Capsule Review: 2015 Nissan March SL 1.6 – Brazil Edition

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
by Marcelo de Vasconcellos
capsule review 2015 nissan march sl 1 6 8211 brazil edition

Walking up to the pearl white, Japanese-Brazilian, new Nissan March, I smile. Can’t help it. It looks so cute. Especially in this top-of-the-line version all prettied up, with the bigger (and good-looking) wheels and its funky design that though more grown up than before, is still playful. Plastichrome abounds and can be found in the front, sides and back. I instantly warm up to it, I want to like it.

Though this is the New March and has suffered a re-skin, it’s still a narrow car, that looks quite tall and short. Some don’t like that, comparing it to roller skates and what not, but coming from Brazil, the land of hatches, I’m used to the shape. The headlights are new and less cute than the previous model’s though not overly aggressive. The fog lights are sort of lost in a sea of chrome, but I have seen worse. The new grille helps the overall affect, with a new more sophisticated shape, while the Nissan badge now has a bright V surrounding it. Didn’t like it in the pictures, but in person it works.

Looking at it from the side, I can’t tell much of a difference from the previous model. While the new March’s new front is a step up from before, it is the side profile of this car that has always got me. Short, high snout, tall greenhouse and a low beltline. No wanton creases and bulges. No need for that on such a short car. The signature half arch shape of the windows is there and adds a bit of drama and a nostalgic hint. Thankfully the roof doesn’t follow the windows and is straighter. All good, as it helps in interior space.

Going out to the back, the quirky looks of the previous model are all there. The design here is not so clean, but the unusual shape of the backlights adds a real degree of interest. Sadly, they still jut out like there’s no tomorrow. The back window is a little small and I look for the parking sensors. I notice then that dimple or wart that I hadn’t seen on previous Marches. I remember this is the top of the line, so that must be the camera. Honestly, it looks like an aftermarket improvisation though.

I decide to start my exploration of the March’s innards backwards, so I pop the hatch. Nice, all covered in carpet. On so many Brazilian cars there is always visible metal in the trunk, not so here. Of course, I suspect lowlier Marches will not be so well-finished. The rest is normal for hatches in this type of car. A smallish volume of around 265 L. Good for supermarket runs. On a vacation, a family of four, presumably without a baby, must pack light.

I open one of the back doors and slide in. Here the benefit of the square roof is evident. At 6 feet tall, I have no need to angle my neck and can sit up perfectly straight. In the Versa, this car’s sedan version, I do have to cock my head to the side. The Versa though provides much more leg room, but a quick look up front reveals to me the front seat I’m sitting behind is pushed back and I still have some space. Another nice touch, even back here, power windows. Again, not so common on small Brazilian cars and part of the SL package.

Jumping into the driver’s seat I think this car looks very solid. The finishing is simple, but good with some variation in color and well-screwed together. There are buttons on the steering wheel and the wheel itself feels thick in my hand (as it should) and has some nice texture. The center stack contains the media center that compromises radio, GPS and the backup camera. I also like its shape. Gone is the old, gimmicky, childish one that looked like a famous dinosaur baby from the 90s. In is a new one, that looked quite conventional in pictures (making me straight off not like it), but in person, and maybe because of the version, it is well-finished and there are no black plastic slabs covering gaping holes.

I put in the key, put it in reverse, the back camera view lights up immediately with a medley of lines that help parking. I adjust the radio, quite easily, see that the buttons on the steering wheel serve to control it and also your paired phone. For free the first three years after purchase, Nissan offers its Connect. It works together with the radio and you can access such things as Facebook and points of interest. If you are invited to an event on the social media, the GPS will trace the route instantly. I’m sure there are other things it can do, but by now I’m anxious to drive the March as I am anticipating good things.

I close the door and, oh no!. The handle does not angle up anymore like in the past. The is some bright work there and controls for all windows, but when I closed the door it pushed my leg back in. Now, I’m a tallish guy with quite a bit of gut (110 kg), but I’m not an NBA player. I drive with my legs a bit open, but that handle is forcing my leg straight ahead. I’ve driven old Beetles, I’ve owned a Ford Ka. I have driven all kinds of Fiats. I recently drove the ostensibly smaller Volkswagen up! and none forced me to sit like I didn’t want or made me immediately uncomfortable. There is no reason for the handle to be so thick, it takes away too much from the limited space. As now I’m feeling grumpy, I notice the pockets on the doors are so thin, they barely hold anything. It’s been a while since I’ve sat in something so poorly thought out. To add a bit more salt to the wound, the seat belts are non-adjustable.

Remembering the Mistsubishi Pajero (Montero) I recently drove I recall disliking it because when in second gear the knob would eat into my thigh. Now this one is forcing me to drive with my leg in an uncomfortable position. I fidget then with the gear stick and notice, this is weird, too. It’s a little further back than in other smalls cars I’ve driven. This is probably the result of center stack madness. It has become conventional that even in a small car the center stack must touch the floor. Cupholders are also a must. Owing to that, the gear box has been pushed further back. Before even taking it off for a drive, I start to move the gears. Its placement forces an unnatural, shorter movement of the arm. It’s simply too far back.

