UNSUNG NOTES GOING FOR A SONG

I have driven a few upmarket cars recently but it’s good to get your feet back on the ground and drive something that most of us could actually afford. Amidst the  doe-eyed automotive temptresses, sporty stallions and plush 4x4s, I had the pleasure of driving a Nissan Note for the first time – a little ray of cheap and cheerfulness on what started as a rainy day and then got better. (By the way, when I say “cheap”, I don’t mean “cheap and nasty”). Regardless of size, price and speed, I always look forward to driving a model of car for the first time. In addition, simple comfort, practicality and value for money impress me as much as anything else.

Put it this way – the world needs unsung heroes to keep it ticking along, like the postman, milkman, the kids’ sports coach, teachers and nurses all getting on with their jobs quietly and reliably and making life far better and easier for you and me. The car world is full of such unassuming characters, slaving away and serving their masters reliably and without complaining. OK, they may not be glamorous or do the job with much pizzazz but then pizzazz wasn’t on the spec when you bought the car so you knew not to expect any. And, if it had been, you would have paid a lot more for it.

The Nissan Note falls into this unsung category. It is a car that wears sensible knickers, has never been on a Club 18-30 holiday nor even tasted an alcopop. And yes, before you all think I am in La-La Land, I do know that it is being discontinued! But please bear with. If you are on a tight budget and drawing up a short list of potential small car (or even family car) purchases, the Note may have slipped through the net. Buying a discontinued car might not be everyone’s cup of tea, so why should you consider it? Probably, because you can get quite a lot for your hard-earned dough. Fancy a brand-new, British-built small family car loaded with satnav, climate and cruise control, Bluetooth, rain sensing wipers, alloy wheels and that all-important DAB radio (for listening to the cricket) all for around £10 or £11k (more about the price later)? In addition, despite being discontinued, the Note still looks fresh and modern. And you get all this from a mainstream manufacturer with a reputation for reliability. OK, “small family car” may be a bit of a stretch (unless you have a small family) but interior space is one of the Note’s aces; it’s like a mini-MPV complete with a higher than average seating position and good visibility. Although it is only slightly bigger than Polo- and Fiesta- sized superminis, it has oodles of rear legroom and a boot which is bigger than a Ford Focus’s. Plus, the rear seat slides forward to create even more space for all the family’s paraphernalia – provided the kids have short legs.

IMG_20170519_131651
Nissan Note: looks OK doesn’t it? If you want cheap, no nonsense transport, would you argue?

So what’s it like to drive? Well, let’s not get carried away here, this is a good car not a great car. About three weeks ago, I delivered a newly-registered Note from West London to Swindon, a distance of about 80 miles. This was a higher spec Note Acenta Premium with all the aforementioned toys but with the budget engine option – a 1.2 litre petrol motor (80hp) with no turbo- or supercharger magic. In addition to the spacious interior, two positive things struck me about the Note. Firstly, the base cushion of the driver’s seat was particularly comfortable because it felt slightly softer than the norm. Is it me or are most car seats a little on the firm side? Maybe I should exercise less and gain a bit of padding. Secondly, it had smart and beautifully big, clear and crisply lit instruments – way better than a lot of much more expensive cars. The instrument cluster also looked bang up to date thanks to a swanky line of soft blue mood lighting following the contours along the top of the dials (this does dim when you put the lights on which is a good thing). So maybe there is a bit of pizzazz after all, although the rest of the interior interior is more functional (that’s a euphemism for a bit ordinary but inoffensive although the heating controls laid out in a circular arrangement are a bit naff).

Now to the not so good points (I won’t call them bad points). The Note is a bit soft and wobbly around the bends, so the Note would not strike a chord with keen drivers because it could not be pushed through corners with much verve (or even pizzazz). Not quite man and Note in perfect harmony. On the flip side, the ride is reasonable – better than the larger and bumpier Nissan Juke. The 1.2 engine is probably the weakest point. On the motorway, it cruises along happily and quietly once you have reached 70mph although road noise is a bit intrusive. However, reaching that cruising speed will take a while and motorway inclines may require you to drop a cog (a five speed manual box, by the way). On A roads, the Note bowls along nicely at 50 or 60mph but overtaking is probably out of the question unless you’re behind a tractor, milk float, James May or a pedestrian.

But fear not – if you otherwise like the sound of the Note, other engines are available. I would have been interested to try the 1.2 supercharged petrol engine (98hp). Intriguing. Also on offer is the ubiquitous Renault 1.5 turbo diesel engine in 90hp form. This latter power plant provides sterling service in the likes of the Renault Captur so would be a safe and frugal bet in the Note. However, if all you want is no-nonsense, reasonably comfortable transport to get you from A to B before the end of next week, then the normal 1.2 petrol engine may be good enough for you. Incidentally, it did just over 50 mpg on my 80 mile trip from London to Swindon.

