Skid Marks

Nissan Terra: being late has its advantages


The Terra’s highly responsive powertrain engages the driver to push harder and drive faster.

A few years ago, I had the chance to visit Nissan’s all-new factory worth $360 million in Samut Prakarn, Thailand.

We were getting a preview of the all-new Nissan Navara pickup, and Nissan was boasting of not just their new gem, but the facility’s new technology center as well.

Then Nissan Pilipinas president Toti Zara was accompanying us around the facility, and since it was the norm for 7-seat SUVs to be based on a pickup sibling, we were all excited to know if the Navara would in fact form the basis of a new 7-seat SUV from Nissan to challenge Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Chevrolet and Ford.

Toti Zara smiled and said nothing. As we were ushered into a meeting room for a presentation, someone had left a map of the entire facility, with descriptions of each part.

There was a huge space allocated for future use. In it read: Reserved for future SUV 40,000++ units annually.

We from the Philippine media contingent all burst laughing, the Japanese and Thai executives panicked and also started laughing nervously. That very much answered our question. This was in late 2014.

In 2018, four years after this memorable blooper, Nissan’s all-new Terra finally broke cover in the Philippines.

Indeed, the Terra is late in the game, but being late means it comes packed with almost every imaginable feature that consumers want and look for.

It has allowed Nissan Philipplines to carefully study the spec list of its competitors and come out with a pricing scheme that, barring special discounting from competitors, wins the value-for-money proposition based on SRP.

A well-designed and laid-out cockpit

I had the pleasure of driving the range-topping Terra VL 4×4. It’s got switchable 4WD with a locking rear differential, six airbags (front, side and curtain), traction/stability control, a leather interior, and a myriad of cameras all around to help you see the Terra’s exterior better in tight parking situations or when you’re going trailing off the beaten path.

Power is transferred in default RWD via Nissan’s 7-speed automatic transmission.

It isn’t CVT-smooth like Mitsubishi’s 8-speeder, nor is it as quiet as the 4N15 of the same brand, but the YD25DTTI 2.5-liter CRDi engine is more responsive and more muscular: a slight twitch of your foot sees the Terra accelerate aggressively, overtaking a convoy of meandering vehicles up and down the Tagaytay-Santa Rosa Highway late at night, displaying a true Jekyll-and-Hyde demeanor.

One minute you’re serenely following a procession of cars, and the next, you’re flat-out like a bat out of hell.

It is the Terra’s highly responsive powertrain that engages the driver and gives him (or her) massive confidence behind the wheel, to push harder, drive faster, and give the daily commute that bit of edge to liven things up.

Left to its own devices, the Terra seems like it would be comfortable to cruise at around 110 to 130km/h.

Keeping it below the speed limit seemed to be a bit of a struggle as the engine just wants to rev freely and enjoy the open highway.

Drop-down monitor for rear passengers

Fuel economy is decent. The tight-ish engine with just over 3,000-plus kms returned a decent 8.7 km/liter in combined city and highway driving, and even returned a somewhat impressive 10.2 km/liter on a measured one-way drive from Tagaytay down to Metro Manila.

Impressive, because I’ve seen engines gain massive efficiency and power once they breach the 5,000-kilometer milage. Even at the 10,000-kilometer mileage, this engine is barely getting started in life.

The steering is a tad heavy, noticeably more than the poster-boy Toyota Fortuner and its nemesis the Mitsubishi Montero Sport.

But once the Terra starts moving, feel and feedback are very good for this segment, with the added steering effort giving a sense of fluidity and confidence in motion, especially as speeds get higher.

The brakes are firm, offer excellent modulation, feel, and feedback—again, another facet that makes the Terra a very complete, sorted, and well-rounded high-performing SUV.

Size is perfect: not too long nor short, not too wide either, which gives you even more confidence to squeeze through tight gaps and spaces in traffic.

The rear view video monitor, which acts as a quasi rear-view mirror, does take some getting used to as the view just doesn’t feel natural and organic.

Some fiddling and adjusting later with the settings, and you have the best of both worlds: wide view, proximity, and a bird’s eye-view are available.

The Terra has that perfect size for an SUV to squeeze through tight gaps and spaces in traffic.

This may be confusing—even daunting—for first-time users, but in the end, you realize just how logical it is: Why haven’t other manufacturers followed suit?

It’s not perfect, but the foibles are ultimately forgotten. Spec sheet keyboard warriors will bemoan the drum brakes at the back.

In extreme cases, disc brakes perform better, but for 99 percent of regular car buyers who drive well within the speed limit (which is 99 percent of the time), you won’t notice the difference in drum versus disc brake performance.

More noticeable is the interior: though well-designed and well laid-out, you get the feeling that Nissan could have spent a little more money on higher quality plastics and soft-touch materials.

Nothing massive, but parked beside the Fortuner, Montero Sport, and the rejuvenated Koreans from Hyundai and Kia, you can see how the Terra isn’t yet on equal footing with its competitors in this department.

Ultimately, the Terra is impressive. Nissan spent those four years in gestation figuring out how to make sure it drives well, and how to cram every single piece of kit into the Terra.

Well equipped, well-priced, a simplified variant range, great driving dynamics, and crucially, it is something new and different from the sea of Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Fords, Isuzus and even Chevrolets, plus the aforementioned Koreans.

No wonder Nissan made history in the Philippines in 2018 with products like the Terra, selling 34,952 units, a 40-percent increase over 2017, and thus taking 8.7 percent of the total market.

To naysayers, doubters and haters, Nissan is most definitely back.

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