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Nissan Dualis FWD 2009 review

Most people will not see or feel the changes to the latest Nissan Dualis until they get to the most important part, the price. The compact hatch - some might call it a mini wagon - has been tweaked to take a bigger slice of the small car class with an important price breakthrough.

It now starts at $24,990, much closer to Corolla country, thanks to a front-wheel drive model and some hard bargaining with Nissan headquarters in Japan.

The basic bottom line is down by $6000, although Nissan is keeping the all-wheel drive Dualis for people who want more of the SUV experience and a little more confidence for sandy beach tracks or getaway weekends. And who are prepared to pay an extra $2000 to get it.

The Dualis is a crossover critter that combines a higher seating position with a bigger luggage space in the tail to challenge rivals in the most popular new-car class in Australia. It has yet to fire, but that's mostly down to price and an oddball position in the Nissan line-up.

But the company is convinced the 2010 model year tweaks and the sharper price will do the job. "Why are we doing this car? It's a perfect fit in the product portfolio. It sits precisely between Tiida and Maxima and it's what the brand has needed," says Dan Thompson, managing director of Nissan Australia.

"It's a big opportunity for Nissan to become a significant player in the small-car class. It delivers a need we have and ticks the boxes. It's quite an important opportunity for the brand."

But what about buyers? Apart from the sharper price, the Dualis trumpets five-star safety, a 2-litre petrol engine, six-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission, and standard equipment including six airbags and ESP stability control. There is no skimping in the specification or finish of the front-drive Dualis - which Nissan prefers to call the 'two-wheel drive' model - despite its price-fighter position.

It has tweaked the basic equipment with two model grades, ST and TI, but even the basic car gets alloy wheels, cruise control, airconditioning, power windows and mirrors, and a tilt-telescope steering column. The Ti picks up leather trim, a six-stack CD sound system, automatic headlamps and wipers, Bluetooth phone connection and more.


The front-drive Dualis feels solid and secure and very few people will ever pick the difference unless, as I did this week, they make a steep uphill start and feel the front wheels scratching for grip under hard acceleration.

The Dualis still looks a little dumpy, at least compared to cars like the latest Mazda3, but there is nothing wrong with the way it drives or the way it feels. The 2.0-litre engine has plenty of urge, the suspension is compliant and well planted, and the cabin is comfy with lots of stuff.

There is no chance to back-to-back the new two wheel-drive model with the all-paw Dualis, but there is no need. It only betrays any front-drive signs under maximum acceleration or over bumpy, lumpy bitumen on a run through Sydney's northern suburbs.

The six-speed manual is very slick but the operation of the constantly-variable auto, unless you switch to the sports setting with artificial gear slots, still takes some learning and appreciation.

The car is quiet, has a nicely elevated driving position, comfy seats and all the cabin equipment you expect in a small hatch. Particularly a Nissan.

The 2010 update also gives plenty of spread, with what amounts to eight Dualis models from the ST front-drive manual to the flagship Ti CVT with all-wheel drive, although few people are likely to be splashing $32,490. It might be built in Britain but there are none of the little quality glitches I have seen in the Brit-built Honda Civic Type R, and the factory's location definitely helps the price.

Nissan believes the front-drive Dualis can nearly triple sales for the nameplate in Australia and the car has all the right ingredients for the job. The sticker might still be a little high when so many models are clustered around the $20,000 trigger point, but Nissan has the dowdy Tiida to do the price fighting and the revitalised Dualis with the right stuff to go up against the classier cars and the baby SUVs.

Pricing Guides

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Range and Specs

ST (4x2) 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $7,500 – 11,990 2009 Nissan Dualis 2009 ST (4x2) Pricing and Specs
ST (4x4) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $5,999 – 6,299 2009 Nissan Dualis 2009 ST (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Ti (4x2) 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $8,999 – 10,382 2009 Nissan Dualis 2009 Ti (4x2) Pricing and Specs
Ti (4x4) 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $9,650 – 10,990 2009 Nissan Dualis 2009 Ti (4x4) Pricing and Specs
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Lowest price, based on 5 car listings in the last 6 months

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