Nissan's effort at a mixed breeding program, crossing a small hatch with a compact SUV, has resulted in the Dualis, claimed by the company to be the “first true SUV crossover.”
The Dualis is a marriage of segments previously kept separate and, while it boasts attributes from both, it is class-leader in neither.
A real jack of all trades but master of none. During the development of the car the designers, stylists and engineers theorised, summarised and finally compromised to get as many of what they each saw as key saleable attributes into the Dualis.
Explore the 2008 Nissan Dualis range
Some of the main objectives have been met; the car's drive is not dissimilar to a premium hatch and the driving position is certainly reminiscent of a compact SUV.
As a light-duty off-roader the Dualis certainly has the genes for the job.
It is built off the X-Trail platform with only minimal changes.
The look is a tad city, a tad country, but it does emphasise the Dualis is no hairdresser's car.
There is enough size and purpose about the styling to make parking it among the utes at the pub less embarrassing than it could have been.
Nissan says the cabin trim is “premium hatch.” Maybe, but there is plenty of X-Trail about the dash treatment, instruments and switches.
The front bucket seats are a prime example of where styling has won out over practicality. In most regards the seats are large enough, comfortable enough and well-enough bolstered. However, most is not all. The seat backs have been carved away and rounded at the shoulders to the extent that anyone except an Italian suit model will find their shoulders overhanging the stylish edges.
General space in the cabin is good with both front and rear passengers (two would be the optimum) having head, shoulder and knee room in the comfortable range.
Instrumentation is clear and well sited, the sound system is better than expected and rear access and space is good. Boot space is slightly compromised by the height of the load floor but that's the price you pay for having a full-size spare. Under the bonnet is a single engine choice. The 102kW and 198Nm 2.0-litre petrol does its best work mated to the standard six-speed manual.
The ability to keep a close eye on the revs and put the engine into the torque band on demand makes it a much more tractable unit. The optional ($2000) CVT automatic is less inspiring off the line but does make tootling around the city a more relaxed option.
Even light off-roading, however, would benefit from the greater control of the manual gearbox.
The base ST model starts at $28,990 for the manual but that doesn't bring stability control, side and curtain airbags or alloy rims.
A $2000 'safety pack' for the ST brings back those missing bits. Without the extra airbags, Nissan says the Dualis earns a four-star crash rating, rising to five stars with stability control and the side and curtain bags.
At the top of the range the manual Ti is $33,990 and adds heated leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, Bluetooth phone compatibility and drive computer, aluminium trim highlights, a six-stacker CD player with six-speakers, rain-sensitive wipers, light-sensitive auto headlamps, sliding centre console armrest and a pull-out storage tray under the front passenger seat. A well-specified package that represents good value.
Both models are fitted with a simplified version of the All Mode 4xs4 system from the X-Trail, which allows for dial-from-the-dash settings ranging from 2WD through an active automatic 4x4 to the lockable 50:50 torque split; which automatically disengages at 40km/h.
On the move the Dualis is surprisingly quiet. Road noise is minimal and wind noise at the better end of the scale. At just under 1.5 tonnes the Dualis is no lightweight and that shows in the petrol engine's limitations. Performance is adequate and when prodded hard it is capable of getting along. Unhurried cruising is the CVT's forte but beware, when asked for an effort on the open road the combination is a reluctant partner.
In the crucial 80km/h-120km/h acceleration zone (think country road overtaking) the impression is less than flattering. Lazy and flat spring to mind.
Where Nissan has excelled with the Dualis is in getting the best out of the dual-purpose suspension, allowing fun and comfort to co-exist. Pushed, the car sits flat and turns in with a surety that would be the envy of most hatches and all but a special few crossovers. On flowing roads the Dualis is fun to drive.
There is even better news when it comes to keeping the Dualis cruising; recommended fuel is 91 RON and it is one of the few cars on the road that gets within shouting distance of claimed fuel figures.
Over a couple of weeks in both manual and automatic versions the fuel return for primarily city driving was a very creditable 9.1litres per 100km.
The bottom line
You can please some of the folk, some of the time.