Combining the interior space of an executive saloon with the agility of a conventional small hatchback, Nissan’s unconventional NOTE is designed to appeal to the head and the heart.
Emotional and practical appeal
NOTE, developed from the Tone show car shown at the 2004 Paris motor show, has been designed to appeal on both emotional and practical levels. As well as having the roomiest interior in its class – and a wealth of innovative storage opportunities – NOTE is also fun to drive.
“After all,” says Taiji Toyota, Product Chief Designer, Nissan Motor Company, “an enthusiastic driver does not become disinterested in driving just because children have arrived. NOTE has been designed to appeal to both the head and the heart. It has plenty of space for the family, yet has outstanding dynamic qualities, too.”
From Tone to NOTE
The Tone show car was originally created as a solution to the needs of a younger member of the Nissan design team, an enthusiastic driver who was celebrating the birth of his first child.
But it was quickly realised that in his desire for a fun-to-drive yet practical car, the designer was by no means unique and Tone accrued more significance as a production version was given the green light. Little wonder Nissan confidently referred to Tone as ‘a show car of real NOTE’ at its Paris debut.
Externally similar to the show car, NOTE shows clear styling influences from the acclaimed Murano SUV to make it demonstrably a member of the Nissan family. Yet its distinctive profile – highlighted by the ‘ski-ramp’ roof-line and boomerang rear lights – ensure NOTE remains a highly individual design in its own right.
NOTE is built at Nissan’s highly productive Sunderland plant in the UK, on an extended version of the flexible ‘Alliance B’ platform. The platform first saw service in the current Micra model, launched in 2003 and since then, has also been used by Nissan for the new Micra C+C. It has also being used by Alliance partner Renault for its Modus and new Clio III models.
Class leading interior space
NOTE uses a version of the Alliance B platform with an extended 2600mm wheelbase and an overall length of just over 4m. But rather than offer three rows of seats, Nissan’s engineers have chosen to give NOTE’s five passengers the roomiest cabin in the class without compromising its ample luggage capacity.
“As part of the development programme, we interviewed not only potential owners, but also their passengers,” says Chris Lee, Nissan Europe, Product Planning Manager. “We asked groups of young people what they wanted from their parents’ cars and the most significant demand was for plenty of space. In particular, no-one enjoyed sitting behind Dad if he was driving, because their leg room was invariably drastically reduced.
“These comments were completely in-line with our own theories of what owners and their passengers would require from the NOTE.”
Sliding rear seat
To ensure NOTE remains as versatile as possible, it features a sliding rear bench seat. It moves forward by up to 160mm to increase luggage space when it’s needed. But even when the bench has been pushed as far forward as possible, NOTE’s minimum rear seat legroom can still accommodate 2 adults. And when the bench is pushed back, available rear legroom rises to a D segment level.
Minimum luggage space of 280 litres (VDA) rises to 437 litres with the seats pushed forwards, and increases to 1332 litres when the rear seat backs are folded. For maximum versatility, the front passenger seat can also be reclined flat so that items of up to 2.4m can be carried within the cockpit or stretched out as on a sofa.
Multi-position trunk floor
The trunk area is also unusual in having a multi-position luggage board which doubles as the load area floor. Known as Flexi-Board, the twin steel-framed boards can either be positioned over a luggage well providing a flat load area floor with a ‘secret’ storage area beneath, or at the bottom of the well itself if the maximum load area height is needed. The boards can withstand loads of up to 50kg.
They are also reversible with carpet on one side and an easy-to-clean waterproof surface on the other allowing, for example, muddy outdoor footwear, garden plants, ski boots, wet swimming gear etc to be carried without fear of marking the interior.
In addition, NOTE has dozens of thoughtful stowage places within the cabin. The backs of the front seats not only house folding trays for those in the rear, but aircraft-style expanding pockets for books, magazines and the other ephemera collected by young children.
