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Car reviews - Nissan - Dualis - 5dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Crisp, car-like handling, well-sorted suspension, relatively good fuel consumption, standard cruise control
Room for improvement
Engine not quite strong enough especially when paired to CVT auto, CVT sounds bad, compromised boot-space compared to small hatchbacks, ESC not standard across the range

24 Jan 2008

IF YOU must have an SUV, the Nissan Dualis is a very convincing package.

While the same money would buy a far more practical Ford Mondeo sedan, the Dualis will appeal to many people who want certain elements of an SUV.

If you want a vehicle with an SUV-style seating position, also known as the ‘command position’, and like the general shape of an SUV, the Dualis makes sense.

It also has the advantage of an on-demand all-wheel-drive system, a reassuring feature that could help in slippery conditions such as gravel, snow and mud if the vehicle ever ventures out of the city.

However, if you want to go bush bashing, forget the Dualis. If you need to tow heavy items, don’t bother.

Given that very few compact SUVs are used for those purposes, the Dualis has an excellent chance of success.

It also has the big advantage of a suspension and steering set-up that makes the Dualis fun-to-drive.

Car companies too often use the term ‘sporty SUV’ and the promise is often not fulfilled.

That isn’t the case with the Dualis.

It isn’t that far off the ground, with 188mm of clearance, and runs a rather firm suspension setting, with thicker anti-roll bar, to limit the type of body movement that makes driving an SUV such a chore.

While even compact SUVs tend to pitch and wallow in turns, the Dualis sits far flatter - almost as flat as small sporty hatchbacks.

The electrically-assisted power steering has been tuned to give more resistance, for a sportier feel.

It feels quite meaty and the feedback is very good.

More time will be needed on more challenging roads than those used for the national Dualis launch in Margaret River in Western Australia this week, but the Dualis appeared quite agile.

It would be fair to expect that ride quality would suffer as a result, but that was not a case.

How it will cope with the bumpy, rutted roads used for GoAuto road tests remains to be seen, but the Dualis handled the WA tarmac impressively.

It feels like the Nissan engineers got the balance between sporty handling and a comfortable ride just right.

Unfortunately, the engine is not quite in tune with the sporty set-up.

With 105kW and 198Nm, the Dualis four-cylinder is daunted by the vehicle’s 1430kg of bulk.

Equipped with a nice and precise six-speed manual, the engine is bearable, but has to be worked pretty hard to get anywhere in a hurry.

When teamed with the CVT automatic, the weakness of the engine becomes more a problem. You really have to get stuck in to get the CVT Dualis up to speed.

Because it has to be revved hard, the slurring noise of the continually changing gear ratios of the CVT fills the cabin.

Many consumers are getting used to the odd sound of CVT transmissions as they generally improve.

CVTs don’t sound so bad when used with an engine that doesn’t have to work too hard.

A good example is the CVT paired to the 3.5-litre V6 in the Nissan Maxima - you hardly hear it. Even in the 2.5-litre four-cylinder Xtrail, the CVT is not too bad.

GoAuto asked Nissan if the 2.5-litre four-cylinder could be used for the Dualis, but was told it would not fit as the car was only designed with 2.0-litre engine in mind.

The turbo-diesel Nissan Australia is hoping to source for the Dualis, with its healthy supply of torque, would be a welcome addition.

We can’t supply a fuel consumption figure from the launch drive as we spent most of our time in the ST model, which doesn’t have a fuel economy calculator.

Even so, the supplied figures of 8.4 and 8.5 litres per 100km indicate that the Dualis is quite efficient compared to other compact SUVs.

Nissan has done a good job with the interior of the Dualis. It’s not ground-breaking in any way, but it looks nice and is simple.

All the controls are well laid out and easy to use.

A lot of work has also been put into getting the plastic surfaces right. The dashboard and doors are covered in a nice soft-touch material.

The seats are comfortable with big side bolsters to hold you in place through corners. They look adequate in cloth trim, but the leather trim of the Ti lifts the interior to another level.

Rear headroom and legroom is excellent in the Dualis, although the rear middle seat is quite narrow. All seats have lap-sash belts and headrests.

The rear seats do fold down to create a reasonable cargo area, however, the Dualis is not as practical as some other SUVs (including X-Trail) and small hatchbacks.

In some of those vehicles, you can fold forward (or remove) the bottom part of the rear seats, allow the backrest to fold truly flat an open up even more space, but not in the Dualis.

The boot space of the Dualis is reasonable, but is a bit shallow compared to small hatchbacks.

When considering the value-for-money equation, the Dualis stacks up quite well - except for one glaring omission: the lack of ESC on the base model.

Nissan Australia obviously left out ESC because it wanted the sharpest possible price for the Dualis, but the decision still doesn’t make a lot of sense.

After all, the X-Trail comes with ESC as standard, so why does the Dualis miss out?

ESC, which is especially effective for SUVs, is available for the base model Dualis, but it has been bundled with side airbags and alloy wheels for $2000. It comes standard on the Ti.

Adding the option pack brings the Dualis to within $1000 of base X-Trail, which might have been too close for Nissan Australia.

The omission of ESC on the base Dualis goes against the industry trend with most car-makers generally fitting ESC as standard on most new models in this price range, especially SUVs, or at least make it available as an affordable stand-alone option.

The ST Dualis with the option pack fitted and the Ti represent good value for money.

While it could do with a bit more poke, the Dualis is still an impressive offering that is a better option than most compact SUVs and offers handling comparable to small cars.

With soaring petrol prices forcing many medium SUV buyers to consider down-sizing, the Dualis could become a very successful model.

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