I drove the Datsun GO. It wasn't too bad. Really.
No, that's not the end of my drive report. SEO, I'm told by my Google-obsessed techie friends at office, is very critical. The first couple of statements in the main body text of any article should ideally contain the keywords on what the entire article is about. So, now that I've scored a home-run on Google placement, let me write in peace about what the GO is all about.
I'm aware that a certain section of users would want this piece to get straight down to the car, and wouldn't care knowing about what Datsun means for the automotive fraternity. I don't care about what they want or think, so I would still go ahead and dig - only slightly - into the pages of motoring history.
Datsun, as a corporate brand, was created in 1931, but its actually history goes back 17 more years - to 1914. Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works was founded in 1911, and its first car, DAT, was produced in 1914. The acronym was homage to the company's partners - Kenjiro Den, Rokuro Aoyama and Meitaro Takeuchi. In 1925, the company's named was changed to DAT Motorcar Co. In 1930, there was a regulation passed by the Japanese government that allowed cars under 500cc to be driven without a licence. DAT started manufacturing 495cc cars that would sell in this newly created market segment and those were called Datson. The name was later changed to Datsun, and that stayed forever after that.
The fact that Datsun is making a comeback after 27 years has been charred by the media, so I'm going to refrain from speaking about that and skip straight to the GO now. The company officials may go to the market saying that the GO is a substantially styled car that's ticks the 'attractive' box on the looks chart. It's not. The Datsun GO is all about functional design - so it's basically a fairly ordinary looking car with quite a spacious cabin. Make no mistake, it's modern, sure, but conventional. Still, it's a damn side better looking than the hopelessly lackluster Alto. Eon is still the most edgy and modern in the micro-hatch space.
The front end is basically all about announcing the Datsun brand to the people - it's dominated by a large hexagonal honeycomb grille and the geometric theme is continued in the headlamp cluster too - which is fairly large in itself! There're a couple of marketable USPs like the speed-sensitive windscreen wipers (it's a whippletree linkage, so a single unit wipes across), and the follow-me-home headlamp which is a flaunt-item that cars in much higher segments come equipped with. The rear end, too, is fairly straightforward and the 'boomerang' profile is used all across the design quite unobtrusively.
The guys who work in the cabin-design department of Nissan / Datsun don't have a life I'm sure. Their colour palate is extensive - as long as it is grey. That says it, no? The Micra, Sunny and now, the GO, all stand proof of that. I must laud the company here - the bosses surely are compassionate towards this group of design chaps, that's why they've kept them still and they've worked their 'magic' on the latest global product, too. The overspill of grey notwithstanding, the plastics feel sturdy and I think will serve well over the years. Datsun could, however, work a bit on fit-and-finish as we did encounter some rattling bits in the cabin.
I'm not so concerned about the open glovebox, but the parking-brake lever sticking out of the dashboard is just stupid. It fouls with the left knee. I'm not overly fond of the front bench design either. Datsun says it's a clever thing to do as it helps a person slide out from either side in tight parking spots. Now, I have a bit of an issue with that. Who, in his rational state of mind would come up to an empty spot, which would only just be wide enough for doors on one side to open, and say, "Yes, that's tight enough and I'll park my car exactly there because I like being a turd and see other people stupidly squeeze themselves into their cars." That's just plain anti-social. Why wouldn't you park a few spaces away where there's enough room for your car and not be an imbecile? You'll walk a little, so you'd be that bit healthier, and no one would lose their sanity, so the world would be that bit better.
I expect the bench at the front to be used to fit in an additional passenger instead - especially in smaller towns. Now, that's okay if the person sitting in the middle is cool with getting his legs chopped off. And his buttocks as well, to allow the far-end passenger to use the seatbelt clamp. I suspect finding such a cooperative person will be difficult. For any regular human being sitting in the middle, it'll be quite an awkward experience. He may be touched inappropriately.
And what's with that 'entertainment unit'? All you get in the Datsun GO is a very plain head unit that's got an aux-in jack and a USB. And no, the USB doesn't play your music; it's there just to charge your electronic device. And there's a mobile phone holder - that is offered as an accessory, mind you - which is mounted on a very rickety clamp and with a phone in place, the entire arrangement obstructs the throw from the air-con vent.
There's another issue with this entertainment system, as I see it. I'm a guy who doesn't like to crowd my phone with music - no, really, I don't - and to keep me entertained with some tunes, I will have to buy an alternative device - an MP3 player, an iPod or the like. That's an unnecessary expenditure that I'd like to avoid. The GO is going to be in the (very) price sensitive bracket and these are indirect expenses that will only add (indirectly) to the vehicle cost and Datsun should've kept that in mind.
That said, the space inside is great. The seat squabs are thin and may not give an impression of being comfortable units, but the shape and padding does make them quite good to spend time on. One glaring concern is that the seatbelts at the rear have no retractors with intertial locking mechanism so they'll have to be manually adjusted all the time. Plus, the lack of door pocket in the back does make things worse.
Mechanically, the GO is rather sorted. The tyres are thin and tiny (13 inches) and the car does exhibit substantial body-roll. The GO should come with a sticker - "Statutory Warning: Don't drive like a lunatic; this car has a tendency to tip over on one side". But if you know what you're doing, it can be quite a playful thing too! The steering feels detached and lacks any real feel. The chassis feels very balanced though, and the GO would make for an exciting car if fitted with larger wheels and wider, better tyres. The ride quality is extremely good and the suspension doesn't go into trauma even when going over large potholes - a big annoyance with the Eon and Alto. The Datsun GO does give you that big-car feel which others in the segment don't and that in itself is quite an achievement.
The 1.2-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine is unexpectedly good. I thought it'll suffer from breathlessness but it pulled briskly all the way till 140 clicks we managed on the speedo. The refinement lower down the revs is good and pootling around at city-speeds would be a no-fuss affair but the motor really gets all its energy together when you go beyond 1800rpm. It's only when you start being a bit brash with the accelerator pedal in each gear that the engine becomes coarse. The sound isn't very pleasing.
But after all the criticism, as much as I'd like to dislike the GO, I must confess that Datsun has done a decent job with it. It's all about what the other manufacturers don't offer in that price bracket (3-4 lakhs) - space and comfort. The cabin and luggage space is massive for its segment and the ride quality is simply the best of the lot. What Nissan-Datsun need now is to spread their network at a rapid pace. What good is a car like the GO if you can't get it to the crucial markets that show promise towards such a product? So come on then, chop-chop... get on it!
Meanwhile, I'll just go and drive it like a lunatic one more time - it's simply hilariously entertaining around bends. The silly roll-angles almost make your heart skip a few beats!
Engine: 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder, DOHC
Gearbox: 5-speed manual