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2019 Nissan Terra review: Quick drive

Crawling across the Sahara in Nissan's new ute-based SUV

The 2019 Nissan Terra is the rugged, Navara-based 4WD the Australian market is crying out for. The question is, can Nissan Australia make the business case to get it here?
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The 2019 Nissan Terra is a Navara-based 4WD wagon platform that would almost certainly fill the void left in Australia by the ‘softening off' of the Pathfinder.

Given the recent proliferation of rugged 4WDs on offer in Australia – think MU-X, Fortuner, Pajero Sport and Colorado 7 to name just a few – it’s hard to see a situation where Nissan wouldn’t benefit from one of its own.

If you remember the Pathfinder being a capable, low-range-equipped off-roader as I do, you’ll see where I’m going with the softening-off theory.

Not too long ago, Scott Collie had the chance to undertake a short drive of the Terra in the Philippines – the number-one key market for the vehicle globally, with China, Indonesia and Thailand also featuring on that list. Assembled in both China and Thailand, the Navara underpinnings mean the Terra is already halfway proven in Australia – certainly in a mechanical sense.

I read with interest Scott’s insights, keen to get a feel for whether the Terra could indeed exist in our market where the X-Trail and Pathfinder already exist, and within the context that Nissan had seemingly gone a little crossover crazy. On first impressions then, it seemed the Terra had enough to offer.

In Morocco for the ‘Nissan Go Anywhere’ off-road driving event, the primary objective is to tackle the Sahara Desert, but we also get to test the Terra on-road over some surfaces that are very similar to what we experience in the urban, and outer urban areas, back home.

Following on from Scott’s review then, I’m keen to find out just what the Terra can potentially offer, by way of a counterpunch, in Australia where Mitsubishi, Toyota and to a lesser extent Ford (with the Everest) are stealing Nissan’s lunch.

While we expect the Terra to give a good account of itself off-road, I’m interested to see what it can do on the sealed stuff, as an indicator to how easy it would be to live with in Australia. Regularly when we’ve tested a dual-cab back-to-back with its 4WD wagon sibling, the wagon has come up trumps for ride quality, comfort and general liveability, so we’ve got high expectations for the Terra.

While China gets a five-seat variant, the rest of South-East Asia gets the three-row, seven-seat model we’ve tested on location in Morocco. It’s heavily equipped too in standard trim, but we’ll get to that in a second.

The Terra is powered by a 2.5-litre turbocharged diesel four-cylinder engine that generates 140kW and 450Nm. The torque figure is stout and it does a decent job too, thanks in part to the seven-speed automatic to which it is mated. While it’s not the sharpest tool in the self-shifting shed, it uses the torque on offer well enough, especially off-road where it doesn’t have to work at high RPM to tackle heavier terrain.

Standard-feature highlights include: LED DRLs, rear LEDs, 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/60R18 Bridgestone Dueler tyres, class-leading 2850mm wheelbase, acoustic glass, leather trim, rear-view camera, smart rear-view mirror, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, electronic locking rear diff, electric tumbling second-row seats, intelligent around-view monitor, moving object detection for parking and blind-spot monitoring.

Off-road ability is well catered for too, thanks to the aforementioned rear diff lock, low-range gearing, 225mm ground clearance and 32.3 approach and 26-degree departure angles. Nissan quotes best-in-class approach and departure angles as well as wheelbase.

Up front, there is good visibility and excellent seat comfort with plenty of adjustability. The touchscreen, which we didn’t test extensively, features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as app provision and was responsive and concise.

There’s a 12V socket on top of the dash, another in the centre stack and console bin, and USB/HDMI inputs ahead of the shifter too. There’s decent large smartphone storage ahead of the shifter as well, and while the console bin is small, the door pockets are large, and there are also two hidden cupholders that slide into the edges of the dash.

The second row has a fold-down screen, air-conditioning vents in both the roof and back of the centre console, as well as roof-mounted controls for temperature and fan speed. There are no power outlets back there, though. The seat bases slide, the backs tilt, and there is a fold-down armrest with two cupholders. The second-row seats can be tumbled forward with the touch of a switch in the centre console, making it easy to open up the expansive load space.

The third row folds down to create a flat load space, and while there is enough room for adults over shorter distances, you wouldn’t want to be stuck back there for an interstate trip. There is also roof air-conditioning and a 12V socket behind the third-row seats.

On-road, the ride comfort factor is immediately noticeable, especially as we are switching out of AT32 Navaras and into the Terra in quick succession. Once again, the all-round competence and quality of the 4WD wagon experience comes to the fore, with the Terra effortlessly ironing out the kind of coarse-chip surfaces you’ll find around Australia, and never losing composure while doing so.

It’s got a ‘ute-based feel’ to it from behind the wheel, in the sense that the plastics, the feedback through the steering wheel, and the general ambience are more truck-like than luxury car. However, the ride quality, bump absorption and change of direction illustrate a vast improvement over the Navara on-road.

While it’s large enough to offer three rows – with decent space in the third – it doesn’t feel like a hefty 4WD when you’re moving along. The Patrol takes care of that in the Nissan stable, and while I love the big bomber, I find the Terra more likely to attract that crucial midsection of the market that doesn’t need or want an upper-large SUV.

As I touched on above, the engine and gearbox combination is smooth enough, but don’t expect razor-sharp shifts and rapid forward progress. A couple of times on the highway, I moved the shifter across to manual and discovered the engine was working away with the transmission in fifth. Two quick flicks into seventh, and the engine still seemed happy enough, even though the gearbox didn’t want to go there willingly – strange.

When you do step on the pedal to overtake, the gearbox takes a while to assess what you’re asking of it, before it drops the required ratios and allows the engine to wind on a little more speed. On that note of increasing speed, asking the engine to work harder doesn’t add in a harsh, clattery note either, it’s actually quite refined.

Off-road, the Terra does an admirable job fenced in by the bellowing V8s powering the Patrol and Titan. While the Patrol remains my favourite in the Nissan 4WD stable – not to mention the best-value large SUV by a mile – and first choice for lurid drifting silliness, the Terra doesn’t seem to be working too hard to stay out of trouble in the Sahara’s shifting sands.

The diesel engine is punchy enough, and 450Nm is more than enough torque to keep the enthusiastic off-roader moving forward safely.

Even thick, sticky earth, aided by 20-year record rainfall in Errachidia where we were based, couldn’t halt the Terra’s forward progress. Kind of appropriate too, given Terra means earth. In these sections of the off-road trail, we kept momentum up, worked the throttle and steering deftly, and the Terra just kept plugging away.

So then, can the Terra mount a case to join Nissan Australia’s line-up? I reckon it can, if only to satisfy the number of old Pathfinder owners, who don’t want a Toyota or Mitsubishi and are lamenting the loss of the Pathfinder they know and love.

Nissan fans are out there: just go back and look at the 4WD forums when they were begging for an updated Patrol. The Terra is a quality 4WD wagon that could win buyers over if it landed in Oz at the right price.

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