Datsun originated in Japan as DAT-GO (the DAT-car) a century ago in 1914. The word DAT means ‘lightning-fast’ in Japanese but is also a reference to the three financiers who supported the business at the time – namely Messrs. Den, Aoyama and Takeuchi – an acronym of the first letter of each name. Using the same logic, it was promoted as Durable, Attractive and Trustworthy, or DAT for short. In 1933, Nissan’s founding father Yoshisuke Aikawa took over the business with a vision of “mobility for all”. The introduction of a lightweight, economical, yet resilient car to meet the aspirations of young Japanese people in the early 1930s was named the ‘son of DAT’ – Datson – which later changed to Datsun. For those of you old enough to remember, Datsun was popular in SA in the 70s until the brand was phased out in 1981 when it was changed to Nissan. Fast-forward to 2012 and Nissan announced the return of the Datsun brand to be their third global brand after Infiniti. At the launch I attended in June last year, we were told “the Datsun brand is set to provide a sustainable motoring experience to optimistic up-and-coming customers in high-growth markets.” The Datsun brand was so well known that it’s still recognised today, a good thing for Nissan.
Last week I received the GO from Datsun for review and I was more impressed with it than I thought I would be considering initial reports. The GO is a pretty decent looking little car; it’s a 4-door hatchback based on the Micra platform and has some bold modern styling. It’s styled better than you’d expect a car in this price range to be. Once thing that I did notice is the paint, it's great for a cheapie. Much more expensive cars often still have some of that orange peel look upon close inspection, but the GO was flawless - odd but true. I had the Ruby colour that doesn’t cost extra, you’d normally expect to be charged for metallic colours like this. The GO could do with some nice wheels as the 13-inch steelies with hubcaps aren’t that pretty, but seeing as the point is to keep costs down it makes sense. I'm also not a fan of the tiny contact patch afforded by 155-width tyres though, that's like using a parachute made out of Checkers packets - it can work, but not in every situation. The ‘face’ of the car is dominated by Datsun’s distinctive and modern “D-cut grille”, something I quite like and it makes the fact that you’re driving a GO an easy spot on the road so you know to switch lanes if one ends up behind you. Ride height is a little too high for me, I know I’m used to lowered cars, but mention of the ride height was made at the launch. They said it was to be able to cope with our road conditions, which it easily will, but it could still be a good 4cm lower (14cm at the rear) and still be able to clear the most evil of speed bumps with more than enough space to spare.
The interior is interesting. Yes, it has that cheaper plastic feel to it, but that’s because it is a cheaper car, and as for the plastic feel, I like it which must be a generational thing. We’re pretty much in the age of plastic right now, which is why bigger, more expensive cars also have that plastic feel that people like to complain about. The clocks are basic with a small digital display that shows revs, fuel level and some trip details like consumption and the estimated distance left on the fuel you have. On the speedo there’s markings referred to as the ‘Smart Meter Gearshift Guide’ that shows you the optimum speed to shift into the next gear to get the best out your tank of fuel. If you do follow the guide, just know that you’re going to be driving pretty damn slow. The rest is as you’d expect, retractable 3-point seatbelts up front, manual at the rear; power windows up front, manual at the rear.
There’s no radio included with the car, but instead a docking station and a player (on the higher priced model). It will fit any modern phone and all you need is an Aux jack to connect your phone to play your own music. It also has a USB jack but this is just for charging. On my drives I had my phone in the dock and plugged in with my music playing the whole time, and with Samsung’s dismal battery life I was able to keep it plugged in and charged so that I still had a phone to use when I arrived at my destination. It plays ok, clear and loud enough to drown out my rendition of Ludacris’s Move Bitch, so that’s cool.
Seating is a little odd, there’s plenty space front and rear, but the front feels a little weird with the car having a bench seat setup. The seats are surprisingly comfortable though, but a Durban trip may get tiring fast. Having a bench setup means the handbrake isn’t in the traditional spot, instead it pulls out of the dash like a bakkie. In fact, the whole feel of the car is like an older Nissan Champ, except instead of seeing a load bin behind you, there’s seats. I had the more expensive of the two models and so I had some cup holders in the door panels too. They do their job but using them is a little awkward, I’d put a bottle there but not a steaming hot cup of Mugg & Bean’s finest because I’d probably end up in the emergency room. For a budget car like this, the interior is better than I expected and having an efficient aircon in this heat is always a good thing. The boot is ok; it may fit a pram or a set of golf clubs, but not both. I got a pair of 17-inch tyres in there, but had to remove the rear parcel shelf to do it. The rear seats can fold down though, so if you have a bigger load to transport, it should manage ok.
