The Nissan Evalia with its impressive space and superior fuel efficiency is geared to take on competition. Niki Sorabjee has the details

The Evalia is more van than MPV and with its flat and boxy body but viewed head-on, the Nissan mini-van looks pretty decent. The V-shaped grille, the air dam and the mildly swooping lights lend it the look of any mainstream Japanese car.

The tall windscreen does hint at its boxy proportions but it's only when you move to the side that you can tell the Evalia's been derived from a cargo-carrying panel van. The side panels are as flat as pancakes and like any typical van, the Evalia is a case of form following function.

This brings us to the interiors, which you easily access via a large pair of sliding doors. With all three rows in place, most seven-seaters barely have enough space left over for any luggage. But in the Evalia, you could do a headstand in the luggage area. The Nissan can take two large suitcases placed vertically and some more. With the rearmost seats folded sideways there's enough space to do a cartwheel inside, and that's without flipping forward the middle-row seats. For sheer luggage space, the Evalia just blows everything else away.

However, despite all this class-leading space, there is one thing that seriously marks down the Evalia's cabin. Nissan is well-aware of the importance of a well-appointed interior in India, especially if the Evalia is to appeal to a regular car buyer and not just the taxi operator. There's been a huge effort, which we saw at the Auto Expo, to spiff up the Indian model with beige interiors, better seats and interiors cladding. There are dedicated air-con vents with a separate cooling coil for the rearmost seats. The seats have got richer fabrics but they are still a bit too flat and thin, and the middle row doesn't slide.

The dashboard is very functional with a fair amount of storage space but the steering wheel is different from what we saw at the Auto Expo. Perched in the driver's seat, visibility is just superb. It's not that you sit particularly high in the Evalia, but the large windscreen and low-set dashboard give you a great view of the road. Three trim levels will be available in India at launch. The top-end version will get features like Nissan's intelligent keyless entry system. There's no climate control however, and power windows are limited to the front.

Powering the Evalia is an engine we are familiar with — the 1.5-litre Renault K9K diesel which is on its way to becoming the most prolific engine after the Fiat Multi-jet. In the Evalia, the K9K comes with the similar state of tune as in the Sunny and hence develops 85bhp. These figures seem worryingly modest to haul a big van with a large Indian family with bags stuffed inside it. Unladen, the Evalia felt surprisingly sprightly on the U.K. roads. But it's not a surprise actually, because this same engine impressed us greatly in the Sunny with its brilliant driveability.

Minimal turbo-lag and superb tractability from low revs is the hallmark of this version of the K9K motor and I was amazed at the ease with which you could potter around town in this big van. With seven passengers and luggage on board, we can see the Evalia having a bit of a power struggle. The flip side, however, is fuel efficiency. Company sources indicate an Indian Driving Cycle-certified consumption figure of close to 20kpl!

Despite its huge dimensions, the Evalia is easy to handle, which plays to its user-friendly character. The steering is pretty good actually — light at low speeds and weighting up in a linear fashion the faster you go. You always feel connected to the front wheels and this is extremely reassuring.

Though the Evalia has impressive space, superior fuel efficiency and a tempting price (estimated at Rs. 10 lakh at launch). The biggest disadvantage of the Evalia, is that in a class-conscious country like India, people might not take kindly to the van-like looks. Finally, just how well the Evalia does, we will have to wait and watch.