A large glovebox – which can be heated or cooled – has a useful slot incorporated into its lid, ideal for maps, while the centre console has ample storage space for coins, mobile telephones and CDs.
Taking the well acclaimed feature from Micra, NOTE also has a secret compartment under the front passenger seat squab.
There are 12v power sockets in the front and rear compartments and the trunk to facilitate charging mobile phones, powering portable DVD, portable electronic games and cool boxes while there are no fewer than six cup holders.
With its flexibility and versatility assured, Nissan’s engineers then made certain NOTE also appealed to the heart. Featuring MacPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear axle, NOTE is starting with an acclaimed handling package. Its extended wheelbase and widened track ensure road holding remains of the highest order, while ride comfort is enhanced even further.
NOTE’s proven power units, are equally well respected. Four engine options will be available from launch, two petrol and two diesel.
Both petrol units are Nissan designs and EU4 compliant. The NOTE 1.4 is powered by a 1,386cc version of the all-aluminium 16 valve CR engine, developing 64kW
(88 PS) and 128Nm of torque. The 1.6 powertrain is , a member of Nissan’s HR family of engines – also featuring aluminium construction and four valves per cylinder – and this 1,598cc unit develops 81kW (110 PS) and 153Nm of torque.
The 1.5-litre diesels were developed by Alliance partner Renault. Both turbocharged dCi diesels, which displace 1,461cc, are EU4 compliant and feature common rail technology. Both intercooled, they develop 50 kW (68 PS) and 160Nm of torque, and 63 kW (86 PS) and an impressive 200Nm of torque respectively, for a perfect blend of performance, refinement and fuel economy.
All versions feature a Renault-developed five-speed manual transmission, though the 1.6 petrol also has the option of a new Nissan-developed four-speed automatic.
Three trim levels
Following established Nissan practice there are three trim levels – entry level Visia, rising through Acenta to range topping Tekna. All engines are available on Visia and Acenta models while Tekna versions are powered by either the 1.6 petrol or 63kW 1.5 dCi.
Standard safety equipment on all models includes four airbags as well as anti-lock brakes (ABS) with brake assist (BAS) and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), while the top Tekna model also incorporates the electronic stability programme (ESP) as standard. Isofix installation for child seats is also standard.
All models feature the sliding rear seat, central door locking and Friendly Lighting while the Flexi-Board system, secret storage, seat back tables, expanding seat back pockets, front and rear armrests are available on Acenta models and above.
Top-of-the-range Tekna adds part leather seating, fog lamps and 16 inch alloy wheels.
With its swooping roof-line, unusual rear lights and long, lean look, NOTE is a highly individual design. But subtle use of Nissan styling cues means there can be no doubt as to the car’s parentage: like Micra, Murano and 350Z, NOTE is distinctly different yet demonstrably a member of the Nissan family
NOTE is a five seat hatchback, powered by a series of petrol and diesel engine displacing 1.4-, 1.5- and 1.6-litres with power outputs ranging from 50 kW to 81 kW (68 to 110ps). But behind those bald facts lies a remarkable piece of design that manages to provide more than enough space for a family of five at the same time as being a dynamic performer.
NOTE began life as a doodle from one of Nissan young designer based in Japan. “He was feeling a little depressed, a little sad, because his wife was expecting their first baby,” says Taiji Toyota, Product Chief Designer, Nissan Motor Company.
“I mean he was full of joy about the new child, of course, but sad because he felt he would have to buy a sensible car for the first time in his life. He felt his fun driving days were over. But before he gave up on driving pleasure he decided to try to design a car that would answer all his desires.”
Although it began as one man’s pet project it wasn’t long before the rest of the design – and more importantly their boss – saw merit in the plan. Plans were quickly drawn to create a car that appealed on practical, emotional and financial levels, an affordable, fun-to-drive, family hold-all.
That NOTE should perform and handle well was a given, therefore. The trick would be to make a practical proposition as well.
