TERRA FIRMA

As Nis­san re­builds its In­dian in­nings with a fo­cus on SUVs the For­tuner-ri­valling Terra could be next in line af­ter the Kicks

Evo India - - CONTENTS - WORDS by SIRISH CHANDRAN

Will Nis­san’s For­tuner ri­valling Terra put it on the firm foot­ing that it needs in In­dia? The ed gets to drive it in Thai­land to find out

IN LIT­TLE MORE THAN THE TIME IT takes to fly from Delhi to Chen­nai, and at the same cost, you can land into Bangkok and en­ter a whole dif­fer­ent world. Not the naughty kind that far too many of us as­so­ci­ate Thai­land with but stuff that sen­si­ble peo­ple can ap­pre­ci­ate. Like the fact that no­body both­ers you with what you can or can­not eat. Avoid the mag­gots and crick­ets and you will find Miche­lin-starred street food. Prices are sen­si­ble, beer is cheap and they chill their co­conut wa­ter. Peo­ple smile more of­ten than they frown, and no­body stands on the horn de­spite traf­fic that Mum­bai will be proud of. The roads are so good half the cars are low­ered, stiff­ened and ride half an inch off the tar­mac. The rick­shaws, tuk-tuks as they call them, have bloody loud sport ex­hausts. Their Corolla taxis have wings and spoil­ers, and you never have to tell them to turn up the air-con. There is a thriv­ing petrol­head cul­ture with biker hang­outs, plenty of race tracks, tuner shops and hip­sters astride Royal En­fields. And they love their pick­ups and 4x4 SUVs.

Now pick­ups I can un­der­stand, the Thais use them for what they’re meant to be used for and a favourable tax struc­ture makes them af­ford­able. (Just like lower taxes make our sub-4 me­tre abom­i­na­tions af­ford­able, go weep). But the SUVs, I don’t know. It’s not like Thai­land has even mildly-poor roads where lad­der-frame SUVs are es­sen­tial to get by. Yet they’re ev­ery­where. The Toy­ota Hilux and the For­tuner that it is based on are so pop­u­lar they’re al­most like the Marutis back home. Isuzu does the V-Cross and MU-X, both of which we get in In­dia and both of which are as­sem­bled from kits sourced from the Thai mother plant. Save for Honda, all the Ja­panese (and the lone nonJa­panese brand, Ford) have a pickup/SUV in their port­fo­lio. And this is the new­est of the lot, the Nis­san Terra.

Now first things first, if at all the Terra comes to In­dia, it will be at least a year away. Nis­san have a lot of work to do in sort­ing out their In­dian act and the jour­ney be­gins with the Kicks that you will have read about ear­lier. What makes the Terra a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity though is that Nis­san are re-po­si­tion­ing them­selves as an SUV brand (while Dat­sun at­tacks the hatch­backs, I as­sume) and this will fit per­fectly in In­dia, go­ing by the roar­ing suc­cess of the For­tuner.

Any­way, to Bangkok air­port and the Terra proves to be a bless­ing as I catch up with friends who pack two big suit­cases for a week­end by the beach. It is a proper 7-seater, the Terra, and the third row folds flat into the floor lib­er­at­ing enough space for three big suit­cases (okay, nei­ther did I pack light). And as we are load­ing the Terra we field ques­tions from three sep­a­rate groups of guys in­quir­ing about our SUV. Turns out the Terra is brand spank­ing new,

only two months since its mar­ket in­tro­duc­tion in Thai­land, and the SUV-ob­sessed mar­ket is full of beans over the new Nis­san (the third best-sell­ing brand af­ter Toy­ota and Honda in the re­gion). I even put one of the guys to work, to change the lan­guage on the in­fo­tain­ment from Thai to English, and he gives the Terra’s equip­ment lev­els two thumbs up. Nis­san have ob­vi­ously got the spec right for this mar­ket. As for In­dia some spruc­ing up will have to be done, which we will come to.

Like the For­tuner, for that is our bench­mark, the Terra too is based on a pickup — the Navarra — and the lit­er­a­ture makes a big play of genes that have de­scended from the Pa­trol. The lat­ter is big in the Mid­dle East but isn’t sold in South East Asia, mak­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of it com­ing to In­dia even more re­mote (even though a whole bunch of us went to drive it in Dubai re­cently). Any­way the Terra has been de­signed, en­gi­neered and is built in Thai­land for the South East Asian mar­kets and runs a rugged lad­der-frame chas­sis with the op­tion of four-wheel drive with low-ra­tio. The only en­gine is the 2.3-litre four-cylin­der diesel that makes 187.3bhp and 450Nm of torque and on our test ve­hi­cle is mated to a 7-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

First im­pres­sions are of a dis­tinctly pickup-based SUV. Roads in Thai­land are su­per-smooth yet the Terra’s ride is never fully set­tled or plush. In that re­spect it is more or less sim­i­lar to the For­tuner’s road man­ners, as is also the over­all de­meanour — very high seat­ing po­si­tion, com­mand­ing view of the road ahead, king of the road feel. Un­like the

THE LAD­DER FRAME CHAS­SIS CAN HAM­MER OVER RUTTED DIRT TRACKS WITH EASE

For­tuner though rear seat pas­sen­gers in the Terra too have a com­mand­ing view of the road ahead with the so-called theatre seat­ing where the seat is po­si­tioned higher than usual giv­ing back seat pas­sen­gers a great view of the road ahead. The ob­vi­ous down­side to this is an en­hanced sense of un­ease and body roll that comes as part of the high cen­treof-grav­ity pack­age. And of course zero vis­i­bil­ity in the rear view mir­ror but there is a unique so­lu­tion to that — the rear cam­era pro­jects onto the mir­ror so you get video feed of the (al­beit dis­torted) view be­hind you. This also means if the boot is loaded to the roof you still see ev­ery­thing be­hind the SUV, plus there is bird’s eye view of the SUV mak­ing park­ing a breeze. Other safety fea­tures in­clude lane de­par­ture and blind spot warn­ing while in the re­cent ASEAN NCAP crash tests, the Terra scored a full five stars.

