NISMO division of Nissan identifies India as potential market

The Motorsports division of Nissan – NISMO has identified India as an important market for them in the future. However, nothing has been finalized as on date as the project is still being considered. The President of NISMO, Shoichi Miyatani shared his opinions on this project with us. He said that the company was undertaking a study of the Indian auto market for a possible introduction of NISMO variants of Nissan’s sports cars in the country. They also expressed their intention of taking part in various sports events including rallies and motorsport racing in India.

Nissan has identified the potential of the Indian auto market and given it top billing and was hopeful of being able to introduce their line-up of sports cars into those countries, where they have market presence albeit in other segments. India topped the list of such types of market as the company enjoyed a reasonable market share in the country having four successful models selling here. These include the Nissan Micra in the hatchback segment, the Nissan Sunny in the sedan segment, Nissan X-trail in the SUV segment and the Nissan Teana. All these vehicles have shown their presence on Indian roads. With India becoming a popular hub for motorsports gives Nissan all the more reasons to bring in the NISMO to India. The motor sporting arena within the country received a significant boost with F1 coming to India. Awareness of this category is therefore gaining significant strength.

NISMO division of Nissan identifies India as potential marketThe NISMO from Nissan has been slowly gaining importance even in their home country of Japan. The overall image of the company is being given somewhat of a resurrection, though the company had been formed in 1984. Cars from NISMO have been participating in various sports and rallies in Japan. It has also registered its presence in the segment of selling sports cars other than structuring and designing.  However, all these activities have been confined to Japan as of today. In the Tokyo Motor Show of 2011, Nissan has showcased their latest concept vehicle Nissan Juke Nismo.

Nissan Juke Nismo

Fiat Grande Punto vs Nissan Micra vs Hyundai I20 vs Maruti Ritz vs Volkswagen Polo vs Skoda Fabia


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Since doing a 4 bikes comparison on our bikes page, I am being forced to conduct one such comparison here for the cars. This actually left me pondering as to how to go about comparing 4 cars at a time. However not one to be stuck, I roped in some of my colleagues from office and set about the big task of conducting a comparison. But here we outdid ourselves with not 4 but 6 of India’s most desirable cars. Yes, you read it right. It is a 6 cars comparison that we have got here. And what best to compare than the diesel small cars and ones which claim to be macro hatches. So without further ado, here is the comparison of all these 6 cars on Indiandrives.com.

Looks

Well, I am not going to categorize the cars based on their names and then point out each detail. Instead it would be a mix of which car will appeal to the prospective customer. Out of the 6 cars here, it will be the Volkswagen Polo and the Nissan Micra which would be brought basically for their looks. A Volkswagen Polo in India in red color is similar to Pamela Anderson in bikini. For the Nissan Micra in India, it is more like the Minnisha Lamba in throngs. The Polo’s strong Teutonic designs and solid German engineering lend it an air of flamboyance. The Micra on the other hand cuts across as a cute figure with that half eaten apple look for a grille. The Fiat Punto in India used to be the design king but no longer. Its lines are ageing now and especially in some colors, the Punto looks just like the Palio. The Skoda Fabia in India has undergone a bit of a mild refresh however it still looks like a Fabia and gets a more functional boxy form. The Maruti Ritz in India is more of a crossover hatch and has CR-V like tail lamps with A-star like front end. The Hyundai I20 in India is the forbearer of the “fluidic concept” design language echoed by the Korean manufacturer nowadays. Not enough to attract the eyeballs but like the others, highly functional form.

So the winner of this round is the Volkswagen Polo followed closely by the Nissan Micra, Hyundai I20, Skoda Fabia, Fiat Punto and the Maruti Ritz.

