We sat through the entire presentation of the Nissan Evalia where the product chief continuously harped on the drivability of the Evalia against rivals. The Evalia targets a specific customer who upgrades from a hatchback or a sedan but at the same time does not want to compromise on the drivability of a smaller car.
Nissan India claims that the Evalia is a one-up on its rivals when it comes to the driving feel. Nissan says that the competition (Innova and Xylo) are very heavy and thus are very exhausting to drive. The Evalia, on the other hand, is very light and thanks to the front wheel drive, the hatchback/sedan customers will feel at home on the driver seat.
But does the Evalia really feel good to drive? Let’s find out:
What powers the Nissan Evalia?
Nissan will launch the Evalia in a diesel avatar for now. The diesel engine is familiar - the 1.5L K9K diesel mill that is on duty in many cars such as Pulse, Micra, Logan, Verito, Sunny, Fluence, Duster and now the Evalia. It produces 85bhp at 3,750 rpm and 200Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm. The engine is a workhorse and a very good one at that!
Wait! 85bhp? Isn’t that a little underpowered?
Well, the answer is a big no, because the Evalia produces 200Nm of torque which is what you should be focusing on when dealing with people movers. Secondly, the Evalia is comparatively light, feather light. It tips the scale at just around 1.4 tonnes. To compare it against the Innova, the kingpin produces the same amount of torque from a much bigger engine and is 250 kg heavier than the Evalia.
Start the engine by twisting a small knob above the key hole while keeping your foot on the brake and the Evalia shakes to life. The engine is quite noisy at idling speed. Once you start shifting, you notice that most of the torque is very accessible at lower rpm.
Though the engine is turbocharged, it has very minimal lag. It pulls brilliantly right from 1,500 rpm and feels healthy between 2,000-4,000 rpm. The lag is only evident when you are going uphill on full load. Then, you will have turn to the old tactics of switching off the AC and slipping the clutch.
The engine is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission borrowed from the Micra. The good part of the gearbox is that unlike the Innova and Xylo, it is extremely light to operate. It provides the same feel of the Micra or Sunny. The shifts are short and very positive. The gates are somewhat precise. The gear ratios are engineered to provide easy drivability both in city and on the highways.
There is a big complaint about the NVH levels. It is not insulated well and a lot of engine noise, tyre noise and wind noise infiltrate the cabin. The Evalia can certainly do with better sound insulation.
How is the ride and handling?
The Nissan Evalia rides on a monocoque construction, and a front wheel drive architecture. Adding to that are the electronic power steering and lightweight gearbox and yes! this does drive like a hatchback. The Evalia offers excellent maneuverability within the city and has an impressive turning radius of just 5.2 meters.
Having said that, I don't claim that the Evalia is good for hard cornering. The boxy shape, skinny tyres and rear leaf spring suspension can scare you around corners. There is a good amount of body roll reminding you that you aren't driving a Nissan GT-R.
The Evalia gets a combination of disc at front and drums at rear. The brakes are a bit grabby, but they are good for emergency stops. ABS with EBD is standard across all models and is not too intrusive during braking.
The ride is soft and absorbs most potholes. Despite the leaf spring setup, rear passengers don’t get thrown from side to side. The car is stable at speed, brakes well and holds a line around corners if not pushed too hard.
Crosswinds are a big problem for the Evalia’s slab-like structure but keep it below 120km/hr and you will be fine.
We can vindicate Nissan’s claims that it is easier to drive than the competition especially the Innova and Xylo. The light pedals, short throw gearbox and EPS will help you drive long miles without getting tired.
What about fuel economy?
This is the best part of having a small turbocharged engine. The Evalia claims an FE of 19.3 kmpl, backed by ARAI. Although we couldn’t do a real world test, we expect you to get at least 13-14 kmpl if driven carefully.
What about Safety?
The Evalia gets a fair bit of safety equipment such as:
- Dual SRS front airbags (not available on the base variant)
- ABS, EBD and Brake assist (Standard across variants)
The Evalia has not been tested by EuroNCAP, but it has been tested by JNCAP achieving a maximum 5 stars.
What did I not like about the drive?
There are a few niggles that disappointed me such as:
- Lack of driver-friendly features like steering mounted controls, cruise control, etc.
- The performance is just adequate. It does fall behind under extreme conditions. A little bit of power would be very helpful on highway driving.
- At a 120km/hr, the boxy aerodynamics start playing against you.
- Poor NVH levels spoil the fun.
- Van-like driving position takes some time to get used to. It does not inspire spirited driving.
Can it dethrone the Toyota Innova?
Despite Nissan claiming that it does not intend to compete with the Innova, there will be comparisons made when the Evalia is out in the market.
There are a fair bit of niggles with the Evalia if you are comparing it with the Innova.
The problem is that when one plans to dethrone a legend, one cannot be just as good. One has to be much better than the legend. I am not sure that the Evalia is superior to the Innova in all aspects.
But given the right pricing (and by that I mean a really aggressive one), the Evalia can make a few heads turn. It poses a bigger threat to the Xylo and Ertiga thanks to its massive space, strict driving discipline and superb fuel economy.
So the Evalia turns out to be a very interesting proposition from Nissan. More importantly, it couldn’t have come at a better time when segments are beginning to expand. The MPV segment just exploded with the launch of the Ertiga. Nissan can further expand the market by making the Evalia a good value-for-money proposition.
However, I have my reservation about families adopting the Evalia over the competition. The boxy design with very specific problems such as no roll-down windows just wouldn’t cut the mustard with an average family. It would take a very aggressive price tag for a family man to give it a second look.
I think the Evalia has a much brighter future in the fleet market and commercial applications such as office cars, airport transfers, school transport service, rental service, etc.
But Nissan India does not have any plans immediately to sell to those customers. The company plans to have more than 150 dealers by 2013 and they’re already running a 24x7 roadside assistance program in 1,681 cities all over the country, to appeal to the family car buyer.
Taking a leaf from Renault’s recent success, Nissan might just spark a new trend with the Evalia with the help of the right marketing activities. We will have to wait till early September when Nissan will finally disclose the pricing of the Evalia to know if it can succeed.