Now back to the price. If you look on the used car (“Cared4”!?) section of the Nissan UK website, you will find plenty of the following all with delivery miles only:-

  • 1.2 (80hp) petrol Acenta Premium for between £9495 and £10495;
  • 1.5 diesel Acenta Premium for between £9995 and £11495;
  • 1.2 supercharged (98hp) petrol Acenta Premium for between £10,995 and £12995 (most of these are automatics).

Hopefully that’s music to your ears.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY

A busy week!:-

Monday: BMW 330d auto saloon (2014), Rugby to Whitchurch, Shropshire

Tuesday: Nissan Qashqai N-connecta 1.5DCI, Liverpool to Birmingham; Renault Megane Signature NAV 1.6 diesel estate, Birmingham to Leicester

Thursday: Vauxhall Corsavan, Gloucester to Tidworth, Wiltshire; Peugeot 207 van Tidworth to Blackbushe, Surrey.

Friday: Mercedes GLC250d AMG Line 4MATIC, Leicester to Thurgoland, South Yorkshire; Audi A4 Avant 2.0TDI 177hp (2013), Thurgoland to Birmingham.

I passed a 1920s/30s Bentley on the motorway yesterday (British racing green of course). It was charging along with its two occupants wrapped up in fur-lined flying jackets. Probably not quite as comfortable or quiet as a Mulsanne Speed but it was a magnificent sight.

Speaking of magnificent sights, last weekend we were privileged to see an elusive amphibious deer (Latin: cervus moistius).  We were very lucky because this majestic animal is rarer than a bandy legged mermaid (or any mermaid come to think of it). I managed to get the photo below but I couldn’t get too close. These are very skittish animals and will submerge at the slightest hint of danger. So, you cannot see the gills or the webbed feet that distinguish this animal from its landlubbing cousins but you can make out its unusual duck bill-shaped  head. Amphibious deer have been known to dive to depths of at least six inches and they use their “bill” to forage underwater for their favourite gillyweed and watermoss. And where did we see this amazing creature? At Wayne Manor, home of Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne. This impressive stately home is also known as Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, star of The Dark Knight Rises. Rather appropriately, there is a place called Gotham just a few miles south of Nottingham so the caped crusader doesn’t have far to commute. He is probably best mates with Nottingham’s other legend, the hooded crusader.

Amphibious Deer Wollaton Hall
This photo is honestly, truly genuine!

Changing the subject somewhat, do you ever have to pop out to the shops to purchase two or three things that you suddenly have urgent need of? Have you ever stopped to think how bizarre these small selections of items may seem to other people? Have you ever stood rather self-consciously next to the conveyor belt in Tesco’s as your fellow customers ponder what circumstances led you to need a tin of custard, a cucumber and a pair of washing up gloves? I had to make just such a foray to the shops on Wednesday. My mission was successful and I returned home with the required bunch of flowers, two scotch eggs and a pressure washer. Sorry, that may not be very interesting.

Colin

SHARKS, THE JUKE OF HULL AND A BIT OF CULTURE

A couple of weeks ago I took a Nissan Juke down to Bognor Regis on the South coast. This long trip confirmed my thoughts about the Juke, having delivered one on another longish haul to Hull last summer.

That was my second trip to Hull in 2016 because in February last year, my wife, daughter and I had opted to go there for a day out. Situated at the junction of the tiny River Hull and the mighty Humber estuary in the north-east of England, the mention of Hull (or to give the city its proper name, Kingston-upon-Hull) would not set many people’s pulse racing. After all, it rhymes with “dull”. But yes, we actually chose to go to Hull. Of our own volition and without bribes or coercion. When I mentioned this to friends, it was met with incredulity as they looked at me nervously and started to edge away slowly.

But let me tell you now it was a worthwhile and interesting day out, the highlight of which was a visit to The Deep aquarium. That got me to thinking: for the purposes of this post, wouldn’t it be interesting to compare The Deep and the Nissan Juke. So, have I finally and irretrievably flipped this time? Some unkind (and ignorant) folk may say I flipped a long time ago when I chose to go to Hull for the day. But no, I haven’t flipped … bear with and read on.

The Deep and the Juke do have something in common. They both have modern, wacky and adventurous exteriors. Pushing the boundaries of architecture and automotive design respectively they both promise excitement. The Deep’s unusual design gives a clue as to what you may expect on the inside. Viewed from the outside, the whole building is like the snout of a giant great white shark bursting up through the quayside. The purpose of the Juke’s exterior design is to make you feel different and to shout to others that you are a little bit out there and an individual.

