Nissan Magnite first drive review: A one-shot aim at sub-compact SUV is on point
Nissan Magnite comes as yet another option for prospective buyers in the Indian sub-compact SUV segment. And while buyers are pampered and peppered with choices galore, Magnite is being widely seen as Nissan's one-shot aim at glory after years of rather lacklustre performance here. There is really no denying that the performance of offerings like the Kicks and the premium X-Trail have been anything but impressive. Far from it, actually. And as such, the Magnite is a sub-compact SUV that is more of a lifeboat to stay afloat for the Japanese car maker. But can the vehicle help it rise and sail through what has been a turbulent last few years?
Entering the sub-compact SUV space is much like a gamble - yes, it is the fastest expanding segment with more and more people buying into the idea of having a vehicle of SUV proportions but compact enough for congested Indian roads. It is also a segment that has some very, very formidable champions and new but skilled challengers. Magnite throws in its hat into this ring where the punches come hard, come heavy. Fortunately for Nissan, the Magnite doesn't seem to duck and instead, seeks to put up counter hooks galore. Does it have what it takes to succeed - not just be an 'also-fought' but 'fought on point?'
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(Nissan Magnite photo gallery)
There are several parameters which decide the fate of a sub-compact SUV in the Indian market but most tend to focus on substance in styling, cabin comfort, feature list, drive performance and pricing above all else. And hence, it was crucial for me to minutely assess each of these when I got two review units of Nissan Magnite for a Delhi to Neemrana - and back - dash recently.
Here's a detailed look at what the Magnite offers and if it is indeed the best that Nissan has ever come up with for the discerning Indian car buyer:
Substance in Styling:
Magnite won't be the flashiest vehicle on roads once officially launched on December 2. And yet, it manages to have a nicely-rounded visual appeal that is sure to get loads of second glances. Looks are subjective but here is a car that is not only the best-looking Nissan but one of the better-looking sub-compact SUVs without appearing to try too hard.
The front grille is familiar - we have seen it in some of the Datsun cars. But on the larger profile of the Magnite, the larger grille, even if familiar, looks pleasant, especially with the chrome outline on the side and at its bottom. There is a silver skid plate on the front bumper which seeks to lend the vehicle its SUV credentials while the all LED lights - head light, boomerang-shaped DRLs and fog lights at the bottom - are clearly the best and most premium element here. The upright bonnet with its strong character lines further the SUV appeal.
Over at the side, the pleasantries continue with 16-inch alloys under squarish wheel arches, a silver skid plate at the bottom of the doors, moderately-sized windows with an underline of chrome garnish, door handles in chrome, functional roof rails for mounting racks and bikes, a meaty C-pillar and a slightly tapering roofline here.
The rear profile continues to adhere to the philosophy of being attractive without much effort even if the silver skid plate on the bottom bumper is a tad bit too much. The Magnite badge sits smartly on the back wall which is flanked by smartly-done tail lights.
One gripe here is that the loading lift is a bit too high which could be a tad bit of a hassle for heavy luggage being hauled into the boot which otherwise has 335 litres of space.
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Overall though, the designers over at Nissan have done a good job in putting several fingers firmly on the pulse of what buyers here look forward to in a sub-compact SUV without actually loading the car with big fonts, heavy chrome additions and an overplay of geometric character lines.
Magnite's real strength lies in what it has to offer to occupants. It may not be the longest or tallest but it does, somehow, manage to put the passenger on a pedestal of sorts with a high seating position. Yes, even the rear passengers get a nice, commanding view of the road ahead and the surroundings on the side. For me at least, this is what any vehicle looking at being an SUV of some sort has to offer as far as the seated feel is concerned. And then some more.
All the seats have a decent level of cushioning with the rear seats providing decent levels of knee space, leg space and under thigh support. The head room is also adequate despite that slight tapering profile of the roof from the outside. Roll down the central armrest with cup holders and a phone holder, and it would make for a nice space to be in on long journeys. But before I became too comfortable here, I quickly leapfrogged to the front.
A large footwell area is what Nissan is promising and once one does pay attention to what they mean, it is quite clear to appreciate the generous space of the legs. The center console is also nicely-designed and offers a whole lot of space for smartphones, wallets, sunglasses and similar items. The aircon vents are quite a deviation in design from what's offered inside direct rivals while the rotary dials to control the air conditioning are large, easy to reach and the display on them are neatly put.
All the doors also get a denim trim of sorts to offer a bit more premium appeal and extra cladding here promise that there is a reassuring sound of a 'thud' when you shut these. These cladding also help to keep NVH levels down but more on that later.
What Magnite does suffer from though is ample use of hard plastics on the dashboard and under the window line. I know a sub-compact SUV can't be expected to be dressed in leatherette and almost every other competing product also makes generous use of hard plastics. Inside the Magnite though, it seems a bit more 'lavishly' used.
No complaints though as far as cabin storage space is concerned. The glovebox, for instance is a mammoth 10 litres and can only be possibly faulted for all that may go missing when shoved here. It is indeed the biggest glovebox in any car in the segment and can even fit in small bottles, apart from vehicle documents and similar paraphernalia. The bottle spaces on side doors are also decently sized and there is some more storage space under the armrest as well.
