There is a significant level of mixed emotion in play as I write this Road Review, with two opposing elements in play, albeit with light at the one end of the tunnel.
In a country where unemployment is skyrocketing while government corruption and outright theft accelerates fast than a Formula 1 car, the previously disenfranchised youth who looked forward to the freedom and opportunity promised when apartheid ended, now find themselves seeing the mobility they so sorely need vanishing like the waters of Tantalus.
For the youth moving into the job market for the first (and many others already there), mobility is far more than a simple dream. It is an absolute necessity.
However, as the Rand tanks against major currencies, fuel prices constantly rise and wages fail to keep pace with increasing costs, owning or leasing a car becomes even harder.
The Datsun GO, at face value, offered a solution as the lowest-priced car on the local market.
As a long-standing campaigner for road safety, the idea of a brand new car being launched without any of the safety systems, I would consider minimum standard equipment – anti-lock brakes and front crash bags – was something of an anathema.
The car did not fare well at all in the Euro NCAP testing and received mixed reactions from most motoring writers – even though it performed well out of dealer showrooms.
Fortunately, Datsun did pay attention and those minimum safety standards became part of the package to provide that light at the end of the tunnel referred to earlier.
Initially launched in 2014, the latest generation Datsun GO had its local debut in November of last year and I recently had the chance to spend some time in one – now quite extensively redesigned and modernised compared to the original offering.
The GO and its 7-seater counterpart the GO+ now have redesigned front grille and bumpers (front and rear) and 14-inch wheels. Both models are powered by a 1,2-litre petrol engine that produces 50 kW at 5 000 r/min and 104 Nm at 4 000 r/min paired with a 5-speed manual transmission.
Oddly – sadly – the CO2 emissions are 123 g/km, meaning it does fall foul of local law and attracts an emission tax tacked onto the retail price.
Average fuel consumption is around 5,2 l/100 km and that does keep the operating costs down. Acceleration to 100 km/h takes 13,5 seconds and peak velocity is 158 km/h.
Standard specification includes coloured power side mirrors, reverse parking sensors, intermittent wipers, central locking, an immobiliser, anti-lock braking, driver and passenger crash bags and retractable seatbelts while the LUX grade benefits from daytime running lights, a rear wiper with washer and body colour door handles.
Inside, there is Bluetooth and USB, a glove box lid, front and rear power windows, electric power steering, electrically adjustable mirrors, redesigned individual seats for the driver and front passenger. The LUX grade GO models have an independent tachometer and a silver finish on the air-conditioner dial, vent and door handles.
Not a bad haul of goodies for an entry-level auto – given more of an upmarket kick with the addition of the7-inch touchscreen infotainment screen.
Another key feature in this segment are Follow-Me-Home headlights that stay illuminated after the driver exits the car to provide much-needed light. The timing can be set in intervals of 30 seconds and is a boon considering the incredibly irritating load shedding currently happening around the country where large swathes of city and rural areas are turned off ‘to save electricity’, because Eskom (the national supplier) is pretty much broken.
Also useful are the reverse parking sensors that feature an audible beeping warning activated when reverse gear is engaged.
Compared to the austerity and ‘cheap’ look of the original, the revised GO has quite a welcoming cabin and the driver’s seat has enough movement to suit most driver heights with enough comfort to make longer journeys far less daunting.
Earmarked mainly as a city car, I was quite impressed with the overall driveability of the car, its responses to both throttle and steering inputs as well as its stopping ability.
The suspension system, which features a double-pivot front arm, enables greater agility while the tension from rough roads is absorbed by a high-response damper.
The front ventilated brake discs provide more consistent and effective braking and can extend brake-pad life by up to an impressive 27%. These discs, which are 22 mm thick, also require less pedal effort to stop in normal city driving conditions.
The speed-sensitive electric steering calculates the amount of steering assistance required based on vehicle speed and steering behaviour to offer light steering effort at low speed and firm steering effort at high speed.
It cements its city car status with a turning circle of just 4,6 metres, making it easier to get in and out of those miniscule parking bays beloved of shopping centre designers.
The Datsun GO has a class-leading turning circle of just 4.6metres, which is perfect for city driving. It has an overall length of 3 788 mm and width of 1 636 mm (including mirrors).
Bringing the GO up to ‘acceptable’ specification from a road safety point of view did, naturally, impact the pricing and brings it into the sights of the BAIC D20 Hatch, Kia Picanto 1.0 Start and the Renault Kwid.
Against those, it fares well or better, although closing the doors still does not quite produce that satisfying ‘thunk’ one likes to hear.
On the road, it is fairly lively and within the constraints of the small capacity engine, with answer to pretty much all driver’s calls. A robot racer it is not and, while it does stay mostly neutral in corners, rapidly runs out of the power needed to stay totally in command.
The Datsun GO comes with a standard 3-year/100 000 km warranty and an optional service plan. In addition, consumers receive one-year insurance with the purchase of a GO.