JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – Nissan South Africa announced the relaunch of the Datsun brand some four years ago, kicking things off with the budget-beating Go hatchback (the seven-seater Go+ followed near the end of 2016). In pure sales terms, the local revival of the brand has proved a success within the still-competitive A-segment, with nearly 25 000 units registered in South Africa thus far.
Having touched down at an attractive R89 500 back in 2014, the Datsun Go hatch maintains its wallet-friendly position in this market with the mid-cycle facelift priced from R144 500 for the entry-level "Mid" to R165 500 for the range-topping "Lux" derivative driven here (small increases over the outgoing models). Of course, at this budget-conscious end of the market, price and standard specification play essential roles, with Datsun SA wisely choosing to add some safety kit alongside the aesthetic upgrades.
So, what's different?
On the exterior of this Lux derivative, you'll find a revised front facia, complete with vertically positioned LED daytime running lights fitted to its lower reaches. Round back, the redesigned bumper now houses parking sensors as standard. A new honeycomb-effect grille and 14-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels have also been added to the mix (the outgoing model rode on 13-inch items).
Move inside, and arguably the most obvious change you'll notice is the addition of a high-definition seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system (neatly integrated into the facia) that is compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus offers Bluetooth connectivity. The system is intuitive in its operation with only light touches needed, while the icons on the screen are chunky enough to render it simple to use on the move.
The removal of the bench-like front seating arrangement is another significant alteration, with the two front perches now clearly separated to create room for two additional cupholders and a storage bin. The inclusion of a conventional handbrake rather than one that is pulled out from the facia is a welcome upgrade that makes pulling away on an incline less of a fuss.
As can be expected from a budget offering, hard plastics are common throughout the interior. That said, perceived interior build quality seems solid and our launch unit was squeak-and-rattle-free even over bumpy Gauteng roads. This Lux variant gains silver interior accents on the gear lever, steering wheel and door handles as well as faux-carbon-fibre trim on the facia and door inserts. It furthermore features a rear window washer-jet and wiper.
And the additional safety kit?
Yes, the big news here is the inclusion of ABS and two front passenger airbags as standard. When a safe opportunity arose, we conducted an emergency braking test from an indicated 80 km/h. Interestingly, on initial bite the front tyres locked briefly (leaving two short black lines on the asphalt) before the ABS system fully engaged. CAR magazine is, of course, keen to put this updated Go through its unforgiving 10-stop brake test to accurately record the performance of the tweaked braking set-up.
In a Global NCAP crash test of the SA-spec (pre-facelift) Datsun Go+, the vehicle received a single star for adult occupancy and two for child occupancy protection, with its body shell integrity rated as "unstable". Datsun SA has yet to reveal whether any steps have been taken to improve the structural rigidity of this updated model.
Tell me more about the ride...
As with the outgoing Go, this model is imported into South Africa from Chennai, India. Riding on Nissan's V platform, a chassis shared with the previous-generation Micra, the updated Go is powered by an unchanged 1,2-litre, naturally aspirated, three-cylinder petrol mill sending its 50 kW and 104 N.m to the front axle. This motor is shared with the entry-level Nissan Micra Active, although in the latter it features an additional six kilowatts. It's a rev-happy engine and the possibly still the highlight of the package.
The five-speed manual gearbox needs to be frequently stirred, particularly on hill-heavy sections of Gauteng's freeways, for the vehicle to maintain sufficient momentum. Indeed, some planning ahead (plus the dropping of a cog or two for swift overtaking manoeuvres) is required in order to keep up with traffic. The engine reaches its indicated redline at 5 250 r/min quickly when pushed, and provides linear power delivery. Claimed consumption comes in at 5,2 L/100 km but over the course of our launch route (admittedly comprised predominantly of highway driving) we saw a return of 6,4 L/100 km.
The suspension is softly sprung and does a good job of ironing out road imperfections. A drawback of such a setup, though, is considerable body roll through corners, even at low speeds. Up the ante on the open road, and the speed-sensitive steering weights up somewhat, but still remains a little too light, exhibiting a certain vagueness off centre. Still, the Go delivers a more reassuring highway cruise than the likes of a Renault Kwid, feeling more settled and offering better NVH levels.
With added peace of mind thanks to that brace of airbags and ABS, plus the addition of a modern infotainment centre, the Go should continue to sell well in our market, with the Mid model looking like the best value. It may lack the sophistication of, say, a Kia Picanto, but the Go now ticks a few important boxes, while still offering a comfortable ride, an impressive (for the segment) standard features list and useful interior practicality.
Ultimately, the Datsun Go has been successfully nipped and tucked to provide a more appealing overall package. We'll have to wait to conduct a full road test of the refreshed hatchback to make a definitive call regarding the braking performance. And, of course, we'll keep a keen eye out for any fresh crash-test results...