Nissan is playing the feature game smartly. In fact, it is being quite cheeky and that's not a bad thing.
Magnite does not get an air purifier, misses ambient lighting, skips wireless phone charging and opts out of high-end speakers. That is unless you decide to go in for an additional Tech Pack which offers all of these, and them some more, at an extra price at the time of purchasing the vehicle. Is it a cost-cutting measure? Maybe. Does it serve the purpose? Absolutely. I, for one, cannot blatantly lambaste Nissan for not offering these when rivals are loading up their offerings. And yet, Nissan is saying that if you don't want these rather cosmetic features, that's fine too.
What you will surely not get in the Magnite is a sunroof and ventilated seats. And no, there's no Comfort Pack. While I never see what purpose a sunroof serves in Indian climatic conditions, it is a hot favourite among buyers here and Nissan could have given this some thought. Missing ventilated front seats though is a noticeable miss.
Another feature aspect I am not mighty taken by is the full digital LCD speedometer which is a kaleidoscope of colours, animation, graphics. There is a whole lot happening here and resembles artwork from a Marvel comic book. It does put out all drive-related information as well as shows tyre pressure on all four wheels - all neatly controlled by steering-mounted buttons. And while I can give Nissan all the points for creativity, I am a little old school in how I would want the features on my driver display unit. Don't get me wrong - going full digital is fine but it is the splash of colours and animation that is rather overwhelming.
The main infotainment unit though is more conventional and the eight-inch unit is positioned well to negate screen glare, is decently responsive and supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - a segment first feature. It also offers a first-in-class around-view mirror which is a neat addition for checking surroundings. There is a bird's eye and front view option, front/rear and side view option - helpful in parallel parking situations, and a bird's eye and rear view option to choose from. Full marks here if only the resolution was a bit better than it is.
Nissan Magnite will be offered to customers in two petrol engine options. And no, there is no diesel. So, while there is a B4D naturally aspirated 1.0-litre petrol engine, my review units had the more powerful 1.0-litre HRAO Turbo petrol - one with the five-speed manual and the other with the much-acclaimed CVT.
I plonked myself into the CVT Magnite first.
That large front windshield area and a high seating position already mentioned was a pleasant surprise but there were clearly more surprises in store when on the move. The Magnite picks up pace confidently and was agile enough to meander through the morning traffic in Gurugram as I began to head towards the highway leading to Jaipur. A well-balanced steering allowed the car to move in precisely where commanded and a turning radius of just 5 metres actually did ensure making U-turns was almost effortless.
Another standout here was just how silently reassuring the turbo petrol felt at ambling speeds, cruising up flyovers and down underpasses with an arrogant nonchalance.
The CVT box though is the true icing on this cake of a car. The auto shifts seemed to the point and while it handled the occasional start-stop traffic congestion at toll plazas well, it opened up to its absolutely full potential once the roads widened and traffic thinned out. Don't expect the Magnite to fly towards the chequered flag despite its turbo power. What it does though is race like a pro veteran rather than a spirited rookie. It is calm, reassuring and does pull clean all the way to the 5,000 RPM mark without an iota of push backs for either the driver or occupants - the gear shifts working all the time to ensure that lag is a folly best left for other cars. There is 152 Nm of torque for the taking between 2200 and 4400 rpm and that's good enough for all almost every overtaking move one may choose to make.
While the NVH levels are also controlled really well - there was hardly any road noise once all windows were rolled up tight, the suspension is on the stiffer side and this is where a better balance could have been, well, better. So while body roll is manageable, the vibrations from some of the larger bumps on roads to manage to sneak in.
And before I knew it, the sign for Neemrana came into view and it was time to swap for the five-speed manual.
At the onset here, it is imperative for me to admit that the manual gearbox just couldn't have competed with how good, really good, the CVT is. But my partiality aside, the unit did hold its own weight for the most parts.
There is slightly more torque for the taking in the Magnite with the manual transmission and while the gear throws aren't as short as I would have ideally liked, they are mighty precise. Shifting up didn't seem like quite a task, especially because I was coming from the CVT unit and the vehicle kept the pace up nicely. Overtaking moves did require a bit of additional downshifts for a more pronounced 'launch' effect and in full flight, a sixth gear felt conspicuous by its absence. Overall though, this car came back to home base after managing to make easy work of the evening Gurugram traffic - lock, stock and barrel.
Magnite is both a bold statement of intent and a shot at redemption from and for Nissan. It seeks to more than make up for the follies of the car company in India in years gone by. As such, the extent to which Nissan seems to have gone to grasp what the Indian car buyer wants is evident.
To be launched on December 2, the price range is also expected to undercut prices of direct rivals which would make Magnite an even more compelling option. I do, however, feel that prospective buyers will take some time to show affection to Nissan as a brand even if they want to shower Magnite with the love it seeks to gain. It is a spacious car with decent looks, a solid engine, one-of-the-best automatic gearboxes and has a good mix of features. Question ought not to be if you'll buy a Magnite but if you will buy a Nissan.
Time will tell.