Nissan's compact Dualis — the one backed by that left-field, two-faced television campaign — is more crossover vehicle than sports utility vehicle.
The hatchback with all-wheel-drive capability is a handsome machine, maybe even pretty in parts such as around the rear. The body, more svelte than Nissan's boxy X-Trail, does not scream SUV or four-wheel drive; this is important in areas which do not understand the abilities and flexibility of the SUV.
Even so the Dualis has a reasonable road presence. There's a sense of purpose to the high-riding style. For beneath the Dualis is a fair amount of X-Trail. Nissan is looking to have an each-way bet on this SUV business. The Dualis is the more sporting of the duo, more like a European hatchback than mud-plugging or gung-ho camping machine.
The Dualis is the more cosmopolitan of the pair, a car to take to the local football game without concern about parking on a grassed slope. It is an “urban nomad” according to Nissan stylists.
It feels smaller, snugger inside than the X-Trail. And it drives smaller.
There is more sharpness to steering inputs and more zest to the driving. The trade-off is a little less ride comfort in pot-holed roads compared with the X-Trail.
The other trade-off is a little less luggage space in the rear.
Front seats are firm and supportive, occupants (four adults is best) sit a little higher than in a conventional hatch; instrumentation and dashboard layout are all tidy, well-organised and legible (though that strange “Olympic wreath” for fuel and temperature gauges may puzzle some).
Standard gear in the ST (from $28,990) includes airconditioning, power windows and mirrors, cruise control and CD audio, plus the all-wheel-drive system to switch the front-drive car to all-wheel drive.
The Ti models gain leather seats, alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers and trip computer. Also stability and traction controls plus side and curtain airbags.
Both have 188mm worth of ground clearance, both run a 2-litre engine with 102kW and 198Nm of torque. There is the choice of six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission with six steps.
And despite that ride height, despite just those 102kW and 198Nm, the Nissan Dualis defies the numbers and provides a sporting, entertaining drive.
There is less body movement and hint of understeer than in the X-Trail, there is sharper steering. Perhaps helped, too, by the sports-style interior, the Dualis driver is encouraged to press on with confidence.
It does, however, need a firm foot and some working of the gearbox to make best use of the power and torque.
It has some character this Nissan. Easy to use as a city runabout, easy and pretty refined down the highway and happy to wander down a dirt road.
The only question will be whether the motorist understands the duality of that character; that is the Dualis's ability to attack both a tarred mountain road with some panache as well as head off to a private picnic spot down a sandy track.