BUDGET- BUDGET-FRIENDLY GO IN SA: Datsun's brand revival begins with its new Go hatchback. Will its value proposition be enough to overcome SA's safety conscious buyers? Image: Sergio Davids.
CAPE TOWN - One of my earliest automotive memories was riding in my grandfather‘s beige Datsun 120Y, complete with fluffy front bench and eight-track audio system. His Datsun was his pride and joy and he continued to speak fondly of it despite Datsun pulling out of SA more than 20 years ago.
Fast forward to 2014 and Datsun is back in SA with a new model it hopes will attract budget-conscious locals - the Go hatchback. I mentioned my grandad's classic ride for a reason, as the new Go has many throwbacks in terms of fit and finishes, including a retro horizontal, "pull-out" handbrake under the facia assembly and a front bench seat - but more on all that below...
PRICED BELOW R100 000
Datsun's first modern product, the Go, is available in two specifications (Mid and Lux) with one engine and transmission (1.2-litre petrol, five-speed manual). It's 1.6m wide, 1.4m tall and 3.7m long with a long wheelbase of 2.4m. The name of the new car is derived from the first Datsun, the DAT-Go, launched almost a century earlier in Japan.
IMAGE GALLERY: 2014 Datsun Go in SA
The entry-level unit is priced at R89 500, the most expensive at R99 500. Datsun made good on its promise to launch a sub-R100 000 car, an important psychological buying-barrier among cash-strapped South Africans. How long can Datsun retain its pricing? Depending on SA's economy, the automaker will do a review early in 2015 and if necessary make adjustments.
GOOD LOOKING CAR
First-time car buyers are generally in the market for a stylish vehicle and in this regard the little Go doesn't disappoint. Datsun seems to have understood its buyers' need for good looks with its new contemporary design complete with large hexagonal grille, black honeycomb mesh with chromed surround. I mentioned contemporary design since the Go seems to have borrowed elements from many vehicles - a Volvo-esque grille, Nissan Micra body and Toyota Etios at the rear.
Overall, it's a good-looking small car and sure to be a hit with students as far as design is concerned.
In short - it will get you from A-B and, provided you're not tackling any hills (or carrying more than four passengers) it will do so adequately and in relative comfort.
The Go is powered by 50kW/104Nm 1.2 petrol engine mated to a five-speed manual. No auto is available. Fuel consumption is listed as 5.2 litres/100km.
It's engine is quick to respond but owners should be mindful of its 50kW output, meaning spirited drives and high-speed overtaking will be severely limited. In the city, however, it comes into its own, being on par with its many rivals in the fiercely competitive budget hatchback segment.
There's noticeable body roll though its steering is light and responsive. Its tight turning radius (4.6m) is perfect for city parking manoeuvres. The transmission is temperamental, sticky with gears being difficult to slot. Once you're out on the open road, the ride is pleasurable enough, though at high-speed engine and road noise penetrates throughout the cabin.
Let's be clear, it performs adequately - neither bad nor particularly grin-inducing - but since Datsun is aiming its Go at a relatively young (read: not that knowledgeable about vehicles) market, having a car that can transport you to where you need to be in comfort, ticks many boxes... just be mindful of how many mates you're carting around after a night out.
It's designed to commute, not to be driven on a track. Playing to its strengths (read: city driving) will serve you well.
Inside, if you remember being inside a Datsun of yesteryear, you should feel at home as some elements seem to be derived from classic models such as its front bench, cream/grey trim, retro handbrake positioned from the centre console and manual external mirrors.
Datsun has catered to its "20-something" market by providing the basics for a smartphone lifestyle, among them an adjustable phone dock on the facia (it also allows for hornizonta orientation) as well as USB, AUX and Bluetooth connectivity (depending on the audio system). There's a surprising amount of a head and legroom and the boot space is ample at 295 litres.
Why the elevated gear shift and handbrake? Datsun explains: "This means that passengers can pass much more easily from one side of the cabin to the other – useful if the car is parked in such a way that access is only possible through one door."
