Perfect Terra Forma
The hammer of the gods couldn’t have chiseled out a more beautiful, majestic, yet menacing sight.
No, we’re not talking about Chris Hemsworth’s solid-built body in character as the God of Thunder.
(which, we happily digress, has been built largely on a plant-based diet, thanks to sibling support from fellow hunk Liam and wifey Miley Cyrus, both full-time vegans).
Let’s shed off our mighty Oscar awards night hangovers for a moment, and focus on more down-home subjects, like the majestic Mayon Volcano and her steaming, near-perfect cone, plus the fact that, for two days last Feb. 19 and 20, that active volcano towering more than 2,460 meters above sea level was the dominant backdrop of every image and video taken of the new Nissan Terra midsize SUV by local motoring scribes and documenters.
Even after poring over literally hundreds of images and short video clips of the Terra with the looming Daraga behind it in our shot list and in the subsequent social media posts of the three dozen or so participants collated through the #GoAnywhere hashtag, one never gets tired looking at it.
Probably, Vulcan, the mythological god of fire, didn’t get bored as well, for only steam emitted continuously from the volcano’s mouth during the entire stay in Legazpi City in Albay Province.
Mayon Volcano herself was unusually curious about the goings-on at her feet. Daragang Magayon, as the volcano is fondly called by the locals, is said to be shy of strangers, often cloaking her top in clouds and thick steam. But not this time.
As the Terra did its slow, deliberate 4×4 dance around her treacherous terrain of 13-year-old solidified lava and mudflows, the fiery lady seemed to stare back, in the process letting her guard down.
She let us approach her up to the 6-km permanent danger zone (this time, however, on board tourism department-approved all-terrain vehicles).
Mayon Volcano isn’t the approachable type. Since 1616, she has blown her top 58 times.
The thing is, when she goes on those temper tantrums, she doesn’t lose her head—which is good for the millions of mortals (humans and otherwise) making a living under her shadow.
But her fiery red “tears” of lava and pyroclastic flows have constantly altered the Albay landscape.
She is the certified “beauty queen” of the Albay Biosphere Reserve, a Unesco World heritage site.
Ironically, the thriving flora and fauna of Albay, and that of the Bicol region in general, owe much of their being to the most active volcano in the Philippines.
Without the mineral-rich earth spewed out from Mayon’s underbelly through the eons, the region’s ecosystem wouldn’t be as vibrant, abundant, and endemic.
Yes, we could say, we owe everything we saw in Albay to that big old cranky lady.
Well, technically, not everything.
Two things we owed to fellow mortals: Nissan Philippines for the incredible off- and on-road experience of the province on board the Terra midsize SUV; and the Ramirez clan of pro drivers, who mapped out the route and executed the ride for this epic drive.
Intelligent AVM: best friend in Terra off-roading
Using the Terra around Mayon’s breathtaking environs was a no-brainer.
On the off-road, we used the intelligent around view monitor (AVM) to give us a clear view of boulders, logs, and any other obstacle that needed to be avoided.
The stove-type drive controls were easy enough to switch from 2WD to 4-high and 4-low, and back, allowing us drivers to adapt accordingly to the abruptly changing terrains, from rocky ground to slippery, sandy surfaces.
The 4-wheel active brake limited slip that senses wheel spin and automatically redirects power to the wheels helped us gain more sure footing and traction.
The hill-start assist and hill-descent controls gave us more confidence and stability in sharp uphills and downhills.
This suite of drive features has been collectively called the Nissan Intelligent Mobility (NIM) that optimizes cutting-edge technologies to transform cars from mere driving machines into intelligent mobility assistants.
Mobility assistants on a long road trip
Though NIM was most felt during the off-road activities, our on-road experience with Terra also applied these NIM touches, especially during our nearly 30-hour drive from Manila to Albay and back that bookended the Mayon tour.
Some of these handy features that manifested themselves on the long highway trip were the tire pressure indicators, the intelligent 4×4 system, and fuel economy gauges (both in average and real-time readings).
The intelligent AVM also came in handy during the tight squeezes in traffic when we passed congested town and city centers, the four cameras strategically positioned around the Terra to give us a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the immediate surroundings, with split-screen closeups of the front, rear, and curb side views.
The moving object detection cameras gave us a visual of pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists moving in close proximity to the Terra.
By strict definition, the term Terra means land or earth. So, when the keys to a 4×2 Terra was handed to us a couple of nights before the Albay event, I and my experienced co-driver knew we were in for a long re-acquaintance session with some of the more difficult and treacherous roads in the country.
We were steeling ourselves for driver and passenger fatigue that would surely ensue after a land trip of such duration.