Long and low
Mr Toyota says: “By using the extended chassis of the Alliance B platform, we were able to ensure NOTE would have enough interior space. But instead of creating a car as tall and boxy as the Cube we designed a car that would look long and low in profile.”
In fact, with an overall height of 1.55m and more than 4m from bumper to bumper the effect is of a car that appears sleek and sporty alongside the ‘cuddly’ hatchback.
Achieving this dynamic profile has involved borrowing a number of styling cues from current Nissan road cars and recent concept vehicles. Most notable, perhaps, is the arched roof-line, a feature that has reappeared time and again on production vehicles.
On NOTE, the roof-line rises gently from the top of the windscreen to a peak just above the B-pillar. From there is falls away until, unusually, is rises again towards the rear of the car. This ‘ski-jump’ effect gives NOTE extra dynamism by making it appear to be on the move even when it’s standing still.
A fashionably high waistline and dramatically extended wheelarches give an impression of strength while the generous glasshouse adds to the roominess of the interior. The trapezoidal third set of side windows echo the style found on Murano and the Qashqai concept car, leaving behind a strong D–pillar that’s almost triangular in shape.
The front takes its cues from both Micra and Murano, featuring enlarged – and even more powerful versions of Micra’s headlights and a double-deck four slot grille reminiscent of Murano’s face.
The headlights retain the idiosyncratic yet practical ‘bubble’ at the top of the reflector. This can be seen from the driver’s seat and acts as a guide when slotting the car into a tight parking bay or driving it down a narrow street.
At the rear the almost vertical fifth door has been designed with the accent on practicality: the combination of a low loading sill and virtually square dimensions aids loading and unloading the trunk while its upright stance makes parking easier.
The tailgate is framed by another idiosyncratic styling feature, boomerang tail-lights. First seen on the Qashqai concept, as well as providing a highly individual styling element the lights are mounted higher than on conventional cars so they can be seen more easily by following motorists.
The bumpers – which are finished in a contrasting black coating – are fully integrated into the overall shape and accentuate the short front and rear overhangs. Driving – and parking – is also aided by the unusually large door mirrors. As well as adding to the quality feel of the car, they can be folded at the touch of a button minimising the potential for damage when the car is left in a busy street.
Although conceived on supermini running gear and designed to spend as much time in towns as out on the open road, NOTE’s overall dimensions allow it to cross boundaries. Sitting on a wheelbase of 2.6m, NOTE is 4.08m long which brings it closer in overall size to Almera Tino - Nissan’s C-segment mini MPV – than to Micra.
This extra length translates directly into a roomy interior, offering more space than any of its immediate rivals.
Large door openings
And there are other practical features to be considered, such as the large door openings which ease ingress and egress, while thanks to the space in the rear compartment installing a child in a baby seat no longer needs a parent to double as a contortionist.
Interior and Driving
Fun to drive
“As driving enthusiasts ourselves, we knew what was needed to ensure NOTE would be fun from behind the wheel, but we were less sure about what rear seat passengers expected. Those clinics were real eye-openers,” recalls Jerry Hardcastle, Director Vehicle Experiment, Nissan Technical Center Europe.
Perhaps the most often heard request was for more leg room. Today’s teenagers are often as big as, if not bigger than, their parents and they find the rear seats of many so-called family cars cramped in the extreme.
“Many of the youngsters said they fought with their siblings not to sit behind the driver, especially when the driver was Dad as he invariably pushed the driver’s seat as far back as it would go. This left them little of no leg room at all,” says Norman Snowdon, Vehicle Development Manager at Nissan Technical Centre Europe.
Thanks to its long wheelbase and sliding rear seat, NOTE can provide generous rear leg room, meaning not only do rear passengers have a more comfortable journey, but also that Dad no longer has to drive with a pair of knees wedged into the middle of his back.
