The Nissan Pixo city car has a energetic three-pot engine and is surprisingly fun and frugal

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The Nissan Pixo is the marque’s budget city car, which slots into its supermini range below the Note and Micra. It's a rival for the Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10, but one that comes with a marginally more prestigious Nissan badge on the grille. 

The irony is, of course, that this Nissan is actually a Suzuki. The Pixo is built on the same Indian production line as the new Suzuki Alto and, although it’s got its own headlights, bumpers, bonnet, front grille and seat trim, it is in every other way identical to the Suzuki. 

It is odd how Nissan hasn't sought to put more of its design stamp on the Pixo

In every way except on specification and price, that is. Nissan has taken the decision to bring the Pixo to the UK at a lower entry-level price point than the Suzuki that it is based on. That means that you can get a Pixo – admittedly without electric windows, folding rear seats or remote central locking – more cheaply than the entry-level Alto

Here is a car, therefore, that stands to make certain decisions taken at Suzuki’s global headquarters look rather silly as far as UK customers are concerned. 

Aggressive pricing aside, Nissan has done just about well enough in distinguishing the Pixo from its Suzuki sister. Its oversized grille, long headlights and grinning front air dam give the car a face all of its own, while a set of bespoke Nissan paint colours also help to set it apart. 

Seen from the rear, however, it’s only the shape of the bumper that really marks this car out as the Nissan, so if you’re following a Pixo in traffic, you may not know it until you get close enough to make out the letters on its bootlid. 

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Once inside of the car, its resemblance to a new Alto becomes even more pronounced. Only the badge on the steering wheel of the Pixo and the material on the seats is new. That means the Pixo’s driving position is comfortable, but the seats are slightly narrow and flat, and the absence of reach adjustment on the steering wheel could be a problem for longer-legged drivers. 

The fit and finish of materials inside the cabin is well up to class standards, even if the quality and tactility of those materials There’s no doubt that the isn’t quite as impressive as those in an Hyundai i10 or a Toyota Aygo. You get Isofix child seat points and an MP3 CD player as standard on the entry-level model; there’s no air con, but for this sort of money you can forgive that. 

What you can’t forgive is the lack of flair or imagination with which the cabin has been designed. It’s functional, but doesn’t have one tenth of the colourful, characterful appeal of the dash of a Citroën C1. It’s uninteresting almost everywhere, which is a shame considering the youthful clientele to which this car should appeal. 

Fortunately for Nissan, the Pixo begins to make up for its apparent lack of character when you get its hard-working three-pot petrol engine stoked up. That motor’s 67bhp is enough for peppy in-town performance, and motorway progress is respectable, too, in a car weighing just 850kg. It’s a bit thrashy high in the rev range, but pleasing to listen to thrumming away between 2000 and 4000rpm. 

The car’s even quite good fun to corner. It’s on exactly the same chassis settings as the Suzuki, so although the Pixo rides bumps and troughs a little abruptly, it’s got surprisingly good body control and handling that’s responsive enough to raise a pretty broad smile.

Running costs are low. Revisions in 2012 brought CO2 emissions down by 4g/km to 99g/km, largely thanks to improved aerodynamics.

Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto are better cars than this – better handling, better specced, better performing and more refined – but they are also more expensive than this Nissan.  

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So now you see how clever Nissan Europe has been by pricing this car so low. Were it even a few hundred pounds dearer, it would meet exactly the same fate as Suzuki’s Alto, disappearing into a field of more talented city cars. As it is, though, the Pixo stands out as a route to enjoyable, modern, no-frills motoring.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.