With its first two products having missed the mark, the new Redigo just has to be the one that works, in order for the Datsun brand to survive.
The Go and Go+, Datsun’s first two launches, were functional cars available at affordable prices, especially considering their size. Datsun, however, underestimated the Indian consumer’s need to have as much as possible while paying as little as possible. As a result, the Go siblings have been left by the wayside, because they are poorly equipped and the cost-cutting is obvious, which is something Indians these days will just not accept. Suffice to say, the Datsun brand needs a strong shot in the arm to get back on buyers’ radars, and lessons learnt have been plowed back into the Redigo which comes to the market with the task of resurrecting the Datsun.
Even with this contemporary looking car, Datsun has its work cut out. Where the Go and Go+ went up against the likes of the Maruti WagonR and Hyundai i10, the Redigo is entering a much fiercer battlefield. It’s the budget segment, dominated by India’s best-selling car – the Maruti Alto, and recently stirred up by Datsun’s own very attractive cousin – the Renault Kwid. That’s quite a tall order for this little hatchback, with not only the weight of the entire Datsun brand bearing down on its shoulders, but also the pressure to thrive in a hugely competitive segment with some of the most critical and brand-loyal customers in the country.
What is it?
It’s a budget hatchback that will go on sale in the most affordable four-wheeler segment in India. Under the skin, it uses the same platform as the Renault Kwid, and that means a lot of components are shared, including the engine, gearbox and suspension. But Datsun has made it a point to give it a distinct identity. In fact, although the platform is the same, it’s been stretched and shortened in several areas for this car. It’s shorter, narrower and has a shorter wheelbase than the Kwid, but it is taller, for better interior space. It also looks completely different. Datsun calls it an ‘Urban Cross’, steering clear from too strong an SUV connotation, but as you can see, it is clearly a ‘tall boy’ hatchback in the vein of the now-defunct Hyundai Santro. While Hyundai has been mulling over the replacement of the erstwhile Santro, Datsun cleverly swooped into this vacant space. No doubt, the Redigo’s tall proportions is one thing that sets it apart.
Interestingly, however, it has crossover-like ground clearance – a class-leading 185mm. That’s not the only best-in-class thing about the Redigo, though, says Datsun. Its 25.17kpl ARAI-rated fuel economy figure is another, and there’s also the promise of lower running costs, a lower kerb weight and a claimed 0-100kph acceleration figure that’s better than all of its competitors.
The Redigo’s shape may not be revolutionary, but the design itself is quite attractive. Datsun has made sure to put its big signature grille front and centre with a nice, thick chrome surround, and large upswept headlamps on either side of it. The front bumper is heavily sculpted, with a contrast-coloured faux skid plate at the base and LED daytime-running lamps (DRLs); a conscious decision was made to forego fog lamps in favour of DRLs, another class-first, because that’s what customers prefer, apparently. On to the sides, a subtle line runs from the headlamps to the tail-lamps beneath the windows, while lower down, another very thick crease rises from the base of the doors to the tail. This shows that some cost has gone into giving character to the sheet metal in a car where costs are being trimmed in every possible place. The small and quirky tail-lamps might have made the rear look ‘pinched’, but it’s given some relief thanks to the contrast-coloured insert in the bumper, the chrome strip on the boot lid and the way the tailgate curves inward in the middle.
What’s it like on the inside?
The Redigo’s cabin is finished in two-tone grey and beige, and it’s good to see a departure from the dull ‘greige’ colour Datsun used in the older cars. This, combined with the large glass area and the tall seating position, gives it a really airy feeling. I particularly like the way the front windows taper down at the A-pillar for that last little feeling of openness. The dashboard has a nice, neat flow to it from left to right, with an instrument cluster identical to the Go’s. There’s the same blue analogue speedometer and a small orange digital screen that has a tachometer and detailed trip computer too. The round AC vents are familiar from the Nissan/Datsun parts bin, but what’s new is the fixed triangular central vent that’s carefully aimed at the rear seat.
In contrast to all the generous open space, the glovebox feels like a mere token, as it’s only large enough for the car’s papers and maybe some toll tickets. There is, as before, an open shelf above it, and now, also a second cubby below the AC controls – perfect for a mobile phone. Other stowage spots? Well, the door pockets are far too slim, but you do get a cup holder, a larger bottle holder and a flat tray under the handbrake. Quality levels aren’t up there with the class best – the Hyundai Eon – but the look and feel of the Redigo’s insides are certainaly a touch better than the Alto’s.
To make a car at this price, every automaker struggles with the dilemma of what to leave in and what to take out. It’s a big challenge that Datsun engineers have faced as well. While low-cost bits like the externally adjustable wing mirrors, a single-blade wiper and static seatbelts are pretty much the norm in a Rs 2.5 lakh car, items like central locking, a two-speed wiper (there’s no ‘intermittent’ setting) and no key access are missing. What really is an excessive bit of cost-cutting though, is exposed sheet metal visible in the cabin. However, Datsun says you’ll be able to buy panels from the accessories catalogue to cover these gaps and like the Kwid, many owners are likely to spec up their cars with aftermarket add-ons. In terms of safety, you do get an optional driver airbag on the top-spec car, but there’s no ABS.