Interiors

You wouldn’t buy a car just for its looks and there are many other factors which count in. Most importantly for Indians, it has got to be space. So, the ones giving maximum space in the interiors are welcome. So the ones who won the beauty pageant step down and now it would be the reverse order. The Maruti Ritz in India by virtue of its tall boy design gives more head room than the others. Even for taller passengers, it is very easy to get in and out. Quality of materials used is also good and the 236 liters of boot space is also very usable. Next comes the Hyundai I20 in India and one can easily notice that this is the biggest hatch in its category and all this translates to good interior space. There are many goodies on offer too and it is the only car in this category to have steering mounted audio controls and also AUX input. Sitting three along isn’t a problem for this hatch. Boot space is the second largest in this comparison at 290 liters. The Skoda Fabia in the meanwhile gets the best front seats in the house and overall German engineering which means the layout of the dash is pretty simple and intuitive. Back seat space is at par with the Ritz, though the Ritz with its taller proportions has overall good space. Boot space is the biggest in this lot at 315 liters. The Fiat Punto in India has good front seats and solidly put together interiors however somewhere down the line, the use of materials is a bit iffy. Rear seat space is marginally better than the Polo and boot space of 280 liters is marred by suspension intrusions. The Volkswagen Polo in India has very supportive front seats and a better finish than sister concern Skoda Fabia. The overall ambience inside the cabin is excellent with good fit and finish and the use of beige and dark plastics. The rear seat space however is at a premium and taller passengers would be pressing their knees against the front seats. Boot space however is a tad lower than that of the Skoda Fabia at 294 liters. The Nissan Micra in India also uses a better space utilization inside the cabin than what its small footprint outside may suggest. Rear seat space however is more than what the Polo and Punto have to offer. Boot space however is the smallest in this test at 226 liters.

The Hyundai I20 wins this round followed by the Maruti Ritz, Skoda Fabia, Nissan Micra, Fiat Punto and Volkswagen Polo.

Handling and ride quality

All the cars here feature almost similar layouts as far as suspension is concerned. Out of all the cars here, the Nissan’s motor is the most silent followed by the others. Modern day diesels have been so engineered to give their petrol cousins the run for the money. The Nissan Micra has a somewhat jittery ride quality but given its small size, the handling is okay but would enthuse the enthusiast.However for those looking for ride comfort, it is the Hyundai I20 which dishes it out in dollops however the smaller Maruti Ritz provides both in equal doses and that is given on any condition of the road. The Fiat Punto has that typical Fiat firm ride quality however in the handling stakes, it is behind its petrol powered sibling with body roll being very pronounced while going around corners. The steering wheel doesn’t give too many inputs as of such. The Hyundai I20 also suffers from the same problem and body roll is more than the Punto. The steering wheel is ultra light in the city but has that lifeless feeling on the highway. Alarming sometimes. Engine noise is also on the higher side. The German twins have a firm ride quality but the dampers on the Skoda Fabia are a bit more pliant. The Polo is the one to go for pure handling thrills. Its steering wheel is a bit imprecise but the chassis more than makes up for it. The Skoda Fabia in the meanwhile is not much of handler but can handle the handling duties when called upon. It is the more silent of the Germans here as well.

Opinions would be divided here but then the overall ride and handling package goes to the Ritz with is virtue of being one of the most silent cars in this comparison.

Engine, performance and fuel efficiency

Most of the cars here share engines like the Maruti Ritz and the Fiat Punto, though the peak power output is different. The Skoda Fabia and the Volkswagen Polo share their engines in the same state of tune. The Hyundai I20 and the Nissan Micra have 1.4 liter engines but with a contrast in the power figures. The main motive behind all these engines however is fuel efficiency, driveability and low NVH. The Maruti Ritz is the complete package which achieves all this and without much effort. Its 1248 cc Multijet engine brings in 76 Ps of peak power at 4000 rpm whereas the torque figure reads as 190 Nm at 2000 rpm. It is mated to a 5 speed manual transmission. Since I have extensively test driven, compared or even reviewed all these cars elsewhere on our portal, I would refrain from making any high speed runs or performance figures. I would focus more on driveability. So the Maruti Ritz diesel does make sense as far as the latter is concerned. Its calm and composed manner as also the way it handles at speeds makes it a very good car here. The gear shifts are also butter smooth. Next is the Hyundai I20. Now, the I20 has a weak bottom end and a peaky power delivery. Like the 1.5 CRDi in the Verna, this engine also doesn’t have a linear power band. It is the only car here to feature a 6 speed manual transmission. This car however doesn’t like to be hurried. Next up is the Fiat Punto. The Fiat Punto has the same 1.3 liter engine but on papers puts the maximum power output out of all these cars here. It rakes in 93 Ps of power with 210 Nm of torque. It has got driveability akin to the Ritz but its gearshift lags behind that of the Ritz. The gears feel a bit notchy and don’t encourage spirited driving.

