There are a lot of options in the market when it comes to hybrids. The technology initially hit our markets through Toyota and Honda, targeting the hatchback and sedan segments. During that time, one model stood above the rest, the Toyota Prius. After multiple reiterations, the Prius has evolved from a basic hybrid to a cutting edge plug in hybrid. While not as advanced, Honda have too continued to develop their hybrid technology and have captured the market through the Honda Vezel and Honda Fit. To say that buyers are spoilt for choice in the hybrid segment would be an understatement, so for a new offering to become successful would be a tall order, especially if the market doesn’t perceive the brand to be a leader in hybrid technology.
While Nissan has technically already made its debut in the Sri Lankan hybrid world through it’s Nissan X-Trail, much of the success of the model was due to the high standard held for the X-Trail rather than the hybrid technology that it contains. So, could Nissan introduce another hybrid model successfully into the market? It already has, but in Japan. The new Nissan Note E-Power debuted Japan in November 2016, and the subcompact hatchback rose to the top of the charts as fast as an Ed Sheeran song. In January 2017, it out sold the Toyota Prius which is the gold standard of the Japan’s hybrid market, as well as one of its highest selling models.
We’ve had the Nissan Note (standard petrol version), in the market for a while now and it’s never been crazy popular. Compared to its competitors, there was nothing particularly special about the car, it was still a very good vehicle, but at that price point you had many other options, including hybrid ones. So, would swapping out the standard 1.2L engine for a 1.2L engine and a battery make that big a difference? Well, yes, yes it does.
The Unpluggable Plugin
The hybrid technology used in the Note E-Power is a little different than what you see in the Toyotas and Hondas. It has similar attributes to a plug in, but there is no place to plug the car in. Unlike other hybrids which utilize a primary and support relationship between the engine and the battery pack, the E-Power system uses the engine as a generator to charge the battery pack which powers the motor. This setup is known as a “Series Hybrid” and means that the car operates like more like an electric and than a hybrid, except instead of charging your battery by plugging it into a wall socket, the engine charges it for you. So what does this mean? Basically, you’ve got all the benefits of an electric car (instant power, no noise) but none of the draw backs (the range). While this technology exists in other cars, this is a first for Japan.
Driving a Petrol Powered Electric
Unlike the Leaf, which had to rely on a 40kWh battery pack, the Note only needs a 1.5kWh one, which means 1/20th the weight, and produces 109hp (about the same as the Leaf). This allows the Note’s weight to be limited at just 1,220kgs, a full 270kgs less than the Leaf. As we all know, less weight means better acceleration and better mileage. According to official tests, the Note achieves 32.7kmpl, and while it’s still lower than Plugin Prius (~37kmpl).
While economically this car makes sense, it also does pretty well in the actual driving experience category as well. You have instant power when you put your foot down, with precise steering (very little understeer) which feels solid in your hands. Thanks to a smart layout, the Note has very little body roll in the corners. This is due to the low position of the engine, inverter and motor in the chassis, and the placement of the batteries under the front seats. Even at higher speeds, the Note is stable and doesn’t display the twitchy-ness that you sometimes see in hatchbacks. Equipped with regenerative braking, the brakes feel very much like a petrol vehicle when in normal mode. As with most hybrids, the regenerative braking helps charge up the batteries when deccelerating.
Two more driving modes are available besides the normal one, first up you have the Eco mode which, as the name suggests, helps you drive more economically. The second is “S” or sports mode, which does allow you to get more power by sacrificing efficiency, but I doubt you’ll really need to use this setting in normal Sri Lankan road situations. In both these modes, the regenerative braking can produce up to three times the braking force (Gs), when compared to the normal mode. To drive the Note most efficiently however, you need some practice, as it can actually be operated by regulating the usage of the accelerator/throttle. By controlling your footwork, you can brake and accelerate just through the throttle – a driving style that will become increasingly more common place in the future.
As mentioned before, the Note operates like an electric car, which means that there is zero noise produced by the engine—at least most of the time. Unfortunately, the 1.2L engine does suddenly roar to life, with the annoying whine of a small engine, when the batteries are running low or if auxiliary systems (e.g. A/C, Headlights, Wipers), are used excessively. The noise isn’t any more than you get in a normal petrol, but its stark contrast to the completely silent operation at other times makes it feel louder than it actually is. However, for most of us, this noise will be negligible, and only around for a minute or two. Nissan claim that the Note E-Power’s cabin is a quiet as what you’d get in larger segment vehicles such as the Camry, so with the radio on, you’ll probably miss it completely.
The new Note E-Power looks pretty much the same as its standard petrol predecessor, with the exception of a few chrome and blue highlights on the front grille and a sexier looking set of headlights. The body remains pretty much the same, but this isn’t an issue as the Note was never a bad looking car. The roof is somewhat triangular, with an upward slope starting at the front windscreen, and peaking around where the driver’s head would be, and then sloping downward. It does feel a little like a Honda Fit that had an accident. The rear also looks a lot like an older model Honda Fit, both being very “standard Japanese” designs. Ground clearance isn’t great at just 130mm, but it’s sufficient to get over the bumps and humps on Sri Lankan roads.
The interior of the car is larger than you’d expect, with plenty of leg and headroom in both the front and back seats. The dashboard sticks to a single tone, a very different styling than the 2 toned layouts that are coming out of Japan. The main “design element” is the circular climate control, which is matched by circular air vents and a singular large speedometer (no rev meter), with a circular display in the middle of it. To be honest, I’m not a fan of all the circles, and I think that Nissan could do a lot better here. The gear shift is the same one you get in the Leaf, and does feel a little odd to those of us used to a more standard shifter. You have multi-function steering, but all the buttons are focused on the left, which means that one side of the steering wheel is quite busy, while the other is empty. Again, I’d have prefered a more balanced approach with this, but that’s just me, it might have its advantages once you get used to it. The boot is quite spacious, and is on par with what you get with the Nissan Leaf and Honda Fit, with rear seats have a 60:40 split.
As with many of the new hatchbacks coming out of Japan, the Note E-Power comes with reverse camera, reverse sensors, Lane Assist and Forward Collision Warning. It also unfortunately comes with a patch kit instead of a spare wheel. A spare wheel isn’t an option even if you want to get one locally, as they’ve placed a battery in the spare wheel well.
The Nissan Note E-Power has the makings to become the next big hatchback in Sri Lanka. There are some issues that may hamper its growth here though, especially that ground clearance, something pretty high on the list for most car buyers. The other is the interior styling. For many, it may be fine, but I would have liked to see something more in line with the Leaf. Price wise, the Note E-Power goes for around Rs. 5.85mil, which is more than the Toyota Aqua, and a lot more than the Honda Fit, both of whom are well respected here. It’ll be a tough sell, but time will tell how the market embraces the new Note E-Power, but expect to see more cars like it in the near future.
|Model||2017 Nissan Note E-Power (X Grade)|
|Engine||Electric motor with a 1.2L, 12 valve, 3-cylinder inline petrol generator|
|Transmission||Single Speed Automatic|
|Mileage||32 to 34 kmpl (conservative driving)|
|Dimensions (L x W x H)||4100mm x 1695mm x 1520mm|