Would the Nissan Evalia be able to make popular the van culture on Indian roads? We take the new vehicle all the way up to Nandi hills to find out.
The people mover MUV segment seems to be the biggest draw for the automakers at the moment. Even with the Ertiga posting hitherto unheard of booking numbers and the Xylo doing very well for itself, the Innova keeps moving off the shelves in larger numbers. Now Nissan wants to scoop out its share from the segment with its newest offering, the Evalia. The Japanese carmaker insists that the Evalia isn’t one of the many MUVs fighting it out in the middle. It is, they assert, a UCUV or an Urban Class Utility vehicle. Good for them. What we are more interested in, is knowing whether it really has the substance to stand out among the current crop of similar sized vehicles. Let’s take the big machine out for a spin…
Space and comfort
The Evalia most certainly isn’t the car you would like to drive to your girlfriend’s house while picking her up for a nice dinner. Nor is it the car you would take out to attack the windy roads after a fight with your dad. It’s the car which would take your close, as well as extended family out for a long trip. Arguably in more comfort than any other machine in its segment. Space and comfort are supposed to be the biggest draws for the Evalia, and we’d prefer assessing the car on these parameters first.
Enter the Evalia and you are welcomed to probably the most amount of cubic volume this side of Rs 10 lakh. That price is an optimistic assumption knowing that the Evalia was compared with the likes of the Xylo and Innova during the product presentation. The driver seat, thanks to its high hip-point gives a commanding view of the road ahead, and offers good visibility all around. The light, two tone grey and beige (griege if you will) dashboard adds further to the feeling of spaciousness. The front windows are quite big, letting good amount of light in and aiding good transverse visibility. One little grouse is the front quarter-glass, turning the A-pillar into a bit of a fork at its origin and creating a bit of a blind spot. The tall and wide electric ORVMs, however, are a boon to stay aware of what’s happening behind your shoulders.
The stubby shifter stick juts out unusually from below the center console, but falls conveniently to the hand and doesn’t seem to cause any discomfort during long trips. One good thing Nissan has done is that they have given plenty of bottle holders and other cubby holes for odds and ends. There are as many as 10 bottle holders all around the cabin, and then there are some more spaces. Then you have a flat surface above the center console, slightly inclined towards the bonnet to pop in your wallet, cell or any other items. The caopacious glovebox which doesn’t have a lid needs a special mention here. It couldn’t quite keep your precious articles concealed from the prying eyes. The fact that it ends too low also means that the shins of taller passengers have a good probability of hitting against it. There is a tall-ish box between the front two seats with a droppable front to put stuff you don’t want to be visible to passers-byes. It’s not lockable though. Front doors have map pockets, but don’t feature a bottle holder, the car has enough of them anyway.
The second row of seats is split in what seems like a 30:70 ratio. The fixed row of seats is reclinable individually for one passenger on the left and for the bench of two on the right using a synthetic fiber lever on the two edges of the row. The second row of seats offers generous leg room and seats three in comfort. The lack of a transmission tunnel ensures that there is liberal foot space available for the middle passenger. I tried out the seating capacity of the middle row with two other journalist friends (Thanks Roshan and Devdutt) and the three of us sat shoulder to shoulder without any inconvenience. The shoulder room, the leg room, the head room, the back support was good enough to not make it a squeeze at all. The thigh support, however, wasn’t as good as we would have liked.
The sliding doors of the Evalia have been optimized to liberate the maximum shoulder room. As a result, they are designed to be slim, and thus can’t house a motor to roll the window glass down. So essentially, the passengers in the second row don’t have the convenience of rolling their windows down even manually. The regular roll-down windows have been replaced by butterfly windows which allow small openings facing the rear of the car, to let some air in. This kind of an arrangement shouldn’t be a problem as long as the A/C is on. But for our compatriot brothers, who love spitting, throwing garbage on the road and craning their heads out to abuse fellow road users, it may be a bit of a concern. Cultural needs, you see.
There is enough shoulder space for three to sit abreast.
The second row of seats doesn’t get an A/C vent, though the third row does. So, in theory, if the AC is potent enough, then being sandwiched between two streams of air should cool the middle row effectively as well. We cannot be sure about the efficacy of the Evalia AC thanks to an extremely cool and pleasant weather prevalent in Bangalore during our visit to the city. We’ll keep our final verdict on the cooling bit for another day, a drive through the arrow straight roads of Rajasthan on a hot, dry day perhaps.