Adjusting the seat, I find the large seats are good enough, though the cushion is a bit short. I can place the seat far away enough from the dash to feel comfortable (but, damn that door handle). The steering wheel can be moved up and down (as can the seat), but not forward and aft. It becomes apparent the wheel is tilted off slightly to the left, but most won’t notice. On the good side the three pedals are placed far enough apart (sometimes a critical point in small cars) and there is a footrest.

So, off to driving. The first surprise is that the electric steering is extremely light, guess most people like that. However, it is impossible that most people will not be bothered by this car’s second huge fail. That gearbox. What are they thinking? Every gear change, thump! First, thump! Second, thump! Thump, thump, thump! Fast, slow, noise, noise. Ok, I know Nissan wants to push the CVT, but did they forget to add a piece to this car? I’ve read many reviews on the car. No one mentions it (though some hint on it). I call the dealer, complain, the counter guy says it’s normal, but that I should bring it in. Glad I’m not the only crazy one out there hearing things.

With a frown now on my face, I hit the usual spots I like to test cars. Such a sad thing, because in all other regards the car is exemplary.

It uses a 1.6 16v, 111 hp (either on gasoline or ethanol) engine. It pulls strongly and is very responsive. Accelerations are crisp, and the engine revs nicely when solicited. The 16 valves make it a round engine and a pleasure to drive, rarely out of breath (it tops out at 7,000 rpm). According to Nissan, the top speed is 191 km/h. I somehow doubt that, but I do believe the car will top 180 (or get close) and can be driven effortlessly at 160 km/h (100 mph) though noise will be high as there is little sound insulation. In the 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph), most publications peg it at around 11 seconds. So a fast little car it is.

The March takes curves very nicely too. This version uses 185/55/16 rubber. It grips nicely and doesn’t let go easily. As such it has relatively high limits, but more importantly, it is quite docile giving even an unaware driver ample chance to react when it starts to break loose. Body roll is limited and I had actual fun in the curves. So much so I even forgot the thumping for a couple of minutes because despite that huge error, engagements are soft and precise. It is quite fast, too.

Braking is all very acceptable, too. Disks only in front, it does not make lateral movements even under hard braking. ABS as according to Brazilian standards are mandatory (as are the double frontal airbags).

About town, the sight lines help it a lot. It it easy to see out of and the little lines the camera provides make parking even easier. The controls are light and don’t feel flimsy, being that most of them seem to have some padding. It is also quiet in town, though out on the highway you do hear the engine. Good thing in my book, because the noises the engine makes under acceleration is quite good. In town, like with cousin Renaults, this Nissan’s engine sounds a little wheezy at idle.

You can see part of the hood from the driver’s seat. Well, you can see the headlamps. They butt out too, so you always see those little humps. Kind of reminded me of and old Fiat Coupé. The fact is this a light car, only 982 kg, so it is nimble and quick in the city and fast on the road. The lightness makes it fun to drive and the electric steering doesn’t detract much from that and it does harden up some when faster.

The previous March came from Mexico to Brazil. It undercut the competition by a fair margin and was a good buy as content levels were also high. Now, the new March is the first Nissan to roll off the line at Nissan’s new factory in Rezende, Rio de Janeiro state. The design is more grown up and the interior has been much improved because it now looks like a car and not a toy. However, some things have gotten undeniably worse. The constricting door handles and unbelievable gearbox are huge setbacks. Plus, small things like the non-adjustable seat belts or the badly integrated backup camera speak of cost-cutting.

The first Brazilian Nissan is then a bit of a dud. The price has risen, being that this SL that I drove stickers for around R$44,000. For that kind of money there is a plethora of cars that offer even more equipment, more space (cousin Sandero is there, Ford Ka), just a good a drive or even undercut the price without too much sacrifice in space (VW up! Or Fiat Uno).

The new Nissan March is a good car to drive, a fun car that you can toss and will respond without too much drama. Well-finished on the surface, there are too many compromises in the interior and no cost advantage to recommend it over more evolved competitors. Unless you are short. Or hard of hearing.

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  • Jolgamazatlan Jolgamazatlan on Feb 20, 2015

    As usual, great review Marcelo. Thank you it looks like I dodged some bullets by purchasing a new 2013 March and not the "newer" "improved" version. No door handle intrusion and that 4-speed automatic is a sweet unit. All you lucky Canadians jump on the 4-speed before it is replaced by the dreaded cvt. Up to now it has been perfect. Only niggle is the buckboard rear axle hops when going over a "Tope" (Mexican Speed Bump). That's it. Maintenance is ridiculously simple and cheap... even at the stealer-ship. Not even worth going to an indy garage for that price ($80 a year) I did read that they are grossly overcharging for replacement OEM tires and wheels at the stealer-ships in Mexico, but that is easily remedied by purchasing them elsewhere.

  • Ignacio Pena Ignacio Pena on Apr 01, 2015

    I own a March and I can assure that the maximum speed is more than 191 March km / h . Great Little Monster

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.