The DeepNissan Juke

As you enter The Deep the real excitement begins. You climb to the top of the building then start your descent into the depths. Down a blue carpeted slope in the gloom, look over the railing if you dare – down several giddy storeys to the bottom. There are sciency and natural history displays and lots of facts to absorb  before you reach the live exhibits. Fish from cold oceans, rivers and flooded Amazon forests are all on offer plus an icy penguin exhibit. The crowning glory  is a huge 2.5 million litre tank filled with sawfish, sharks, turtles, rays and a host of other swimmy things. This enormous tank can be viewed from many angles and vantage points – including a glass tunnel – as you carry on your journey through the aquarium. Then comes the grand finale – a glass lift that takes you up through the centre of this main tank so that you really feel as if you are amongst the sharks and fish. Then you are at the exit and it’s out into the shop in order to add to your fridge magnet collection.

It is difficult to do The Deep justice here but it is a truly top class attraction. Possibly the best aquarium in the UK (and I’ve been to a few in my time). This alone is worth a trip to Hull.

So onto the Nissan Juke. From the outside, this car promises excitement in the same way as The Deep does but instead of clean straight lines, glass and concrete, there are curves and wacky light clusters aplenty to seduce you. Then in you climb and …. well, the excitement and the comparison with The Deep stops there I’m afraid. It is a little sombre inside and so-so to drive but the worst feature is the ride. I guess it may have been more appropriate to compare the Juke to some sort of ride at a theme park, the type of ride that bumps, jiggles and generally shakes you up a bit. I delivered a demonstrator to a lady last week whose current car is a Juke; she commented that the funky little Nissan was uncomfortable.

This does go to show how important looks and image are for car buyers because the Juke does seem to be a very popular car on UK roads. The other plus point for some people may be the high up feeling afforded by the tall SUV-style body. I bet most Juke owners will claim to like their chosen wheels and maybe those looks (which are a matter of personal taste) more than make up for the bumpy ride and slightly cramped interior.

For the record, the Jukes I drove were both bottom of the range Juke Visias. The Juke of Hull had a 1.5 litre 110hp diesel engine which punted it along perfectly well. The Juke of Bognor had the bottom of the range 1.6 litre 94hp petrol engine. That was definitely second best by a long way. Much more powerful 1.6 turbo petrol engines are available and probably offer more excitement in a straight line but could not match a conventional hatchback for going round corners.

So in this unusual head-to-head, The Deep win hands down. But Hull has more to offer than just The Deep. Among other things, there is a museum quarter and old town, an old quay/dock area with cobbled streets and, of course, Hull is a European City of Culture for 2017. In the museum quarter we visited the Streetlife Museum of Transport which was great and it was free – which always helps!

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY

Bit of a contrast between the two jobs I had this week:-

Tuesday: Nissan Micra Visia 1.2 (2012), Melton Mowbray to Lichfield.

Friday: Bentley Continental GT Coupe (2011), Leicester to Stamford, Lincs and Bentley Bentayga W12 (2016), Rugby to Leicester. Tough morning.

Looking at last week’s and this week’s diary shows what variety can come your way in this line of work: a commercial van, military truck, second-hand runabout and a couple of super-luxury cars. The Micra doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? A four year old, bottom of the range example of the most unloved incarnation of Nissan’s small car. Actually, I had a pleasant and comfortable 50 mile cross-country jaunt in it. The sun was shining which probably helped. Like Sutton United in the FA Cup, underdogs occasionally surprise.

Had an interesting experience this week. Got roped into talking to two classes of 9 year olds at my wife’s school (she’s a teacher in case there’s any misunderstanding). The subject was the Battle of Britain, so I went along equipped with genuine World War II flying helmet and goggles and a borrowed sheepskin flying jacket. Had to wing it a bit (pun intended) but only for the minor details. There are now sixty Year 5s at our village school who think the Battle of Britain was fought in Armenia between the Tartars and the Oompa-Loompas. With ray guns. In 1703.

Keeping with a WWII theme, I went to see Hacksaw Ridge. Brutal, truly terrifying and astonishing. A remarkable story about a real-life World War II hero. This epic deserves the acclaim it has received (and an Oscar or two), unlike a certain other film I saw recently. I’m not being blokish here. I enjoyed La La Land very much and am glad I went to see it but it is a good film rather than a great one. The hype is out of all proportion, probably because Hollywood has not made a musical for a while.

Question: What is the most expensive substance known to man? If I remember, I will give you the answer in my next weekly diary. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment with your suggestions.

Colin