Japan. The land of the rising sun, the country that pioneered bullet trains, a nation that has influenced the world by its animation and video game culture, and one of the biggest economies of the world. With such strong heritage then it’s no apprehension that it’s also the largest and most technologically advanced producer of motor vehicles, a global footprint present from the remotest deserts to the highest altitudes on Earth. Their vehicles are engineering masterpieces and their automotive brands are nothing short of saviors of the planet. Dare to disagree? You’ve obviously not been acquainted by the Godzilla aka Skyline GT-R, the Patrol that’s served duties ranging from the Australian outbacks to the touristy desert safaris, and the Silvia and the 370Z’s, also referred as smoke machines, that haze the illegal street racing scenes around the world.
Authoritative. And even prominent is the brand that’s pioneered these revolutionary vehicles; Nissan. Yes, the brand hasn’t seen the limelight in our vast automotive market but the blokes want another stab at it. And this time they’ve decided to prey the compact SUV segment, a space that’s widely popular amongst customers and equally populated by every other automotive brand. And not just that, the success of this C-SUV shall decide the fate of Nissan in India. A product so vital, it’s co-developed by the team of researchers and engineers in India, for India, and goes on sale first in our showrooms followed by the ones abroad.
It’s called the Magnite and it’s shouldering tremendous responsibility even before launch. Talk about performance pressure! But I’m here to take that burden off and tell you if it’s any good. Having the day spent with it, I drove the Magnite a fair bit to see if it’s up for the task.
Those sporty looks..
If you’ve read my first look impressions, you’d know how I appreciated that sharp and taut design theme. Yes, Nissan had us over for the Magnite’s walkaround inside a ballroom that was oddly lit, a setting that isn’t ideal to form opinions on how things look in the open. So when I first walked up to our test vehicle on the day of the drive in the early hours of the day, I was equally ensnared; it sure is attractive and distinct with styling cues like none other. The Vivid Blue shade with the contrasting white roof made it appear more energetic than the coffee vending machine and I found myself admiring its shape all over again.
The front with its sleek headlamps, integrated LED turn indicators and razor-sharp boomerang DRLs give it a very edgy Japanese look. No, not being racist, it’s all very sharp and purposeful like they always used to be. Secretly, I’m just glad that the days of those bulbous headlamps on the Micra and the Sunny are left behind us. The foglamps are lower down and that’s where you’ll notice the scuff plate on the bumper sporting a dual-tone treatment. The lighting is all-LED, dramatic, just the way we like it. The grille sure is large, blingy and imposing but I’m not entirely convinced. Yet, I’d go to the extents of saying it’s possibly the sleekest looking of the lot on offer.
The profile of the Magnite isn’t its photogenic side, the visuals make it appear compact than it actually is but don’t be fooled, it has class-leading figures for the space on the inside. More on that later; there are plenty elements here to admire. Plastic cladding to give it that SUV stance, dual-tone colors to add to the dynamism, the Magnite badging on the front fender, contrasting roof rails and an eye-catching design for those 16-inchers. My favourite bit still remains this strong and prominent bulging hipline that merges with the taillamps.
And there’s more to adore at the rear. The Magnite appears taller than what the dimensions would suggest, courtesy of the bumper that’s filled with multiple layers and elements. That edgy and sharp roof spoiler adds a sense of sportiness and you’ll also notice how the roof is scooped to make it merge with the spoiler – very stylish. Nunchaku!
And then you peek in..
The exteriors have a hint of sportiness and aggressiveness along with that SUV stance and that’s been carried forward on the inside too. The controls are tilted towards the driver, the dashboard itself has a lot of likable bits like the hexagonal AC vents, a dedicated slot for your mobile that can also wirelessly charge your devices and of course, a wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to keep the cabin clutter-free. That’s a segment-first, and so it the fully-digital seven-inch instrument cluster.
It’s got a lot of information on display including a tyre pressure monitor, but it just doesn’t fit right. A sportier display to match those sharp looks would have been a welcome addition. Exclusive to this segment is the 360-degree camera that is aided by four onboard cameras on the outside and this surely is going to interest first time buyers. Customers will also appreciate the cabin quality and packaging; it all feels nicely done with good quality materials being used. Some areas would appear hard and plasticky but it’s all there to last long in our conditions. Very interesting of Nissan to flaunt denim finish fabric on the door trims and central armrest. What’s more, you also get a 6-speaker JBL sound system and puddle lights to welcome you every time you step in.
