On average, the natural evolution of the American car buyer starts with a two-seater when he is a happy-go-lucky bachelor interning at Jamba Juice, to a family sedan after he marries his childhood sweetheart or roomie of many years, and finally, to a six-seater van after he becomes a family man.

The progression for many Indian car buyers is, however, fast becoming one where he or she just goes straight for a family vehicle or a people’s mover. And often it is just for that one trip during the weekend with ‘papa, mamma and my family’ that they need the people’s mover for.

But, there haven’t been too many options for buyers in this segment and, so, many have chosen to go for sports utility vehicles instead, as long as they offer a third row of seats or at least can be fitted with two jump seats.

However, the number of van options has been creeping up and the success of the Toyota Innova, the Mahindra Xylo and more recently the Maruti Ertiga is proof that the market has matured to a point where a good quality MPV/ family van will find many takers, just as much as the successive drop in sales of bread boxes on wheels show a similar trend.

Amongst urban buyers there is a new emerging trend of choosing compact MPVs and SUVs. They are easier to manoeuvre in thick traffic, easier to park and can still potentially accommodate six to seven passengers in relative comfort. Those were the drivers behind the big bookings for the Ertiga and the new Renault Duster too.

There is a whole bunch of new vehicles in this category due out in the next two years. Nissan’s contender the Evalia will hit the streets in the next few weeks and it promises to be quite an interesting option for buyers looking for a modern people’s mover.

I test drove the new Evalia in cosmopolitan, but crowded Bangalore and its outskirts, very much the urban playground for a vehicle in this class. The Evalia was showcased at this year’s Auto Expo and it had generated considerable interest amongst showgoers. The vehicle is already available in some other markets like the UK and Indonesia.

Dimensions

There is no mistaking that the Evalia is a family van. No crossover lines that camouflage its intentions of being a people’s mover. There is also a lot of the Japanese influence that is very clear in its design. The first point that strikes you of course is the size of the Evalia. Smaller than the Innova and the Xylo, but larger than the Ertiga, the Evalia seems like it will be just the right size for buyers in this segment.

At 4,400mm in overall length, it is also a bit longer than the alliance partner’s Duster. The Evalia is taller than the Innova and the Ertiga, but slimmer than the Toyota van, and actually matches up in width with the Suzuki. So while its profile is clearly that of a slim van and so immediately gives you the impression that there may not generous shoulder room, there is enough headroom as is reflected by the high roof dimension.

From the front the Evalia has a fairly modern MPV / family van look about it. The slim, but curvy headlamp, the large two step front bumper and the characteristic sedan-like bonnet grille with the circular Nissan logo give the Evalia a pleasing front side. It still is a cab-forward MPV design, but even without stepping in you can say that it is likely to offer a tall seating position and a good view of the road. The windscreen is sharply raked and the A-pillar joins a rather flat and parallel to the road roof that sports strengthening ribs. From the side the Evalia looks clearly the MPV that it is.

While the front of the vehicle manages to lure with its aero-dynamic profile, the over-square rear end is the only feature that could run it the risk of being clubbed with some of the breadbox styles of the past. It would have helped if the Evalia’s rear had been a bit curvier (there is more than enough headroom to chop), had larger tail-lamps and a chunkier rear bumper. As it is, the Evalia sports a pair of tiny tail-lamps that sport a dumbbell design and are laid low down.

The hatch door itself is huge and is hinged at the roof and extends all the way down cutting till mid-way into the weak rear bumper. The idea has clearly been to maximise practicality, to improve legroom and storage space inside the Evalia and to offer a low loading height for easy access to the luggage area. But it does seem to have been a bit at the cost of aesthetics.

Overall, the Evalia’s design is still pleasing with character lines at the side that neatly merge into others or into the sliding door rails etc. The door mounted rear view mirrors are over-sized and are likely to be prone to dinks and nicks. But they offer excellent rear visibility for the driver.