Also, in a bid to liberate more shoulder and elbow room, Nissan have done away with the armrests on the sliders. All that the sliding door panels comprise of is a bottle holder, the switch to lock the door and a handle to pull the slider. There is another pair of handles on the two edges behind the front seats, just for the times when the ride gets too bumpy or fast around corners. Some of us may miss the regulation handles above the windows.
The access to the third row is enabled by toppling the front benches. The smaller seat in the front row is extremely easy to remove – the operation can be carried out with one hand. The bigger seat in the middle row, however, requires two persons, as the mounts on the floor have to be released at both the ends at the same time. Once any of the middle seats is toppled, the access to the back bench is rather convenient. The third row itself is quite spacious when compared to the rest of the vehicles of similar size. You don’t have to be a contortionist to put yourself in. The knees do rub with the backrest of the middle seats, but you’re significantly better off than being in an Innova or a Xylo, where you would probably develop a slip disc over a couple of long journeys in the third row.
The third row gets its own set of cup holders and AC vents along with flow control on one side. The backrest of the third row is also reclinable which adds massively to the comfort. Two homo-sapiens (three would be a tight squeeze) of ordinary built would not find the third row too uncomfortable for short to medium distance journeys.
Even with seven aboard, and with the third row of seats fully reclined, the Evalia has a substantial amount of space to offer in the boot. This is a highlight as other comparable cars are hardly left with any boot space with all the seats upright, and which may be a big concern, as so many people are highly unlikely to travel without any luggage. There is space for two large sized suitcases in the boot to be stowed vertically. Fold one or both of the rear seats sideways and you get more bootspace than any sedan could ever provide. Flip down the middle row and you have a playground at your avail. You can carry multiple bicycles in the Evalia.
Nothing quite betters the Evalia when it comes to sheers cabin space. The space within is the biggest USP of the car. Look back while reversing the Evalia, and you would for a moment think that you are in one of the air conditioned compartments of Delhi Metro – it really is that long.
Engine and transmission
The Evalia is powered by the same 1.5-liter K9K engine that powers the Sunny. The power output is similar too. Rated at 85 PS and 200Nm, the power and torque output may not look like much, but with its massive weight advantage over the Innova and Xylo (roughly 200 and 400 kg respectively), that little motor makes the Evalia drive like a dream.
The beauty of the 1.5 liter turbo diesel mill powering the Evalia is its linear power delivery. Turbo lag is bare minimal and the car potters along at really slow speeds in high gears without any signs of spluttering. You can feel the engine pulling from as low as 1000 rpm (a revelation for a diesel mill), and by the time you reach 1600 rpm, you have enough juice to accelerate with conviction. The engine feels its best above 2000 rpm, but a good percentage of the peak output is left lower down the rev range too, to lend the Evalia remarkable driveability through the city.
For the size of the car, the engine feels surpisingly sprightly. We drove with four people on board, and the Evalia did not show any signs of puffing or panting while negotiating the steep inclines of Nandi Hills. There may be a bit of power deficiency when the car is fully loaded with passengers and luggage, but don’t think it would be too serious a concern. The Evalia may break drop of sweat but would never be huffing and puffing to lug the weight.
The engine though smooth and rev-friendly, is quite noisy, and the sound is clearly audible within the cabin too. Blame to the engine’s own noisiness or the lack of cabin insulation, but the noise levels within the cabin were significantly more than what we would have liked.
The linear, smooth and tractable engine is mated with a 5 speed manual gearbox. The gear ratios are intelligently spread out to ensure great tractability in all gears. The smaller, 14 inch wheels help a great deal in ensuring a sprightly acceleration from a standstill and impressive in-gear pick up as well. The gearshift feel, however, isn’t as smooth as we’d have liked. There is that slight bit of roughness to the shift feel – we have operated better ‘boxes in the vehicle category.
The highlight of the Evalia powertrain, however, has to be its fuel efficiency. Nissan is claiming a figure of 19.3 kmpl which is way ahead of the perceived competition (read Innova and Xylo). The real world figures wouldn’t be too off from the 14-15 kmpl mark which would be great for the class of the vehicle. In fact that sort of a fuel efficiency for this size of a vehicle may alone be a lure enough to many a tour operators to get a whole bunch of Evalias into their fleet.
We went to this test drive with a fair bit of skepticism about the Evalia’s powertrain, especially with that small 1.5 liter diesel spinning under the bonnet. And we came away impressed with the power, smoothness and efficiency of the mill, to say the least.