The seats are firm yet supportive, and finding a suitable driving position is quick thanks to the steering that has a wide rake adjustment. The central armrest felt a bit too small and placed further back, almost insufficient to rest my elbow comfortably. The armrest doesn’t get storage underneath and that felt a bit strange too. What’s sure to impress buyers are the cockpit styled controls for the air-con unit and the digital read-out within the rotary knobs, a perfect blend of classy and modern.
Hopping into the rear seat is made a breeze by virtue of the rear door design, the panel is cut straight unlike the conventional curve over the wheel arch, and that aids to easy ingress and egress. Just like the front the cushioning feels supportive, the seating position is upright and the cabin feels roomy and airy, something that isn’t evident by the exterior dimensions. And this is the biggest surprise of the Magnite – rear seat space. There’s ample amounts of kneeroom, headroom, shoulder room for three adults and the near-flat floor makes it all the more pleasant. Passengers are treated by two well-positioned AC vents, a 12-volt socket, central armrest with cupholders and a dedicated slot for your phones along with adjustable headrests. The features are plentiful, the space is generous and the airiness makes it a pleasant place to spend long hours in.
Let’s get this party rolling..
And those long drives will need a strong and robust engine to make them exciting. I was looking forward to driving this all-new HRA0 1.0-litre turbocharged engine that also powers a few Nissan models overseas, in a slightly different state of tune. Those typical three-cylinder vibrations are present but it’s certainly smoother than the 1.0-litre on the Renault Triber. What a relief I say!
The performance is punchy from the word go, not much evident turbo-lag and the Magnite feels quick and zippy on its feet, thanks to its low kerb weight. The vibrations are contained well but what’s concerning is the harsh noise that the engine makes past the 4,000rpm mark – it’s loud and audible in the cabin and that isn’t very pleasing. Yet, with good performance available lower down you wouldn’t be ringing the engine that high.
Nissan is offering two transmissions on offer – a five-speed manual and an X-Tronic CVT. I drove both back to back starting with the CVT. This new unit has an auxiliary gearbox addition that diminishes the rubber band effect to a large extent. On the roads, the effect was evident with the shifts being smoother and more intuitive. The gearbox also comes with a Sports mode which can be activated by a button hidden on the gearstick and what it does is hold the revs higher for a tad bit longer, allowing for more ponies to be extracted from the engine. The shifts are more responsive too, matching the feel of a torque convertor.
The five-speed manual transmission is better suited if performance is on your mind. Also, manual operation of the cogs results in better fuel efficiency, however the gearbox isn’t the slickest and the clutch pedal travel is excessive. Contrary to my preferences, I’d opt for the CVT of the two g’boxes for the kind of roads the Magnite would be seeing – the bumper of the car ahead. It’s either shedding more towards fuel bills or dealing with a leaner left calf. You decide.
And while you’re figuring that out, the suspension of the Magnite is working relentlessly in the background to keep things sane. And it works brilliantly. It’s a perfect balance of stiffness and plushness, a setup that compliments the performance well. Undulations are ironed out neat, thuds are audible but are distributed evenly and things remain largely pliant on the inside, for the most bits. Good suspension directly translates to better body control and that sure is true with this compact SUV.
The steering has good weight to it, yet a heavier wheel would have been nicer, especially with that handling. That’s something you could have lived with, but definitely not the brakes. If there’s that one guest to ruin the party, it’s the brakes. The bite isn’t steady and that might tame down the hooligan in you.
It’s a worry only if you like to slow down often. Otherwise, the Magnite remains pleasant to drive, especially on the kind of roads that serve duties in Mumbai. It’s got that hint of agility that you’d expect from a Japanese vehicle with the suspension to take on our roads.
Should you consider it?
When the Magnite was first showcased it generated a lot of interest, primarily for its sharp looks and its pricing. It’s being designed around the typical C-SUV buyer and Nissan has done their bit of research extensively. They’ve taken their time, gone back to the drawing boards, and have come up with a very strong product. Too little too late? I think the Magnite isn’t late at all, it’s here to carve a space of its own and aspires to bring volumes to the brand.
Having driven the car a fair bit, I would say there’s a lot more to look forward to than just those attributes – the rear seat comfort, handling, segment-first features, performance and yes, the value for money proposition. There’s a lot going for the Magnite and it’s a lot of car for the money, making its direct rivals appear like a segment above. What broadens that gap is the fact that many features and styling bits are offered from lower segments as well. Yes, I had a little play on their online configurator and that’s when I realised what a good value-proposition it is.
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Torque: 160Nm@2,800-3,600rpm(MT) / 152Nm@2,200-4,400rpm(CVT)
Transmission: Five-speed MT/CVT
Fuel tank: 40 litres
Boot space: 336 litres
Tyres: 195/60 R16
Prices: Rs 5.49 lakh onwards (expected, ex-showroom)