Indian-built Datsun budget-beater now comes with a drivers side airbag and a raft of convenience features.
Indian-built Datsun budget-beater now comes with a drivers side airbag and a raft of convenience features.
Upper-spec Go Lux adds electric power steering, electric front windows, manual central locking, door pockets and that all-important airbag.
Upper-spec Go Lux adds electric power steering, electric front windows, manual central locking, door pockets and that all-important airbag.

ROAD TEST: Datsun Go Lux

By: Jesse Adams

Johannesburg - Let’s not beat around the bush. When the resurrected Datsun brand first launched in our market in 2014 with its super cheap Go hatch, this publication refused to road test the car on account of its lack of safety features.

Basically, we weren’t keen on endorsing (or reviewing) a product without airbags or ABS. And it seems we weren’t the only ones with concerns as, less than a year later, Datsun made the Go available with one driver airbag... albeit as an optional extra.

Anti-lock brakes are still a no-go in this Indian-built budget beater, but the additional airbag, we feel, is enough of a step in the right direction to justify a proper analysis of what this car brings to ours, and other emerging markets.

Note the ‘emerging markets’ part. You’re never going to see this car cruising down Rodeo Drive, Champs Elysées, or the German Autobahn. No, this is a product devised by Datsun’s mothership brand Nissan to retail only in developing countries where standards are low, economies are slow, and cash-strapped populations longing for mobility are willing compromise on safety and quality to have it. No offence South Africa, India and Indonesia, but these are the facts.

Not exactly the most flattering intro to a car review, but again, there’s no hiding that this is a no-frills form of transport at its most basic level. I only wish that Datsun SA would embrace its affordability angle instead of embellishing its local website with unrealistic claims and preposterous statements. No, the Go does not have athletic rear shoulders. Nor does it feature any cutting-edge technologies. The dashboard’s feel is nothing like leather, the seat designs are in no way ‘connected’, and circular air vents aren’t exactly a bragging point.

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I do hope the buying public can read through this inflated jargon, and see the Go for what it is - an extremely affordable way of getting into a new car. The base model Go, called the ‘Mid’, is priced at R95 200 and is the third cheapest passenger car in our market after two Chinese offerings, but just know that at this level there’s no power steering, aircon, power windows, stereo or airbag to be had. Even door pockets and plastic wheel covers are left out.

The upper spec Go Lux (take that name with a pinch of salt) as on test here, comes in at R108 200, and adds electric power steering, electric front windows, manual central locking, door pockets, wheel caps and that all-important airbag. It also gets two speakers and what Datsun calls a device docking station, although it’s really just a (very) flimsy cellphone holder with an auxiliary headphone jack to play music through. The USB port positioned alongside is there for device charging only.

It’s an extremely easy car to drive with a forgiving clutch action and light steering which beginners will appreciate. The Go’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine is notably lumpy at idle and when stopped it’s hard not to notice the passenger seat and phone holder trembling under the murmur, but once on the move it smooths out with a typical three-pot thrum.

FLAT TORQUE CURVE

Outputs of 50kW and 104Nm may seem a little meagre on paper, but with a kerb weight of less than 800kg the package is actually reasonably peppy. Similar engines in other entry-level hatches sometimes need to be revved hard to extract usable power, but with a redline of only 5500rpm and an impressively flat torque curve, the Go is much more relaxed in comparison. Our test routine saw an acceptable consumption average of about seven litres per 100km.

Handling is questionable, though. Ride height is set at a fairly high 170mm, and while this might come in handy at slow speeds on rural third-world roads, it’s less than ideal in fast-paced urban environments. It feels top-heavy in sharp curves, and road ripples agitate the suspension wildly. Fast direction changes combined with braking or acceleration see the high-up body bobbing and weaving uncomfortably, and knowing there’s no ABS or stability control to bail you out of trouble makes for an uneasy feeling.

Datsun claims the Go’s shocks use the same bump-absorbing tech as cars in Nissan’s luxury brand Infiniti, but I just don’t believe it. The feeling of rolling around on top of the flat bench seat doesn’t inspire much confidence either, and I also had little faith in the no-name 13 inch tyres which felt quite hard in compound and squealed in agony if I took bends at any sort of pace.

It gets worse. Sorry Datsun, but the 1960s style rear seatbelts have no place in the 21st century. Rear passengers actually have to unhook the belt from a hanger, buckle it, and then cinch-up the slack like you would in an original Ford Capri. Inertia reels please. The rear-view mirror too is bargain basement quality, with a wonky reflection like one of those fun-house distortion mirrors. There’s also no clock, the parcel shelf gets no lifting strings, and our tailgate’s gas struts got stuck midway through their travel leaving the lid only partially open.

VERDICT

They say beggars can’t be choosers, but in our market they actually can. There are other, better cars in this entry-level segment such as Suzuki’s Celerio 1.0 GA which comes with ABS brakes and two airbags for R113 900, and the R5 700 price difference only equates to R86 rand per month over a six-year finance deal.

We can accept some rough edges and cost cutting at this extremely budget-conscious end of the market, but the Go just doesn’t cut it, especially with its safety levels. Even at its price. - Star Motoring

FACTS

Datsun Go Lux

Engine: 1.2-litre, 3 cylinder petrol

Gearbox: 8-speed automatic

Power: 50kW @ 5000rpm

Torque: 104Nm @ 4000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 13.3 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 161km/h

Price: R108 900

Warranty: 3-year / 100 000km

Service intervals: 15 000km

Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd