The Note is one of those cars that tries to fill a niche in the market that in reality barely exists. Based on the Clio platform, it comes across as somewhat larger than its progenitor, but in fact there is only 80 mm in it. However, its boxy shape is certainly designed to offer more space than you would find in the traditional style-oriented supermini. When I first lifted the hatch of the test car, I was far from convinced that the designers had succeeded, as the boot area appeared really rather small. However, when I opened the rear doors and saw an acre of leg room, I remembered that, like a few cars of this type, the rear seats are on a slide, and the car was delivered with maximum legroom and minimum boot space configured. Not only that, but the rather shallow looking boot can be made significantly deeper by removing the reversible panels of the false floor. These simply lift out. The rear seat backrests drop onto the cushion, creating a large, but not flat load area.
The front part of the cabin is designed for practicality, too. There is a very large glovebox, with a sizeable cubby area in front of, and a useful area in front of the gear lever, as well as door pockets, and a lidded compartment above the stereo on the top of the centre of the dash. The front passenger seat lifts up, exposing a large storage area, and indeed the whole seat can be folded down to make an extra long load area. Perfect, then for all the stuff that a family might want to carry in the car. The driving position leaves you in little doubt that you are driving something that is not quite a normal supermini. Even with the seat set to its lowest point, you sit quite high up, and yet there is a lot of space between the top of your head and the roof. A conventional looking dash presents itself, which is nicely finished, though rather plasticky. The dials themselves, presented in a sort of figure of eight on its side, are quite small, but clearly marked. One or two of the less commonly used switches and buttons are a bit tucked away: the lever for opening the petrol flap is low down on the dash, right next to a similar one for opening the bonnet, for instance. and the door mirror adjusters are also quite low down on the dash, rather than on the door. The Teckna trim of the test car had column mounted controls for the stereo system, and standard climate control which did a good job at keeping the cabin at the temperature I desired. One consequence of sitting up high is that the gearlever and the central mounted handbrake – a traditional pull-up lever, thankfully – are quite a long reach downwards. Some of the more expensive Nissans – the 350Z and Murano, for instance – have been criticised for their low rent interiors. While this one would not win prizes for its premium feel, it was acceptable, even if the odd texture to the top of the dash was not entirely to my taste.
The test car had the 1.6 litre petrol engine, coupled with an automatic gearbox. Even with this top of the range engine, the Note is never going to win prizes for its speed, especially when coupled to the automatic gearbox. However, the engine provides enough power for adequately brisk progress, and the transmission is very smooth in changing between the gears. In fact, none of the dynamic attributes are going to win many prizes with an enthusiast, but nor do they show any significant deficiency. The electrically-assisted steering is light, and precise, but ultimately a little devoid of feel. The car handles tidily, rides reasonably well and has decent brakes. It is refined and reasonably quiet and refined when on the move. One real demerit emerged: over the shoulder visibility. There’s quite a bad blind area caused by the shape of the rear-most side windows, which mean that over-the shoulder visibility is poor, and some caution is required when doing lane changes on the motorway.
In conclusion, then, for those who need a roomy and doubtless dependable car for a small family and all their associated paraphenalia, the Note has to be worth a look. The automatic may make it easier to drive, but most people would probably be better off with the manual. Perhaps there is a niche for this sort of car after all?