Next up is the Nissan Micra. The Micra however from its 1.4 liter engine only has a peak power of 64 Ps and torque of 160 Nm. It gets a 5 speed gearbox which sometimes baulks. However for the majority of times, it is smooth. The engine revs up nicely and this car is also good as far as driveability stakes go. The German brothers have a engine which makes do with massive turbo lag and driving them in traffic can be a bit of chore. The saving grace is that both have superb gear boxes which try to eliminate the turbo lag as far as possible. Even then smooth progress isn’t their forte.

All these cars have good brakes with ABS, except for the Nissan Micra. For the safety thing, all cars are evenly specced with the Hyundai I20 being the cream of the lot with 6 airbags and other safety gadgets.

As far as fuel efficiency goes, all these cars have fuel efficiency in excess of 17 kmpl on an overall however the Maruti Ritz in India and the Hyundai I20 steal the honors for the top fuel efficiency stakes.

Overall, it is a tough fight between the Maruti Ritz and the Hyundai I20 as far as engine configuration comes into picture. However the Maruti ekes forward by a slight margin due to its driveability quotient.

Verdict

The toughest time. All these cars are equally competent in one way or the other. If its safety that is bothering you, the Hyundai I20 is the safest thing that you can lay your hands on. If its looks, it’s the Volkswagen Polo. If its looks and interior space, then it is the Skoda Fabia. If cuteness appeals to you, then the Nissan Micra will tickle your funny bones. If utility is your forte then the Maruti Ritz would be your grand prize and if fun to drive characteristics along with decent space is your cup of coffee, then the Fiat Punto is up for grabs. However diverse characters that they may display, there has to be a winner and there is one. It is the Maruti Ritz. The Maruti Ritz price in India is also the lowest at Rs 5.35 lakhs with the highest price tag commanded by the Hyundai I20 at Rs 7.33 lakhs. The others slot in neatly in between. The Nissan Micra retails at Rs 6.33 lakhs while the Skoda Fabia is available for Rs 6.82 lakhs. The Volkswagen Polo Highline is for Rs 7.01 lakhs while the Fiat Punto Emotion is for Rs 7.02 lakhs.

So the Maruti Ritz in India is the new diesel king.

Ford Figo versus Nissan Micra

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The Ford Figo in India unanimously won the “Car of the Year” award at almost all of the auto awards function speaks volumes about its capabilities. The first time when I set my eyes on a Ford Figo, I thought it to be a mini Fusion and believe me, I wasn’t much off the mark. Even the fully loaded Titanium variant lacked rear power windows and this annoyed me. The absence of alloy wheels also made me think about Ford’s strategy with this hatchback but then when they revealed the price of Rs 3.43 lakhs for the base variant, revelation dawned upon me. Now, I wouldn’t be the right person at this time to comment on the Ford’s demerits ever since it has been crowned the winner but then Nissan Motors India Limited threw a bomb at us in the form of the Nissan Micra in India. Time for the swords to be drawn and whether or not, the new challenger usurps the throne unofficially from the king to be seen. Since the Ford Figo diesel variant out sells its petrol variant, we have pitted both the diesel variants of the cars and that too, as always, high end ones. So here comes Ford Figo versus Nissan Micra.

Looks

Ford Figo- Too much of Ford Fusion cues abound and this is very evident from the nose of the car. The Ford Figo in India has a wide gaping air dam whereas the front grille is a small aperture. The Blue Oval logo sits proudly  atop the chrome lined horizontal slat. The tear drop head lamps seem somewhat wicked on this small hatch. There are fog lamp slats provided but then there aren’t any lamps present. The side profile shows blacked out pillars in the car. The mirrors are body colored as are the door handles. The 14 inch wheels with wheel covers fitted over them don’t look elegant. From the rear, the Ford Fusion cues are abundant and there is a single wiper doing duty as well.