The audio system is a nice step-up from the Go and Go+, featuring a radio, CD player, aux and USB input, as opposed to just aux. Still, we feel Datsun could have sprung for Bluetooth connectivity as well, as it would have been a huge boon for both music and telephony, at not much of a cost. The good news is the Redigo will be constantly updated, with something new added as frequently as every six months, so hopefully, this will be addressed then. But what’s a missed opportunity is a touchscreen, which is a new craze triggered by the Kwid. Again, this extremely vital feature will come on a later version.
Datsun says the Redigo has best-in-class rear seat space, and sitting in the rear seat, it seems the carmaker could be right. Good use has been made of the available vertical space, and though the seatback is a bit upright, the space here is pretty great. Head room is fantastic, knee room is more than sufficient and surprisingly, there’s decent thigh support thanks to the tall seating position. The high ground clearance also ensures you can walk into the car, rather than dropping down into it. The seat, however, is quite flat (as are most in this class), so don’t expect a lot of lateral support, and the narrow width of the body ensures that three-abreast seating is an occasional luxury.
The front seats are surprisingly comfortable considering how slim they are. You’re perched high enough to get a good view out and here too, there’s a good amount of thigh support. There’s a bit of side bolstering too which keeps you nice and snug. As is par for the class, there’s no height adjustment here, nor is there steering wheel adjustment of any sort but the fixed steering position has been finely set to suit the average height of Indian drivers. What’s more impressive than the actual space is the sensation of space that comes from the airy cabin and its large windows. That said, the thick C-pillar creates quite a large blind spot while reversing.
The 222-litre boot volume is not class leading (the Kwid has an astonishing 300), but it’s quite a decent amount in real-world usage. The only trouble is that the loading lip is really high and the aperture really narrow, so you’ll have to heave your luggage up and over to load it in. The backrest of the rear seat can be folded down as a single piece for a lot more luggage room. The Redigo gets a parcel tray which is nice and practical but the way it's bolted to the body obstructs the loading bay.
What’s it like to drive?
The mechanicals will be familiar if you’ve driven a Renault Kwid. A 799cc, three-cylinder petrol engine drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. The power output is 54hp, while the torque is rated at 72Nm, both of which are par for the class. The experience might not be exactly the same as the Kwid, however, because while the gear ratios and final drive have come over unchanged, the motor is said to be ‘improved’, likely for even better fuel economy. A kerb weight that’s about 25kg lighter than the Kwid’s will also play a part here.
On start-up and idle, it comes with an acceptable three-cylinder thrum that’s not too bad, but what might irk you a bit is the vibration you’ll feel through the steering wheel, which only gets stronger as you move up to about 1,100rpm. The other thing that will annoy you is that it stutters a lot getting off the line, forcing you to feed in a little throttle to move away smoothly. Once you’ve picked up speed, however, it will potter about quite smoothly, which is what you want in town, where the Redigo will be most at home. Here, the vibrations settle down and progress is pretty smooth, and this is the zone you’ll want to keep the car in at all times.
The motor will rev to just over 5,000rpm, but we wouldn’t bother taking it much past 4,500, because that’s where it becomes unbearably noisy and thrashy, and moreover, there’s not much more power to be had either. Flex your foot harder and you’ll find the mid-range has a flat power delivery. When it comes to overtaking, you’ll need to shift down to make sufficiently rapid progress. Overall, the engine sounds and feels a bit too crude compared to the competition, including the Kwid, where the same motor feels a lot smoother and quieter. In fact, Datsun engineers hinted that the engine is ‘still a work in progress’ and the calibration is likely to be tweaked before launch for a smoother power delivery.
The five-speed manual uses a dog-leg reverse gear, which might be a little unusual for first-time drivers, but is also a great safety feature to prevent accidentally slotting in reverse for novices. The gear-shift action is not the lightest but allied to a light and progressive clutch, driving in stop-go traffic is quite easy.
The Redigo’s ride is acceptable by class standards, if a little on the firm side. You’ll find that it can rumble over most rough sections, but go a little faster and you will feel quite a bit of up and down movement inside the cabin. The Kwid, with the same mechanical setup, is just a whole lot more compliant. High-speed stability is not too bad either, and though there’s a fair bit of roll from the tall body, it’s decently contained. The steering is quite light but lacks feel and doesn’t self-centre easily. It’s fine for city driving but the steering is a bit too lifeless to inspire driving at high speeds.
The Redigo does have a tight turning circle of just 9.46m, and although it perhaps takes a few too many turns to go from lock to lock, the short overhangs and compact dimensions make it one of the easiest cars to park.
Should I buy one?
Think of this as the start of a second innings for Datsun, where the Redigo is the opening batsman – there’s a lot riding on it. The marketing reminds you that it’s a ‘Japanese’ car, so it will be reliable, that it has the ground clearance to handle our bad roads, and most of all, that it will have best-in-class running costs thanks to 98 percent localisation. All these are true, and to that list, you can add the tall proportions that, apart from providing a great driving position, also make for spacious and comfortable seating.
However, the Redigo is not without fault. Signs of cost cutting, like the exposed metal in the cabin really mark it down, as do the poor driveability and levels of refinement. Yes, it’s a well-packaged product, but it doesn’t really break new ground.
What could tip the scales in its favour is the striking design, which makes the car look more premium than it is. A lot hinges on the price, of course – the car hasn’t yet been launched, but we expect it to slightly undercut all its rivals, at a starting point of around Rs 2.5 lakh. And at that price, it will be really good value.
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