Nissan Magnite first drive review - A fierce rival, if the price is right!
Nissan has come to the compact-SUV market with all guns blazing, but does the Magnite drive as good as it looks?
Nissan sure knows how to pilot the hype train. From sketches to concepts and endless teasers, to our first look, we’ve waited a long time and sat through many press conferences to get behind the wheel of the Magnite. We drove the 1-litre turbo-petrol engine (there is a 1-litre naturally-aspirated engine on offer too), in both CVT and manual gearbox combinations. And if Nissan prices it right, the Magnite could be a hot seller!
The Magnite’s design also turned a lot of heads , the L-shaped DRLs upfront are distinctive and I like the thin LED headlights too. The grille is quite large, as is the case with most cars in 2020, but it isn’t overly bling-y so it works well. I had a chance to test out the headlights and they do work quite well in the city. The side profile is quite suave with pronounced haunches, plastic cladding and just the right amount of chrome. The 16-inch diamond cut alloys look good, but they look a bit small thanks to the raised suspension setup. The rear-end is kept fairly simple, with split (non-LED) taillamps, bold ‘Magnite’ lettering and the new Nissan badge. Now, since this is our first drive of the Magnite, let’s get right into how the Magnite drives!
In the city
We started the drive with the manual variant of the Magnite, in the hustle and bustle of Mumbai’s rush hour traffic. The Magnite is actually very easy to drive around town; you get a good view out of the window and the pronounced haunches peek at you from the side view mirrors, making it easy to place it through tiny gaps in traffic. The engine is very refined below 3000rpm and has enough low-end torque so you’re not shuffling through the gears the whole time, even second gear can get you going from anything faster than standstill. And when you do shift gears, the five-speed manual feels slick, although the gate isn’t very wide so it takes some time to get accustomed to it. It’s frugal too; you can eke out around 14-16kmpl in the city by driving sensibly. Another thing making the Magnite great for the city is the ride quality. It is plush with a capital P and handles even the worst of potholes with comfort. This, coupled with 205mm of ground clearance means that the Magnite is perfectly treading on the road less travelled.
On the highway
We got our hands on the CVT variant while doing the highway runs and surprisingly it is actually my pick of the two gearboxes, even though it loses 8Nm of torque versus the manual, totalling 152Nm now. Convenience is one thing, but Nissan has calibrated the CVT to trick you into thinking it is actually a conventional auto with cogs. The revs don’t stay constant for too long and at highway speeds the engine stays isn’t too noisy. Take it up to the higher triple-digit numbers and that’s where the 99bhp and 160Nm of torque seem to feel a bit inadequate — the engine makes a loud, rough noise beyond 4000rpm and there’s an audible whine in the cabin too. There’s a Sport button on the CVT which doesn’t exactly turn the Magnite into a GT-R but it does its best to keep you in the power band and makes overtaking slower traffic a breeze. It is also rather planted at highway speeds, in a straight line at least. Come to a corner at speed and the soft suspension set up feels out of its depth, no thanks to the narrow 195 section tyres. The Magnite isn’t happy when driving spiritedly. So if you’re looking for the Thrill of Driving, you’re not going to find it in the Magnite’s driver’s seat.
While we have poked around the Magnite’s cabin, it is only once you drive and live with a car that you get to know how the features come together and whether something is actually useful, or a marketing gimmick. I’ll start with the 7-inch digital instrument cluster. It really is one of the most well executed digital instrument clusters this side of Rs 15 lakh. There’s not ten thousand different bits of information thrown at you, the default screen has a large tacho, a bold speedo readout and that’s about it. You can also flick through to get a fuel efficiency screen which repurposes almost the entire real estate to be a live fuel economy gauge. You also have a more conventional layout where the tacho and speedo are equally sized. The transitions from one layout to another are smooth, the display is crisp and I love the vibrant colours. Yes the majority of our Instagram followers felt it looked childish, but when you actually use it, it works. The 8-inch infotainment screen didn’t strike my fancy at first with it’s spartan layout. But that simple layout makes it dead easy to use while driving, which is what it is intended for. It also supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (although we had trouble getting the latter to work), which makes life easy when coupled with the wireless charger. The wireless charger is part of the tech pack, which also includes the JBL speakers (which sound average at best), air purifier, puddle lamps and ambient lighting. It all comes together to make the Magnite’s cabin one of the most well equipped in the segment.
I spoke about this when we first got a look at the Magnite and I’ll say it again, the Magnite is packaged extremely well and offers more than a comfortable second row of seats. There’s a pair of AC vents back here and a 12-volt socket too. Although a USB port would have been nicer. Even upfront, you don’t feel like you’re in a small car at all, even though the Magnite isn’t as wide as some rivals. Boot space isn’t too great, 336-litres or 690-litres with the seats folded down, but it should be adequate for short trips.
The Magnite is a very good product. It has a tractable engine, a slick manual ‘box and a smooth CVT. And although looks can be subjective, I think the Magnite’s design will turn a lot of heads too. Coupled with the sheer amount of features on offer, prospective buyers could be swayed toward Nissan showrooms. However, when you actually get into the cabin the perception of quality isn’t really there — the doors feel light, the buttons aren’t well damped and most of the surfaces you touch aren’t high quality. But the most important factor here will be price. We expect it to start around Rs 5 to 5.5 lakh, and at that entry point the slightly lower quality materials won’t matter too much. Nissan will announce prices for the Magnite on December 2 so stay tuned for updates!