Nissan Micra-
Well, I have always maintained that the Nissan Micra in India looks cute and is more in the league of the Fiat 500 and the Volkswagen Beetle rather than as a less pricey everyday automobile. The diesel retains all that design cues. The apple cut front face also follows the Figo’s design theme with a bigger air dam and lower front grille. The fog lamps are very small units and are embedded in the integrated bumper. The Nissan Micra diesel gets 15 inch alloy wheels and they are of the subtle types. The rear end features a good hatch release which feels very chunky to hold. The small glass area is effectively cleaned by the single wiper.

So who wins this round, obviously, the Nissan Micra dCi.

Interiors

Ford Figo– If comfort is what you are looking for, then the Ford Figo in India is the better option of the two. Its front seat or to be specific, the driver seat requires some callisthenics to get in(strictly 6 foot plus people and above). Once in, you get quite intimate with the dashboard as your knees would be rubbing against it. The 3 spoke steering wheel seems derived from the old Ford F250 pickup truck. I just love the coral hue of the interiors, seen especially in the top end variant of the Ford Figo.This car is heavy on some unthinkable features whereas low on some essentials. The latter has been already discussed. The techno geeks would find the Bluetooth synchronization useful as is the audio streaming facility from the MP3 player. The Ford however misses out on steering adjust and also some of the creature comforts that you would expect. Rear sear space is also good for a small hatch and even the under thigh support is excellent. However the taller passengers would most likely get their hair styles messed up due to the sloping roof line. The boot space is also a usable lot with it swallowing upto 2 big suitcases. Cubby holes abound with deep door map pockets.

Nissan Micra- The Nissan Micra in India comes with different spec levels than its European counterpart. It has got front seats aided partly by the adjustable steering column and the smaller diameter steering wheel. It has also got climate control, CD/MP3 player and also an aux input. It also gets a segment first, the push button engine start/stop system. The upholstery uses a combination of beige and grey. The stalks and controls also seem better than the ones on the Ford Figo. Rear seat space however seems a bit tight and lacking in the under thigh region. The door handles also seem derived from the Nissan GTR and that is absolutely not a bad thing. It has got electric folding mirrors and also better head room at the rear. There is a general feeling of quality everywhere in the cabin for the Nissan Micra dCi. The door map pockets aren’t so deep and can barely hold a thing in place. The boot space though is a tad smaller than the Ford’s but then it compensates by way of its deepness.

It would be the Nissan Micra dCi winning this round with its feature laden list.

Handling and ride quality

Ford Figo– The Ford Figo in India comes with independent McPherson struts at the front and non-independent twist beam at the rear. This setup helps it achieve the best of both the worlds. The ride at low speeds is a bit jiggly however it doesn’t feel that way once the speeds rise. The car effectively smothers all road imperfections once it is in its element. The steering as with all Fords is very direct and delivers the best feedback in its class, the Maruti Swift included. The hydraulic assisted unit isn’t too light at city speeds but then, it is full of feel. As far as the handling goes, the Ford Figo handles corners with aplomb. It is left wanting in the engine department as the not so powerful engine cannot power the car effectively out of a corner. Using the chassis from the old generation European Fiesta has certainly helped matters for this car and bumped up the comfort quotient. Engine noise is well insulated from the occupants till speeds of upto 100 kmph however once the speeds rise up, the diesel clatter is evident.

Nissan Micra- The Nissan Micra in India also comes with the same suspension set up as the Ford Figo, with only a difference of non independent torsion beam at the rear. The ride quality at low speeds is definitely composed than the Figo’s but then it becomes nervous and fidgety once the speeds climb up. It doesn’t seem to like road abrasions at high speeds and tends to display a bob/pitch action. The handling is more tuned for the city use where the electronic power steering with its light feel, delivers an easy driving experience. Ranbir Kapoor had me convinced in the ads and now I can feel it in the real sense of the word. The ultra light steering wheel is a joy to operate however the same cannot be said of it at high speeds. It lacks the feel of the Ford Figo’s unit at highway speeds. Engine noise is also a bit more muffled than the Ford’s. Female buyers would be delighted with the all round visibility and easy going nature of the Nissan Micra diesel.

