20111226

Driven #9: Nissan Sunny Diesel


Even though Nissan has been a late entrant to the Indian market and the company has one of the thinnest dealership network amongst all mainstream brands in our country, it's cars, the Micra and Sunny, has been consistently selling in good numbers. The Sunny especially, launched just recently with only petrol variants, seems to have established a clear niche for itself in the midsize sedan segment with sales hovering above 1000 units each month. With the craze for diesel fuel sweeping across the country right now, Nissan knows that it can't afford to continue without one for long and it has been smart enough to come out with the diesel variants just 3 months after Sunny's launch.

As with most manufacturers now, Nissan has also decided to stick a badge onto the boot of its models highlighting their supposedly 'green' credentials. That's how the 'Pure Drive' badge, that looks and sounds surprisingly similar to Hyundai's 'Blue Drive' moniker, has found a place in the Sunny dCi. So, how is the Sunny diesel to drive? Does it live up to the high standards that customers in this segment have come to expect of late? Is it competitive enough to pose a threat to the segment top-sellers, the Hyundai Verna and Volkswagen Vento? Read on, to find out.

TO LOOK & FEEL:


The Sunny, also called Versa and Almera in some markets, is a globally successful model for Nissan and, as a result, the company has played it very safe with its redesign. Do not be surprised if, at first glance, the Sunny goes completely unnoticed in a crowd, as it's styling neither stuns nor offends. The front-end with its tear-drop head lamps, the chrome-outlined grille and circular fog lamps is the most impressive part of the Sunny. The profile just goes to show how big the car really is and the rear-end is characterized by those tail lamps that extends far into the sides and the chunky C-Pillar. Though the rear three-quarter view shows some hints of Swift Dzire in it, the overall execution of the rear end is far better in the Sunny.

Though we agree that the clean looks of the Sunny will not disappoint anybody, in a segment that is beaming with the classy Fiat Linea, flashy Hyundai Verna and muscular Skoda Rapid, the Sunny does look out of place. Though the Sunny is based on the same V Platform that underpins the Micra, Nissan has made sure that the two cars do not resemble each other from any angle. Thus, unlike competitors like Indigo and Dzire which invariably draws comparisons with Indica and Swift respectively, the Sunny will not be associated with its hatch sibling at all. Step in and the interiors cut a different story. Most of the parts are lifted straight from the Micra while many others clearly shows its relation to the Micra.


The interiors that are finished in a light shade of grey with brushed silver inserts here and there are easy on the eye. The most interesting part are the Fine Vision Meters that are big, bold and legible with the Multi Information Display in between that gives all essential data like outside temperature, twin trip meters and average and instantaneous fuel efficiency. The 3-spoke steering wheel that could have been slightly meatier for our tastes comes with integrated audio controls. Though the top half of the center console is different, the air vents, the door pads and the entire air-conditioning unit are the same as Micra's with the latter's unique circular theme being the highlight. The Engine Start/Stop button in a light shade of pink attracts eyeballs like no other.

Though the overall fit and finish is quite good with even panel gaps and top-notch paint quality, there are a few shockingly iffy bits that we encountered. The roof-mounted interior light for example, comes with a switch that even a child can pluck out. The screws in door handles could have been covered with a rubber seal instead of being exposed as they are. Nevertheless, Nissan has loaded the Sunny with all possible features for this segment and the car stacks up well compared to its competitors.

A big thumbs up to Nissan for not compromising on safety with Antilock Braking System, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist and Driver Airbag standard on all variants of the Sunny. Remember, even the base variant that doesn't come with body colored mirrors, handles and wheel caps has all these safety features. It’s about time all manufacturers opt this strategy and make safety a compulsion instead of giving it as a payable option as it is right now, which most of us conveniently choose to ignore. Take a bow, Nissan.

ON THE ROAD:


As they always say, the first impression is the best and Nissan has done well to impress at the very first stint. The iKey and Push Button feature that has endeared Micra owners before are there on the Sunny too. Press the small black button on the door handle, step in, get settled in the comfy front seats, step on the clutch and press the Start/Stop button. The engine cranks on and you immediately know that it’s a diesel. The engine is pretty noisy and vibrates hard when cranking up, but immediately settles into a nice thrum afterwards. NVH levels in the Sunny are strictly average, especially after 3000 rpm when the engine gets very noisy. Open the hood and you know why. All variants including the diesel ones lack any sort of sound-deadening material.

Powered by a 4-cylinder 1.5-liter K9K engine that was jointly developed by the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the Sunny diesel churns out a maximum power output of 86PS at 3750 rpm and a maximum torque of 200 Nm at 2000 rpm. As the figures would suggest, torque is available right from low end of the power-band and the K9K engine revs cleanly till the redline. The generous low-end torque means that the Sunny diesel is effortless to drive in bumper-to-bumper city traffic with the car pulling away nicely in the second and third gears. The Sunny accelerates briskly until 120 kph after which the engine feels strained. The turbo kick that most of the automobile enthusiasts crave for, is just not there in the Sunny.


What impresses though are the driving dynamics of the car. The presence of heavier diesel engine in our test car has aided in better distribution of weight that it felt more stable and planted on the road than the petrol variant. The ride is a bit stiff and the bumps, potholes and other undulations on the road filter into the cabin unlike in, say a Volkswagen Vento. But, the overall ride is nowhere uncomfortable and remains comfy enough. The handling is well sorted out and the car willingly turns into corners at all speeds. What is commendable is that the steering feels super-light at slow speeds but weighs up nicely once speeds build up. Thus, the Sunny gives you the best of both worlds - an effortless drive inside the city and a confidence-inspiring drive on the highways.

Gearshifts are surprisingly notchy and slot into their places with an audible click 'noise' that gets irritating beyond a certain point. Another thing in the Sunny that takes time getting used to is the brakes. The brake pedal has a fair amount of play and feels spongy the first time we press it. Though we invariably tend to get used to it over time, it is quite hard to judge the stopping distance at first, as it is devoid of any feel for a few seconds before the brakes start engaging. Once we understand them though, the Sunny feels stable and composed, even under hard braking. ABS, EBD and BA does make their presence felt here.

SPECIFICATIONS:


* Engine Type: SOHC, 8-Valves, Common Rail
* No of Cylinders: 4
* Displacement: 1461 cc
* Maximum Power: 86 PS @ 3750 RPM
* Maximum Torque: 200 Nm @ 2000 RPM
* Transmission Type: 5-speed MT
* Tires: 185/65 R15 (XV)
* Brakes: Disc (Front), Drum (Rear)

WHAT'S COOL:

* Space, space and more space
* Feature loaded (ABS, EBD, BA, iKey, Start/Stop Button)
* Good Low-end torque
* Linear Power Delivery

WHAT'S NOT SO COOL:

* Notchy Gearshifts
* Sparse Service Network

TO SUM UP:


With the addition of diesel variants to the Sunny lineup, Nissan has all but ensured that the Sunny's initial success in the Indian market continues. With a package that excels in safety features, does everything else well except for the noisy engine and the notchy gearshift, the Sunny makes an appealing case for itself and has all the potential to challenge the segment leaders. With 16 million units sold across the world spanning 9 generations, India is just another market in which the caaaaarrrrr is going to leave a mark.

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