Nissan's Dualis is a likeable crossover between a five-door hatchback and small SUV
This is one of the Japanese company's best efforts in Australia, blending the need for a small five-door city car with the elevated appeal of an SUV.
Yet it is not as bulky as an SUV, comes in front drive or all-wheel drive with all the benefits of a roomy compact hatchback that is easy to drive, point and park as well as being economical.
Mums will love its ability to take the youngsters to school, sports or ballet, do the weekly shopping trip, as well as looking good and rugged at the same time.
It makes a lot of sense in cities and still comes with that commanding and higher driving position preferred by female drivers.
It’s Nissan’s biggest seller after the Navara 4X4 and the X-Trail with sales up 15.3 per cent this year.
It is also third in the small SUV sector after Hyundai ix35 and Volkswagen Tiguan.
The Dualis starts from $28,133 drive away for the base model and rises to $37,815 for the Ti all-wheel drive CVT auto.
The test vehicle was the new TI-L front-wheel drive CVT auto at $38,500 drive away.
Like all Dualis models, it’s available on 2.7 per cent finance. It has satellite-navigation, reversing and surround cameras, special black and grey 18-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, glass moon roof, dual zone climate control, heated seats, keyless entry and start.
Other standard features are dual zone automatic climate control airconditioning, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, steering wheel controls with leather trim, 14-litre glove box, airconditioning cooler, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, trip computer, MP3 auxiliary jack input and USB in centre console, iPod compatibility, halogen headlights, LED tail lights, automatic wipers and headlights, six airbags, engine immobiliser, ABS brakes with EBD, brake assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Traction Control and front fog lights.
Under the bonnet is a capable 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine delivering 102kW of power and 198Nm of torque. Drive is via a standard six-speed manual transmission or the option of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with six-speed M-Mode for manual changes as tested.
The elevated seating position not only aids entry and exit but also gives a commanding view out into the traffic plus plenty of leg, shoulder and headroom.
A large load space behind the 60/40 folding rear seats is higher than normal for easier loading and underneath is a full-sized spare wheel. With the backrests folded it has a luggage space of 1443 litres.
The Dualis was designed and engineered in Europe. Australian-spec models are built in Britain.
It sits astride the small hatch market and the compact SUV segment.
It has a wheelbase of 2630mm, is 1615mm tall, 1780mm wide and 4315mm long.
It is about 100mm longer than a typical hatchback but 150mm shorter than a typical compact SUV. Similarly, it is taller than rival hatchbacks by between 100mm-150mm yet up to 130mm lower than an SUV.
All major and minor controls are within the driver’s easy reach. The control binnacle is separated from the passenger side by a bold, high-set centre console.
The big cooled glove box is large enough to hold 15 330ml cans of drink.
There’s also an integrated sunglasses holder, while the front door pockets can each take a 500ml drink bottle and a map book.
The centre console houses twin cup holders and a handy storage box that holds up to eight CD cases.
A high-level vent opens at the touch of a centre console-mounted button to provide a quiet and gentle flow of air towards the rear of the car.
In CVT-equipped models Nissan says it should use 8.5 litres/100km. I achieved 10.2 litres/100km on a drive which included city and suburban driving, a run down the Bruce Highway to Innisfail, up the Palmerston Highway to Millaa Millaa, across to Lake Tinaroo and back down the Gillies Range to Cairns.
I’m not a fan of CVTs, mainly because they just keep revving, don’t change gear and at times sound like a sewing machine.
The computer-controlled “stepless” system provides a virtually limitless number of ratios, ensuring the engine is always working as efficiently as possible.
This ensures smoother acceleration as well as better fuel economy and lower emissions compared with a regular automatic transmission.
With CVT, the engine revs stay constant as the transmission itself adjusts seamlessly to maintain momentum. CVT also ensures less power loss, resulting in better efficiency and acceleration.
For a more sporty drive, the CVT system has a manual override.
Operated via the central gear lever, six set ratios can be accessed manually by nudging the lever forward or back.
In normal driving, the CVT is seamless and quiet but when you want to give it a bit of stick, it becomes noisy and revvy.
The elevated driving position is great, the seats grippy and supportive and the interior layout and dashboard is clean and clear, without being exciting or ground breaking.
The sound system is better than expected and access and space for rear-seat passengers is good.
Boot space behind the rear seats is slightly compromised by the height of the load floor – the price for having a full-sized spare – but good for loading groceries and the like.
The Dualis is surprisingly quiet. Road noise is minimal (except on coarse bitumen surfaces), the engine is generally smooth and wind noise is at the better end of the scale, although there was a bit of rustle around the big wing mirrors. There’s a slight cabin boom from the hatchback design.
The Dualis weighs just less than 1.5 tonnes, so performance is adequate.
Cruising with the optional CVT is pleasant enough, but asked for an effort on the open road – particularly in the 80-120km/h zone – the car feels flat and a bit breathless. Still, the suspension and drive dynamics are well sorted, allowing fun and comfort to co-exist.
Pushed along, the car sits flat and turns with surety, more like a sporty hatch than a crossover.
On flowing roads the Dualis is fun to drive and could be hustled down the Gillies Range with the good handling and roadholding making amends for the average engine performance.
It proved its moderate off-road credentials too, with a reasonable run through the Danbulla State Forest on dirt roads behind Lake Tinaroo.
The Dualis is a capable family runabout with the added bonus of an elevated clearance and seating positions, lots of room for children and a reasonable amount of luggage. It is an easy drive in town, on the open road and on the dirt too.
It’s stylish, dynamic, comfortable, highly equipped, compact and value for money.
On the down side, rear seat room is tight, there’s a high cargo floor, engine performance is sluggish when laden on the highway and rear vision can be poor.
Overall, it makes sense in this world of rising costs, especially fuel. It’s easy to park and toddle around town in.
The TI-L top-of-the-range version elevates the Dualis to a new level.>> Test vehicle courtesy of Westco Nissan, Cairns.
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Capable runabout: Nissan's Dualis is easy to park and great around town.