Subcontinental skirmish
CAR|February 2022
Compact crossovers, tall-ridinghatchbacks, budget SUVs;whatever you choose to callthem, they are here to stay. Weevaluate the latest quartet

A flurry of new budget crossovers has been launched in the past 12 months, adding more intrigue to the perennial sales charts. It’s no coincidence that the four brands represented in this group test chose India to build their city runabouts. The Indian Government gives tax breaks to car manufacturers that adhere to the four-metre restriction when measured from nose to tail and thus we’ve seen a slew of compact crossovers built on the subcontinent. We put the latest contenders from Nissan and Kia up against some more established players in the market from Ford and Suzuki.

The newcomer

NISSAN MAGNITE 1,0 TURBO ACENTA AT

Fresh off the boat from India, the Nissan Magnite is the newest of the four cars featured here. Wearing its flagship Acenta Plus uniform, the carmaker's baby crossover is hoping to shake up the rapidly expanding budget-SUV segment. It stands alone as the only turbocharged contender with power derived from a 1,0-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder, mated to a continuously variable transmission. From a design point of view, the Magnite's striking design draws attention with its narrow hockey-stick-like LED daytime running lights and headlamps. Add its two-tone Vivid Blue body and Storm White roof to the mix, and the Magnite is clearly the “looker” among the group. It stands a lofty 205 mm off the ground, which provides a decent faux-SUV stance and it wears sleek-looking 16-inch wheels. From behind the steering wheel, it's evident the Magnite shares switchgear - like the climate control and starter button - with its Renault cousin, the Kiger, as part of its alliance with the French brand. Ultimately, the interior does not feel as well put together as the competition and some of the plastics are sub-par. Initially, the Magnite was meant to wear the Datsun badge; however, the company opted to reduce the number of models Datsun produced and took it under its wing.

Having mentioned the quality of the plastics, the Magnite is the best-equipped car of the four and standard spec is generous. Nissan has crammed its flagship with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The system has six speakers as well as a carefully positioned microphone and speaker to improve the quality of phone calls via Bluetooth. Another fancy feature not seen in this segment is a wireless smartphone charging pad. Despite the small dimensions, 3 994 mm in length and 1 758 mm wide, the Magnite is fitted with four cameras that display footage on the monitor to provide a bird'seye view of the car's surroundings. The camera's front and rear views can be combined simultaneously to make it possible to check the vehicle's 360-degree surroundings while parking. It is great to find this type of technology on small SUVs; although, we cannot help but think it's unnecessary considering the Magnite isn't a hulking vehicle, difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces. This type of technology is usually seen in big, pricey cars. Sitting front and centre ahead of the driver, and standard across the range is a seven-inch TFT digital cluster that houses the rev counter and speedometer. One tester likened the graphic to the shape of the Cape Town Stadium, which is a fun interpretation. The display provides other configurations, too, depending on driver preference.

From behind the wheel, the Magnite's lean 1 075 kg kerb weight means the three-pot motor feels adequately powerful, despite boasting the least power. Thanks to its turbocharged nature, peak torque (152 N.m) and power (74 kW) is delivered fairly effortlessly at 2 200 r/min and 5 000 r/min respectively. On our test strip, it hurried to 60 km/h from standstill in 5,76 seconds and 80 km/h in 8,99 seconds. However, beyond the peak, it runs out of puff soon after and was ultimately the slowest car to reach 100 km/h with a time of 13,11 seconds. The Magnite did impress us in the 10-stop emergency braking test, though, with an average time of 3,13 seconds from 100 km/h to zero, at an average distance of 40,2 m.

We felt the turbocharged engine's responsiveness and lowdown torque come to the fore in city-driving conditions, where short bursts are needed. Say what you will about CVTs, but the transmission does a good job of transitioning through its speed ranges and has a secondary low mode for when extra pulling power is required if fully laden.

On the handling front, the Magnite suffers from plenty of body roll owing to its high stance; it's not the most composed handling machine and lacks the sharpness of its rivals. The Magnite offers a comfortable ride and although there is some cabin noise caused by the CVT, it's not intrusive enough to spoil the driving experience.

As far as a value for money goes, Nissan's budget-centric new entry puts a strong case forward with its generous specification and punchy turbo engine. One blight in the final reckoning might prove to be the fitment of only two airbags across the range.

The sure thingKIA SONET 1,5 EX MT

The Kia Sonet has been a familiar face in the CAR garage over the last six months. Under the auspices of journalist Sean Parker as a long-termer, Kia's smallest SUV is the least expensive in this group test, at R295 995, and shares the same platform as the Hyundai Venue. The compact SUV was first shown off in concept form at the 2022 Dehli Motor Show and is aimed at young buyers in this burgeoning segment. From the front, the Sonet features Kia's signature Tiger Nose grille with a bold bezel at the bottom and a heavily sculpted bonnet. Our two-tone model wears a Ruby hue with a black roof that presents a classy, understated look.

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