The Magnite wants to turbocharge Nissan’s SUV innings in India. Question is, how?
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It’s easy to get excited about the Magnite. More so after we learnt that prices are likely to start around Rs 5.5 lakh, and top out under Rs 10 lakh. That’s a whole lakh (and in some cases a lot more) less than what other manufacturers ask of your savings.
What’s the catch, then?
Excuse the pun. But we still can’t help place a Datsun badge on the nose of the Magnite. The pointy headlamps, the hockey stick-shaped daytime running lamps, and the large vertical chrome elements around the grille are more redi-GO than Patrol. The Datsun resemblance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s got plenty of presence to command attention, especially in brighter colours like the blue and red.
The 205mm of ground clearance and a snazzy set of 16-inch dual tone alloy wheels do their bit in upping the Magnite’s SUV quotient. The low-ish sloping roofline and the pronounced character lines, however, make the Magnite look sleek, not bulky.
It is handsome, though. And while it isn’t pushing boundaries in terms of size, the proportions seem spot on. So much so that at first glance, you might mistake it for something that’s supposed to take on the likes of the Creta and Seltos instead of the Venue and the Sonet. It also doesn’t look like a hack job on a larger SUV, forced to fit within 4 metres.
Considering all lighting up front is packed with LEDs (including bi-beam projector headlamps and LED foglamps), it’s surprising to see LEDs being skipped for the Triber-like tail lamps. There’s some uniqueness here in the double-bubble effect for the spoiler, and the pronounced ‘hump’ between the tail lamps.
Nissan’s Magnite is pulling off the premium look quite well. That said, a sunroof would’ve surely tempted the fence sitters into giving the newbie a shot.
But First, Basics.
Even without the sunroof, the Magnite’s cabin appears large and welcoming. That’s despite the all-black colour theme Nissan has opted for. You’d be content with the quality that’s on offer too. Plastics, although hard, feel durable. Yes, it’s not in the same league as a Mahindra XUV300 or even a Kia Sonet, but it does look and feel a notch above, say the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza.
You could wish for slightly better fit and finish levels, however. Our test car had a few inconsistent gaps and rattles which Nissan has promised to iron out in cars that will roll into the showrooms.
Small inconsistencies aside, it’s a pleasant surprise that Nissan has managed to carve out ample space for a family of five. They’ve been thoughtful about the basics too, offering four adjustable headrests as standard across the range. The front seats are kind to plus-sized individuals and there’s enough width for the front occupants to not brush shoulders. A minor annoyance is the slightly cramped footwell, both for the driver (especially in the manual) and the co-driver.
At the rear, even a 6 footer will have space to spare both in terms of knee room and headroom. However, it was the cabin width that came as a pleasant surprise. Two adults and a kid? Easy. Three averaged size adults? Not a problem either.
Storage spaces are well thought out between a large 10-litre cooled glovebox, bottle holders in all doors, and twin cup holders up front. The rear seat gets an armrest with its own cupholders and a slot for your cell phone.
Boot space, at 336 litres, is better than only the XUV300 and the Brezza. It will be sufficient for a weekend’s worth of luggage. However, the tall loading lip means you will have to lift the luggage up and place it into the boot. If you wish to trade passengers for extra luggage, the Magnite is offering 60:40 split seats. Do note that the seats do not fold flat.
A quick look at the Magnite’s brochure will tell you Nissan has come well prepared. A feature unique to the baby Nissan is the 360° camera. Thoughtful, sure to help new drivers. Sadly, the resolution from the cameras themselves is quite poor, limiting their usability.
There’s an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, packed with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Some lag aside, the screen is easy to understand and get used to. With the Tech Pack, you also get a 6-speaker JBL audio system. Sound quality is acceptable, but doesn’t really stand out like the Nexon’s Harman or the Sonet’s Bose setup.
However, the screen that demands more attention is the tablet-like 7-inch screen in the instrument cluster. With crisp colours, funky animations and detailed information, the screen is going to keep the geek in you happy. We also like how the fuel and temperature gauges mimic the design on the screen, making the cluster look like a cohesive unit.
