Nissan eyes speedy momentum in India with new Magnite compact SUV

by Mayank Dhingra 20 Nov 2020


Nothing like a new product to charge up a company – or the market. Come December 2 and Nissan Motor India will officially launch the Magnite compact SUV, which was first revealed on October 21. The Magnite, with which the Japanese carmaker aims to ride the surging wave of demand for compact SUVs, is a make-or-break product for Nissan in India. After a decade of operations in India, Nissan has only a meagre 0.37% share of the passenger vehicle market. In the April-October 2020 period, only 4,431 Nissans were sold in India. The Magnite clearly has a lot riding on it.

Following its reveal, the Magnite has created quite a buzz and Nissan Motor India’s management is understandably bullish about the SUV’s prospects. According to Rakesh Srivastava, managing director, Nissan Motor India, “Q4 (in a financial year) is the biggest quarter in the automotive industry from a sales perspective. The launch of the Magnite is as per our original plan and we would be predominantly be taking orders in December and doing maximum deliveries between January and March 2021.”

Based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s modular CMF-A platform, which also underpins the Renault Triber MPV, and leveraging synergies thanks to commonality of parts and engines, expect Nissan to take a crack at the market with a very aggressive pricing strategy. Billed to start with an estimated Rs 550,000 for the base model through to Rs 955,000 for the top-end variant, the Magnite has the potential to ruffle the market.

Bold and masculine design
This Nissan is a head-turner. The front carries a bold face with the L-shaped LED DRLs and sleek headlamps flanking the wide chrome-bordered grille. Small square LED fog lamps sit right at the bottom and the bonnet also looks clean with a forward-sloping silhouette that also embodies the overall design language to give the car a sporty stance. The side profile sees 16-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, all-round body cladding, as well as concave door panels and flared front and rear haunches. While the belt line remains consistently flat from front to back, there’s a distinct kink at the C-pillar that houses the small quarter glass, which looks stylish and also serves the purpose of sending extra light into the cabin.

The rear end gets the similar beak-shaped wrap-around tail-lamps from the Triber with a neat 3D Nissan emblem in between and the spaced-out Magnite lettering just below. The bumper gets the faux skid plate, while the tail-gate opening aperture neatly houses the rear-view camera. The raked windshield gets an integrated spoiler too and while there’s no sunroof on offer, the Magnite gets functional roof rails that can take up to 50kgs of additional weight.

What’s inside?
The Magnite abounds with storage space and you get a spacious centre console, glovebox and doorpads. The front armrest is non-adjustable and cannot be opened as it routes the ducting for the rear AC vents. Nissan says this maximise space by omitting a floor hump in the rear of the cabin. Even though the cabin width is good only for two passengers at the rear, the Magnite has sufficient headroom and legroom for a comfortable experience both front and back.

The all-black cabin looks surprisingly airy and elements such as a textured finish on the dashboard along with the hexagonal air-con vents lend an upmarket look. What mars the experience, however, is cost-cutting measures like the relatively low-quality materials used in places such as the IRVM and the lower half of the dashboard.

The Magnite is tall on creature comforts and features a large 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The display also doubles up to show the feed from the four cameras that transmit a 360-degree surround view of the vehicle, which helps reversing and parking in tight spots. Higher variants get a nicely-tuned Harman six-speaker surround-sound system which offers clear and crisp notes even at high volumes.

There’s a full-digital, easy to read TFT instrument cluster, which shows the readout of the tyre pressure monitoring system as well. The LED headlights though could prove to be insufficient while night driving in low-lit conditions.  How’s it like to drive? Let’s find out.

Turbo talk
The Magnite builds on the underlying strengths of the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine in the Triber and aims to offer a significantly different driving experience that appeals to the young as well as enthusiastic car buyer.

While the three-cylinder petrol engine develops only 72bhp in its naturally-aspirated form, Nissan has plonked a more powerful, HRAO turbocharged version of the same unit as well, which now develops a significantly higher 100bhp.

