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Car reviews - Nissan - Dualis - 2WD 5dr wagon range

Launch Story

6 Aug 2009

NISSAN has gatecrashed the small-car class with the release of the $24,990 front-wheel-drive Dualis crossover.

Doubling the range to eight models, the Japanese company has also slashed $4000 from the price of the Dualis AWD all-wheel drive versions, which now starts at $26,990 for the ST.

Furthermore, the previously optional ‘ST-O’ safety pack (consisting of ESP stability control and six airbags) is now standard, enabling a five-star ENCAP crash-test result for the whole MY10 (Model Year 2010) range.

Other than that, there are no specification or visual changes to the Dualis, released in AWD-only form in late 2007.

Eliminating Nissan’s ‘All-Mode’ AWD system does save around 90kg in the front-drive Dualis, however.

To refresh, the Dualis’ transverse mounted all-aluminium MR20 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine generates 102kW of power at 5200rpm and 198Nm of torque at 4500rpm provides power.

Going FWD saves 0.2 litres per 100 kilometres of 91 RON unleaded petrol, since it returns 8.2L/100km instead of 8.4 for the six-speed manual in the combined cycle, and 8.3 as opposed to 8.5 for the six-speed CVT Continuously Variable Transmission automatic, which adds $2500 to the price.

The Dualis’ monocoque structure is built on the Renault-Nissan Alliance C-platform that is shared with the X-Trail and Renault Koleos, as well as the upcoming Renault Megane III, and consists of MacPherson strut suspension up front and a multi-link independent arrangement out back.

The steering is a hydraulically powered rack and pinion set-up.

Another worthwhile change with the FWD Dualis is luggage space, which rises 62 litres to 410L, and extending to 1513L with the 60/40 split-fold rear backrest pushed flat.

Standard features include the aforementioned ESP and six airbags, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, four-wheel-disc brakes, anti-whiplash front-seat headrests, air-conditioning, power windows, remote central locking, electric mirrors, alloy wheels, a chilled glovebox and cruise control.

The Ti adds leather trim, heated front seats, a trip computer, full-sized spare wheel, rain-sensing wipers, under-seat drawer, front sliding armrest, steering-wheel sited audio controls and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

The move to a cheaper and better-equipped entry-level should help Nissan regain traction in the middle to upper region of the small-car segment that it effectively abandoned in January 2006 when the smaller and cheaper Tiida replaced the popular Pulsar sedan and hatch.

Since then, Nissan has sorely felt the gap between the Tiida ($18,490 to $25,740) and previous Dualis AWD pricing ($28,990 to $36,490). The latter’s close proximity to the larger and far-roomier X-Trail compact SUV further compromised its chances of finding success.

And while, like the old Pulsar hatch, the Dualis continues to be built in Britain, its new, lower prices are the upshot of more favourable exchange rates and better bargaining skills on Nissan Australia’s behalf, according to CEO Dan Thompson.

The $24,990 opening salvo slots the front-wheel drive Dualis ST right up against the hot-selling Mazda 3 Maxx, Toyota Corolla Conquest, Subaru Impreza RX, Ford Focus LX and Volkswagen Golf 90 TSI.

This price should reverse address buyer apathy to the product, which has seen Dualis sales fall well short of the 4200 or so Nissan expected to trade each year. In 2008, only around 2500 found homes in Australia.

In April, Mr Thompson told GoAuto Media that the Dualis AWD simply did not register on consumer’s radar.

“We need a mainstream hatch competitor,” Mr Thompson said at the time.

“It is absolutely critical for us to get it right … we don’t have anything in that (mid-$20,000) space.”

Nissan will leverage the Dualis’ crossover qualities (a higher ride improves access and vision, as well as ground clearance – rated at 188mm) in the advertising campaign headed Shifting the Hatch Forever.

The fuller Dualis range is the fifth launch Nissan has embarked on since February, having successfully refreshed the Murano and Maxima, while releasing the GT-R and 370Z sports cars.

But Mr Thompson says the Dualis repositioning is the most important for the company so far, as it offers access to some real sales volumes.

Nissan is hoping to almost triple current Dualis sales, to around 6000 units a year. About 70 per cent are slated for the front-drive version, while half of all buyers should choose the better-equipped Ti variant.

Younger couples, mostly with kids and urbane 25 to 34-year olds, with a female skew, fill out the demographic profile that Nissan has identified. Private – rather than fleet – buyers are targeted.

“There is tremendous potential with the Dualis,” Mr Thompson said.

“(It has been) a real weakness for Nissan not having a proper C-segment small vehicle.”

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