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Datsun ‘GOes’ the CVT way

S Muralidhar | Updated on October 04, 2019 Published on October 04, 2019

New variants for the Datsun GO and GO+ were launched with a mild refresh for the exterior and cabin, but the key addition was the new CVT gearbox

Can the new automatic transmission in these models help them bridge the gap in refinement?

I remember the excitement surrounding the return of the Datsun brand during the four years prior to its official launch in 2014. As part of what was called the Datsun Club, a small group of journalists selected from Russia, South Africa, Indonesia and India — markets where the new Nissan group brand was to be introduced into — we were given a sneak preview of the new vehicles that were being developed specifically for each country. Unfortunately, though, by the time the GO and later the GO+ made it to our shores, they felt like cars that had been over-thought and under-spec-ced for taking on the competition.

After an underwhelming response from the market, the GO and GO+ have undergone changes and additions last year that have made them both more competitive in what is arguably the toughest segment to crack. With a more pleasing, relatively premium finish to the exterior and more safety kit in the cabin, the Datsuns have managed to get back into the reckoning. They are still far from claiming to have reached their potential, but the latest addition to these models at least offers some promise. Last week, new variants for the Datsun GO and GO+ were launched with a mild refresh for the exterior and cabin, but the key addition was the new CVT gearbox (continuously variable transmission).

Refinement

One of the big problems with the Datsuns were their lack of refinement while on the move. Their designs were purposeful and clean overall; attempting to offer practicality and a certain value-for-money feel. But with a gruff three-cylinder engine in the bonnet and a manual gearbox equally lacking in refinement, the GOs weren’t convincing when compared to the likes of the Maruti Alto K10 and Celerio, Hyundai Santro and Tata Tiago.

For a breakout brand to take on such well-entrenched competition, the Datsun models obviously needed to deliver more. That is where the addition of a CVT gearbox could help the GOs. CVTs are inherently more refined compared to AMTs (automated manual transmissions) and the competing cars are all sporting the latter type of gearbox.

Since CVTs notionally sport an infinite number of gears, they don’t suffer from the stepped, head-nodding style of shifts that we are used to experiencing in AMTs and to some extent in torque converter gearboxes too. However, there is the rubber-band effect in CVTs that can be a bit annoying during hard acceleration; and the Datsun GOs do suffer from this affliction too. CVTs are also inherently more fuel-efficient than regular torque converter gearboxes. In fact, they can be one of the best options for vehicles in the entry segment, where many may be first time car buyers, whose driving styles may not be focused on optimising fuel-efficiency. But, CVTs are expensive and we will know whether they remain attractive when company officials announce the prices for the Datsun GO and GO+ at their official launch.

Performance

Taking the opportunity, Datsun has also given the GOs some exterior design changes and added some more kit in the cabin to make them that bit more appealing and for the CVT variants to deliver more value. The engine continues to remain the same 1.2-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine that has been tuned to deliver a slightly higher power and torque output compared to the manual transmission variants. The HR12 DE engine now generates 77hp of peak power, compared to the manual’s 68hp, to enable the CVT to perform seamlessly. Torque available remains more or less the same and that is felt during hard acceleration.

Driving the CVT variants of the GO and GO+ in city traffic is a breeze, with a light, over-assisted steering and slow creeping function without any throttle input making it easy to pick your way through heavy traffic. Light part throttle progress is also on expected lines. But, the CVT is clearly not in the same league as some of the more sophisticated boxes in cars higher up in the price segment. Open roads, and stomped accelerator leads to what seems like a fumble and the engine revs much ahead of the gearbox reacting to the throttle input.

Datsun officials say that noise isolation measures have been increased to reduce wind and engine noise. It shows marginally, but the GOs cabins are still quite noisy during overtakes and past part throttle levels. The ride quality is good with the suspension doing a decent job of soaking up bad roads. The feeling of light-weight build is still unavoidable, though it is very confidence inspiring to know that the GO cars now come with a very decent bunch of safety features including dual front airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, and optional vehicle dynamic control (VDC) for the two CVT variants. The front wheels also feature ventilated disc brakes. Additional reinforcements for improved front and side crash protection have also been included since last year.

Unlike an AMT, the CVT gearbox offers a parking slot with a parking brake. There is no option for manual gear selection or a triptronic mode, though there is a small button on the side of the gearstick that enables you to choose sport mode. It doesn’t get all interesting or hairy in sport mode, just a continuance on notionally the same gear you were in so that the build-up of speed is quicker than in normal driving mode. There is also a low-gear mode and a shift lock to protect against accidental movement of the stick.

Cabin

The GO and GO+ cabins are still the roomiest in the entry car segment. The boot space is a respectable 265-litres in the GO and 347-litres in the GO+. The seats have been improved to provide a bit more support, though the third row seats in the GO+ will still be barely usable for adults or kids, and only for city commutes. The touchscreen infotainment system has been upgraded to a new 7-inch unit with button controls for power, volume and voice commands. It also offers Apple CarPlay connectivity. The rest of the cabin remains largely the same as in the facelift model launched last year.

The top trim variant of the CVT GO and GO+ also get the addition of LED DRLs and 14-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels.

The top trim variant of the CVT GO and GO+ has LED DRLs and 14-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels

 

Speed-sensing wipers also make a case for themselves, especially during a year when rain has played so much havoc around the country. But, the material quality in the cabin is still nearly the same, with the only nice feature being the carbon-fibre style design on some of the panels.

Bottom line

The addition of a CVT gearbox in the Datsun GO and GO+ has made them both feel more refined and offer the buyer a key new metric to measure the competition by. This would be the first car in this segment to get a CVT and that could be a double-edged sword for Datsun - one that could cut down the competition or cut the GOs’ own fingers if the feature is going to outprice itself.

Published on October 04, 2019
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