The engine-drivetrain combination is going to be one of the key highlights of the Magnite which, if coupled with an attractive price tag, can draw buyers to Nissan showrooms like a magnet. While the Magnite is on offer with the 1.0-litre engine in both states of tune, it is the latter that we sampled in its five-speed manual transmission as well as CVT avatars. The 72bhp motor, however, will only be offered in a five-speed manual transmission option.

Right from the word go, the Magnite offers sprightly performance in the manual variant, with good low-end power delivery and well-controlled turbo lag. The turbocharger starts spooling around 1800rpm but it is only after 2100rpm that one can actually feel the power coming in strongly and the car makes rapid progress.

The gearing is tall and the crossover can easily touch triple-digit speeds in second gear itself with a non-rebellious, free-revving motor that goes all the way past 6000rpm. The meat of the powerband, though, lies between 2100 and 4200rpm. With a low kerb weight, the power-to-weight ratio is handsome and makes it one of the rare crossovers to offer superlative performance that feels raw and delivers a sense of connect with the vehicle.

The clutch is soft and the gears, though notchy, shift with a precise action. For a three-cylinder unit, engine vibrations are well damped as well with scarcely anything filtering onto the clutch pedal; there is a hint of vibration if the door is kept open while engine idling. What’s missing though is a dead pedal, which would have made things more ergonomic. That said, the seats are well bolstered and everything falls into hand very easily, albeit the driver’s seat could offer more range for height adjustment, as well as the steering wheel for rake.

Smooth and convenient CVT
The Magnite is one of the rare cars to offer an enjoyable driving experience even with a CVT, usually known for its rubber-band effect that kills the fun of revving the engine and making quick progress. The car settles into an even smoother idle than the manual transmission variant and creep function is well calibrated to offer decent movement just by releasing the brake pedal.

Bring in some throttle inputs and while the CVT is a little slow to respond as compared to the manual, the extra shove of torque from the turbocharger and the torque converter ensure that it is no slouch in performance. The car offers reasonably-quick performance, keeping the engine in the right rev band at all times, and the CVT also adjusts to the driver’s behaviour to offer the best of performance and fuel efficiency. Nissan says the Magnite gets its third-generation CVT technology that has been vastly improved to offer a smooth driving experience, which was quite noticeable on our drive.

While the CVT will see a lot of takers, eyeing the car for predominantly for city usage, however, the engine-transmission option also offers a pleasurable and stress-free driving experience on the highway with quick acceleration and ease of driving, thereby proving to be a noticeable competition for the Kia Sonet and Hyundai Venue, both of which get the quicker seven-speed DCT paired to a 118bhp motor.

In terms of driving dynamics, the Magnite offers decent feedback from the steering, which could be enhanced given the amount of power the engine develops and the seemingly potent nature of the chassis that comes with well-balanced ride and handling manners. The ride quality at city speeds is comfortable and only improves at higher speed, with only cross-winds swaying and unsettling the car under hard braking or cornering. This could boil down to the high ground clearance of 205mm and a 16-inch 195-section tyre size, all of which are being procured from Ceat.

On the safety front, the car comes with standard dual front airbags, ABS with EBD and rear parking sensors. Higher variants both in turbocharged manual and CVT form also get a traction control system, hill-start assist and vehicle dynamics control system as well.

Will the Magnite draw buyers?
So, while the Magnite offers immense potential as a competent product, potential buyers would also keep in mind Nissan Motor India inconsistent support in terms of sales and aftersales to customers. The carmaker would need to instil confidence about its long-term plans in the country for people to give the Magnite the second look it rightfully deserves.

With an ‘extremely attractive’ speculated price tag expected to be arrived at by the right design, well-researched set of features as well as high levels of localisation, Srivastava is confident of breaking Nissan India’s losing streak and taking the brand to more homes in the country.