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Steane Klose | Sep 18, 2009 | 10 Comments

2010 Nissan Dualis Ti 2WD Road Test Review

THE DUALIS REMAINS a relatively uncommon sight on Australian roads. This fact is at odds with its outstanding success in Europe, where it has sold by the hundreds of thousands.

Originally launched as an AWD only in Australia, Nissan has recently released the cheaper FWD Dualis, simultaneously slashing prices across the Dualis AWD range.

Available in the same ST and Ti trim levels as its AWD cousin, Nissan is looking to attract 'evolving' hatchback buyers to the Dualis. The FWD model now brings the entry level down a peg or two.

According to Nissan, the Dualis is a genuine alternative to the run-of-the-mill small hatchback. One that combines the high-riding benefits of an SUV with the economy, manoeuvrability and convenience of a hatch.

 

STYLING

Designed by Nissan's European design centre, the Dualis may have borrowed its chassis from the more sophisticated X-Trail, but in styling the two are poles apart.

Where the X-Trail is square, chunky and more-masculine, the Dualis is comparatively lithe and petite, its exterior metal wrapped tightly around the cabin and mechanicals. You can line the two up together for a quick lesson in US v European design philosophy.

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The roofline is low and sedan-like, and overhangs front and rear are short. The lines of the compact exterior leave no doubt that, in-spite of its high-riding stance, the Dualis is designed for the cut and thrust of peak-hour traffic and parallel parks.

There is even a hint of the Dualis's big brother - the Murano - evident in the steeply-raked third side window and in the rear-view through the oblong shaped rear window.

Both the ST and Ti Dualis are fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels as standard.

 

THE INTERIOR

It’s from the inside, from behind the wheel, where the real strengths of the Dualis begin to emerge.

Over and above any hatch, the Dualis offers its occupants an SUV-sized ride height. There is a lot of appeal in that commanding view of the road.

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The plush leather front seats of the test vehicle also drew more than a few compliments from passengers for their comfort and lumbar support.

The dash and centre stack are typically European, with black dominating throughout. The quality of the materials used is good - at least comparable to Japanese-built vehicles. The Dualis is manufactured at Sunderland in the UK, and the quality of construction is certainly up-to-par.

Storage space is an improvement over that expected from a standard hatch, with a cooled 14-litre glove box, two front cup-holders and a deep 3.5-litre centre console box.

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Front and rear door pockets have integrated bottle holders that can take a 500ml bottle; there is also provision for an A4-sized map or folder.

The rear seats offer a 60/40 split configuration, and when in place there is a 410-litre boot capacity.

Fold the rear seats down and the cargo carrying capacity of the Dualis is increased to 1513 litres. That's a useful space few small hatches can match.

 

EQUIPMENT AND FEATURES

The Dualis ST comes standard with air-conditioning, a steering wheel that is adjustable for rake and reach, power windows and mirrors, a single CD-tuner with four speakers and remote central locking.

In addition to the features found in the Dualis ST, the Ti (as tested) adds a regular smorgasbord of extras.

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Leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel and centre console box adds a touch of class, while aluminium trim accents further differentiate the Ti from the ST.

Other Ti luxuries include heated front seats, a six-stack auto-changer CD player with six speakers, interior reading lamps, Bluetooth compatibility, steering wheel mounted controls for audio, drive computer, light-sensitive auto headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and a rear centre armrest with integrated cup-holders.

There is even a storage drawer located under the front passenger seat.

Active safety equipment standard on both the ST and Ti includes Anti-lock Brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), and Nissan's VDC electronic stability program.

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Passive safety equipment starts with six airbags standard on all models. As well as dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags, there are thorax side airbags mounted in the front seats and full-length curtain airbags on both sides providing extra protection in the event of a side impact.

Active headrests are also included on the front seats, minimising the likelihood of neck injury in the case of rear impact.

With all of those safety features as standard, it should come as no surprise that both Dualis models have been awarded a 5-Star ANCAP rating.

Importantly in Australia, the Dualis range includes a full-sized spare wheel, although it does reduce the available luggage space.

 

MECHANICAL PACKAGE

The Dualis is powered by the Nissan designed MR20 petrol 2.0-litre four-cylinder all-aluminium engine that develops 102kW at 5200rpm and 198Nm at 4400rpm.

According to Nissan, 90 percent of that 198Nm is available from just 2000rpm but we were hard pressed to notice it.

The 2.0-litre petrol engine is available with either the slick shifting six-speed manual transmission (as tested) or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with six manually selectable 'gear ratios'.

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Officially the Dualis 2WD manual uses 8.2-l/100km on the combined test cycle, with the CVT equipped car using 8.3-l/100km, both an improvement of 0.2 l/100km over their respective AWD equivalent.

The 2WD Dualis manual emits 196g/km of carbon dioxide compared to 204g/km for the AWD Dualis manual.


Front suspension duties are handled by a conventional MacPherson strut set-up mounted on a sub-frame complete with a lower forward link. The sub-frame uses rubber mounts to isolate the cabin from road noise and vibration.

A fully independent multi-link rear suspension set-up is also mounted via a rigid rear subframe to keep unwanted noise and vibrations to a minimum.

The compact assembly features an aluminium rear upper-link which cuts four kilograms from the weight of the suspension.

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The Dualis also features electric power steering (EPS) with variable assistance. At low speeds assistance is increased to aid manoeuvrability, while higher speeds sees the assistance reduced so that steering feel is maximized.

