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First drive: Safe new Nissan Dualis is value-packed

Safe: Dualis posted ENCAP's highest ever score for adult occupant protection.

It's based on the new X-Trail and hits Oz a month later: We drive Nissan's Dualis

29 May 2007

NISSAN Australia will introduce a second small SUV in the coming months – the Dualis, which was launched in Europe earlier this month and last week became the best-performing vehicle ever under the stringent Euro NCAP crash testing regime.

Known in Europe as the Qashqai, the Dualis is based on Nissan’s compact X-Trail SUV – an all-new version of which is due on sale here in November – but has a completely different bodyshell.

Last week, Euro NCAP awarded it five stars and almost maximum points in the program’s front, side-impact and pole crash tests, as well as a "high performance" score for child occupant protection. No vehicle has ever before received 37 points for adult occupant protection.

Scheduled for a launch here in December (although supply constraints could delay its introduction until January), the Dualis will slot in below the new X-Trail and is expected to have a starting price close to $30,000.

In Europe, the vehicle has proved so popular since its launch in March that customers in some countries are facing a six-month wait.

Nissan Australia workshopped the Qashqai name in Australia (pronounced ‘cash-kie’ and referring to a nomadic tribe in South Western Iran) and found too many people thought it belonged to something South Korean, so it opted for Dualis - a name that's also used in Japan.

The Dualis is sold as both a front-wheel drive 4WD model in Europe, but Nissan Australia has no plans to offer the front-drive Dualis in Australia. It will only reconsider this position if the 4WD Dualis fails to qualify for the Australian 4WD import duty reduction.

The Dualis sits on the same platform as the next-generation X-Trail, a base also to be used for the next Renault Megane small car (as a result of the Nissan-Renault alliance).

It runs the same suspension and the same basic 4WD system as X-Trail, although the Dualis uses a 2.0-litre engine instead of the X-Trail’s 2.5-litre unit. The suspension comprises MacPherson struts at the front with a multi-link rear.

As with the X-Trail, the shock absorbers are mounted on the subframe on an angle to avoid intrusion into the rear cargo area. Engineers gave the Dualis a slightly firmer damper setting than the X-Trail, aiming for a sportier feel.

The 4WD system used by the Dualis is essentially the same as that used in the current X-Trail, which is not as advanced as the system used in the forthcoming second-generation X-Trail.

The Dualis 4WD system runs primarily in front-wheel drive, but can shift up to 50 per cent of power to the rear wheels when wheel slip is detected. It can also shift torque across the rear axle depending on slippage.

12 center imageThe Dualis system is effectively reactionary, whereas the next-generation X-Trail is more of a predictive system. It misses out on the X-Trail’s yaw rate and lateral and longitudinal G sensors, which work with the steering angle and throttle sensor to anticipate possible traction loss and feed power to the different wheels accordingly.

As with the new X-Trail, the Dualis can be locked in 4WD mode, but the system will switch back to 2WD above 30km/h.

The Dualis is powered by a new 2.0-litre 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine producing 103kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4800rpm. Engineers tuned it to deliver plenty of low-down urge, with the powerplant delivering 90 per cent of torque from 2000rpm.

The standard transmission is a new six-speed manual gearbox, while a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is available as an option.

Fuel consumption is yet to be determined for Australian models, but the British figure for the 2.0-litre 4WD model stands at 8.4L/100km of combined city and highway driving.

An 84kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is offered in Europe, but is not being considered for Australia.

Two Renault-sourced turbo diesels, including a 78kW/240Nm 1.5-litre and a 110kW/320Nm 2.0-litre are also available in Europe. While Nissan Australia says it will not bring a diesel-powered X-Trail here, it will consider the larger of the two diesel engines for the Dualis if the business case stacks up.

The Dualis is not as long as the X-Trail (it is some 315mm shorter thanks to less rear overhang) at 4315mm, but has the same wheelbase. The Dualis is 2mm wider than the X-Trail at 1783mm.

Despite having the same 200mm ride height as the X-Trail, the roof of the Dualis sits 79mm lower than the X-Trail’s.

The base Dualis 4WD weighs in at 1415kg, which is about 130kg heavier than a Focus hatch. The Dualis is a five-seater, but the sculpted rear seats mean it has been designed more as a four-seater.

Its rear seats can be folded forward, but do not fold truly flat like in the new X-Trail. Another feature in the new X-Trail, a false cargo floor that can be used to store several items out of view, is not fitted to the Dualis.

Dualis runs on 16-inch or 17-inch alloy wheels, depending on the grade, and all models come with a full-size spare wheel.

Cargo capacity is reduced compared to the X-Trail, but Nissan claims the Dualis still has more luggage space than the Ford Focus – 410 litres below the luggage cover.

In Europe, the Dualis comes standard with ABS brakes, traction control and electronic stability control. Six airbags come as standard, including dual driver and passenger front and side airbags, plus full-length curtain airbags.

The Dualis is produced at Nissan’s Sunderland plant in England. Sourcing products out of the British facility has caused problems in the past due to unfavourable exchange rates – the previous Micra is a prime example – but Nissan Australia says the higher cost of the Dualis will give it some breathing space when it comes to the price.

