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Car reviews - Nissan - Dualis

Our Opinion

We like
Strong, punchy diesel engine once a few revs are on board, classy ride, useful interior, big real-world fuel savings
Room for improvement
Low-end lag from turbo-diesel engine, no auto option for diesel drivetrain, rear-centre seatbelt drops down from the roof

Gallery

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Nissan logo19 Jun 2013

By BARRY PARK

Price and equipment

THE diesel-engined Dualis, badged the TS, is closely related to the petrol-engined, mid-specification ST variant in Nissan’s Dualis range.

However, while the ST is priced from $25,990 before on-road costs, the diesel will ping you from $29,990.

That $4000 crater in pricing gets worse when you consider that for $1500 less than the price of the diesel, you can swap out the six-speed manual gearbox in the petrol-engined car for a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Try and do better than that price in a turbo-diesel competitor, though. Everything from Hyundai’s strong-selling ix35 to Skoda’s compellingly packaged, all-wheel-drive Yeti and even Mitsubishi’s well-rounded ASX cost thousands of dollars more when ticking the oil-burning option.

The only car in the segment that betters it on price is SsangYong’s $26,990 all-paw Korando, which is starting to make small inroads at the bottom end of the segment.

Just because it is cheap does not mean Dualis runs short on equipment. Standard gear runs to cloth seats, leather steering wheel and gearshift surround, a reversing camera, satellite navigation, single-zone air-conditioning, six-speaker single-CD audio with USB port, a Bluetooth phone connection with audio streaming, steering wheel-mounted cruise control with a speed limiter, and a hard luggage bay cover.

The long key used to start the Dualis TS is from the old school of thinking, and not from the new one of folding fobs. The soft-roader sits on 17-inch alloys, too, with a full-size steel spare under the boot floor.

Interior

While the Dualis exterior reflects a yearning for the great outdoors, the inside is pure city hatchback.

The front doors open wide to give good access to the front seats, although the rear doors are set quite a way back, with the big central pillar impeding access.

The interior fit-out is standard small-car fare, with plenty of hard plastics around the cabin. However, the mix of matte black surfaces and chrome highlights paints a picture that isn’t as cheap as the price tag suggests.

The low-mounted steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach, and the wide, well bolstered driver’s seat makes getting comfortable behind the leather-wrapped wheel an easy task. A criticism, if we may, is that the reach adjust on the steering doesn’t quite come out far enough for taller drivers.

Interior storage is adequate, with a decent-sized glovebox, a couple of different-sized drink holders, a lidded centre console bin that can swallow a full-size drink bottle, and door pockets that struggle to take one.

What the Dualis misses, though, is small-item storage. Plug a phone charger into the dash-mounted 12-volt socket, and there’s nowhere to stash a phone that doesn’t interfere with the gearstick, apart from a shallow slash of space at the foot of the centre console and the cupholders.

Rear-seat space is a bit tight, although the bench is comfortable enough for adults, with height-adjust headrests for each passenger. You’ll probably end up asking front-seat occupants to yield some space, though.

The seatback split-folds 60:40, although the floor space the Dualis creates doesn’t lie flat. It’s a rather high load height, too, thanks to a high sill. Despite the car’s small size,the tailgate lifts high enough to ensure it is not a bruise-inducing hazard for taller owners.

Engine and transmission

The Dualis engine is borrowed from Nissan’s alliance with French car-maker Renault.

At only 1.6 litres, the turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant produces 96kW – almost as much power as the larger 2.0-litre petrol version – and a big 320Nm of pulling power – that’s as much as a petrol V6.

It also gets clever idle-stop fuel-saving technology that switches the engine off when the stationary car is slotted into neutral and a foot is kept on the brake. Start to depress the clutch pedal and the engine springs back to life.

The 1.6-litre powerplant’s downfall is when you need some step-off acceleration, say from a traffic light. Without enough revs on board the engine bogs down, struggling to build speed.