The research undertaken by Nissan Europe’s Product Planning department also showed that many children wanted their ‘own’ space, something that could be provided simply with a centre armrest acting as a border between two warring teenagers. In families with three children, there was often a plaintive request from the youngest or smallest that the centre ‘seat’ be more than a ridge between two sculpted chairs. NOTE, as result, has three seats offering each child equal levels of comfort.
Ample storage space
Keeping children occupied on longer journeys is a problem faced by many parents, but, again thanks to input from the youngsters themselves, NOTE is here to help. As well as providing sturdy, aircraft-style, folding tables ¬– complete with supported cup holders rather than simple holes – on the backs of the two front seats, Nissan’s designers were asked to come up with plenty of storage space for those in the rear.
So, taking another leaf from the aircraft world, NOTE has double pockets on the backs of the front seats – a net pocket for magazines or toys is augmented by a zipped expanding pocket for larger items.
Individual reading lights
“We discovered that children prefer to keep themselves to themselves on longer journeys. As well as the separating qualities of the folding armrest, we were asked for individual reading lights, which we supplied, and privacy glass in the rear, which is available as an option,” says Chris Lee, Nissan Europe, Product Planning Manager. The latter is for practical rather than vanity reasons – rather than not wanting to be seen, the darkened glass offers protection against the summer sun.
And those unusual requests that wound up on the cutting room floor? “We were also asked to consider developing head restraints that could double as pillows for longer journeys. This is an idea we are still looking at.
“Individual DVD players for all three rear seats were regularly requested, but incorporating such hardware into the car would have been too expensive for a car in this market sector. We did, however, provide power sockets so portable players could be used in the rear.
“Perhaps the oddest request, though, was from one youngster who wanted a limousine-style division between her ‘chauffeur’ in the front and her friends in the rear. Those in the back might have loved it, but I’m not so sure that Mum or Dad in the front would have appreciated this tacit confirmation that he or she is no more than a taxi driver,” says Chris Lee.
The Product Planning team also ensured that customer input into NOTE was not restricted to only those in the rear, of course. During the development programme more than 650 adults were also asked for their opinions. This phase of the programme was undertaken in Germany where new car buyers are “more analytical” than elsewhere in Europe.
Simple to use
The overwhelming response from these clinics was for a practical interior, but one that was simple to use. Top quality materials and a choice of interior colour schemes were also expected. Nissan’s engineers responded by ensuring that not only does NOTE have plenty of luggage space, it is unnecessary to reach for the handbook for instructions every time the rear seats need to be folded.
Just one lever operates each of the split folding back-rests, both of which can be lowered with the headrests in situ. Pistol grip levers on the base of the rear seat squab are used to slide the seat forward or back, an action that can be undertaken from the rear of the car or from within the cabin.
There’s also a range of different fabrics and colours available. Depending on the model, dashboards are either a sporty black or light and airy beige with corresponding dark or light seat fabrics. The top grades have a part leather interior with the added option of black and maroon accents. The full effect includes silver coloured gear lever knobs, and black or silver surrounds for the instrument panel, the dials of which are black or silver depending on the model grade.
Reversible trunk floor
Simplicity and practicality are the keys to the Flexi-Board reversible trunk floor. The two boards sit in the bottom of a luggage well in the trunk floor when not in use either carpet side up or, if muddy or wet items are to be carried, with the washable rubberised side uppermost.
When raised – a simple, two-part operation – the boards form a flat loading surface over a now-hidden storage area: perfect for keeping valuable items out of sight. Again, when carrying dirty loads, the wipe clean surface is designed to sit uppermost.
Another neat touch is the deep slot within the glovebox lid designed to hold a map book. The clinic was an ideal opportunity for the Product Planning team to confirm their belief that there was a need among customers for cavernous glovebox storage.
With four engine options available, there’s a power unit to suit most tastes. The two petrol options are Nissan units, while the pair of common rail diesels have been developed by Alliance partner Renault.
