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Tony O'Kane | Aug 6, 2009 | 3 Comments

FROM THE MIDDLE of this month onwards, Nissan’s Dualis will have a new lease on life.

A new front-drive powertrain joins the existing AWD model and, thanks to a strengthening of the Australian dollar against the British Pound, Nissan Australia has dropped the price of entry by $6000 to a very reasonable $24,990.

The Dualis range will consequently sit within the highly competitive $24,000 - $32,000 price bracket, and Nissan intends to capture a six to seven percent share of this market.

That represents between 5000 and 6000 annual sales, a substantial increase over the 2400 Dualis models sold last year.

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The sharply priced Dualis 2WD will lead the charge expecting to notch up a projected 70 percent share of local Dualis sales. The new pricing structure also places the Dualis squarely between the Tiida and the Maxima, a gap Nissan has been itching to plug.

Nissan is ambitiously pitting the Dualis 2WD against the similarly-priced mainstays of the small hatchback segment – namely the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza hatch and Volkswagen Golf.

Being a high-riding quasi-crossover, it’s hard to see many similarities between the Dualis and its more conventional hatchback competition. However, Nissan is hoping that small car buyers searching for more space, safety and utility will find it a compelling proposition.

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The Dualis certainly ticks those three boxes. Interior space is good for a vehicle of its size, although three adult passengers on the back seat may be a tad cosy. Safety is well catered for, with stability control, traction control, ABS and six airbags as standard equipment on all models.

The boot is also surprisingly capacious at 410 litres with the rear seats up and 1513 litres with the seats folded flat.

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Nissan has upped the feature list of the base model, with 16-inch alloys, cruise control, side and curtain airbags and stability control now standard on the Dualis ST. The addition of the extra safety kit means the Dualis rises up the ANCAP leaderboard to a full five-star rating.

The up-spec Dualis Ti gains heated leather seats, a leather steering wheel, six-CD stereo with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth integration, foglights and auto-on headlights and wipers.

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Add a commanding driving position and an attractive body, and the 2010 Dualis looks like a good vehicle for urban dwellers seeking a bigger-than-average small car.

But does the deletion of the AWD system change the Dualis’s character at all? In a nutshell, no.

Unless slip is detected, the AWD Dualis normally delivers all of its power to the front wheels. Therefore during normal driving the Dualis 2WD is virtually identical in how it feels to its all-paw sibling

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The base model Dualis ST 2WD manual handles well, a pleasant surprise given its high-ish centre of gravity and X-Trail underpinnings. Suspension damping isn’t too firm, body roll isn’t excessive and the Dualis 2WD absorbed Sydney’s bumpy roads with ease.

Thanks to the 80-90kg weight saving created by the move to front-wheel-drive, it’s perhaps even a touch faster than the AWD. The drop in kerb mass also accounts for a slight rise in fuel economy, the Dualis 2WD manual consuming 8.2 l/100km against the AWD manual’s 8.4 l/100km.

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The CVT auto-equipped Dualis 2WD consumes 8.3 l/100km, and is a more relaxed vehicle than the six-speed manual. The auto’s tiptronic manual mode enables drivers to select their own ratios, but the proper manual gearbox is more able to exploit the available power and torque.

It’s a perky performer thanks to its 102kW 2.0 litre petrol engine, and, with 198Nm available at 4400rpm, it’s got ample urge for the urban grind. Our brief test route did not involve any highway stints, so we’ll reserve our full judgment for our upcoming road test.

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The familiar Dualis criticisms of compromised rearward visibility and a flat, unsupportive rear seat are still there. Nissan is targeting young couples in the 25-31 year-old age bracket (possibly with young children), and most buyers won’t use it for long-haul trips.

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The relatively small size of the Dualis means parking manoeuvres aren’t a challenge, and the large wing mirrors help reduce the blind spot created by those thick D-pillars.

In short, Nissan appears to have arrived at a winning formula for the Dualis. Keen pricing, a new drivetrain that doesn’t compromise driveability and a much improved standard equipment level finally puts the Dualis where it needs to be.

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The Dualis story doesn’t end here however. Nissan Australia is considering the much gruntier 2.0 litre diesel used by the European-market Dualis (aka Qashqai), as well as the seven-seater platform used by the Qashqai+2.

Our first impressions of the Dualis 2WD have been good, and despite its somewhat strange positioning in the hatchback segment it holds plenty of promise for Nissan. A full road test will be coming soon, but for more details of the 2010 Dualis range head here.

Dualis 2WD Hatch
ST Manual $24,990
ST CVT $27,490
Ti Manual $27,990
Ti CVT $30,490
Dualis AWD
ST Manual $26,990
ST CVT $29,490
Ti Manual $29,990
Ti CVT $32,490
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