Once spinning, the engine produces a silky well of overtaking performance. It sounds like a diesel, but the engine’s coarseness, and even vibrations through the steering wheel and pedals, is never intrusive.

It is frugal, officially sipping a class-leading 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres, an ambitious target considering in our week behind the wheel it never fell below 5.3L/100km. By comparison, the petrol version officially and optimistically averages 8.1L/100km when fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Because it uses so little fuel, the diesel Dualis gains a better greenhouse – and air pollution – rating than the petrol.

The six-speed gearbox is well-suited to the engine, supported by a light clutch pedal and good spread of gear ratios. The engine skips along at just below 2000rpm on the freeway.

We also noticed a hint of surging from the engine under load at freeway speeds.

Ride and handling

Diesel engines generally add weight to a car, which in something as small as the Dualis could be a bit of a problem. However, the 30-odd kilograms the TS model carries over the petrol-engined ST doesn’t appear to change much.

The Dualis has an impressive ride, a big thing given its tallish 180mm-plus ride height.

It absorbs almost all of the lumps and bumps of commuting without fuss, with very little transferred into the cabin.

OK, so it gets a little bit of a roll on in cornering, but it never feels unsettled or lacking in confidence despite its front-wheel-drive layout that drags the high-riding SUV around corners.

It is still close to the best in its class. A blight is road roar from the tyres on coarse-chip road surfaces, but it is no worse, and even better than, some competitors.

Safety and servicing

Dualis has a top five-star safety rating, helped by six airbags including head-protecting side airbags.

A nuisance, though, is the rear-centre seatbelt that hangs from the boot-space roof. It cuts right across the rear window.

Another annoyance is the reversing camera, which points at the ground and only shows the view for a few metres behind the Dualis. It needs to aim higher and show more area behind the hemmed-in rear end.

Nissan offers a three-year, 100,000km warranty on the Dualis, with a free roadside service and option to extend it for a bit more money.

The car-maker also offers capped-price servicing on Dualis. Servicing costs are more expensive for the diesel compared with the petrol, ranging from a low of $277.18 for a six-month check-up, up to $605.22 for a major fourth-year workover.

Verdict

Fitting the Dualis with a diesel engine has made a good, cheap city runabout better.

However, the lack of an automatic option and a pricing premium bumping up the purchase price by more than 10 per cent make it a difficult decision.

If you’re not adverse to manual cog-swapping, though, and don’t mind saving a few dollars compared with diesel-engined, all-paw rivals, the well-equipped Dualis is well worth adding to the shopping list.

Rivals

Mitsubishi ASX Aspire (From $34,990 before on-roads).
More costly than the Dualis, but more metal for the money, including all-paw grip and 1.8-litre engine. Same manual-gearbox limitation, and rear-seat issues, but cabin presentation and front seats just as good. Drives well, too.

Skoda Yeti 103TDI (From $35,690 before on-roads).
Good dynamics, huge two-box passenger interior and punchy 2.0-litre engine combine with all-paw performance. Twin-clutch auto option can replace default six-speed manual. On the downside, passenger space eats into boot load space, and the ride is a bit harsh.

Hyundai ix35 SE (From $34,990 before on-roads).
Best-performing 2.0-litre engine of this lot mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Nicely styled and very well equipped, but let down by class-lagging ride and handling and lack of adjustment behind the steering wheel.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Nissan Dualis TS
, ENGINE: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel
, LAYOUT: In-line front-engined, front-wheel drive
, POWER: 96kW@4000rpm
, TORQUE: 320Nm@1750rpm
, TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
, 0-100km/h: N/A
, TOP SPEED: N?A
, FUEL: 4.5L/100km
, EMISSIONS: 119g/km CO2
, WEIGHT: 1403kg
, SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/multilink (r)
, STEERING: Electrically assisted rack and pinion
, BRAKES: Ventilated disc (f)/disc (r)
, PRICE: From $29,990 before on-roads

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