Focus on the family
If you can come to terms with the quirky CVT, this may be the car to move your people
When car companies quizzed SUV fans about the importance of four-wheel drive the response was: not important at all. Potential buyers wanted a high-riding wagon with the space to carry kids and their kit.
Nissan had an each-way punt with the compact Dualis by releasing front and all-wheel drive versions of what in reality was a small hatch with a wagon body and high driving position.
Initially it was sold as a fiveseater wagon, later to be joined by a seven-seater, cutely called the +2. Entry to the Dualis club was via the ST, above which was the more highly specified Ti. The same designations carried over to the +2.
At launch, there was one engine only, a 2.0-litre fourcylinder with 102kW/198Nm — nothing special, which showed on the road. Added eventually, the punchy 1.6-litre turbo diesel markedly improved the appeal of the Dualis.
There were manual and constantly variable transmissions. Pitched as an automatic, the latter wasn’t in the conventional sense and drove quite differently. Very few bought the six-speed manual.
If the driving experience was nothing to write home about, the Dualis ticked boxes for practicality. There was plenty of space for families and the rear luggage area was quite generous, even more so once you laid the seats down flat.
On the road the Dualis’s performance was unremarkable, somewhat dulled by the CVT, but it was easy to drive and park, the cabin was roomy and outward vision good.
Road testers had their reservations but Dualis owners in the main are content with their choice.
Reliability issues are few, although one owner we talked to experienced several fairly minor glitches that clouded his view of the car.
Another owner suggested that his Dualis wasn’t tough enough to withstand the punishment dished out on unsealed country roads.
Perhaps the most concerning is the report of shuddering with the CVT from one owner. Driving the CVT is definitely a different experience; it’s like no other transmission. The CVT concept is brilliant and such transmissions have been around since the 1970s. However, they require the driver to understand how they operate and what idiosyncrasies to expect.
Rather than the cogs and hydraulics in a conventional automatic, a CVT has a belt and pulleys. The alignment changes continuously to maintain a constant, or near constant, engine speed for the greatest fuel efficiency.
The most common problem with a CVT is shuddering when you’re taking off or accelerating. Walk away if you observe any shuddering while test-driving a car.
There have been a couple of recalls for the Dualis. One in 2012 was for the steering wheel boss, which was prone to failure and could come away from the column, leaving the driver without steering. Another in 2010 was for a cover screw connecting the steering gear pinion shaft to the housing — if it became loose, the steering could become noisy.
Ian Doran I couldn’t be happier with my Dualis. I also looked at a Honda CR-V but the Dualis had more options for less money. The Dualis is by far the most comfortable and safest car I have driven.
Alan Hazard I checked out Mazda and Hyundai but liked the Dualis and bought that, and the local dealer is very customer focused. I have sacrificed speed for practicality, comfort and convenience. I’m very happy.
Julie Stewart-Dawkins I bought my 2009 Dualis Ti in 2010 as a demo model. I chose a manual, which was difficult to come by, but I’m glad I did. I am extremely happy with its comfort and performance, and like the heated leather seats, six-CD stacker, sensor wipers and headlights, all features I would miss now. It was an excellent buy for the money.
Jason Andrews: My 2012 Dualis Ti was a fantastic car but I have had many repairs. The antenna for the smart key stopped working two weeks after purchase, the catalytic converter had to be replaced due to cracking, the heat protection on the exhaust has had to be fixed five times and at the last service I was told that the body was slightly out of shape by a couple of millimetres. I’d recommend the car for a city person but not to anyone in the country who drives on dirt roads.
Susie Smith I am having trouble with my 2011 Dualis auto and Nissan seems to be dismissing the problem as a “characteristic of the CVT”. At 50-70 km/h, at 1500rpm, there is a very strong and constant shudder. Apart from this, I really enjoy my little vehicle, which I have had since new. Nissan replaced engine mounts twice but the second time it cost me because my warranty had just expired. I had some very strong words with Head Office and my dealer stating that as I have constantly complained about it I should not have to pay anything. That round I won. The vehicle is now shuddering at nearly 70km/h. Nissan Customer Service told me “this is a characteristic of the vehicle”. I then said that we should have been told when looking at purchasing the vehicle. I was then told that “Nissan cannot guess what people’s driving habits are and therefore dealers do not need to give information about this.” I’m not happy.
Quite a good little car if you can live with the quirkiness of the CVT transmission.
And there’s more: Dualis, left, and the seven-seat Dualis +2