Petrol-powered NOTE have a choice of 1.4 or 1.6-litre units. The NOTE 1.4 is powered by a 1,386 cc version of Nissan’s familiar CR twin cam, 16 valve, all-aluminium four cylinder engine.
In this guise it develops 64 kW (88PS) and a peak torque figure of 128 Nm at 3,200 rpm which with slightly revised ‘taller’ gearing, allows NOTE 1.4 to achieve excellent fuel economy with refined performance. Top speed is 165 km/h (103 mph) with 0-100 km/h (62 mph) acceleration taking 13.1 seconds. Combined cycle fuel economy is 6.4 l/100km (44.3 mpg) while NOTE returns a highly competitive 152 g/km of CO2 emissions.
Variable valve timing
As well as being fully Euro IV compliant, the engine features Nissan’s Variable Valve Timing control system and a ’Drive-by-Wire’ electronic throttle. Extensive use of low friction moving parts and lightweight pistons improve not only the levels of noise, vibration and harshness but also fuel consumption.
Variable valve timing has two main gains. Torque is improved to boost in-gear acceleration and therefore driving pleasure, and emissions performance is improved. The use of a drive-by-wire throttle optimises throttle control giving better response, smoothness and flexibility.
Other significant features include the use of a single stage ’super-silent’ timing chain system for improved NVH and greater reliability and longer inlet manifolds for improved torque.
The second petrol engine is 1.6 Nissan’s new light-weight, low friction, high torque 1.6-litre twin cam. Devel oping 81 kW (110hp) and 153 Nm of torque (with 85% of peak torque available from 2000rpm), the all-aluminium design is notably lighter than similar capacity units from rival manufacturers.
Among its features are four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, multi-point port injection and vane-type continuous intake cam phasing, while extensive use of die cast aluminium includes the cylinder blocks, heads, head covers, upper oil pan and front covers. Iron cylinder liners are cast in the open-deck, half skirt block. The oil pan/block joint adds significant rigidity to the engine and also integrates a gear-type oil pump driven by a separate chain from the crankshaft.
The engine is Nissan’s first transverse unit with a front intake and rear exhaust which greatly aids packaging. Because it takes up less room under the bonnet more space can be given over to passenger and load space flexibility.
The engine is highly thermally efficient. Each intake port is divided into an upper and lower section by a cast-in aluminium plate. The lower section has a control valve within the plastic intake manifold tract at the entrance to the divided port. When closed at low and mid range engine speeds, air is directed to the upper section, so generating a tumble motion which is maintained by a shallow recess in the piston crown.
With diesels accounting for between 40 and 60 per cent of sector sales across Europe’s major markets, it comes as no surprise that NOTE is also available with the choice of two strong diesel options.
Both are advanced Euro IV compliant 1.5-litre dCi units which have been developed by Nissan’s Alliance partner, Renault, and which are available in two states of tune. The turbocharged eight valve four cylinder engine featuring common rail technology and intercooler, is available in two versions: 50 kW (68 PS) and 63 kW (86PS).
Both engines have been acclaimed for their blend of performance and economy mixed with refinement and smoothness. Now featuring a second generation direct injection system, torque gains make both 1,461cc units particularly responsive from low engine speeds. The 50 kW version develops 160 Nm at a low 2,000 rpm while the 63 kW model boasts a remarkable 200 Nm, also from 2,000 rpm.
With a top speed potential of 155 km/h (97 mph), the 50 kW diesel takes 16.5 secs to hit 100 km/h (62 mph) from rest and returns 5.2 l/100km (54.6 mpg) on the combined cycle. Equivalent figures for the 63 kW version are 168 km/h (105 mph); 13.0 secs and 5.1 l/100km (55.6 mpg).
Like the diesel engines, NOTE’s cable-operated five-speed manual transmissions were originally developed by Renault . An advanced, Nissan developed, electronically controlled four-speed automatic with extended slip lock-up control offers smoothness, economy and sharp responses. It is available on the NOTE 1.6 petrol engine.