Of course, it would the Ford Figo winning this round.

Engine, performance and fuel efficiency

Ford Figo– The Ford Figo in India uses the same diesel motor as derived from the Ford Fiesta in India. The 1.4 liter 4 cylinder engine pumps out 68 Bhp of peak power and 160 Nm of torque. It is mated with one of the slickest 5 speed manual transmissions in the market. The short gearing and easy shifting gears help overcome the power deficit that this car possess. It races from 0-100 kmph in 16.33 seconds and reaches a top speed of 138 kmph. The diesel engine as I had experienced from the Ford Fiesta is a responsive unit but then it doesn’t take kindly to be been revved. The clutch action is also very light. In gear roll on figures are also okay for its segment but then it is nothing exceptional.

Braking is achieved via discs at the front and drums at the rear. The Ford Figo Tdci Titanium variant also gets ABS and ESP as part of its package. Brake feel could have been a bit better on this though. As far as safety goes, Ford Motors India Limited have offered the car with dual air bags, collapsible steering column and three point seat belts.

Fuel efficiency is what the puny motor delivers in spades. It gives 14.1 kmpl in the city whereas the shorter gearing sees it deliver only 18.5 kmpl on the highway.

Nissan Micra- The 1.5 liter 4 cylinder diesel engine for the Nissan Micra in India is derived from the Renault Logan. This engine makes 63 Bhp and 160 Nm of torque. Though low in capacity and power output than the competition here, the Micra more than makes up with its low kerb weight of 1008 kgs, which is about 120 kgs less than the Ford Figo. But this engine has almost no turbo lag and helps in propelling the car from 0-100 kmph in a good 15.7 seconds. The widespread torque and its linear power delivery coupled with the free revving nature of the motor helps this car to achieve a top speed of 143 kmph. The engine does sound  a bit strained at this speeds but then, not much than the Figo’s. Due to negligible turbo lag, this engine even fares better in the in gear roll on figures. This car is geared tall in the interests of eking out better fuel economy(ARAI promising 23 kmpl).

The brake pedal feel is exemplary in the Nissan with the car offering discs at the front and progressive drums at the rear. Unfortunately, in the interests of cost cutting, ABS has been skimped. Not that I missed it much in the testing phase but then in emergency situations, it would definitely be a life saver.

Speaking of skimping, the company has also skimped on giving a passenger airbag, even as an option. The other safety aids are driver airbag, side intrusion beams, seat belts and collapsible steering column.

Fuel efficiency is where even the Renault Logan derived motor shines. It delivered 14.6 kmpl in the city and the highway figure was somewhat close to what ARAI claimed, at 20.5 kmpl.

This one goes to the Nissan Micra dCi for its frugal and easy driving nature.

Verdict

This is one test that I can say with confidence that it wasn’t evenly matched contest. Actually most of the test was dominated by one player, that is the Nissan Micra in India with its Nissan Micra dCi model. The Ford Figo in India, with its Ford Figo Tdci Titanium model seems to have been dethroned. The Ford Figo is not a car for first time buyers but more so for the people in the age group of 28-40. It has good space, small footprint, fuel efficient engine and also creature comforts(that is debatable if one would prefer rear power windows or Bluetooth connectivity). The Ford Figo price in India for the top end diesel model is Rs 5.44 lakhs (ex-showroom, Mumbai). Now, the Nissan Micra in India, on the other hand is more of a car for those first timers or female drivers. It is more easy to drive, is more fuel efficient, has almost all the creature comforts one would expect from it(except for safety and Bluetooth). The Nissan Micra price in India is Rs 6.02 lakhs (ex-showroom, Mumbai). With this price difference, you get a fully loaded car but then at a lesser price, the Ford Figo Titanium makes more sense. The choice is yours.