In com­plete con­trast the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is sur­pris­ingly dated with a Blaupunkt touch­screen stereo that looks and feels ages be­hind the in­te­grated sys­tems we have be­come used to these days. And the qual­ity of the in­te­ri­ors, while hard wear­ing and rugged, don’t feel ex­pen­sive or plush.

Our in­tent is to rest and re­cu­per­ate by the beach, not to spend a week on the road, so bags are loaded in and we head off to our beach­side AirBnb at Ray­ong, some 200km from

Bangkok. Half way to Ray­ong we get off the ex­press­way but even the state high­ways in Thai­land are bril­liantly sur­faced and have very lit­tle traf­fic mak­ing progress smooth and in less than three hours we are tucked into bed. Begs the ques­tion, why is it that only we can­not make proper roads while the rest of the world seems to have no prob­lem with it?

A week­end of watch­ing the sun, rise and set by the pool and we head off to ex­plore the hin­ter­land, which is all smoothly sur­faced tar­mac. Why don’t we get a few Thais to run our Pub­lic Works De­part­ments? In des­per­a­tion we turn off into a palm oil plan­ta­tion to check out the Terra’s of­froad abil­ity and I can re­port it feels solid and in­de­struc­tible. The lad­der-frame chas­sis can ham­mer over rutted dirt tracks with ease, the ride feels par­tic­u­larly lovely when off the road and the 225mm ground clear­ance is enor­mous enough for when the go­ing gets tough (plus it has a 700mm wad­ing depth). The torque of the mo­tor, that peaks at a very low 1500rpm and stays flat till 2500rpm, makes progress smooth, quick and ef­fort­less. The on/off-road pat­tern 18inch tyres also gives it very good grip on loose sur­faces and the off-road abil­ity is aided by an elec­tronic rear dif­fer­en­tial along with trac­tion con­trol, hill de­scent con­trol, hill start as­sist and an off-road me­ter that tells you how much the axles are ar­tic­u­lat­ing along with the roll and pitch. These lad­der-frame SUVs re­ally ex­cel in the rough and tum­ble of the hin­ter­land and the Terra will be ex­cel­lent when you head off to the farm or go can­vass­ing for votes in the vil­lages — af­ter all that is what most white For­tuners are used for any­way. And if the go­ing gets re­ally hor­ri­ble, the Terra has low-ra­tio on the 4x4 sys­tem, some­thing we didn’t have to em­ploy even when we drove it on the sand.

Back on the road and you do feel the com­pro­mises of the ar­chi­tec­ture, where the Terra can get bouncy over patchy roads and the han­dling is vague at best with no feel through the steer­ing and lots of body roll. The en­gine is also rather noisy, very noisy in fact when re­ally given the beans, and that is de­spite Nis­san’s claims of the Terra hav­ing noise re­duc­ing acous­tic glass. That said the For­tuner is no dif­fer­ent and un­less we drive the two back to back on the same roads it is im­pos­si­ble to say which is bet­ter, or oth­er­wise. What is clear is the Terra — with some spruc­ing up of the cabin — can take the For­tuner head on, and that makes a clear busi­ness case for bring­ing it to In­dia. If they are smart about it, Nis­san will even de­sign an MPV on this plat­form to take on the In­nova, and a proper three-model pickup/SUV/MPV trio will have the po­ten­tial to trans­form the brand in In­dia, while leav­ing the cheaper cars to Dat­sun and thus clear­ing out the cur­rent con­fu­sion in Nis­san deal­er­ships. If it can work in Thai­land it sure can in In­dia, af­ter all it’s only a short trip across the Bay from Chen­nai. ⌧

TERRA CAN GET BOUNCY OVER PATCHY ROADS AND THE HAN­DLING IS VAGUE AT BEST

Left top to bot­tom: Cabin is rather or­di­nary and will need bet­ter ma­te­ri­als and some spruc­ing up for In­dia; shift-on-the-fly 4WD is op­tional along with low-ra­tio and gives it su­perb off-road abil­ity; TV screen to keep pas­sen­gers en­ter­tained; third row folds flat into the boot

NIS­SAN TERRA 4X4 AT En­gine 2488cc, 4-cyl, diesel Trans­mis­sion 7-speed auto Power 187bhp @ 3750rpm Torque 450Nm @ 1500-2500rpmWei­ght 2118kg 0-100kmph NA Top speed NA Price `20 lakh(es­ti­mated)

Fac­ing page: LCD screen built into rear view cam­era dis­plays im­ages from a rear mounted cam­era. 2.3-litre diesel makes peak torque of 450Nm at just 1500rpm. Left: Nis­san’s V-Mo­tion grille makes for a dis­tinc­tive nose but styling is con­ven­tional com­pared to its ri­vals

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