Braking duties are handled by a four wheel disc-brake set up, featuring ABS, Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution.

It also boasts 188mm of ground clearance and departure angles of 19.2 deg (FR) and 30.2 deg (RR) - not that you'll be testing its stream-fording performance too often.

 

THE DRIVE

We put the Dualis through a mix of urban commuting and freeway driving in and around Melbourne; exactly the sort of driving the 4x2 Dualis is likely to be subjected to by owners.

The single biggest selling point for many potential buyers will be the fact that you sit higher in the Dualis than you do in a hatch.

Both driver and passengers enjoy an 'SUV' view of the road. And importantly, they aren't trading that view for less driveability when compared to a regular hatch.

The Ti's leather seats are nicely padded and supremely comfortable, while the rear seat will readily accommodate a couple of adults or three kids.

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With the rear seats in place, rear luggage space gets a tad squeezed. (Packing the family up and hitting the road will prove a challenge if you intend to take a family-sized load of luggage.)

The strength of the Dualis though is that anyone can jump into it from a small hatch and feel right at home. The electric steering is well weighted, the controls have a quality feel and the six-speed manual shift has a light but pleasingly positive action.

The compact external dimensions and 10.6 metre turning circle of the Dualis make driving in traffic and negotiating shopping strips or supermarket carparks a breeze.

There is nothing at all intimidating about taking the wheel of the Dualis. That fact alone sets it apart from most SUV-style vehicles.

The only issue that we experienced when parking the Dualis was a lack of rear vision caused by the upswept D-pillars.

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Suspension tune might also not be for everyone; but while it errs on the firm side it cannot be described as harsh.

The higher profile tyres help ensure that the ride remains comfortable, and there is only the barest hint of the jiggling so often found in vehicles with raised ride heights.

Push the Dualis too hard and it's predictably an understeerer. Judge it against its intended purpose however, and it is hard to find fault with the way it steers, rides and handles.

The brakes do their job well, inspiring driver confidence with plenty of feel and a well-modulated and progressive action.

Under the bonnet there is both good and bad news. The 2.0 litre petrol engine is a frugal and refined unit but the Dualis's 1400kg+ kerb weight knocks the edge off performance.

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Smooth, quiet and well-matched to the six-speed manual, this drivetrain would be wonderful in a 100kg lighter hatch.

As it stands, you have to row the Dualis through the gears, maximising use of the available ratios to extract any real performance from the 2.0-litre unit. It is a driving style a little at odds with the vehicle type.

The reality is that it's far better to take a deep breath, sit back, relax and enjoy the refined drivetrain and impressive fuel economy. We recorded a none-too-shabby 7.8 l/100km on test.

The ultimate Dualis currently resides in Europe, where it is available with a Renault-developed M1D 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbocharged diesel engine.

This unit muscles up 110kW and a stonking 320Nm from just 2000rpm - more than enough, we suspect, to transform the way the Dualis drives.

(Needless to say, Nissan Australia appears keen to see the Dualis dCi launch in Australia and has confirmed that it is "on the cards", along with a seven-seat interior.)

THE VERDICT

Nissan is clearly pitching the Dualis 2WD at traditional hatchback buyers, young women or couples, and, of course, empty nesters.

While it may be a little underpowered, the 2WD Dualis is a refined drive that combines all of the benefits of a regular hatchback with the commanding driving position and additional space of an SUV. The icing on the cake is a set of 5-Star safety credentials.

Importantly, it brings a new lower entry-level point to Dualis ownership, and the reality is that few buyers are likely to be bothered by the absence of AWD.

The Dualis matches the Japanese and Korean built hatches on quality, beats many of them on the 'useability index', and at the right price it should be a compelling proposition for the target market.

Extraordinary demand for the Dualis in Europe confirms this, and is proof that it fills a niche.

But how will it fare in Australia?

With pricing for the 2WD Dualis ST manual starting at $24,990*, it costs around $3,000 more than a similarly-specced, slightly more powerful and efficient Mazda3 or Ford Focus. But it is quite a different car to the Mazda or Ford.

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On the crossover side of the fence, the Dualis ST's most closely matched competitor would have to be Suzuki's SX4.

The Suzy comes with a similar mechanical spec (but with five-speed manual not six-speed), a hatch-back configuration, higher 200mm ride height and AWD for $22,790*.

However there is a more 'premium feel' to the higher-priced Dualis. It may be more expensive than its more obvious competitors, but it also feels it.

That said, the 2WD Dualis Ti that we had on test carries a recommended retail price of $27,990 (plus on-roads)* which may still deter some in the showroom.

It is clearly something Nissan Australia is working on. Having slashed the prices of its slow selling AWD Dualis range and having introduced a more keenly priced 2WD Dualis, it is hoping to build total Dualis sales from 2500 to 7000 units a year.

In our opinion the 'concept' works and the overall driving experience gets our tick of approval. It may however be difficult for some buyers to see beyond the price.

 

Dualis 2WD Pricing

ST Manual $24,990*
ST CVT $27,490*
Ti Manual (as tested) $27,990*
Ti CVT $30,490*

*Pricing does not include dealer delivery or on-road charges

 

LIKES

  • High riding hatchback style
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Smooth drivetrain
  • Build Quality
  • Composed driving dynamics
  • Combines the best features of the hatchback and SUV
  • A-grade safety credentials
 

DISLIKES

  • Weight blunts the performance
  • Priced above obvious competitors
  • Luggage space with seats up is only adequate
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