Handling, ride and dynamic ability
The Evalia, even with its enormous size and unusual shape manages to pleasantly surprise you with its drive quality. Ease of driving was projected as one of the biggest USPs of the car in the product presentation a day before the actual drive event. We had our apprehensions, which eventually evaporated as we got behind the wheel of this baby. The moment you climb into the driver’s seat, the Evalia extends a friendly hand with its good all round visibility. The light steering wheel (the position of which feels somewhat commercial vehicle-ish at the outset) is a breeze to operate in the city traffic. The short turning radius of 5.2 meters is a class benchmark, and adds tremendously to the Evalia’s maneuverability. Intimidating to drive as the Evalia may look from the outside it’s utterly friendly and incredibly convenient to drive through even the most crowded places.
The linear power delivery, coupled with the small size wheels translates into a responsive drive. The steering feels light at slow speeds and stiffens up reasonably at speed – still remaining a tad too light for our liking though. The car shows good composure at speed, and doesn’t feel unnerved even at 100-120km/h. What makes the feat even more incredible is the fact that the Evalia runs on tiny looking 14 inch wheels with 165 section. We really had our doubts whether those teeny wheels and skinny tyres (MRF Steel Master, built specifically for the Evalia) would be able to lend sufficient grip and poise – and we were left scratching our heads after having seen them in action. Sure, the tyres could have been wider, the wheels bigger – but tell you what, I have driven cars with all that and more which don’t behave half as good. The Evalia drives incredibly well, and has a sure-footedness which is a revelation going by its shape and the tyre size it runs on.
Even with its massive size and odd shape, the Evalia managed to impress us with its composure during its 20 km long climb up to the Nandi Hills. The Evalia is no sedan, and there most definitely is a certain degree of body roll which can be clearly felt. The steering feel, however, which is pleasantly devoid of any torque steer and the poise around corners is substantially better when compared to, say, the Xylo, which feels extremely wallowy, unwieldy and unsettled around corners. I tried to put the big van through its paces on our way downhill, and was convinced that a lot more engineering has gone into the making of this big machine than what appears on the surface. The Evalia, even with its high center of gravity felt nicely balanced and never seemed to be stepping into a precarious territory. Following the Evalia on the road makes you believe as if it were a monster sized tin breadbox running on castors. However, once you get behind the steering wheel, the Evalia turns into this surprisingly easy to drive, well poised car which amazes you with its effortlessness.
The suspension duties on the Evalia are undertaken by strut type setup up front and old-worldly leaf springs at the rear. Even with a lot of optimization, that setup has its flaws, and it’s evident in the way the Evalia rides. While the smaller undulations at slow speeds are soaked in without much problem, the cabin, especially in the middle and rear rows feels bouncy at moderate speeds as the car negotiates rough surfaces.
All in all, the Evalia managed to offer us a better than expected drive and handling experience. Not endorsed with the most absorbent quartet of suspension, however, the Evalia left us with something to be desired as regards ride comfort.
Design and styling
There designers at Nissan were reciting once single mantra as they put their pencils to paper while creating the Evalia – Space. And those folks at this Japanese company have my respect – Nissan is one of the most accomplished auto companies worldwide when it comes to design. They create cars with strong characters – Qashqai, Juke, GT-R, 370Z, Micra – Google Nissan Design and you’ll realize their prowess and strong heritage in automotive design. With the Evalia, the Japanese carmaker had its razor sharp focus on maximizing space, and the designers worked towards giving more weightage to function over form. This may have led to the Evalia ending up looking boxy from the exterior, but not without releasing acres of space within the cabin.
The Evalia is a van at the end of it, no matter what Nissan prefers calling it, and does look like one. It does, however, reek quality and premium feel hitherto unseen on a vehicle of a similar shape in India. One glance and you know it’s a vehicle from a maker of international repute. The stubby and high front end of the car features a big, fat bumper, housing a long air dam flanked by fog lamps. The upswept headlamps taper towards the insides, and have the blinkers towards the narrower end. Blacked out edges of the headlamp housing adds an air of premiumness the face. The triple slat radiator grille has a V-shaped chrome garnish at its bottom. The high bonnet and roofline makes the Evalia look rather narrow-ish when looked upon front on. Not so much in the front three-quarters view though.
The Evalia, to me looks its best in profile, where its huge, slanting front window, quarter glass with blacked out edges and chiseled surrounding surface looks distinctive and delightfully different from anything else on the Indian roads. The functional highlight of the Evalia’s exterior is its length and height, and the two aspects appear appreciable in profile, without causing any sense of disproportion, unlike the front and rear, which appear too tall and narrow. The distinctive design of the handles for the front and rear doors and the unique panel for the fuel inlet together give the Evalia its unusual, yet likeable (for a van) profile.
