Nissan Note

 

Price £12,695 (as tested)
Maximum speed 114mph, 0-60mph in 10.7 seconds
Combined fuel economy 42.8mpg
Further information 08457 669 966

Along with losing Angelina Jolie to Brad Pitt in a high-stakes game of whist, and not being picked for England (yet again - and I'm twice as old as Walcott!), the new Renault Modus was, for me, one of the great disappointments of the last 12 months. I was hoping for a more sumptuous, design-conscious Renault Kangoo: a practical, versatile car for the kind of people who own Philippe Starck toilet-roll covers. But the Modus drove like a sulky hippo.

I mention this because the new Nissan Note, which I tested this week, is based on the Modus. Renault owns Nissan - or Nissan owns Renault - and so the prospect of a Japanese Modus didn't bode well.

But for all their shared oily bits, there is something different about the Note. Perhaps it's the lack of French pretension in its simple, versatile interior, or the cheery look of its mini-Murano nose and "preying mantis" rear lights. It feels roomier and, more importantly, faster - at least with the 109bhp 1.6-litre engine I tried. Check the spec sheets and you discover that the Note is 291mm longer than the Modus (in fact, it's bigger than other rivals like the Vauxhall Meriva and horrid Ford Fusion too), although the Modus just licks the Note in terms of performance. But the Nissan's zesty handling and punchy acceleration more than compensate for a few fractions of a second disadvantage in the 0-60mph sprint. Crucially, it feels more eager and agile - and even though performance and handling will be low priorities for buyers of this kind of car, a little perkiness never hurt anyone. I would be more than happy to live with a Note, and I'm a fussy bugger.

You'll certainly fork out fewer notes for a Note: 1.6-litre models start at £10,695 while 1.6 Modii start at £11,500. The top-of-the-range SVE I tried had alloy wheels, leather bits inside, a CD changer, climate control, blacked-out rear windows and six airbags as standard for £12,695. As you would expect of a car designed to ferry parents and their children, the interior is chocka with cubby holes and cup holders. The boot has a useful false folding floor (perfect for contraband booze cruisers, I would imagine), with a spacious basement beneath. Even the glove box has a glove box! Best of all, the Note replaces the Nissan Almera, a car so bland and forgettable... sorry, what was I saying?

There were some less Noteworthy (stop me!) things about this car. Despite the musical inference of its name, the Note's engine was disappointingly cacophonous. This is one of the noisiest - in a bad way - cars that I have driven since the silencer broke on my old Mini Cooper (the neighbours were prone to think the Red Arrows were making a fly-past every time I came home). It is a dreary, wearing combination of engine moan, wind rush and tyre rumble that is ever present, but reaches a crescendo on motorways when you have to shout to be heard - quite rare in a modern car, that. I don't imagine the 1.5-litre diesel is any quieter.

For all that, we should be proud of the Note because it is built by Geordies. They haven't had much to do these last few years, so anything that keeps them off the streets must be good. Britain can thus bask in the glory of making the best Renault-based, mini MPV-supermini in the world.

Michael Booth's 'Just As Well I'm Leaving' is now out in paperback (£7.99, Jonathan Cape). He promises it's not about cars

It's a classic: Monteverdi Hai

I've wracked my brains to come up with a classic Nissan, but I don't believe such a thing exists, so instead I'm going to tell you about the Monteverdi Hai.

Back in the 1960s, a Swiss Ferrari dealer called Peter Monteverdi decided to build a supercar. The idea wasn't to build a rival to Ferrari, but simply make the kind of car that Monteverdi himself wanted to own. He enlisted the help of Italian design house Frua, bought engines and transmissions from Chrysler, and the elegant 375 series was born.

With sophisticated 2+2 bodywork and oodles of power, the 375 sold in low numbers to international businessmen. For his next trick, Monteverdi planned something rather more ambitious: a two-seater, mid-engined rival to the Lamborghini Miura. The result was the sexy and dangerous Hai (or "Shark") which, again, Monteverdi himself styled and began building in 1970.

The Hai's reputation for ill-handling and its massive price tag overshadowed its 180mph top speed and it is thought only two were built.

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