill-start assist'. Stop on an incline, the car will hold itself in place and not roll back giving the driver enough time to get his foot off the brake pedal and onto the accelerator.

The 5-speed gearbox is light & sure-slotting with medium length throws. I found the shift action to be a little too notchy for my liking. The clutch has medium weight and its travel range is on the longer side.

Coming to NVH levels, the Magnite does well at slow speeds and around town. Upon revving, you can hear that familiar 3-cylinder thrum, yet this noise is not excessive. Even while cruising on the highway, the engine is audible, but not irritating. It's above 5,000 rpm that the engine gets loud. Wind noise is controlled at 100 km/h, while road and tyre noise are par for the course.

Driving the 1.0L Turbo-Petrol CVT

The Magnite turbo-petrol also comes with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) Automatic. It's good to see Nissan give a proper automatic gearbox instead of an AMT like some other manufacturers. A CVT has less moving parts than a conventional AT, is lighter and brings a smooth driving experience. However, CVTs also suffer from the rubber-band effect wherein hard throttle input will lead to revs rising with no corresponding increase in speed. While this behaviour is present in the Magnite, Nissan has done well to smoothen the experience.

The Magnite AT gets a Sport mode as well, but not a manual mode or paddle shifters. Like the MT, the turbo-petrol in the CVT produces 99 BHP. However, unlike the MT, the peak torque has been restricted to 152 Nm.

To start the car, put your foot on the brake pedal and press the starter button. Take your foot off the brake pedal and the vehicle starts crawling. This means you can drive the car with just the brake pedal in stop & go traffic (no need to press the accelerator).

The Magnite CVT provides a seamless experience in the city. As there aren't any actual gearshifts taking place, the drive feels [I]butter-smooth[/I]. Forget AMTs, even torque converter & dual-clutch ATs cannot touch a CVT for smoothness. By CVT standards, throttle response is good and the infamous rubber-band effect is well controlled when driven with a light foot. That said, even when you get aggressive, the engine and transmission respond fairly well compared to some other CVTs. This is easily one of the better CVTs in the market. The light steering, smooth transmission and good all-round visibility make the Magnite an easy car to drive in city traffic.

On the open road, the turbocharged engine makes sure that the Magnite CVT is not left behind by other cars. Response time is fair. With CVTs, gradual acceleration is preferred over hard runs. Floor the accelerator abruptly and all you'll see is a rise in engine rpms and noise. It’s not very long before the speed rises as well. The rubber-band effect is present when you drive aggressively, but not as bad as I have seen in some other cars (like the Baleno CVT).

Want a quicker response? Use the Sport mode. You can access Sport mode by pressing a small button placed just below the gear knob. This mode never lets the engine revvs drop below ~2,100 rpm. As a result, the engine is kept on the boil & power is always available when you touch the accelerator. You can have a good deal of fun in Sport mode. It comes in handy on mountain roads & for overtaking too. The CVT has an "L" mode which keeps the gearbox in 1st gear; this is best for steep ascents or descents.

Like the MT, Nissan has equipped the Magnite CVT with cruise control, ESP + traction control and hill start assist.

Ride & Handling

The Magnite comes with a McPherson strut suspension with stabiliser bar at the front and twin tube telescopic shock absorbers at the rear.

While almost all the crossovers in this segment have a firm edge to the ride (due to their height), the low speed ride quality of the Magnite is even firmer than we would expect! While the ride quality is still liveable, it is a far cry from the Honda WR-V which is the best in this field. Even medium-sized potholes make their presence felt inside. The ride feels a little more comfortable on the expressway, but never plush. Blame this partly on the 36 PSI tyre pressure that is recommended by Nissan (32 PSI should noticeably improve matters in the city). All variants of the Magnite are equipped with 16" wheels shod with 195/60 section rubber. I have also mentioned earlier that the car’s tyres could have been taller. This would have ensured that the wheel wells would be filled and improved the ride quality as well. Just for reference, the Kia Sonet's tyres offer a 12 mm taller sidewall which helps the looks + comfort levels.  

As is the case with most monocoque crossovers, the Magnite is very easy & car-like to drive, whether in the city or on the highway. On the open road, straight line stability at high speeds is satisfactory. The car doesn’t feel twitchy over bumps & undulations.  

Coming to handling, the Magnite’s firm suspension helps. The car remains composed even when pushed through fast corners. While there is some body roll, it's well controlled. You can even hustle the car through a series of twisty roads confidently. Dynamically, the car is sorted. All the turbo-petrol variants of the car are equipped with ESP which can be a life-saver in an emergency manouveur.

Grip from the 195/60 Ceat SecuraDrive tyres is acceptable for the average Joe. Those with a more aggressive driving style however, will want to upgrade to stickier rubber.

The electric power steering is light and smooth at parking / city speeds. Along with its small size, this makes for a very easy car to drive in urban conditions. Further, its turning radius of 5.0 m is the tightest in the segment. On the highway, the steering weighs up well and is never nervous or overtly sensitive.  

The Magnite comes with an unladen ground clearance rating of 205 mm, which is second only to the Tata Nexon (209 mm). This is more than enough to take on the worst of Indian roads.

The Magnite is equipped with disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear, with ABS + EBD and hydraulic brake assist (HBA). The brakes perform as expected.

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