The front doors are wide and stepping into the van is easy with the seat position set at the right height too. The rear doors slide on rails to offer access to the second row bench seat and are a bit thinner, but entry and exit is still easy. The second row bench seat flips forward to allow access for passengers to the third row. Captain bucket seats for the second row too are said to be under consideration, but the variants of the Evalia that Nissan had on offer for test drive all sported bench seats only.

While the Evalia’s front windows are large and let the light in, the rear sliding doors sport a narrow glass area that are flush with the fixed glass at the third row. Cranking down or electrically lowering the large window of the front doors is possible, but the rear doors’ glass windows can only be tilted by an inch or so. While this may not solicit complaints from owners of the top-end XV variant, buyers of the lower-end XE variant might find the need for more ventilation at the rear.

Of course, there is air-conditioning on offer and in fact two HVAC units, one on the dash at the front and one just below the glass at the third row with twin vents. Air-conditioner efficiency is claimed to be very good throughout the car, though the second row doesn’t have a dedicated set of vents. I couldn’t quite test aircon efficiency in Bangalore’s already pleasant weather conditions.

The interior of the new Evalia sports a modern theme and there is a lot of focus on practicality here too. The dashboard layout is simple and symmetric with some trim additions for the top-end variant. The beige and light brown colour theme goes well with the matt plastic that has been used. The fit and finish quality is good, though it is tough not to get the feeling of being surrounded by a sea of plastic.

The steering wheel is very familiar and is a carry forward from some of the other Nissan cars. The seat squabs are thin, but offer fairly good support, though I can’t be sure how comfortable the second row bench seat will be during long drives. The third row seats can be flipped down and folded up like jump seats and the configuration can be changed to accommodate a humungous amount of luggage. Other storage slots abound in the Evalia. The gear shift stick is positioned at the centre stack and almost on the dash. Reaching the stick is perfect for the driver and it also frees up a lot of space at the centre console area, though Nissan engineers haven’t used it up for anything constructive.

Power talk

The Evalia is offered only with a diesel engine (quite sensible actually) and sports the same reliable K9K engine that we have seen and experienced already in quite a few Renault and Nissan cars like the Fluence, Duster and Sunny. The Evalia’s K9K is also offered in the same state of tune as it is in the Duster and the Sunny, but not the slightly souped up state of tune as in the Fluence.

So, what you essentially get is 85bhp of peak power and 200Nm of peak torque, not the 110bhp that is possible from the same mill. However, the 1.5-litre, intercooler, turbo dCi engine seems like a good enough fit for the vehicle given the Evalia’s buyer profile. The Evalia is lighter thanks to its monocoque construction (more than 200 kgs lighter than the Innova) and this does seem to work in its favour.

The Evalia’s engine doesn’t feel laboured or underpowered, but is only capable of taking it to a peak speed of about 130 to 140 kmph. Power tapers off quickly after about 4,200 rpm. Paired to the engine is a five-speed manual transmission that offers a good range across the power band. But, shift quality of the gear stick is a bit notchy.

The engine bay is huge and the 1.5-litre unit is laid low inside the bonnet. With so much empty space and with the closeness of the engine to the cabin, there is the inevitable intrusion of engine noise inside the Evalia’s cabin. At cruising speeds the noise level lowers a bit.

The positive aspect of the engine that will work in favour of the new Evalia will be the claimed fuel efficiency of 19.3 kmpl, which is quite a bit more than the Xylo.

In terms of driveability, the Evalia has the potential to really manage to offer the feel of being very compact and sedan-like, but the slightly heavy rear and the overall length of the van tend to remind you of its size ever so regularly. But, thanks to its dimensions, the Evalia is quite easy to manoeuvre and tackles bad roads too quite well. The only feature that probably affects the ride quality a bit would be the 14-inch rims.

The Evalia will be offered with four variants to start with. Safety features such as ABS, EBD and BA are offered as part of standard fitment across all variants. The ingredients for Evalia to be quite a success are all there, but pricing will still be the key. I expect it to priced from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 9 lakh. Come September, and we will know more about that.

(This article was published on August 13, 2012)
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