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First drive: The Dualis diesel Nissan Oz wants

Dual-mode: Petrol Dualis is priced $3000 lower than Nissan's X-Trail.

Nissan is investigating a diesel version of its Dualis crossover and we've driven it

16 May 2008

NISSAN is poised to bring diesel power to the Dualis, with a late 2009 launch date mooted as being the earliest time of arrival in Australia.

However, this may be pushed back to 2010, as Nissan in the United Kingdom struggles to meet the unprecedented demand for the diesel version of the Dualis, which is known as Qashqai in Europe.

The engine in question is a Renault-developed M1D 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbocharged dCi unit.

Available in Europe since the Qashqai was released there in January 2007, it delivers 110kW of power at 4000rpm and 320Nm of torque at 2000rpm.

In Australia, the dCi would arrive with a six-speed automatic transmission, as well as a six-speed manual gearbox - identical configurations to the Koleos revealed this week by Renault.

In the European all-wheel drive automatic specification favoured for Australian-bound Dualises, the Qashqai dCi returns 7.8 litres per 100km in the combined average run, and 208 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre.

Nissan’s ambition targets the premium-priced European small-car diesels making headway in Australia, including the Volkswagen Golf TDI, Peugeot 308 HDi, Citroen C4 HDi, Holden Astra CDTi, Mazda3 MZR-CD and Ford Focus TDCi.

Since its launch in Europe in January 2007, the Qashqai has exceeded its 2007/8 fiscal year sales target of 100,000 annual sales by around 60,000 units, according to Simon Thomas, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Nissan in Western Europe.

12 center imageMr Thomas said the Qashqai effectively replaced five ageing but established models that – in the previous fiscal year – had only managed less than 70,000 sales between them.

These were the N16 Almera, the Renault Scenic-style Almera Tino mini-MPV, the mid-sized Primera sedan, wagon and hatch range, the D22 Navara pick-up truck and the Terrano SUV.

Nissan in Europe reportedly has back-orders for up to 60,000 Qashqais at the moment, stretching from between four to six months in some places – and the majority of these are for the dCi diesel. Russia, the UK, Italy, Germany and Spain are the most voracious consumers of the Qashqai.

This is despite the fact that Nissan has already committed to a 3.5 million Euro investment in upping the production capacity by at least 20 per cent at its Sunderland, England manufacturing base (Europe’s first Japanese ‘trans-plant’ and one of the most highly awarded for efficiency), with 800 extra workers hired to cover three daily shifts.

And the newly announced Qashqai seven-seater model – essentially a stretched version of the small-car/crossover with a longer body accommodating two extra seats as well a 90-litre increase in cargo space and a 100kg weight jump – may do little to ease the waiting game for buyers in Europe and elsewhere.

Another factor delaying the diesel’s debut in the Australian Dualis is the model’s slower-than-anticipated initial sales uptake.

Averaging around 205 sales each month since the car went on sale at the beginning of this year, the petrol-only Dualis has yet to establish itself in the small-car and compact SUV segments it competes in, prompting Nissan to take its time to deliberate over exactly when the diesel model will be released.

“We will not look at other variations until the Dualis is better established in Australia,” remarked Nissan’s corporate communications manager, Jeffrey Fisher.

“Addressing European Qashqai diesel demand is Nissan Europe’s top priority,” he added.

However, Mr Fisher did rule out the introduction of a Dualis ‘+2’ version of the Qashqai +2.

“Australians don’t want or need a seven-seater that small,” was his response, adding that the Dualis and X-Trail are sufficient for the Australian market for the time being.

Drive impressions:

ASIDE from the 350Z and GT-R, the turbo-diesel Dualis/Qashqai DCi diesel is the most convincing passenger car Nissan has offered in years.

Indeed, for those of you who scoffed at the company’s intimation that the Dualis is a rival for quality premium small-cars like the Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308, this car should change minds and, ahem, shift perceptions.

This is because the diesel powertrain – with its lush spread of torque from idle right upwards – comprehensively addresses one of the few drawbacks of the Dualis 2.0-litre petrol model available in Australia.

Not only does the dCi engine provide more of the expected oomph during overtaking or in heavily laden situations, it offers a higher degree of refinement, since the diesel is not as taxed as the sweet petrol unit is once it is in the higher rev ranges.

Admittedly, the model we drove was a top-spec Dualis kitted out in leather and a whole lot of other goodies, but it is clear to us that the basic drivetrain installation is more than sufficiently insulated.

We only drove the six-speed automatic version, but that transmission certainly proved to be a willing companion to the diesel by always providing the right gear at the right time for fast and smooth getaways.

Clearly, this European-designed and developed car was created expressly to use an engine like the dCi diesel, so it seems perfectly rounded with it.

And if you are familiar with the Dualis petrol in Australia, you are likely to be aware of how well engineered the driving experience is, with its nicely weighted steering, smooth handling capabilities, and firm but controlled ride.

None of these attributes seem to have been affected by the diesel engine installation.

Nissan Australia needs to be vigilant in ensuring the long-term success of the Dualis because it is a damn good little car that is very well suited to our urban conditions, but somewhat misunderstood at the moment.

Okay, so we are denied the evocative Qashqai name that – unlike ‘Dualis’ – doesn’t confuse the public in thinking that the car is a hybrid of some sort let’s hope that Australians are not also kept from experiencing the rounded and balanced dCi version – which is clearly the model that has set sales records for Nissan in Europe – simply because Nissan suddenly gets a case of cold feet for one of its bolder models.

We already are the poorer for not being able to buy the boxy little Note that also comes from the same UK plant as the Dualis/Qashqai – a larger-than-Micra five-seater hatch with attractive styling, smart design detailing, an appealing interior presentation and exceptional practicality and versatility.

Importers of premium European small cars will have a formidable challenger on their hands should the Dualis dCi diesel be granted an entry visa into Australia.

Read more:

First Oz drive: Dualis puts X in the city

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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