Of late, we have seen a sudden proliferation of 'segment-breakers' in the Utility Vehicle category. As car buyers have become more demanding and discerning about where they spend their money, the level of choice and abilities of vehicles have improved. Consequently, Maruti's LUV Ertiga and Renault's Compact SUV Duster are currently taking the market by storm. It's Nissan's turn now; they're all set to launch what the Japanese call the 'Urban Class Utility Vehicle'. Has Nissan got everything right with the Evalia to have a winner on their hands? Let's find out.
On the face of it, the Nissan Evalia is a conventional people mover. Though upright and boxy in design, the Evalia has an exquisite and aerodynamic frontal design. The unique grille with chrome garnish flows seamlessly into the slimline wraparound headlights and the Evalia looks great in the front three quarter view. However, the side and rear profiles are van-like and less aesthetically pleasing. I don't want to ramble on the exterior design part since the photographs speak for themselves. After all, you and I would agree on one point — those dinky little 14 inch wheels look weird on a 1880mm tall car.
Space, Comfort & Convenience
Space, not the design, is what matters for a utility vehicle and Nissan has managed to pull it off with the Evalia. It's enormous inside, capable of accommodating all the clobber your kids bring with them. Thanks to the front-wheel drive layout, dashboard-mounted gear lever and fuel tank that's placed under the driver's seat, the Evalia gets a complete flat floor. The middle seat can comfortably seat three adults while the third row is comparatively cramped. Needless to say, even Sultan Kösen would find some headroom in such a tall car. One of the strongest USPs of Evalia is the luggage space, which is expandable up to 2900 litres with middle and third rows folded up. The sliding doors are very practical and make ingress and outgress effortless. Moreover they allow easy access to the third row from both sides of the car.
What I really appreciated, however, is the lofty driving position that ensures commanding view of the road. Although the A-pillars are chunky, front vent glasses help increase visibility. The adjustable steering wheel and tiny gearstick are borrowed from the Micra, which means you always feel you are behind a small car's wheel. The light steering and best in class turning radius of just 5.2 metres make the congested city streets Evalia's playground.
The two-tone grey dashboard has a simple layout, with few controls. The dashboard mounted gearstick is close to hand and offers a short but notchy shifting action. Although the dashboard with two cupholders on both sides looks well thought out, the open glovebox without a lid spoils the overall impression. The small LCD on the instrument panel displays all the information you want and it also acts as a trendy digital tachometer. However, the screen is way too small for the reverse camera monitor. There are 8 cup/bottle holders in the Evalia and the middle seat passengers even get two seat-back dining trays. Third row passengers benefit from fan speed adjustable A/C vents but surprisingly the middle seat occupants are supposed to 'feel the heat.' The biggest disappointment is the middle row window that doesn't roll down and has a butterfly-type opening instead, which is virtually pointless.
Renault's familiar 1.5-litre Renault K9K diesel engine fires up smoothly, delivering 200Nm of torque. The 85bhp on tap is abundant to ferry Evalia along nicely. The figures may seem mediocre for an MPV, but at 1426kg the Evalia is lighter than its rivals and I never felt any lack of power. However, the car was really exhausted during a fully-laden uphill test at Bangalore's Nandi Hills. The diesel engine requires patience when fully loaded.
Ride and handling
I was too timid to push the Evalia into corners, with the tall body-puny tyres combination playing at the back of my mind. But trust me, it's not all that bad as one would expect. The body does lean considerably in corners, but not in an unsettling manner. The ride is supple enough and the suspension absorbs the punishment handed out by all but the worst road surfaces. However the third row passengers were not really happy with the overall ride quality; blame it on the leaf spring suspension set up at the rear.
The Nissan Evalia may not be a fun-to-drive vehicle like the Innova, but it is a very practical and spacious people mover offering nimble maneuverability.