Datsun announced its relaunch over two years ago and its plan to launch in South Africa soon after. Ever since, South Africans have been waiting to hear what the brand has in store for us. And now we can breathe a sigh of relief, because the company has kicked off its local re-introduction with the launch of the Datsun Go hatchback.
I will admit I was sold on the idea – a car for young up-and-comers who are looking to purchase their first set of wheels. A car priced at under R100 000 that comes from a company whose name is not only well known in South Africa, but also well-loved. And on top of that, it comes with the backing of Nissan – a brand that is trusted in South Africa.
It’s not a bad looking vehicle, either. The pictures don’t do it justice. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it pretty, but it’s not offensive. At the front, there are angled headlamps, a shapely bonnet and a large hexagonal grille with silver surrounds and a Datsun badge on its nose. Along the side is a rising shoulder line that carries your eye to the rear where you will notice some hints of the Nissan Micra in the styling. The large rear bumper and angular taillamps give it a bit of a broad look from the back. Should the standard Go not be what customers are looking for, there are various accessories with which to personalise the look. This includes chrome fittings, roof rails, a spoiler and alloy wheels.
I’m not mad about the beige light interior colour, but the look is broken somewhat thanks to a black centre console, air vents and indicator/wiper stalks. I got used to it after a while. Plastic has been used everywhere and because of the low price tag, there is undoubtedly a concern about quality, fit and finish. I can’t make a call about long-term durability, but from what I could establish from my time in the vehicle, the hard plastics are of a decent quality and there was nothing that stood out as a quality issue.
The front seat of the Go is a bench. Very retro and some people may not like it, but I did. It is comfortable and the seat is adjustable in two parts. Other cool throwbacks to cars of yesteryear include a high-mounted gear lever and the umbrella-style handbrake.
Like the exterior, the interior can be personalised with seat covers and other trim items to get it to the tastes of the potential owner.
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES
Measuring in at 3 785 mm in length, 1 635 mm in width, 1 485 mm in height and its wheelbase is 2 450 mm long, the Go is a small hatch, but it feels spacious inside and is supposed to be able to fit up to five passengers comfortably. Datsun claims that it has a luggage capacity of 265 dm3. With an overall weight of under 800 kg, the Go is light and has an economical fuel consumption figure of 5,2 litres/100 km. It has a 35-litre fuel tank, so a low consumption is necessary if you don’t want to spend too much time at the pumps.
ON THE ROAD
Fitted with a 1,2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine that delivers 50 kW and 104 N.m of torque, I didn’t expect the Go to get anywhere really quickly. But I was pleasantly surprised by the nature of this unit. This revvy engine is mated with a five-speed manual transmission with short gearing and there’s the feel of ample power and torque and enough grunt for quick acceleration. Inclines and low revs do need a downshift or two to get momentum, but overall, this engine does a fine job of moving the light Go along. The engine can get a bit noisy though.
The steering is well weighted and offers enough feel and feedback to make the driver feel confident. With a kerb-to-kerb turning radius of 4,6 metres, it was easy to pilot the Go in and around Johannesburg for the local launch route.
There are two spec levels – Mid and Lux – and both offer a decent amount of standard specification at this price point. Standard items across the range include air-conditioner, follow-me-home headlamps, a trip computer with readouts for instantaneous fuel economy, average fuel consumption and distance to empty and a 12-volt accessories socket. The Lux level gets a mobile docking station for smart phone connectivity, an auxiliary connection and a USB port for charging. It also gets manual central locking and speed sensitive power steering. An aftermarket radio is available as an optional extra.
Glaring omissions from the list of standard features is ABS and airbags. I don’t see how new cars can be launched without at least one of these features as standard, or at least an option. On the Go, they’re currently not available at all and that is simply not acceptable. There are some arguments that cars never used to have these features and we did okay without them before, so we can do ok without them now. No, we can’t. Driving conditions have changed since then, there are more cars on the road and drivers are a lot more distracted than ever before. Safety needs to be a top priority for all manufacturers and the bare minimum should be at least a driver-side airbag. Datsun says that it’s looking at making these items available on the Go next year sometime.
I really liked the Go and, admittedly, I would consider it if I were in the market for a new car. Yes, it’s a cheap car that to some may feel as though it’s built to cost. But I was genuinely impressed with it. It has everything it needs to sell well – a clever marketing strategy, a nameplate that people know, the backing and support of a huge manufacturer, dealers and service centres across the country, an engine that’s fun and lively and a price that is very difficult to ignore. Datsun even offers unique financing and insurance options through what it calls Datsun Financial Solutions. But I can’t ignore the fact that, when it comes to important safety features, the Go falls short in a big way.