Note Taken

For the past 2 weeks or so I’ve had the good fortune to have spent time in Cyprus at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the Protaras area. Wall to wall blue skies, temperatures as high as 35 degrees centigrade and food as plentiful as it was high quality (my uncle is a qualified professional chef) meant that it was a perfect remedy to a summer at work and home which had begun to raise my stress levels quite significantly.

Cyprus itself is actually one of my favourite holiday destinations as although it shares the same characteristics of many Mediterranean destinations (year round sun, sandy beaches, cheap alcohol), it’s noticeably further distance from the rest of Europe means that temperatures there tend to remain higher throughout the year. The down side of this longer flight time is of course more expensive flights, but staying with family means that EasyJet is the only company we have to pay to end up with a really nice holiday. But whilst Cyprus does stand out a little bit in terms of climate and jet-lag, one area where it definitely doesn’t deviate from the holiday destination norm is in the types of vehicles (and drivers) which inhabit the dusky and usually empty roads on the island.

Anyone who has been to Europe on holiday knows that that means a tonne of superminis mixed with an old guard of ancient Mercedes E Class taxis and a few posh models owned by well heeled locals and ex pats. According to my aunt and uncle when they first came to the island 11 years ago it was a lot more common to see locals in big luxury motors and even when they moved in 2007 they were questioned as to why they were bringing across their ‘little’ Renault Clio and not a more prestigious motor in which to waft around in. However the economic crisis of 2008 really hit Cyprus hard and from what had been an island riding high on entry to the EU and lots of new investment, has in some areas turned into rows of unfinished villas and overgrown ornate planters with empty restaurants and shops being almost as common as used ones.

This has apparently seen a shift towards Cypriots accepting the smaller car and even daring to step out of the heavily subsidized pick-up trucks that the government encouraged just in case they were needed to defend from an invasion from the Northern Turkish Cypriots. Maybe it’s this fondness for brands which make pick-ups or maybe it’s the fact that Cypriots have no alligence to a European-based manufacturer such as Renault or Seat, but it seemed to me that Japanese models are the most popular for old and new alike – especially those from Toyota but also Nissan and to a lesser degree Honda, Mazda and Suzuki. It’s not a surprise then that it is one of these which my aunt and uncle chose to replace their UK-born Clio (interestingly Cyprus is one of only a few European countries which is RHD like the UK).

The Nissan Note is not a model I can confess to having had too much interest in since it’s release back in 2006…based on the same platform as the Micra supermini yet with interior space to rival most family hatchbacks, the Note is one of those vehicles which fails to raise a pulse with most people – a supermini MPV. Alongside the all-conquering Qashqai the Note was part of a two-prong strategy to win family buyers who have been moving away from more traditional models, and admittedly I see enough on the roads in the UK to suggest that it has been reasonably popular. In Cyprus however the Note seems to have been something of a runaway success as wherever I turned there seemed to be a base spec first-gen model in olive green paint lurking around the corner. Thankfully my aunt and uncle chose to buy a brand new 2014 model which seemed to be a lot less common and it was this vehicle that was our chariot for the week in the sun.

First impressions? Well even in flame orange it is hard for any car to stand out in a dusty airport car park and I can’t say that the Nissan was any different; a small footprint with the four wheels pushed out to the corners, the Note is not an ugly car and has at least been given some visual design cues to distinguish it from being a generic monobox. Sharp creases along the doors, interestingly scalloped grilles and light clusters and in top-spec Tekna trim tidy 16″ alloy wheels are all positives, but in my opinion even when knitted together the overall design still comes across as bland and if you stuck a badge from another manufacturer on the front even I would not bat an eyelid.

Inside though tends to be the reason why most buyers choose the Note over a more stylish looking supermini and if practicality is your priority then the Nissan is up there with the best of them. For a car that measures a mere 4m in length it was possible for 5 people plus 2 suitcases and 3 land luggage to fit in, even though this was pretty snug it just shows how practical small cars can be and that you don’t need something like an Audi Q7 (or a BMW X5 OK OK) to carry around a couple of kids and the weekly shop. Although the luggage was only present to and from the airport, the 5 of us spent many hours in the car travelling around parts of the island – leg room in the rear is very generous and although 3 across the back seat was a bit of a squeeze it was probably exacerbated by the high temperatures and sticky skin of the occupants (ie me!).

Being the top of the range model there is also a surprising amount of equipment for what is a pretty inexpensive car; standard fit climate control is a given considering the hot weather, but an all round parking camera and blind spot monitoring system are impressive, as would the Nissan Connect System be if the company had been bothered to pay Navteq for the mapping software of Cyprus. As a result the large central screen had no capability for navigation and my aunt and uncle seemed reluctant to attempt to use any features like Bluetooth, App support or iPod connectivity…perhaps typical of the Note’s buyers in the UK as well as Cyprus. I also felt that the cabin’s materials and design were a bit substandard – being based on the current Micra which has taken a step downmarket, the centre ‘pod’ to control ventilation and some other functions looks cheap and cartoonish, cabin plastics are also a little cheap and the lack of rear seat padding left us all with aching backs and legs!

On the road though is where things for the Note really start to go downhill. I can’t profess to have had the opportunity to drive the Nissan myself, but being a passenger in the car it gave me a decent idea of the pros and cons of the drivetrain and the engine that the car was fitted with. In Cyprus as in the UK the Note comes with one of 3 engine options,a 88bhp 1.5L diesel and 2 1.2L petrol engines, 1 of which is supercharged to offer 96bhp whilst the other is stuck with 78bhp. It’s this lower powered option which was fitted to my aunt and uncle’s vehicle and for want of a better word it sucked…actually a better word is gutless, as the poor little 4-cylinder barely had any get up and go when loaded with 2 people let alone 5 – even reversing across the curb into the driveway caused the car to stall at one point and the empty stretches of road proved a huge struggle to make even noticeable progress. The ride of the Note wasn’t that bad but wasn’t really helped by the massive and numerous speed humps which were everywhere on Cypriot roads – it meant constant braking and accelerating with an engine that really didn’t want to rev, even when it was out of eco-mode.

That’s where I have to bring my review of the Note to an end though unfortunately…I started this review a whole month ago and it’s taken a long time for me to get around to finishing it – illness and busy times at work (and an internship) have meant I’ve lost a bit of focus with the blog, but I’m hoping to get back on track and maybe make the blog a little more professional – keep an eye out!

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