Datsun Go CVT tested: It's come a long way, but is it worth the price?
Johannesburg - When the first version of the Datsun Go hit the scene almost six years ago, it was widely criticised for lacking essential safety features and for being rough around just too many edges. The price tag was undeniably attractive though, with the little Indian-built hatchback starting at just R89 500.
Although the Datsun Go that you can buy in 2020 doesn’t look very different to the original 2014 version, it has enjoyed numerous upgrades over the years, including modernised infotainment and those all-important safety items. All models now come with dual front airbags and ABS brakes, while the Lux versions ship with vehicle dynamic control too.
Datsun is also said to have made structural improvements to the car since its earlier Global NCAP crash tests, in which the version with no airbags received zero stars and the model with a driver’s bag managed just one. Unfortunately, we can’t tell you how much safer it is in a crash since the latest version has not been independently crash tested as yet.
Let's take a spin
The subject of this test is the new CVT version of the Datsun Go, which was introduced late last year, and I know what some of you are thinking - this is surely a recipe for complete automotive misery - but I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this new package.
Continuously variable gearboxes are known for being droney to the point of complete annoyance, while labouring engines at high rpm at the slightest provocation, but this engine and gearbox combination proved surprisingly unobtrusive.
Although you will have to work it hard in some instances, in which case it can get droney, in normal driving conditions the car keeps up with fast-paced Joburg traffic without any fuss and it was quite easy to live with on the highway too, cruising relatively quietly at the national speed limit. Compared to some of those horribly clunky AMT gearboxes on the market, this CVT is by far the lesser of two evils.
It’s worth mentioning that the 1.2-litre engine is also tuned to produce more power when paired with the CVT gearbox, the three-cylinder normally aspirated motor pushing 57kW versus 50kW in the manual models.
While the ride was a tad crashy at times, and there is some body roll during fast cornering, the overall driving experience in this Datsun Go was better than I’d expected. I could live with this car on a day-to-day basis if I had to, which is more than I can say for some of its rivals.
In 2018 the Datsun Go has also been given a good polish-up, inside and out, while the CVT’s arrival in 2019 ushered in a striking new metallic blue paint option, which really elevates the overall look of the car.
Nicer inside, but some niggles
Datsun has also done some spring cleaning and tech modernising inside, with Lux models gaining a touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The cabin still has a plasticy look and feel, but it’s not bad by entry-level standards and those mock carbon fibre inlays do elevate the mood a bit.
There are still a few ergonomic gripes though.
For instance, the car locks itself when you pull away - which is an important security feature in crime-ridden SA - but somehow they forgot to programme it to unlock when you turn the ignition off. This means you have to reach for the unlock switch every time you want to depart your Datsun.
There’s also no height adjustment for the steering wheel, which was positioned a little higher than I’d have liked, although unlike the locking bugbear I did get used to the driving position during my week with the car.
The luggage access area is a little crude though, with the tonneau cover in our test car coming in the form of a bit bulky plastic unit that was not string-attached to the tailgate, meaning it had to be manually lifted to access the boot.
As a family car, though, the Go offers as much interior and boot space as you’d expect in the entry-level segment, although it can’t match the Suzuki Swift for abundant rear legroom.
Is it worth the money?
Although it still has a few rough edges, the Datsun Go has undergone enough improvements through the years to make it feel like a completely different car and in CVT format it’s surprisingly easy to live with.
But here’s the problem - the Datsun Go is no longer a cheap car, with the base model now setting you back R162 300 and the CVT range-topper retailing at R187 900. Consider that you can get a very nice Kia Picanto with an auto gearbox and touchscreen for R194 995.
Still, there’s a big part of me that wants to pat Datsun on back for all the improvements it has made to the Go, but the price increases seem to have outpaced the refinements. Pity that. At a lower price point the Go could have made good sense.