Even the baseline Magnite priced at R256,999 has a shedload of features. Picture: SUPPLIED
Even the baseline Magnite priced at R256,999 has a shedload of features. Picture: SUPPLIED

This time it’s not raining men, as per the 80s hit song from the Weather Girls, but small SUVs.

In recent months this segment’s been getting absolutely soaking wet with the Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Kia Sonet and Toyota Urban Cruiser arriving in SA to challenge compact crossovers such as the Hyundai Venue, Honda WR-V, Mahindra XUV300 and Ford EcoSport.

Newest among their ranks is the Nissan Magnite. It arrived at local Nissan dealers last month, and after getting a chance to drive it for the first time earlier this week I believe it’s set to make quite a splash in a packed playground.

For starters it’s attractively priced in a range of four models that sell from R256,999-R305,700. For comparison, the Venue starts at R311,900, the Vitara Brezza at R244,900, the Urban Cruiser at R247,900, the EcoSport at R303,400, and the Sonet at R284,995.

The Magnite is right on point with the latest technology and connectivity, and has plenty of spec for the price. Standard in the baseline Acenta grade is push-button starting, multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, automatic air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system, reverse camera, a digital instrument panel, and an 8” touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Android Auto and Apple Carplay.

The higher-specced Acenta Plus on top of this gets LED headlamps instead of Halogens, an additional 12V power socket in the rear, and an around view monitor that gives a 360° bird’s eye view to assist with parking.

The Magnite can be optionally accessorised with a wireless smartphone charger.

It is impressively spacious for a car that’s just under 4m in length and a quartet of adults will fit inside the cabin without squashing, while the 336l boot is reasonably sized and contains a full-sized spare wheel.

The snappy styling is likely to attract youthful buyers, and both Magnite grades strut 16” dual-tone alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, a boot spoiler, and the front and rear skid plates, as well as  plastic body cladding for the urban-adventurer look that is so de rigueur. The looks can be perked up with optional body graphics and side steps, and generous 205mm ground clearance provides the elevated seated position so craved by SUV buyers.

All the necessary infotainment and a surprisingly roomy cabin. Picture: SUPPLIED
All the necessary infotainment and a surprisingly roomy cabin. Picture: SUPPLIED

The styling charm extends to the cabin which, despite its hard dashboard plastics, avoids looking low-rent thanks to a leather-wrapped steering wheel and attractively patterned cloth seats.

The way this little Nissan drove impressed me. It glides quite comfortably for a short-wheelbase car and doesn’t feel too choppy on bumpy roads. The car’s quite refined and has decent sound deadening, though the chortle of the three-cylinder engine’s a constant (if not necessarily unwelcome) companion. The sound adds a bit of charisma rather than being intrusive, methinks.

The wee 1.0l turbo petrol engine translates its 74kW and 160Nm into reasonable perkiness, especially around town where the Magnite is likely to spend most of its life, but it doesn’t feel overwhelmed on the freeway and quite comfortably hums along at 120km/h. It also had enough verve to scoot past long trucks when overtakes were called for, even with the air conditioning running.

The two transmission options are a five-speed manual and a CVT automatic, and the latter is one of the best of its kind. It feels more like a regular automatic, without the irritating droning or slipping-clutch effect that usually afflicts continuously variable transmissions.

With just two airbags the Magnite falls short of some rivals that have up to six, but its safety spec is otherwise pretty comprehensive with ABS brakes, a tyre pressure monitoring system and stability control. The car scored four stars out of a possible five in ASEAN NCAP crash testing.

PRICING

Magnite Acenta manual — R256,999

Magnite Acenta CVT — R280,100

Magnite Acenta Plus manual — R282,600

Magnite Acenta Plus CVT — R305,700

Prices include a three-year/30,000km service plan and a six year/150,000km warranty.

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