I don't have a problem with its throwback front bench or with the handbrake, my only concern in the interior is the obvious cost-saving measures in the quality of the trim ie, the fog light control appears to be an afterthought, positioned between two silver screws near the driver's knee bearing no lettering. But as the saying goes, "You get what you paid for", and the Go's space, connectivity and simple controls are adequate for any buyer on a budget.
Then there’s the safety elephant in the room – the Go has no airbags or anti-lock brakes (not even as an option). In today’s safety-conscious era such lacks could work against it. Datsun told Wheels24 it plans to review these (and other) safety features in the near future as part of a model upgrade.
'NEVER HAD AN AIRBAG DEPLOYED'
How do you feel about the lack of airbags and ABS? Here's what two of our readers had to say:
Thian van der Walt: "I find it incomprehensible that a company can offer a vehicle that does not have at least two front airbags and ABS. This should be the MINIMUM requirements enforced by the SABS before they will certify a passenger vehicle to be sold."
Alexander Panzek: "Frankly, I am driving in SA now over 12 years, driven in several other countries all my life for over 30 years, never had an airbag deployed. Right now, my not-that-old Isuzu bakkie hasn't got an airbag either, it goes well, but not fast, so what must I be scared of to not have ABS or one of these airbags?
"Just don't drive like the usual SA offensive driver, keep to the speed limit, keep your distance from other cars and obey the traffic law. Is that simple, saving you a lot of money too?"
There's a host of optional extras to customise your ride, including exterior enhancements such as decals, black cladding, alloys and spoiler, while customers can also opt for interior niceties such as satnav, door-sill lighting and parking sensors.
The Datsun brand makes a interesting automotive study, despite its departure from SA (and other global markets) it retains a lot of brand equity is that locals can still remember its quality products while its target market will, for most part, have never heard of it, save those with parents/grandparents who could regale them with tales of having owned one. According to the automaker, interviewing local focus groups revealed "neutral to positive" reactions regarding its return to SA.
Datsun has the unenviable task of creating brand awareness to push sales of a new vehicle that's still globally relatively new. Nissan's luxury division, Infiniti, faced a similar dilemma when it was re-launched in 2012 and two years on is showing favourable figures. Datsun told Wheels24 it will receive 400 units from 2014 of its Go hatch and ambitiously believes it can sell them all.
FIVE-YEAR SERVICE PLAN?
For now (Oct 2014) Datsun has opened 44 dealers in SA with plans to expand its network to 60 by July 2015. Service plan periods are offered from one year or 30 000km (R3 507) to five-year or 150 000km (R18 352). Click here for a list of service and maintenance plans.
GM and head of Datsun SA, Des Fenner, said: “The Datsun Go is a new contestant in the ‘riser’ market, but offers more than most would expect of a car in this class. Its appealing design is more than just skin-deep, as the car is a class leader with great levels of performance, economy and handling.
We have no doubt that it will make an impression on the South African market due not only to its features but also because of its attractive pricing. The car will be a worthy ambassador, setting the tone for the introduction of new Datsun models to come.”
In terms of brand positioning, Fenner explains:
Datsun - Budget vehicles aimed at SA's lower-income market
Nissan - Mainstream and commercial vehicles.
Infiniti - Luxury cars and SUVs aimed at higher-income markets.
(NOT MUCH) MORE FROM DATSUN
Apart from the Go, Datsun's new range is comprised of its Go+ (an MPV variant) and an On-Do (pronounced On-dough) sedan... neither of which is for SA in the near future. Datsun tells Wheels24 that it will focus on brand awareness and selling as many Go units as possible before switching its focus to introducing other models locally.
But what about the Pulsar? Datsun said that the Pulsar is indeed in consideration for SA though it will be likely be badged as a Nissan. The reason the automaker(s) haven't brought its stylish Pulsar to SA? Datsun/Nissan boss confirms that the automaker is struggling to "make volumes and prices" work for an SA introduction.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Datsun originated in Japan as DAT-Go (the Dat-car) 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 forming an acronym using the first letter of each name:
Using the same logic, it was promoted as Durable, Attractive and Trustworthy, or DAT for short.
2014 Datsun Go full specifications