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Car reviews - Nissan - Dualis - 5dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Driving, comfort, looks, practicality, value for money, safety, equipment levels, Ti features, sensational sub-$30K pricing for seven-seater Dualis +2
Room for improvement
No sub-$30K AWD version anymore, Ti price hike, performance not scintillating, terrible reverse parking vision, limited rear legroom, diesel version delayed

19 Apr 2010

TWO and a half years after being released in Australia, the Dualis continues to confound and confuse people.

Is it a hatch? Is it a compact SUV? Maybe it’s just a small stubby wagon on stilts. Whatever, the British-made crossover has never enjoyed the same sales success as the Qashqai (as the Dualis is known in Europe).

From August last year cheaper, front-drive versions were introduced to compete against mid-range iterations of the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus, as well as the VW Golf and Hyundai Tucson 4x2, but the Dualis still has a long, long way to go before it brings in the same numbers through Nissan dealerships as its spiritual successor – the late and lamented N16 Pulsar (also out of the UK in hatch guise) – did.

Now the Dualis’ “third chapter” (as Nissan execs put it) commences right here, in the form of a facelift flagging a significant front-end makeover, more standard features, better refinement, sleeker aerodynamics and minor suspension titivations designed to improve the dynamics and ride qualities.

And that’s all good and fine, since the old Dualis’ front-end styling wasn’t its prettiest angle. Adding Bluetooth connectivity is always appreciated, while a new noise-reducing Acoustic Windscreen (as well as more sound deadening in the firewall) quieten down an already fairly hushed package.

Nissan also has incorporated more interior storage spaces for small items (good), fitted fresh instrumentation featuring a fancy new trip computer that looks like the latest Golf’s (also good – although why it doesn’t have a supplementary digital speed readout is a mystery when the VW’s got one), and added remote audio controls on the steering wheel (which looks good).

Better still, the price of the base ST remains the same (great), the front seats continue to be grippy and supportive (excellent), forward vision is commanding due to the semi-elevated driving position (helpful), and the overall ambience is one of a well-built quality small car (more positive news).

However, rear-seat legroom is still cramped, rear vision is hindered by the tiny side windows, and the luggage area’s capacity is fairly ordinary at best.

Furthermore, the old $26,990 ST AWD model is no more, so buyers must fork out almost $5000 more than before and settle for the (around $1800 more expensive since the facelift) Ti AWD if they want all-wheel drive stability. That’s not progress.

Speaking of which, Nissan still has not committed to introducing the fine and fiery 2.0-litre dCi four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that we sampled in a Qashqai in Cascais (Portugal) almost two years ago. It is coming apparently, but probably not until early next year. Boo!

That’s a shame because the Dualis’ 102kW/198Nm 2.0-litre twin-cam petrol unit – while sweet and spirited when mated to the sporty six-speed manual gearbox – does feel the weight of two or more occupants (let alone a heavy cargo load) when paired with the CVT continuously variable auto – which actually isn’t a bad transmission anyway, since it slurs through ratios unobtrusively.

Despite that, though, steep inclines require patience, and overtaking manoeuvres mean planning is a must if you are piloting a Dualis with CVT. Yet there is still sufficient performance otherwise.

The Dualis’ agreeable dynamic capabilities – comprising sharp handling, lots of grip – even in FWD mode – and a quite absorbent and quiet ride mean keener drivers will not feel as if they’ve been forgotten. Nissan is serious about its crossover taking on the world’s best C-segment hatches, so there are no driveability flaws to speak of.

But all that is only half the latest iteration’s story, because from July this year the second cheapest seven-seater passenger car will be rolled out in the form of the Dualis +2 – basically a stretched version with new panels aft of the front doors, including a taller roof, bigger windows, larger tailgate, lower rear bumper, and a dinky third row of seats.

Sadly we were not allowed to drive Nissan’s latest seven-seater wagon, so we can’t tell you how it goes with seven souls on board and just 2.0-litres of petrol power on tap.

However, we can reveal that any person over about 150cm will find the third-row seats too cramped for comfort (Nissan suggests children under 10 are most suitable back there) there is appreciably more cargo space when that row is folded down neatly into the rear floor the middle seats slide, recline and are divided into a 40/20/40 formation for more loading permutations that the regular Dualis ‘5’ and the styling is not a mess since Nissan’s designers have incorporated that extension with aplomb. Bravo!

There is little doubt that the Dualis +2 will be a runaway hit for Nissan, particularly as the only cheaper alternative – the dull Kia Rondo – suffers from homely styling, questionable refinement and lethargic performance.

In fact, the +2’s headline pricing and packaging may be enough to finally get the brand name out there for more Australians to discover, because the Dualis remains an underrated and likeable little package, with more than just an air of European sophistication in its presentation.

But we can’t also help thinking that introducing a people mover version into the mix of hatch and compact SUV will just confuse punters even more.

Maybe Nissan should rechristen Dualis ‘Tri-alis’ instead!

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