It's easy to see that the Indian car buyer is maturing. The latest evidence of this is that our once saloon-driven market is showing considerable interest in a class of vehicle that was, until a few years ago, considered fit only as a taxi. Yes, the modest MPV or people carrier segment has caught the attention of buyers and manufacturers alike.
MPVs offer more seating space and luggage-carrying capacity, which makes them suitable for large families. However, their biggest drawback was always their relatively 'heavy' driving characteristics, which was mainly down to their rudimentary 'body on ladder frame' construction.
With the launch of the Maruti Ertiga, which uses modern, car-like construction, a new sub-class of easy-to-drive MPVs has opened up, and joining these ranks later this month will be the Nissan Evalia.
The front end is somewhat pleasing to look at thanks to the high-mounted headlights and the triple-slat detailing in the grille. In profile, the upswept front windows look good, but the slab-sided design and the sheer amount of sheet metal makes it appear more like a cargo van than anything else. And that's not far from the truth, as Nissan does sell a load-carrying version in international markets.
The Evalia isn't very easy on the eye from the rear. Not helping matters are the wheels, which look a bit too small for a car of this size. This commercial vehicle look carries on in the cabin as well. The two-tone, beige and grey dash looks rather simple, but it is functional. The gearlever is mounted high up on the dash itself, and the space thus liberated between the front seats is filled by a covered storage bin; but strangely the glove box in the dashboard is uncovered. There are also two bottle-holders at either end of the dashboard, placed in front of the AC vents. The quality of plastics isn't something to write home about and there are a few flimsy bits inside.
What it lacks in styling, the Evalia makes up for in practicality. The rear doors slide open and make the last row of seats easier to reach, but given the Indian mindset, sliding doors could be viewed by some as utilitarian and down-market.
There's also a lot of passenger space in the cabin. The front seats are big and comfortable and you sit very high up, but the angled steering wheel does tend to make the driving position feel a bit like a bus. There is space to seat three in the middle row thanks to the car's width and there is ample knee room available here too. However, the comfort takes a hit thanks to the lack of thigh support from the seats, and the fact that the tiny windows are of the 'butterfly' type, which means they only open slightly. The seats don't slide back and forth either, which means that third-row passengers can't really stretch out. That said, the last row's seats are big enough to seat two adults and there's a dedicated AC unit here as well (the middle row doesn't even get its own set of vents).
Then there is the boot space, which is much better than the competition. There's enough space for two suitcases even when the third row is up and, since the seats split and fold, there is lot more flexibility too. The low loading lip and wide-opening tailgate only enhance the Evalia's user-friendliness.
The Evalia is powered by the same 1.5-litre diesel engine as the Micra and Sunny, and while that sounds like might be too small for a car of this size, in practice it is quite capable. Helping matters is the car-like construction, which allows the Evalia to weigh less than rivals like the Toyota Innova and Mahindra Xylo that have heavy ladder frames.
We drove the car in slow city traffic where the engine pulled well from very low speeds. The gears are well matched to the weight of the car. The shifts themselves are not the smoothest, though, and the clutch is a bit heavy too. Moving out of the city, we encountered hilly terrain and the Evalia surprised us with the ease with which it made progress. We were required to shift to a lower gear for some of the steeper inclines, but the performance never felt lacking. We must point out that the car wasn't carrying many passengers or too much luggage, and it would be interesting to see exactly how well it performs with seven people on board. We do expect it to be fuel efficient though, and Nissan is claiming an ARAI-tested figure of 19.3kpl, which is amazing.
The ride quality of the Evalia is acceptable, although it does tend to bounce about a little on bad roads; this is felt especially in the second and third rows. The archaic leaf-spring suspension at the rear, chosen for its load-carrying capacity, compact packaging and low cost, is not the ideal choice for passenger comfort. Manoeuvring in tight traffic is easy; the tight turning radius and light, yet fairly well-weighted steering helping in this regard. At speed around corners, the Evalia does lean because of its sheer height, but it still exhibits a feeling of control. At high speeds on the highway, it did exhibit a bit of nervousness when dealing with crosswinds; the flat profile playing a part here.
The Evalia scores highly on practicality, space and ease of driving. But it does have its shortcomings, like middle-row windows that don't open fully and an image that may not appeal to many buyers. We expect Nissan to price the Evalia somewhere between ₹8-12 lakh when it is put on sale later this month. At that price, it may just be able to make buyers look beyond its few weaknesses and more at its many strengths.
Price ₹8-12 lakh* (est)
Engine size 1.5 (D)
Economy 19.3kpl (claimed)