The Innova has been a huge seller for Toyota right from day one, the spacious Mahindra Xylo remains popular with large families, and the response to the Ertiga is sure to have taken even Maruti by surprise. All this points to the great demand for MPVs in India, which is only increasing by the day, and to cash in on this demand, Nissan has just introduced its own family mover, the Evalia. Does it deliver all that an MPV buyer wants in terms of space, comfort and refinement?
MPVs are more about space maximisation than style and this is more than evident on the Evalia, which won’t win itself too many admirers for its design. The frontal styling is pleasant, thanks to the smart grille that flows into the rising headlamps. But viewed from the side, the Evalia looks more like a cargo van that’s been adapted for private use than your typical modern MPV. The slab-like sides and square-ish tail lack any stylistic flair whatsoever, and the puny 14-inch wheels corrupt the overall appearance further.
Just like the exteriors, the cabin looks a bit utilitarian, with the emphasis being on practicality. Sure, the beige plastics and bright seat fabric play a part to make the Evalia’s cabin look upmarket compared to the version sold abroad (called the NV200), but it still can’t match the Innova for plushness or fit and finish. Form follows function on the dashboard too. It may not be particularly distinctive, but it’s well thought out and comes with a pair of bottle-holders at either end. Oddly, there is no lid on the glove compartment, which means anything you store there will be in plain sight.
What you will really like the Evalia for is the space it has to offer. Front-seat occupants have plenty of room, frontal visibility is great and 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 backward as on other MPVs. The flat floor (possible thanks to the Evalia’s front-wheel-drive layout) and generous width also make the middle seat suitable to travelling three abreast, though the seat is somewhat lacking in thigh support. But the bigger problem for middle-row passengers will be the windows, which feel a size 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. For its part, the last row offers sufficient head, knee and shoulder room to host two adults in reasonable comfort.
What’s really remarkable, though, is the boot space. With all seats in place, you can easily stow two large suitcases vertically. You also have the option to fold the pair of third-row seats sideways and flip the middle row forward to create some serious luggage-carrying space. The boot’s low loading sill and wide opening also take away some stress while loading heavy luggage.
But versatility apart, the real surprise is how well the Evalia drives. Power (84bhp) and torque (20.4kgm) from its relatively small 1.5-litre Renault K9K diesel engine may seem modest for such a large MPV, but in real-world driving you don’t feel any lack of power, even out on the highway. The best aspect of the engine is the tractability, and it’s remarkable how smoothly the engine pulls from as low as 1000rpm, so it’s not a handful at city speeds. The engine feels at its best between 2000-4000rpm and the smartly chosen ratios help you keep it within this range. Driveability is good, and what further helps it as a city-friendly car is its light steering and tight turning circle.
At 1426kg, the Evalia weighs significantly less than its rivals too. You also get good grip from the tyres and, while there is a fair amount of body roll, the handling is still within safe limits. The ride quality is also 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. Stability is also not bad for such a tall vehicle.
The Evalia may not be too easy on the eye, it may seem too basic for personal use, and the middle-row windows may not open properly, but when you look at it as a practical vehicle to transport the family, it does its job well. It’s easy to drive in the city, the seemingly small motor makes adequate power, and there is good space too. What’s more, Nissan is claiming an ARAI-rated fuel consumption of near 20kpl, which should make it more fuel efficient than its competition in the real world too. If Nissan can price the Evalia in the region of Rs 10 lakh it could win itself some buyers in the MPV space.