NISSAN DUALIS REVIEW
It had a slowish start here, Nissan's Dualis. But with a recent facelift adding a little more edge to its lines, and some extra versatility thrown into the mix, the category-bending Dualis is beginning to find its feet in the market.
While the front-wheel-drive ST tested here is more conventional wagon than 'sports utility vehicle', the Dualis has become the big mover for Nissan in the compact SUV segment. To date, for 2010, it's up more than 200 percent against last year's sales.
That's as good a sign as any that the nicely packaged Dualis is doing more than a few things right. After taking a close look at the base model Dualis ST, equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, we're in broad agreement with the judgment of the market.
In fact, the sharply-priced Dualis is worth a close look if your heart says "hatchback", your head says "wagon", and your partner says "SUV".
The Dualis Series II (as Nissan has dubbed the facelifted model) has been given a new lease on life in terms of design – it's got new more-rakish headlights replacing the conservatively-styled ones of the old model, and the tail-lights have also been updated with natty LEDs.
The biggest change is the addition of the ST as a 'front-wheel-drive only' model to the Dualis range. This model brought with it a new lower price point - the Dualis ST as tested is good buying at $24,990 plus on-roads - but with all the packaging advantages of its more expensive all-wheel-drive siblings.
Nissan has also focused on improving NVH levels. There is improved sound-deadening insulation around the front firewall and windscreen frames.
Interior changes are minor, but notable is the update to the computer read-out. The display is now easier to navigate and read thanks to its improved white backlighting. Also introduced in the new Series II are steering wheel audio controls, absent on the old Dualis ST.
The 2010 Nissan Dualis ST gets a new face, and a new personality. What’s the appeal?
The updated, sportier styling of the Dualis Series II is instantly easier on the eye than its stumpy 'owl-eyed' predecessor. The styling changes, though relatively minor, give it a lot more personality and appeal.
Its more 'hip' and better balanced lines will certainly increase its appeal to its target market of young families and professionals.
Styling aside, the Dualis still remains unique in its ability to offer a hatchback/SUV mix.
It's badge reflects its dual character: the compactness and handling of a hatchback, but with the raised ride height and cargo space of a compact SUV wagon.
What features does it have?
The ST is the base model of the Dualis Series II family, so its features list lacks the bells and whistles of the higher order Ti. But, compared to base-model hatchbacks and compact SUVs from other carmakers, it can match or better most in the segment.
One of the nicest features of the Dualis ST is its Bluetooth enabled audio system. It adds a welcome convenience that is relatively uncommon for a base-model car at this price range.
The single CD stereo is mated to a quite reasonable four-speaker system. For high-fidelity clarity, it is one of the better audio systems at the ST's price point.
For playback from other sources however, the Dualis only has a 3.5mm AUX-in located inside the centre armrest compartment, and no iPod or USB interfaces.
Rounding out the feature set, the Dualis ST comes as standard with a trip computer measuring not only distance but also fuel economy (which, strangely, reads out in kilometres per litre rather than the more conventional litres per hundred kilometres).
It also features standard cruise control, air-conditioning, keyless entry and a steering wheel with tilt and telescopic adjustment.
What’s under the bonnet?
All Dualis models are powered by a petrol 2.0 litre inline four-cylinder engine. Power is a relatively modest 102kW at 5200rpm and 198Nm at 4400rpm. The engine can be fuelled by 91RON unleaded, and the total fuel capacity is 65 litres.
The Dualis ST tested features a six-speed manual transmission, and power is driven through the front wheels. The ST model is front-wheel-drive only, but a CVT automatic transmission is also available for this model.
The Dualis also features speed-sensitive power assisted steering. Down below, there is a conventional MacPherson strut front suspension and independent multi-link suspension rear. And, though very compliant for a softly sprung and quite comfortable ride, it works pretty well.
The manual version weighs in at 1422kg; the CVT-equipped model is slightly heavier at 1455kg.
How does it drive?
It's not slow, not by any stretch, and the 2.0 litre up front is very willing to rev; but you need to stretch it through the gears out if you want to row it off the mark in any haste.
And, front-wheel-drive, you can have the wheels scrambling for grip if you're in a real hurry off the line.
Thankfully, the six-speed manual transmission performs smoothly. The throw is marginally longer than most, and a little 'clunky' through the gate, but it can be precisely slotted. Assisting things is a light clutch that you will adapt to immediately thanks to its good feel (although not at the head of the class).
Once up to speed, things improve. Handling-wise, the overall impression is that Nissan has got things pretty right. It might not be as nimble as a similarly-sized (in footprint) hatch like the Mazda3 around the bends, but it’s a level above your typical compact SUV.
Add to this the convenience and added safety of a raised ride height and it’s no surprise the Dualis is one of Nissan’s best sellers in the UK.
The electric speed-adaptive steering also performs well, being very light in slow speed manoeuvres such as parking, but increasing in feel and 'weight' at highway speeds.
Driving comfort for the Dualis has also been improved by Nissan. Thanks to those improvements in sound-deadening, NVH levels are lower in the Series II. The ST is pretty good; there is some low frequency rumble from the tyres on coarser roads, but it is not too intrusive.
Wind-noise at speed is barely noticeable - the overall impression in fact is one of surprising on-road refinement, especially for a small and relatively inexpensive wagon.
Adding to the driving comfort are the soft (very soft in fact) front seats and the quite compliant suspension - certainly compliant enough to smooth out most bumps and roughs along suburban streets and broken highway tarmac.
Also worth noting is that ride comfort in the Dualis ST is slightly better than the Ti model thanks to its standard 16-inch wheels, two inches smaller than the alloy-equipped Ti.