Basics you’d expect from a small SUV in this space are ticked as well. This includes passive keyless entry, push-button start, cruise control and climate control with rear AC vents. You could pick the Tech Pack to feel extra special and that’d give you a wireless charger, ambient lighting, puddle lamps and an air purifier.
The safety equipment list includes dual airbags, ABS with EBD and ISOFIX child seat mounts. You also get tech like traction control, vehicle dynamic control (VDC) and hill assist. We’re surprised Nissan chose not to offer four airbags considering its platform cousin, the Triber, gets it.
Nissan’s 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged motor had us excited the moment we saw it on the spec sheet. Excited enough that we almost excused the lack of a diesel powertrain. 100PS of power, and a kerb weight that’s in the 1000kg ballpark sure sounds like fun — doesn’t it?
For starters, the motor does feel a whole lot more refined than the 1.0-litre naturally aspirated engine we’ve seen in the Triber (also an option with the Magnite). You can’t escape the thrummy vibes of the three-pot motor at idle, but they settle down once you get past the 1500rpm mark.
If you were expecting to be pinned to your seat, grinning ear to ear driving the turbo, maybe temper those expectations. What you have instead is a versatile engine that’s tuned to make commutes and road trips easier. The turbo kicks in gently and acceleration then on is brisk. In fact, even when the turbo isn’t in play the Magnite doesn’t beg for a downshift. Sure, progress isn’t the quickest from here on even if you slam on the throttle. But for city duties, you’d be ambling about in second or third gear happily.
What could take a bite out of the happiness, though, is the heavy-ish clutch and the notchy gear shifts. And that’s why we can’t help but choose the CVT over the manual. It’s down on torque compared to the manual — 152Nm vs 160Nm — but it’s so much easier to drive. As you’d expect from a CVT, it’s buttery smooth practically everywhere. Even under hard acceleration, it does well to ensure the engine doesn’t whine and yell while the speeds play catchup. We’d have loved to see a dedicated manual mode with pre-defined ‘steps’, for greater control.
Shrug It Off
Considering the Kicks’ bad-road prowess, it’s natural for you to expect something similar from the Magnite. It does deliver. Irregular road surfaces or potholes do not bother the baby Nissan all that much. 205mm of ground clearance means you can confidently take on broken roads too. High-speed stability is as you’d expect, with the Magnite staying composed at triple digit speeds too. Do remember that over the sharper stuff (and especially at slightly higher speeds) the suspension makes itself heard inside the cabin.
The comfort-oriented suspension has a pretty obvious tradeoff in the handling department. The Magnite prefers you take it easy around the bends. Push it hard and you’re met with some body roll. You’d also have to do a fair bit of guesswork with the steering. The light weight is great within the city, but makes it feel a bit lifeless around the ghats. Another item on the wishlist for us is better brake feel. It feels a bit dull initially, and takes some getting used to.
It’s clear that it’s set up to be a comfortable everyday runabout. Viewed from that lens, it’s unlikely the Magnite will give you a strong reason to complain.
What’s The Catch?
Well, the Magnite could do with a richer cabin experience, and maybe even a few more feel-good elements such as a sunroof, automatic headlamps and wipers. The turbo-petrol, although versatile, isn’t particularly sporty. Not to forget, Nissan isn’t offering a diesel engine with the Magnite at all. Another stumbling block comes in the form of the brand’s sales and service network, that’s in need of a shot in the arm.
Its strength lies in it covering the basics thoroughly. The looks are proportionate, and the feature list ticks all the essentials too. However, the bigger strength lies in its sensibility. It’s among the few small SUVs that can genuinely seat five if needed. A comfortable suspension setup and a smooth CVT automatic strengthen its credentials as a family car.
The biggest ace up Nissan’s sleeve is likely to be the price. Expected to start at (possibly under) Rs 5.5 lakh and top out under Rs 10 lakh (ex-showroom), the Magnite is delivering some good old fashioned value for money. And that’s just what Nissan needs — the right car at the right price — to turbocharge its innings here in India.
Update 02/12/2020: The Maganite actually launched even below our expectations at Rs 4.99 - Rs 9.35 lakh (ex-showroom introductry price till Dec 31st, 2020).