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JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – Since the introduction of the Go in 2014, Datsun South Africa has sold more than 32 000 examples of its little budget car. Interestingly, some 8 000 of those cars came from the facelifted range, introduced late in 2018.

With that mid-cycle refresh came many improvements. Aside from visual enhancements, more crucial additions such as dual front airbags and ABS were added as standard. While the little hatchback has received steady styling, technology and safety improvements over its life, the only available gearbox until recently has been the five-speed manual.

With popular rivals such as the Renault Kwid and Kia Picanto offering two-pedal options, Datsun SA has seen fit to launch the Go CVT. I headed to Johannesburg to see whether the new transmission is a good fit for the diminutive hatchback. Handily, I've spent plenty of time behind the wheel of the manual model (having been the joint-custodian of an example in our long-term fleet) so am well placed to compare the two gearboxes.

Apart from a small "CVT" badge affixed to the tailgate, the clutchless Go looks the same as the manual model. I quickly hopped into the newcomer, which was painted in a newly available Vivid Blue hue. Much like the exterior, there haven't been many changes to the interior of the Go, apart from the obvious: a new gear selector. One interesting update, however, is the inclusion of a new Alliance Radio seven-inch infotainment system. Much like the previous touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard, along with Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port. While the previous system was already rather intuitive, the latest example builds on that, with simplified controls making it even more of a doddle to use.

On the road, the Go CVT comes across as a little more refined than its manual sibling, with the usually vocal 1,2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine seemingly a bit more hushed. Engine vibrations appear to have been reduced too, with far fewer disturbances felt through the interior, particularly the steering wheel. Still, as with the majority of CVTs, the revs surge under enthusiastic acceleration, spilling unwanted engine noise into the cabin.

Interestingly, the CVT-equipped Go produces 7 kW more than the manual derivative, with 57 kW available at 6000 r/min, while the torque figure is unchanged at 104 N.m. Despite the power increase, Datsun claims the new addition to the range is more frugal, sipping at a claimed 5,0 L/100 km.

On pullaway, the CVT leaves the Go feeling a touch lethargic, particularly when compared with the quicker response of the manual equivalent. However, once up to speed the self-shifting Go keeps up with traffic well, the CVT happily avoiding high revs unless input from the accelerator pedal instructs it to. Operation of the CVT is via a chunky gear selector. While there's no manual override, there is at least a sport button that allows for slightly more spirited driving.

Besides the new transmission, the CVT-equipped Go boasts another significant feature that the manual variant does without: a vehicle stability control (VSC) system and ESC, further improving the vehicle's safety features. Other safety updates see the inclusion of a seatbelt reminder for the front passenger, while further peace of mind comes thanks to a six-year/150 000 km warranty.

On the highway, the Go exhibits surprising refinement for a car in this segment, with the engine spinning at 2 500 r/min at around 120 km/h, which is commendable for a small-capacity, three-cylinder unit.

While the CVT-equipped Go certainly provides more choice to buyers in this segment, with a price of R184 200 it's a not insignificant R14 000 more expensive than the manual Lux model. With a light clutch and easy-to-operate gearbox, the manual is simple to drive around town and feels more responsive, too. If, however, your commute is a traffic-laden one, and the added safety features appeal to you, the CVT could make a compelling alternative if you already had your heart set on a Go. 

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.

The verdict

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...

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