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Nissan Sunny diesel review

S.Muralidhar | | Updated on: Dec 27, 2011
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Nissan's mass-segment strategy for the Indian market was kick-started by the launch of its V-platform, first in the form of the hot hatch Micra and then, about three months ago with the affordable sedan – the Sunny. Though only derived from the V-platform, the Sunny's pricing strategy got a lot of help from the lower cost that the platform could bring to the table.

The fact that the Sunny was focused on the demands of the buyer in countries like China and India made it easier for Nissan to keep its proposition clear. But, at the time of its launch earlier this year, one key element for success in the Indian market was missing in the Sunny – a diesel engine.

The 1.5-litre, HR15 petrol engine was the only mill powering the Sunny at the time of the launch. Back then too, it is overwhelmingly so now, diesel engines were already clear winners wherever the option was available. And competing models like the Volkswagen Vento, Ford Fiesta, the Suzuki Swift DZire and the Toyota Etios have been witnessing a steady preference for diesel.

Nissan officials had promised to bring in a diesel engine option as soon as possible. They had also said that the Micra's engine may not be the best fit, given the heft of the Sunny compared to the hatch and given the profile of the buyer. The folks at Nissan had however added that while testing had already begun, choosing the right diesel engine that will fit the Sunny will have to be done carefully.

Maybe it was the the quick turn of events (read frequent hikes in petrol prices) that has lead to the demand for diesel cars spurting even more during the last few months or the lower than expected demand for the Sunny petrol or the march ahead of the sales of rivals, but whatever the reason, Nissan has decided to quicken the launch of the diesel variant.

The new Sunny diesel is due for deliveries only in January 2012, but Smartbuy got hold of the ‘Caaaaar' for an exclusive test drive.

Engine

I am guessing that after much deliberation, Nissan officials decided to go with the Micra's K9K diesel engine for the Sunny too. The engine is widely used by both in Nissan and Renault in many of their cars. In my view that was a sensible decision given the essential character and positioning of the Sunny. So, the same 1.5-litre class diesel unit makes it into the large bonnet of the Sunny. Only, in the sedan, the engine produces almost 35 per cent more power and 25 per cent more torque.

The 1,461cc, 4-cylinder, SOHC diesel engine gets a boost in performance through turbocharging and manages to offer more than would have been necessary for it to even satisfy buyers in this segment looking for peppy performance. The new Sunny diesel is only 70 kg heavier than its petrol sibling, thanks to a fairly light weight mill. With a kerb weight of 1,097 kgs, it is also only about 90 kg heavier (less than 10 per cent) compared to the Micra diesel.

That small differential in weight when juxtaposed with the differential in performance makes it quite impressive. The peak power output of this diesel engine has gone up from 64 PS in the Micra to 86 PS in the Sunny. The power also peaks earlier at 3,750 rpm compared to the Micra's 4,000 rpm. More than a third in incremental power with only a nine per cent increase in weight compared to the Micra. Another way of looking at it is that the power to weight ratio of the Sunny is 78.4 PS per tonne, compared to the Micra's 63.5 PS per tonne.

Get into the cabin of the Sunny diesel, depress the clutch and push the engine start-stop button, and you hear the familiar sound of a diesel burner. The engine is not the quietest, but doesn't get too intrusive either. Even during acceleration only after the needle crosses the 3,500 rpm mark does the engine start becoming very audible in the cabin.

The engine is mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Set to a fair compromise, the powertrain manages to offer low speed, low-rpm accommodation and a linear power band all the way up to the 4,000 rpm mark, when power starts dropping off. The redline starts at about 4,500 rpm and my test vehicle didn't seem to have a pre-set rev-limiter.

Peak torque available in this diesel engine is 200 Nm at 2,000 rpm. The turbo, and so the torque delivered, spools up fairly quickly and there was not much of turbolag that was discernable. However, it is not really the quickest of the bunch, due to the comparably lower torque arriving a bit late too. For example, the VW Vento's 1.6-litre engine puts out almost ten per cent lower power, but generates almost 25 per cent more torque and at lower rpm levels.

The drive

The Sunny diesel is still quite delightful to drive, both in city and on the highway. There is enough room in gear to maintain varying speeds. For example, while in third you can go down to about 22 kmph and go all the way up to a 100 kmph and the engine would still be at about 4,000 rpm. In my test vehicle, in terms of shift quality, the slotting of the gearbox was clean except for a bit of notchiness in the second.

Nissan engineers are also said to have tweaked the suspension settings in the new Sunny diesel. Ride quality is good for a car in this segment, though there is considerable body roll when it is driven aggressively. My test car, the XV variant, came with 15-inch alloys, the lower trim XL is offered with 14-inch steel rims.

In terms of design, the new diesel version of the Sunny is identical in every respect to its petrol counterpart. In my test vehicle, there wasn't even any badging to identify it as a diesel variant (like the 1.5 dCi badge identifying the engine).

Interiors of the new diesel Sunny are also identical to the petrol ‘Caaaar'. Lots of room at rear, a neat and symmetrical dashboard layout with precisely cut and laid panels in pleasing colours, albeit with relatively average quality plastic is what you get. Windscreen glare from the dashboard is still an issue.

Bottomline

The better part of the story is however, the competitive price that Nissan has set for the Sunny diesel with the base XL variant at Rs 7.98 lakh and the XV variant at Rs 8.78 lakh, ex-showroom, New Delhi. ARAI rated fuel efficiency for the new Sunny diesel is 21.64 kmpl, compared to the Micra diesel's 23.08 kmpl.

The fuel price differential continues to be a big draw for car buyers who are heavy daily users and can recoup the higher initial investment within the first two years of their ownership.

The demand for diesel cars is only expected to soar even more… as long as the Government dithers and continues to wring its hands about an additional levy on diesel cars.

So, make hay while the ‘Sunny' Shines.

>muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

Published on December 27, 2011
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