Evalia is Nissan’s contender for the fast-growing MPV segment in India

With the Ertiga doing wonders in the market, the segment-king Innova getting a facelift and Mahindra updating its Xylo, it is safe to say that the MPV segment in India is on a rise and car manufacturers are rushing to cash in on this boom. Nissan has just introduced its own MPV, the Evalia. Does it deliver all that an MPV buyer would want in terms of space, comfort and refinement? A day’s driving near Bangalore gave us some answers.

Though MPV’s are specifically made to carry people or goods with loads of space inside, the Ertiga and the Innova showed that they can do the job while looking reasonably good too. Evalia is tall, boxy and, looks more like a cargo van than a typical modern MPV. The saving grace is the frontal styling, which is quite neat thanks to the smart, V-shaped grille that gently flows into the rising headlamps and the distinctive upswept front windows.

Just like the exteriors, the Evalia’s cabin looks a bit utilitarian too, with the emphasis on practicality. Sure, the beige plastics and bright seat fabric help it look more upmarket than the version sold abroad. There’s nothing radical about the dashboard either, but it’s well thought out and comes with a pair of bottle-holders at either end. The smart and very van-like positioning of the gearbox on the dashboard also frees up space between the front seats, which in turn is taken up by a concealed and decently large (if slightly flimsy) storage box. Oddly, there is no lid on the glove compartment, which means anything you store there will be plainly visible to passersby.

What’s a bit disappointing is that even the top-spec XV trim does without climate control and the rotary controls for the air-con don’t feel nice to use. Drivers are also likely to rue the absence of audio controls on the steering wheel, which itself is a straight lift from the Micra. But some other bits are actually quite nice. The large speedometer is really easy to read and the digital readout beside it relays a whole host of useful information, including real-time fuel economy and a distance-to-empty meter. The screen also doubles as the small but legible bar-type digital tachometer, as well as a reversing camera display on the top XV model. While the camera is helpful when parking the large Evalia, the screen gets obscured by the steering at certain degrees of lock, so you will have to rely on the electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors on most occasions.

But what you will unquestionably like the Evalia for is the space it has to offer. Front-seat occupants have plenty of room, frontal visibility is great and while you can’t escape the heavily raked van-like steering position, the seats are comfy too. There’s ample space for middle-row passengers as well, and this is despite not having the option to slide the seats backwards, as on rival MPVs. The flat floor (another benefit of the Evalia’s front-wheel-drive layout) and generous width also make the middle seat suitable for three passengers, though the seat itself is somewhat lacking in thigh support. But the bigger problem for middle-row passengers will be the windows, which feel a size or two too small. To make matters worse, they don’t roll down either, and only come with a restrictive butterfly-type opening.

Some may also be put off by the van-like sliding rear doors, but they do allow good access to the third row. Sadly, instead of a lever to fold the middle row, you have to pull on some rather flimsy tags to get the seats down. There is lots of headroom in the back and even shoulder room is good enough to host two adults in reasonable comfort. That said, you can’t really spread out here. Recline the middle-seat backrest more than usual and you could find the rear seat quite tight on kneeroom. But unlike the middle row that relies on the front AC for cooling, the third row gets a separate air conditioner with individual controls, something its occupants will appreciate.

But if there’s one area where the Evalia is miles ahead of the competition, it is boot space. Even with all seats in place, you can easily stow two large suitcases vertically. You can also fold the pair of third-row seats sideways and flip the middle row forward to create some serious luggage space. What aids its versatility is that the loading area is well designed, with minimal intrusions and a flat floor.

Take a peek under the Evalia’s stubby bonnet and you’ll find a motor that barely fills the engine compartment. The motor in question is the ubiquitous 1.5-litre Renault K9K turbo-diesel that also powers the Nissan Micra and Sunny, apart from other models in Renault’s line-up. On the Evalia, the engine uses a fixed-geometry turbo and an intercooler to develop 84bhp (just as on the Sunny) and 20.4kgm of torque, both figures that seem modest for such a large MPV.

But it didn’t take much driving to establish that the engine is more than up to the job of moving the big Evalia. Driving through Bangalore’s traffic, we didn’t feel any lack of power, credit for which goes to this motor’s fantastic tractability. It’s really remarkable how smoothly the engine pulls from as low as 1000rpm. As a result, it also requires fewer gear changes at typical city speeds, which is just as well, because the Evalia’s clutch is on the heavier side and shifts on the five-speed manual gearbox are a bit notchy too. However, the well chosen gear ratios help to keep the engine within the 2000-4000rpm band where it feels at its best and provides maximum power.

We were also pleasantly surprised at how well the Evalia coped on the climb up to the Nandi Hills near Bangalore. We did need to shift to a lower gear on the steeper sections, but not once did the Evalia feel out of place. The true acid test for the Evalia, though, will be to see how it performs when loaded with seven passengers and their luggage; its relatively small engine could find itself out of depth here. On the flipside, the small engine capacity, clever gearing and low weight help the Evalia deliver an ARAI-tested 19.3kpl fuel economy figure which, theoretically, makes it more efficient than either the Innova or the Xylo.

Large as it is, the Evalia is also quite easy to drive in town. Helping manoeuvrability is the tight turning circle (useful in Bangalore’s haphazard traffic) and the steering that is fairly well-weighted for all speeds. This isn’t the sort of vehicle you’d use to dart around corners, but grip from the 165-R14 tyres is quite good and handling is always within safe limits. The Evalia’s tall stance does amplify body roll and wind blasts tend to unsettle it too, but on the whole there is a nice feeling of control.

Even the ride quality is fairly good, though it does feel a tad bouncy in the middle and last rows over rough surfaces, and that’s possibly down to its rudimentary leaf spring suspension. While a torsion beam would have helped improve ride comfort, the leaf springs’ relatively low cost, compact packaging and load-bearing ability are sure to have helped justify its inclusion on the Evalia.

We expect the Evalia to be priced at Rs 10 lakh, which sounds like a good price range, but with the competition hotting up, we think Nissan will have to offer more than just space and value to win itself customers.