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Click to view picture gallery“Nissan’s latest super-
  mini is hard to pigeon-
  hole — not that it
  matters what it is so
  much, because it’s
  what it does
  how it does it that’s
  really important...”

GIVING A CAR a name such as NOTE is always going to give the headline writers ample scope to take liberties with its noteworthy (sorry!) name.

The car in question is British designed and engineered and manufactured by Nissan in the UK and is what their marketers call a 'segment buster'. In other words, it has no direct rival. Because it breaks down the conventional barriers between the five-door hatchback and medium-sized car segments.

However, in this day and age, with hard pressed manufacturers constantly trying to be innovative with their products, between- segment cars are really not new.

Nissan sees the five-door Note as a family hatchback with all the associated driving benefits of such a vehicle, combined with the interior space and specification of a larger C-segment car.

In truth, it is a crossover — a hatchback-cum-compact lower-roof
MPV (it is lower in overall height than the Vauxhall Meriva, which is a true compact MPV). The Note fits into the Nissan range above the Micra models, and I suppose its principal contender is the Renault Modus. And while the Note has a longer wheelbase than a VW Golf it
is, in fact, slightly shorter overall.

Hopefully that's given you a better idea as to exactly what a Note is.
If not, try this: a small car trying to provide extra interior legroom, which it does pretty well. The trouble with most compact cars is that they are too small to be of real use. And the emergence of larger hatchbacks such as the new Fiat Grande Punto and the Peugeot 207
is the industry's valid response to customer requirements.

The Note has a 40:60 split sliding rear bench seat which can be moved by up to 160mm (more than six inches) to either increase boot area load space or rear leg room, whatever is required at that particular moment. The load area is quite clever as on most versions it has
a false floor that effectively creates an upper and a lower load area.
The floor between the two sections is reversible — conventional carpet on one side, and an easy-clean waterproof surface on the other.
The load area capacity has a minimum 280 litres of space, which can be increased up to 1,332 litres with the rear seats folded. The front passenger seat can also be reclined flat so that long loads — for example, a roll of carpeting — of up to 2.4 metres can easily be carried.

Other storage areas (and folding trays on some models) are positioned throughout the vehicle. The 9-litre glovebox, which can be heated or cooled on SE and SVE versions, is another bright, and handy, feature. Power sockets for children's electronic games (or charging mummy's mobile phone) are also positioned at various points throughout the car. There's also a secret storage tray under the front passenger seat. Altogether the interior offers quite a clever package and one that is definitely worthy of note.

Prices range from 9,995 up to 12,995, and the line-up includes the choice of 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines and a 1.5 dCi diesel unit. All models have a five-speed manual transmission although S, SE and SVE 1.6-litre petrol models are also available with a four-speed automatic gearbox.

I tried the likely best-seller, the 1.4-litre SE, which comes with a price tag of 10,995 plus 350 extra for metallic paint, so the real price is 11,345. Because the UK motor industry is hard pressed at the moment with more cars than buyers in most sectors, I think you will be able to get a reasonable discount on that price, despite the fact that initial demand for the Note — launched in March this year — has been very good.

This particular Note comes fitted as standard with the following:
15-inch 8-spoke alloy wheels, a single CD player/RDS radio with six speakers, four electric windows, powered and heated door mirrors,
a family pack consisting of storage nets, foldaway tables, front and rear centre armrests, manual air conditioning, the Flexi-Board boot storage system, driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, active front head restraints and ABS with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution.

The 1,386cc, four-cylinder 87bhp petrol engine is a sweet unit and proved to be responsive and willing. It's no ball of fire to be sure, but once you are through the acceleration zone the car cruises quite happily even fully-laden at maximum motorway cruising speeds. The overall fuel consumption during my week-long test period was 46.7mpg — almost two miles per gallon better than the official figure of 44.8mpg. Something else that's noteworthy.

The handling was generally very good because the suspension is quite stiff and keeps the car under control. And since it is relatively narrow, there was some side wind buffeting on exposed roads but generally that is not an issue. Around town the car was light and nimble and easy to drive and park. The stiff suspension does not iron-out the worst of the bumps so the ride can be unsettled on poorer surfaces.

Overall, the Nissan Note represents a good family package. It is well equipped, has good passenger space and versatile load carrying flexibility, seems well made, is reasonably priced and its styling — particularly at the front — is 'young' and fresh looking. Set against that is a firm ride over bumpy surfaces and the occasional proneness to
side wind buffeting on exposed roads. Generally, it's good to drive. Cost wise, some higher-specification models are comparatively pricey. Worth mentioning also is the fact that Auto Express named it the Best Supermini MPV of 2006. And that certainly hits the right note. So, if you're in the market for such a vehicle, Nissan's latest segment buster is certainly worth... taking note of! — David Miles

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Nissan Note 1.4 SE 5-door
| 10,995
Maximum speed: 103mph | 0-62mph: 13.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 46.7mpg | Power: 87bhp | Torque: 94lb ft

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------------------------------------------------------------------------- Nissan Note