Tested: 2012 Nissan Livina 1.6 Acenta

The bland expectation

Today’s review comes with some free advice: you should always mince your words because you might have to eat them later. Spread out in front of me and ready for some regurgitation are all the nasty things I may have recently said about our newest press demo, the Nissan Livina 1.6 Acenta.

Chief among these were “tourist fodder”, “blik met wiele” and “motorised snooze fest” – all of which I presumptuously uttered before driving the white MPV. I hope everyone at Europcar and the vivacious Nissan PR ladies will pardon my rude remarks about rentals; including their lovely Tiidas.

You see, lurking beneath one of thee most uninspiring and bland exteriors is an incredible vehicle. Motoring scribes often detect patterns in cars and brands; and my overriding sensation with Nissans is that of being pleasantly surprised. I believe they call it “shift expectations”.

Yet again this is all a matter of opinion and you may indeed find the Livina to be a wheeled snore orgy, but most people will emerge from the dreary shape and dull interior with big eyes and bigger smiles. You expect a tedious commuter and get a lively surprise instead.

Added to its humdrum shape and in my defence, it doesn’t look very promising on paper. The Livina is 4.18m of Japanese monotony, fitted with five seats, small wheels, big windows and a deep boot. Its power comes from a 1.6L petrol four-cylinder with 80kW (109hp) or 153Nm. Yawn.

It’s available in six variations: the standard shape, a longer “Grand Livina” and the tasty “Livina X-Gear”, all available in two differing specification levels. Every model uses the puny little engine mentioned above and is exclusively available with a five-speed manual gearbox.

The X-Gear is aimed at active urbanites who want to make darn sure they don’t lose their car in a sea of Livinas at some wine farm on Sundays. The Grand Livina simply offers more space and seats (totalling seven) for shuttle operators and extended families.

The base model is available in a very basic “Visia” specification for fleet owners. Compared to our “Acenta” model, it lacks a passenger airbag, ABS brakes, emergency brake-force distribution, brake assist, any sort of radio or clock, power mirrors, a service plan and some colour coding.

That translates into a saving of N$15,000 over this Livina’s N$172,000 price tag. Both models come standard with alarm/immobiliser, 60/40 folding rear bench, remote central locking, child lock, power steering, power windows, adjustable steering wheel, trip meter, air-con, 3-year/100,000 warranty and roadside assistance.

The interior is a sea of acceptable fabrics, tolerable plastics and adequate panel gaps. The radio is a bit old-school but does as it’s told and the ventilation controls couldn’t be any simpler. The instruments are easy to read and most occupants can’t complain about space except perhaps between the front two.

Fire that laughable little motor up and it settles into a quiet, refined idle. Drive into town and it shows another Nissan trademark: absolute obedience and ease of use. The clutch, brake and accelerator respond well and are as light to operate as the steering.

The gear lever can be a bit notchy but has a pleasing feel, visibility is good, the hooter sounds ridiculous and as a senior family member immediately pointed out after the second encounter with a speed bump: the Livina has a wonderfully smooth and soft suspension setup.

Adopting the shape of the proverbial cherry on top, the engine presented the largest piece of humble pie I had on my plate and partly on my face. The power, noise and response from the 1,600 are unbelievably good; either Nissan has made a printing error in their brochures or they’ve built a fantastic little engine.

Drop your right foot too fast and it will instantly burn rubber. Floor it while on the move and the little Jack Russell starts barking loudly and pulling vehemently on its leash. It’s got plenty of torque to quietly cruise through town but many a shuttle driver will delight in the engine’s willing nature when unleashed.

It may lack fog lights and alloys but it makes up for this with character and lots of versatility. With 177mm of ground clearance, 383 to 769L of luggage capacity, no-nonsense technology and basic creature comforts, it’s no wonder they’re lined up at the airport. Expectation shifted.

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