The Datsun GO has been given a 1200cc motor that also has Micra roots, so serviceables and parts are already in the country, a definite selling point for prospective buyers. It’s a 3-cylinder, 12-valve setup that produces 50kW with 104Nm but the gear ratios definitely make it feel like it has more, that and the low weight. With the windows down you can hear the motor, it’s not loud by any means, but it does have a distinctive tone. At idle you can feel the vibration of the motor and the car sort of bobs along with it, much like a V8 with a cam would. It’s not loud or annoying, just something I haven’t felt in a factory car before. The motor provides a smooth enough drive and it’s also nippy enough for most traffic conditions. I mentioned the gear ratios of the 5-speed ‘box, and here was something I couldn’t really get used to. 1st and 2nd are quite close together, but 3rd has a much longer ratio. On the first few drives I thought I was going from 2nd to 5th and actually changed gears again to make sure I had 3rd. There’s around a 2000rpm drop when you shift to third and if you haven’t revved high in 2nd then the car feels like it labours while trying to get the revs back up in 3rd.
Overall the Datsun GO looks to be a pretty decent little car and besides it being bought by first time buyers as an entrance into the world of new cars, I reckon it will be popular in fleets and with small companies that need a runabout for their daily deliveries and collections. It’s a student’s dream car with modern styling, colours, the docking station and the fuel economy. Coming in at R89 500 and R99 500 respectively, it’s got that definite bang for buck about it. As mentioned at the launch, Nissan wants it to be a stepping-stone to the brand; they want Datsun owners to move up a notch when it comes time to replace the car and opt for something from the Nissan stable. The Datsun GO is available through Datsun branches countrywide, located within select Nissan dealerships. They come with an optional service plan and warranty and service intervals are at 15 000km.
As with the Datsun Sparkle in the late 70s, the GO will appeal to individuals who want a car tailored to their personality. There will be specific pre-set trim and option packages available, one for the sporty types, one for a family and one for women (which features parking assist – Seriously, that's how the release worded it - I had a chuckle at that). The options on offer can also be bought out of the packages, they include:
* Roof rails
* Mud flaps
* 13-Inch alloys
* Security system
* Rear parcel shelf
* 5-piece carpet set
* Chrome exhaust tip
* A few decal options
* Paint protection film
* Chrome door handles
* Rear and side curtains
* Blackout for the B-pillar
* Reverse parking sensor
* Scuff plates (with or without LED)
* Wind deflectors for the front doors
* Various colour and finish seat covers
* Trim for the lower end of the hatch lid
* Fog lights (with an optional trim add-on)
* Various seat material options including leather
* A pronounced spoiler for the top of the hatch lid
* Body side moulding and bumper corner protectors
For more information on the Datsun GO, you can check out www.datsun.co.za, www.facebook.com/datsunsa, www.youtube.com/datsunsa, www.instagram.com/datsunsa or www.twitter.com/Datsun_SA.
That elephant in the room...
Then there’s the elephant in the room. Well, that’s not exactly the way to describe it. That saying means there’s something pretty obvious happening that no one wants to mention. In this case it seems to be all that everyone wants to talk about – the safety of the Go. I could easily leave it out, but if I want to keep any sort of credibility in the industry, it needs to be addressed. Just after the car was delivered to me, I started getting comments from people online about the safety of the car and many of them were telling me to be careful in the car. As it happened, the day before I recieved the car, Global NCAP had just released their test data of the GO as tested in the #SafercarsforInda campaign - they gave it a 0 rating - ZERO. That's less than 1.
They said this wasn’t because of the lack of airbags and ABS, but because there was intrusion into the cabin meaning a high chance of occupant injury, an instant failure of the test. This lead to a big hoo-ha with people and organisations, most notably Global NCAP’s Max Mosley (yeah, that Max Mosley) addressing open letters to Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn telling him the car isn’t safe and that it should be removed from the market. Ghosn caused some controversy when he defended the GO with his comments that the car is made for emerging markets (India, Indonesia, Russia etc.) and that it’s still safer than the taxis or the bikes and scooters that prospective owners would have to buy instead. That does make sense to a degree, but it did earn the man lots of flack that I’m sure he’d rather do without. With a small bike you don't get up to high speeds and if you fall off, well then you're on the floor. In the GO you will need to figure out how to survive with an A-pillar in your forehead.
So I’m not sure exactly how this should be addressed then? The car was fine, and for the price, it ticks more boxes than you’d expect. It drove great and took me all over the place; from the North to the East and everywhere in between and there were no issues. Sure, I never got to test the frontal impact for myself and even if the car were equipped with the best safety gadgets out there, I’d still prefer not to find out how it would fare. I know that with the research done on the prospective target market, safety wasn’t even in the top 3 requirements for a brand new budget car, which is actually a sad comment on the state of things in SA. I have to say that I did have the safety issue on my mind a lot while driving the car, and if anything, it made me a just that little bit more cautious. At the end of the day, people are now aware of this safety issue and are still willing to own one. I've heard that since sales started in October there have been over 500 sales of the Datsun Go here in SA. Will we see a revised Go in the near future with the necessary upgrades to make it safer? I‘m sure we will, but I'm also pretty sure that when we do, it will most definitely cost more than R100k. Should you save money and opt for a new GO? Probably not, especially when a low mileage anything at that price point will be better in just about every way.