Talking of proportions, it’s at the rear end where the car loses its balance more than anywhere else. An enormous, straight tail gate (courtesy the ultra low boot lip for loading convenience) makes the Evalia’s posterior look overly tall. The ribbed horizontal reflectors with a chrome garnish do their bit to offset the height heavy feel at the rear, but given the enormity of the tail gate, they don’t quite accomplish what they set out to do. The tail-lights and the aforementioned reflectors also look a tad dated for modern trends and tastes.
What cannot, however be negated, is the Evalia’s premium feel. The paint quality, the finer details (front window, handles, fuel cap) and the neat assembly – the Evalia looks like a well-built, well-finished, quality product – if not the best looking.
Features and cabin quality
We were mighty impressed with paint quality finish and certain details on the exterior of the car. The cabin, however, doesn’t feel rich enough. The Evalia has a functional cabin which employs average quality plastics and hardly any soft touch materials. The grey beige dash and panels are made of grainy plastic with a hard feel – though the finish on all the panels is commendable and everything seems to have been put together extremely well.
The silver finish on the center console is a tad too shiny for our liking. The music system and the rest of the controls on the center console are functional, but without too much effort put in to raise the quality or aesthetical appeal. There is a 2-Din music system capable of playing CDs, radio, has an aux-in jack and will have a USB-in jack as well on the production version we’re told. A/C controls on the central console are pretty basic and look dated. Then again, there’s nothing simpler to use than what you are already used to – and A/C controls don’t get any easier to operate than this layout.
The steering wheel has been taken from the Micra sans the aluminium finish inserts on the two horizontal spokes. The instrument console comprises of three sections. There’s a tell-tale section on the left which lights up like a Christmas tree with more than a dozen lights as you turn the ignition key. The central position is taken by the massive analogue speedo with a black dial and white inscriptions. The most interesting part of the cluster is the right section which comprises of a colour screen. This screen juggles the tasks of showing the Trip computer readout (trip distance, distance to dry, fuel efficiency et al), the digital tachometer, Shift timing indicator, door ajar warning as well as showing the view behind the car via the rear view camera.
As mentioned earlier, the Evalia has plenty of cubbyholes within its cavernous cabin. There’s also a pair of tray tables for the second row which feel rather sturdily built. The flat floor along with the use of light colored materials increases the perception of spaciousness within the cabin.
There are a few omissions though. We have already told you about the middle and rear windows which could not be rolled down. In addition, the Evalia misses out on a rear washer and wiper, and a defogger. The features should have been provided on the top end variant.
Apart from the tilt adjustable steering wheel, the controls around the driver include air flow switch for the third row of seats, Electric ORVM panel, remote fuel lid and boot openers, door lock switch and headlight beam level adjustment.
All in all, the Evalia’s cabin is a reasonably well appointed and equipped place for a people mover.
Summing it up
Some of my media friends were not very convinced by the whole theory of an Evalia-like vehicle (rea van) for the Indian market. But that’s a situation similar to when HMSI launched their first scooter, the Activa in India. They brought a massive two-wheeler segment back to life from the dead just when everyone and their grandmothers were ridiculing them.
I see enormous promise in the Evalia. It’s incomparably spacious. It drives better than most of the MUVs in the market, and most importantly, it’s more fuel efficient than anything else around it. The Evalia has practicality, space, refinement and efficiency on its side. On the other hand, a van like shape doesn’t go too well with us Indians who instantly start comparing it with the Maruti Omni, badging it as a cargo vehicle, which it obviously isn’t. The windows for the middle row passengers not going down may also turn out to be the odd deal breaker for our weird and colourful (red shades mostly attributed to the paan and gutkha we love spitting out of our car windows) market.
Pricing is going to be crucial. With their small network and limited public awareness about the brand, Nissan cannot afford to act brash with the pricing of the Evalia. Yes, it looks like a good product, and it has its own virtues, but if they try to attack the virtuous Innova with this one, their projectiles would probably boomerang back on them. The Innova is still out of bounds for the Evalia as an overall package. However, the Evalia is decidedly a more evolved product than the Xylo, and that’s where they should be planning to position it. At a pricing which matches, or is marginally above the Xylo, the Evalia has a fighting chance.
The challenge for the Japanese carmaker is to put as many of those Evalias on the road as possible first, so the people could experience the virtues of this clever piece of machinery, and talk with their family and friends about it. Who knows, the Evalia could just do what the Qualis did for Toyota on the paan splattered roads of India.
Nissan Evalia Price List-
XE: INR 849000
XE+: INR 892000
XL: INR 949000
XV: INR 999000
(All prices Ex-showroom, Delhi)
Here’s an Image depicting all the features of the four variants
Images: Amit Chhangani / Tushar Kelshikar (Gaadi.com)