You may not have had need to consider this, but the hire car (the UK term for rental cars) does vary across the world. In mainland Europe and the US, you’ll get an almost showroom fresh example, usually from a line of cars exactly the same, but probably of a different marque than last time you visited. Choice will not be wide, and you quickly learn that the business model is dependent upon leasing cars from the manufacturers and turning them round quickly into the nearly new market. But not in some parts of the world, where you may well get handed the keys to a car over ten years old.
Elsewhere that business model varies, with a genuine feel that the car is an owned, not leased, asset of the hire company and is earning its keep for a long as reasonably practicable. This model seems to be used in smaller markets, perhaps lacking the capacity to absorb low-ish mileage, relatively young used cars at the necessary rate.. Hence, in New Zealand earlier this year, the hire company rented us a Nissan Tiida 1.5 litre hatchback, in a very 2006 hue, best described as watery pea soup metallic.
Travelling introduces you to many things you may be unfamiliar with, like volcanoes and geysers, kiwis (and Kiwis), stunning flora and fauna, traffic jam free town centres, and even sunshine in January. And the Nissan Tiida.
The Tiida (pronounced Teeda, although I kept wanting to call it the Tilda, which is actually a brand of Indian rice sold in the UK) was never sold in the UK or mainland Europe, though some did make their way to the Republic of Ireland, and in North America it was available as the Nissan Versa. The easiest description may be that it a Nissan’s take on the 2002 Renault Megane with which it shared a platform. The Megane is Renault’s Golf competitor, and the 2002 model majored on style and technical novelty as an USP, introducing some features like the Renault Keycard and automatic light and wipers to the European market.
The Tiida came as five door hatch or dumpy looking four door saloon. It was not sleek; rather it majored on space inside and accepted the consequently a slightly taller exterior and boxy glasshouse (both it and the 2002 Megane were 4-5 inches taller than the preceding Megane). Power came from 1.5, 1.6 or 1.8 litre four cylinder petrol engines, mounted transversely and linked to five speed manual or 4 speed automatic gearboxes. A CVT was offered in some markets as well, and a six speed gearbox on the 1.8 litre, also market specific.
Our car was 1.5 litre with a continuously variable transmission, which always felt that it was hanging on to a high ratio for as long as possible. Engine braking was less impressive, even in L.
There were several, to British eyes, unusual features of this hire car. For a start, it was 10 years, not less than 10 months, old, and had covered something like 80,000 km, which is relatively low for the age. The Kiwi annual average is around 12,000km, the UK average is closer to 12,000 miles. This mileage is probably linked to the car’s origins, as a Japanese domestic market specification car imported into New Zealand in October 2016.
Importing a JDM vehicle into New Zealand is relatively common. The New Zealand market is small, with only 5 million residents and new car sales of 102,644 in 2016, less than three weeks’ total UK sales. The proximity of Japan, the toughness of the Japanese skaken test and the compatibility and acceptability of the specifications in areas like emissions, right hand drive and metric instrumentation, with the New Zealand car hire and Japanese markets both favouring automatic transmission, makes this a valid source, and not just for hire cars incidentally.
So what’s a Tiida like, and what makes it a good hire car? First of all, it was easy to use. Big switches, clear instrumentation, no novelties on the dash (apart from one I’ll come to) and logically adjustable seats and mirrors.
Interior space, for two people and holiday baggage was absolutely fine. The rear seat was a good size for two if necessary, and could be shunted back and forth to balance passenger space and luggage space. The hatch opened up plenty low enough as well. Up front, the seats were good, soft enough but also firm enough and generously wide. This car had a trim that was close to velour, almost 1970s except for the subdued colour.
The CVT was easy enough to use, indeed you might not realise it was not a conventional automatic until you tried to use the L position coming down hill and found it a bit weak. Performance was fine, with enough power for the overtaking you can do in New Zealand, and for climbing hills. Handling was pretty average, and with a fair amount of body roll. It’s not a Focus to drive, by any means, but the ride is not something embarrassing either. In these respects, it probably matches its Megane cousin, but not the Focus or Golf.
The comfort features were there too; air con, keyless entry and start, automatic lights (but not wipers), radio and CD, electrically adjustable mirrors, and did I mention comfortable seats?
All this makes it fine for a hire car. Comfortable, spacious, capable enough, easy to use, reasonable on fuel; all hire car features. Driving in New Zealand is a fairly leisurely affair, with the few dual carriageways almost entirely limited to the major urban areas and a national 100km/h speed limit enforced by kindly efficient officers in Holden Commodores, so the last ounces of sharp handling and performance are not necessary.
There were a few features that were unusual to us, coming from the UK. For example it had a reversing bleeper that sounded continuously when the car was in reverse. Not a reversing proximity bleeper and not audible outside the car. To me, whenever I was reversing, I was looking for an errant forklift truck.
The parking brake (or hand brake) was foot operated, seemingly in the position you’d expect to see a clutch pedal, and just visible in the library shot above. I’m not clear if this is a feature specific to the automatic and/or JDM cars, but you get used to it, and the consequently larger console is useful. A more modern electric parking brake would be significantly preferable though.
The biggest surprise feature was also the most disappointing. You may have noticed the large screen in the centre of the dash, looking ideal for a GPS sat-nav display. Which is exactly it was, except for one minor detail. Remember, this was a JDM car, so it had a JDM sat-nav, complete with Japanese character display and Japanese maps.
There is apparently no known, or at least practical, way to change this to an English language display and local mapping, and frustratingly the Japanese characters extended to the radio display as well. So, no sat-nav, the radio was a bit of a lucky dip, and the purchase of a decent sat-nav to bring home and keep.
So, in summary, perhaps not a car I’d buy, but one I’d be more than satisfied to hire again next time, and you can’t really ask for more than that from a hire car chosen under a Hobson’s Choice policy.