The Continental tyres peformed pretty well; the FWD Dualis showed it can maintain its composure in quite slippery conditions. But, on the downside, the new projector headlights are not quite up to the mark in wet night-driving conditions.
The raised ride height of the Dualis provides good forward driver vision. Unfortunately this does not translate to the view out the back: the rear pillars are significant obstructions, especially when doing the over the shoulder check when lane-changing.
To compensate, the Dualis has large side mirrors which help out greatly (but we'd prefer better rearward vision); for parking though, the Dualis is easy to reverse and park thanks to the larger mirrors.
What did our passengers think?
When getting into the rear seats of the Dualis Series II, our passengers commented on the very tight entry into the cabin due to the raised ride height and relatively small rear doors.
For adults, rear legroom is tight if there are some longer legs sitting up front – the Dualis is more hatchback than SUV in this regard. That said, the space is large enough to accommodate three children or teens comfortably.
The front seats however provide good support - you sit 'in' them rather than 'on' - and proved comfortable even for longer stints at the wheel.
Interior quality and feel
The interior of the Dualis ST may lack a little visual appeal, but, at its price point, it measures up well. The plastics appear to be of a good quality, things are well-laid out if a little bland, and there are a few nice metal highlights to give things a bit of a lift.
The interior also seems robust enough to endure the rigours of a young family. Although there’s an abundance of plastic, surfaces (including the steering wheel) feel pleasant to touch and also solidly put together, with consistent gaps throughout.
There are only a couple of issues. One: the slight tonal mismatch where the door trims meet the dashboard. Another: the flimsy fusebox cover located near the driver’s knee, and, it's no biggie, but the cloth seating trim is a tad dull.
That said, it seems durable and easily cleaned (something a young family will likely appreciate).
However, because the seats do not fold completely flat, and the boot floor is not flush with the boot lip, moving heavy objects in and out of the Dualis may prove cumbersome. On the plus side, a carpet-lined boot cover (non-retractable) is fitted for added security.
The Dualis offers a number of compartments and cup-holders within the cabin. Very handy is its large 14-litre glove compartment that is cooled by air-conditioning and can hold 15 cans of drink.
How safe is it?
The Dualis Ti Series II comes with, as standard, all the expected electronic safety aids – stability control (known as VDC in Nissan-speak), traction control, ABS, brake assist and electronic brake distribution.
All seats feature three-point seatbelts and, for young families, the Dualis is equipped with three child-restraint anchorage points that lie behind the rear seats.
The Dualis also has a total of six airbags to protect occupants: driver and front passenger front and side-impact airbags plus front to rear curtain airbags.
All these safety features resulted in ANCAP giving the Nissan Dualis Series II the highest 5-Star rating.
Fuel consumption and green rating
The Dualis ST with a manual gearbox is claimed by Nissan as achieving a fuel consumption rating of 8.1 l/100km.
During the testing period, driving mainly in urban environments, we managed close to Nissan's claim, achieving 8.6 l/100km.
For its green credentials, Nissan states the Dualis ST as having a CO2 emission rating of 192g/km when equipped with the manual gearbox.
How does it compare?
Hyundai ix35 Active. Both are base models, both priced under $30,000 and both target young families and 'first new car' buyers.
And both are good buying.
Although offering similar equipment levels, it’s priced slightly higher – the ix35 Active retails for $26,990 before on-road-costs, $2000 more than the Dualis ST. The Active however has a more powerful 2.0 litre engine (122kW).
However, the ix35 does not handle as well as the updated Dualis, nor, arguably, have the same on-road 'presence'.
For buyers looking for a little more space inside, the Dualis will be joined by a seven-seater variant named the Dualis+2 in late-July 2010. It will come with a longer wheelbase and 140 litres more cargo space but, of course, at a higher price.
Is it expensive to maintain?
Nissan’s service schedules for the Dualis are every six months or 10,000 kilometres, whichever occurs first.
Pricing for servicing up to 50,000km are as follows; 10,000km - $231, 20,000km - $305, 30,000km - $231, a major service at 40,000kms - $462 and finally another standard service at 50,000kms - $231.
For the Dualis ST Series II, Nissan offers a three year/100,000 kilometre warranty which also includes a thtree year 24-Hour roadside assistance program. Up to six extra years on the warranty can be purchased.
The Nissan Dualis ST Series II is available in the following standard colours: Flame Red, Cayman Blue and Arctic White.
Metallic colours are also available at a $495 premium. These include: Mineral Grey, Pearl Black, Blade (bright metallic silver), Nightshade (deep purple) and limited edition Bluestone (blue-grey).
The Nissan Dualis Ti Series II 2WD with manual transmission is priced at $24,990 before on-road-costs. Added options are reverse parking sensors ($460) and extended Nissan warranty (1 year for $765).
Through this latest facelift, Nissan has given the Dualis a welcome styling make-over although the interior and features list remain largely unchanged.
We think that Nissan may have erred in not also updating the 102kW 2.0 litre petrol engine. Loaded up, the Dualis Series II lacks the on-road urge of some of its natural competitors. We think the diesel variant of the Dualis - available in Europe - would be well-received by Australian family buyers.
That said, the Dualis has enough of the right packaging to 'one-up' other compact SUVs. It certainly has enough hatchback DNA to appeal to buyers who might not have considered a crossover wagon like the Dualis.
It’s lighter, leaner, and easier to handle than its natural enemy, Hyundai's iX35, and is value-buying at $24,990 plus on-roads for the manual.
Yes, young families could do a lot worse than the Nissan Dualis ST. We'd recommend a close look at Nissan's well-executed, roomy, category-bending compact crossover.