The cheapest Nissan Note powered by the base engine – a 1.4-litre, 87bhp, 94lb ft petrol unit driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox – inspires no serious complaint with any element in the set-up. It’s quiet at idle and responds willingly, and although it’s not the last word in refinement, noise levels remain acceptable in general driving – until you seek to extract the engine’s maximum power or drive much above the motorway speed limit. Take a Note to 80mph (as, let’s face it, plenty of drivers will), and at 4000rpm or so there’s noticeable sound intrusion, although it’s rarely coarse.
At 1146kg, the 1.4-litre Note is more than 150kg heavier than some new superminis, but even so manages 0-60mph in a competitive 12.9sec. 30- to 50mph in 4th gear, a more telling indicator of real world accelerative potential, takes 9.7sec – leisurely pace, but respectable. The Note’s gearbox is slick and smooth, with only a little notch between gears, while the pedals – if a touch on the light side of nicely weighted – offer deft progression and are evenly matched in feel.
Nissan’s 1.6-litre engine is welcome more for its 113lb ft of torque than its headline power output, making the more expensive Note more relaxing and assured to drive rather than noticeable faster or more responsive. Its at its best paired with the regular five-speed manual gearbox, however; the four-speed auto, although preferable to the continuously variable transmissions that Nissan flirted with previously, would only be recommended for cars that’ll spend their life in busy, urban, stop-start traffic.
Better-than-average mechanical refinement and good throttle response make the Renault-sourced, 1.5-litre, 88bhp dCi diesel the most commendable powerplant in the real world. It’s quite flexible for a small capacity turbodiesel, with 148lb ft of torque from 1750rpm and instant, clean pulling power available even lower in the rev range. It also remains smooth and relatively well-mannered above 3500rpm.
Under hard braking the Note pitches quite hard, but outright stopping power is reasonable; under damp, chilly test conditions, our test car stopped from 70mph in 53.1 metres. Which suggests that a mid-spec Note on larger alloy wheels, in drier conditions, could be expected to stop in less than 50 metres – just as urgently as most four-metre hatchbacks, in other words.