Nissan Design Europe (NDE), based in London, led the design of the Dualis, while the development program was largely carried out at the Nissan Technical Centre Europe in Cranfield, Befordshire, with engineering input from Japan.

NDE director Stephane Schwarz said his design team wanted to make the Dualis look assertive but not aggressive. "With this car you have the opportunity to have the attributes of a 4WD without the burden and the weight of it," Mr Schwarz said.

He said the fact that traditional 4WDs had become unpopular in some cities had been considered in the design process.

"In 2004 there were all these rows about Paris wanting to ban 4WDs and we had similar discussions about it in London. So we knew that this car was meant not to be received as a 4WD. It was clearly a crossover vehicle," he said.

Mr Schwarz said the Dualis also offered buyers something more individual than existing small cars.

"We didn't want to do another Golf or 307," Schwarz said. "We wanted a car that would express its own values."

Drive impressions:

THE Nissan Dualis is the second division of the company’s new compact SUV brigade. It will work alongside the next-generation X-Trail.

While the X-Trail is the more rugged and more capable off-roader, the Dualis is tuned more for city driving.

Both share the same platform, suspension architecture and basic 4WD system but have a completely different shell and engine.

The Dualis is expected to also offer Nissan Australia a more affordable model that will sit below the X-Trail, and possibly just below the $30,000 mark, to help the company lure small car buyers.

And for people who just don’t want another small hatch, the Dualis could just do the trick.

It is not as sensible as cars like the Ford Focus or Mazda3, nor is it as fun to drive as those two lower-slung cars.

The Dualis is, however, quite a pleasant drive when compared to some other crossover wagons that were actually meant to go off-road.

GoAuto tested the Dualis on tarmac roads in London and Oxfordshire, which is probably an accurate simulation of where most Dualis models will cover their kilometres.

Concerns that the 2.0-litre petrol engine would struggle to provide enough performance to adequately move the crossover wagon were misplaced.

It’s never going to be confused as a sportscar, but the Dualis moves along well enough.

The engine has quite a good supply of torque down low, which is good for getting off the line when the traffic lights go green.

In this environment, the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) seems a good choice.

You can still hear the ‘clutch-slip’ sound of the no-step gearbox when you really bury your right foot, as it constantly changes ratios to optimize the engine’s torque, but that doesn’t happen all that often in city traffic.

Taking the Dualis on a faster-paced drive in the country might deliver different conclusions.

The manual gearbox is not bad, but the long-throw shift reminds you the Dualis is based on a four-wheel-drive and not a passenger car.

GoAuto drove the Dualis a day after testing the new X-Trail it is based on, so it was interesting to note the differences between the two.

The Dualis, with firmer damper settings, was more agile, sitting flatter and more happily turning in when compared to the X-Trail.

However, the Dualis was also harsher, crashing and thumping over potholes and ruts that we suspect the X-Trail would have more or less ignored thanks to its softer suspension tune.

The English roads also brought out the worst in the tyres fitted to the Dualis, with a fairly high level of tyre roar penetrating the cockpit.

The interior of the Dualis does look quite modern and while it may overwhelm with drab mix of grey and grey, the quality of the plastics is all very good.

Soft-touch plastic is used on most of the interior surfaces, and all the controls are well weighted and easy to use.

The Dualis has much more supportive seats than the X-Trail. Nissan only presented high-end Dualis models fitted with leather trim, which were impressive.

The combination of the soft leather and the supportive seat design mean they are a highlight.

A family of five might not be so appreciative, because two of the rear seats have contoured seatbacks, which means the child stuck in the middle is unlikely to get comfortable.

The interior space is more comparable to a small car, rather than its more spacious X-Trail sibling.

Style has its price and the way the roof slopes down at the back visibly eats into the cargo area and rear passenger headroom, which is not as good as a Focus.

Nissan also came up short when it came to practicality as the second row of seats fold forward, but not completely flat.

That’s a shame, because the X-Trail as well as many small hatchbacks have rear seats that fold flat to turn the car into a temporary station wagon.

Many Dualis customers will appreciate being able to sit up high, something car-makers call the ‘command position.’ This basically means you can see a fair way in front of you unless the person in front has also chosen to buy a 4WD.

We were unable to test the Dualis on dirt, but the ride height and 4WD system suggest it should be able to cope with a fair amount of light off-road work.

Of course, it could go further in the bush if it had the same advanced 4WD system as the new X-Trail.

The new X-Trail’s predictive 4WD system would have also come in handy on tarmac when either pushing hard or when driving on slippery surfaces, helping to stop the nose from pushing-on (understeer) in tight bends.

The reality is that most Dualis customers will not drive their cars that fast or take them far off-road, which makes you wonder why Nissan Australia is taking the 4WD Dualis when a front-drive would be more than adequate.

No doubt it mainly comes down to Australia’s ridiculous import duty deduction for 4WD models, which allows Nissan Australia to offer a 4WD Dualis for a similar price to the more sensible and efficient front-drive model.

Read more:

Nissan exposes its Dualis personality

First look: X-Trail’s smaller brother

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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