Let's tackle the elephant in the room. This car isn't officially coming to Australia yet, but Nissan wants it, and wants it as soon as possible.
Why? Although they're not topping the sales charts, cars like the Ford Everest, Toyota Fortuner and Isuzu MU-X are already popular among grey nomads and adventurous families, and the segment is growing. Those three cars are up 53.8 per cent, 82.5 per cent and 29.5 per cent respectively year-on-year – and the Ford has just been treated to an update, arriving later this year.
Nissan also has form with rough-and-tumble family haulers like the Pathfinder. Not the bloated, star-spangled current model, but rather its predecessor – itself Navara based – for which the Nissan Terra serves as a follow-up, a spiritual successor, with off-road potential to cash in on that car's legacy.
Which is why, at very late notice, we found ourselves on a plane to Manila bound for the car's south-east Asian launch. Although it was initially revealed as a five-seater with a 2.0-litre petrol engine for the Chinese market, cars like the Terra are big business in places like Thailand, Vietnam and, obviously, the Philippines.
Along with the usual gamut of high-riding quasi-JDM vans and tiny Toyota taxis popular in the region, the highway running north out of Manila is littered with enough MU-X, Fortuner, Pajero Sport and Everest drivers to fill an inner-Melbourne school carpark, serving to highlight why Nissan chose the nation as its Terra launchpad.
Power in the Terra comes from a 2.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine making 140kW and 450Nm, fed to all four wheels through a switchable four-wheel drive system and a seven-speed torque converter automatic. Although its outputs are identical, the 2.3-litre four from our Navara is Euro V compliant, whereas the 2.5-litre unit is not.
Off-roading kit like hill-descent control and a locking rear differential are included on what is, even to our snobby Australian eyes, a pretty impressive equipment list. Blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera, a clever video-link rear-view mirror, leather seats, one-touch tumbling second-row seats and climate control.
The missing link, you may have noticed, is autonomous emergency braking. It isn't offered in the south-east Asian market, and is a prerequisite for a five-star ANCAP rating should the car come Down Under. Given it's a family car, and families tend to favour safety for their precious offspring, Nissan will need to sort that out before the car's papers are stamped.
Ashwani Gupta, global head of commercial vehicles for Nissan, made it clear the technology isn't completely off the table, should demand be high enough. Nissan does build the AEB-equipped X-Class, after all, something Gupta was more than happy to highlight.
Under the skin, the Terra rides on a ladder-frame chassis, with a five-link coil suspension at the rear. Much has been said about the decision to use a coil-sprung rear in the work-first Navara, but they make sense in a family hauler, which is why the Everest and its compadres also swap leaf springs for coils.
Based on our 45-minute launch drive, Nissan has done a great job with the suspension, both on- and off-road. The first section of our route involved a stint on the highway, where the car dealt with expansion joints and smaller lumps with aplomb, while dramatic side-to-side sway is conspicuous by its absence.
We'll need longer with the car to nail down where it sits in relation to the Everest, but the Terra definitely sits on the more luxurious end of the ride-quality scale.
Along with the ride, the other on-road standout is noise suppression. Nissan went to great lengths to explain why the Terra is so quiet, highlighting three-layer dash insulation, high-density floor carpeting and laminated glass as three of the key engineering measures to suppress engine, road and wind noise respectively.
There's a bit of wind rustle at 110km/h, both from the driver's and rear seats, but the 2.5-litre engine doesn't intrude too aggressively at any point, and road noise is impressively suppressed on the smooth, Japanese-laid toll-road bitumen of our Philippines toll road test-bed. Once again, the story may be different on our coarse-chip surfaces, but we'll just have to wait and see.
After a brief highway run, our test route takes us down into a volcanic delta, a riverbed-cum-canyon formed when nearby Mount Pinatubo last erupted in 1991. The tall cliff walls, coated with lush green plant life, would suggest it's been there since the dawn of time. Our trip was limited, but it's clear the Philippines is very pretty.
The track from highway to delta is narrow and tree-lined, with a relatively steep, rocky descent the first real trial for the Terra. It passes with flying colours, the hill-descent control keeping our speed in check smoothly and effortlessly. In low-range, with the car locked in first gear, hill-descent wouldn't really be necessary, but it's nice to know it works.
Ride quality is, once again, good over the rocky descent. You're aware of what's happening at each corner, but the way it's set up means bumps or impacts are handled without uncomfortable pogoing. It also feels refined, although, again, a side-by-side with the Everest is in order to discern if it's good, really good or class-leading good.
Maximum wading depth is 450mm, and Nissan claims 225mm of ground clearance, described in official presentations as 'class-leading'. Ford claims the same, so we'd argue 'equal class-leading' is more apt. We were told no-one tows in south-east Asia, so we can't give you a braked-towing figure at this point.
Nothing on the drive route presents much of a challenge for the Terra. The 2.5-litre engine (to reiterate, not for Australia) feels strong down low, and the steering is pleasingly light at low speeds, although plenty of arm-twirling is still required.
Oh, and the steering wheel is still way too easy to honk, because the cover runs all the way to the rim at its base. Anyone who's been honked by the CarAdvice Navara in traffic, it was probably me driving and I definitely didn't mean it. Sorry.
Second- and third-row passengers aren't quite as important as the driver, but they're well looked after nonetheless. There are console- and roof-mounted air vents for the second row and roof-mounted vents for the third row, while there are bottle and cup holders for every passenger except the central rear. Everyone gets a fold-down grab handle that is useful off-road.
While we're talking second row, there's enough head room for tall (as in, very tall) adult passengers, although the stadium seating layout means you sit a bit high. The kids aren't likely to notice. They will, however, notice the tight third row. On a scale from one to solitary confinement cell, it's about a four back there.
Things are better up front, where there's plenty of adjustment from the electrically adjustable driver's seat and tilt (no reach) steering column to leave plenty of room for different body types. We didn't spend long enough in the car to test out the long-haul comfort, but initial signs are strong.
Other noteworthy interior bits/bobs? The centre stack is transplanted directly from the Navara, although our tester came with a Philippines-market head unit in place of the infotainment system we get Down Under. The second row tumbles forward at the push of a button, which is handy, and there's nothing particularly untoward about any of the materials. It's bang on for its class, although inspiring isn't the word we'd use.
As for where that leaves the car, well, it's a good thing. Nissan hasn't confirmed it's coming to Australia, but the tone of our conversations with Stephen Lester and Ashwani Gupta suggested it really is a matter of when, not if, the Terra arrives Down Under.
When it touches down, the class-leaders will likely have something to worry about – provided the price and equipment are right. Make it happen, Nissan.
A NOTE ON THE SCORING
Given it's not yet available in a representative Australian trim, we've had to rate the Terra based on what we saw in the Philippines. Safety is a seven because it isn't ANCAP rated, and economy is elementary given our drive route and its emissions rating, so that's been marked as average as well.
Finally, our infotainment system is very different to the south-east Asian system, and there's no telling what'll be available when the Terra makes its way Down Under. Make sense? Good!
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