Nissan Note Acenta

Japanese model is one of our favourite supermini-MPVs, and presents a strong opening challenge to Citroen’s newcomer.

Big car versatility in a small car package – that’s the aim behind supermini-MPVs.

For buyers on a budget, these flexible models represent a cut-price alternative to a larger family hatchback.

Where most cars in this sector favour scaled-down people carrier looks, the Citroen Nemo takes its cues from commercial vehicles. With its slab sides, upright stance and high roofline, the newcomer’s van roots are clear to see.

For many buyers the impression of wipe-clean durability and honest charm will be part of the Nemo’s basic appeal. For instance, while the unpainted bumpers don’t look very smart, they help it to achieve a group four insurance rating by shrugging off low-speed scrapes. The Nissan Note, on the other hand, blends into the background compared to its rival. There are some neat details, such as the tail-lights which stretch into the roof and the chrome trim on the grille, but the Japanese machine is beginning to show its age.

If you’re buying one of these cars, it’s what’s inside that really counts. Climb aboard the Nemo, and you’ll discover its boxy exterior and large glass area result in a bright and airy cabin. There’s bags of headroom, while the rear bench will comfortably seat three adults.

However, it lacks the useful fore and aft adjustment of the Note’s back seat, so it can’t match the Japanese model’s great rear legroom. And while the sliding side doors are useful in tight parking spots, the opening is narrow. At the back, the French car’s wide 360-litre boot has a flat floor, and it beats its rival for space with an extra 80 litres of load capacity. The sliding rear bench means the Nissan can swallow varying amounts of luggage at the expense of passenger legroom, though, and the false floor has a decent storage space below it.

Up front, the Citroen’s commercial vehicle heritage shines through, with a high-set driving position, comfortable seats and plenty of useful cubby space. It’s just a shame the logically laid out dash is let down by cheap trim and poor build quality. The latter is highlighted by sharp edges on some plastic mouldings and our test car’s ill-fitting glovebox lid.

It’s a far cry from the solidly screwed together Note. While the Nissan’s interior feels darker and more sombre than the Nemo’s, it delivers more versatility. As well as the sliding rear bench, you get aircraft-style trays for back seat passengers and a deep air-conditioned glovebox.

On the move, the Note has the upper hand thanks to its composed, car-like driving dynamics. Sharp steering and good body control combine to make it surprisingly nimble in the corners, while the suspension copes well with poorly surfaced city streets.

Despite sitting on a Fiat Grande Punto platform, the smooth-riding Nemo isn’t as agile as a supermini. While the steering is direct, the soft suspension allows plenty of body roll in corners.

But the Citroen’s weakest link is its 1.4-litre diesel engine, which doesn’t deliver the pace of the petrol-powered Note. At the test track, the Nemo crawled from 0-60mph in 18.1 seconds – that’s 4.8 seconds slower than the Nissan. It’s fine in town, but struggles to keep pace with faster traffic. Sadly, the oil-burner doesn’t offer much compensation at the pumps, where it returned 36.1 mpg – only 2.2mpg better than the Nissan.

For many buyers, this will be a small price to pay when you consider the £10,995 Nemo is £800 cheaper than the Note. But all is not as it seems. Nissan offers air-con as standard, but it’s a £500 optional extra on the Nemo – so the two are closely matched. What’s more, the Nissan is equipped with alloy wheels and cruise control, on top of its better driving experience and versatility.

As a result, the Citroen comes off worse in a bruising opening encounter. How will it cope with its other rivals?

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