Surprisingly, after logging a cumulative 45 drive hours on both the Terra 4×2 and 4×4 variants, we actually felt significantly less tired compared to our experience of driving other SUVs along the same route.
We had three other passengers—members of an online blogsite—during the entire trip to and from Bicol, all seated at the middle row.
Their equipment and our luggage occupied the entire rear cargo and third row seats.
Two of them didn’t feel as fatigued as they had expected, considering it was their first time to travel to Bicol, a place far removed from their usual haunts.
The one unfortunate soul who had to endure some weariness was seated right between the two, where there was no headrest.
The Terra’s sedan-like 5-link coil spring rear suspension system and rigid rear-wheel axle might have also had a big hand in keeping our bodies less jarred while in transit.
The zippy acceleration of the 2.5-liter QR25 4-cylinder diesel engine mated to the 7-speed automatic transmission could have also eased our impatience when passing slow-moving vehicles.
NPI confirmed this observation when it revealed that the Terra did, indeed, provide the best acceleration performance in its class, with a maximum 190 ps of power at 3,600 rpm, and 450 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm.
One thing the Terra couldn’t solve was our hunger pangs, and so to keep ourselves nourished the best way possible, without feeling the dangerous effects of a food coma while driving, we stopped by well-loved, 100-percent plant-based vegan restaurants in the Quezon and Camarines Sur provinces.
A point of contention that I and my co-driver discussed at length during the trip was the feel of the steering wheel, which I stressed felt too light to the touch especially during high speeds (when supposedly it should be heavier to turn to avoid loss of vehicle control).
My co-driver countered that the steering felt just right, regardless of the speed.
NPI subsequently informed us that the Terra uses hydraulic power steering instead of electric power steering, which should give a firmer hold in higher speeds.
My co-driver and I agreed to disagree on this matter, so I leave it up to future buyers to discern for themselves how the steering feels in their own test drives at the dealerships.
NPI claims it has done away with what it considers unnecessary features—such as speed-sensing automatic door locks—and instead added other features consistent with the NIM brand.
These added features include blind spot and lane departure warnings, and hill start assist, comfort and convenience features that make the Terra the “first and only in its class” equipped with such.
In terms of safety, the Terra has standard in all variants the ABS, EBD, brake assist, six airbags, LED projector headlamps, foglamps, alarm, and immobilizer.
In terms of convenience, the Terra highlights the one-touch fold and tumble seats, plus a host of other features available in upper variants.
I sat in the third row for a couple of hours during the on-road ride around Mayon on the first day of the group drive.
I found the legroom a bit tight even when I already pushed the second row seats forward.
For now, the Terra’s last row could be best used by younger members of the family, perhaps pre-teeners.
The Terra has some pretty big shoes to fill.
NPI president Ramesh Narasimhan mentioned that the Terra inherits the iconic Patrol’s supreme off-road capabilities.
What I do remember about the Patrol in the Philippines was that it was the preferred SUV by those in power: politicians, rich families, and those well-moneyed and paranoid enough to afford bullet-proofing their rides.
Of course, the Patrol was really designed for more down-to-earth reasons.
According to “The Car Book: The Definitive Visual History,” the Nissan Patrol of the 1980s was “rugged and basic compared with its more upmarket rivals; an unashamed workhorse with live axles, semi-elliptic springs and four and six-cylinder engines.”
But then, the Patrol evolved and took on more urban tasks, as well.
As Giles Chapman wrote in his book “World’s Greatest Sport Utility Vehicles,” “If you know (the Nissan Patrol), then you will recognize it as an extremely capable off-road machine, large and rugged, invariably equipped with a diesel engine of phenomenal durability.
“If you don’t, then you will still have seen Patrols in the white fleet of the United Nations, hard at work in the background of news bulletins, in some of the world’s most war-torn corners.
“The Patrol is less well-known than the Toyota Land Cruiser, but just as dependable.”
Maybe now, the Terra wants to change that “less well-known” part, thus the reason it has sought an exclusive audience with the 8,000-foot beauty queen of Bicol.
Months before this “courtesy call,” the Terra was launched in the country to meet the market’s growing demand for SUVs. It first went on sale in the country August 2018.
The 7-seater Terra lets the whole family in on any on- or off-road action.
The design is right up there with the most modern of SUV looks: flared fenders, signature body lines, and a tall stance; flexible, three-row interior, and a 225-mm ground clearance, claimed to be best-in-class.
Completing the Terra’s suite of technology, ride, and safety features includes the Nissan safety shield and intelligent emergency braking, 4WD-diff lock system, “boomerang” LED headlamps and taillights, and seven airbags.
What could offroading around Mayon be like without all those technologies and amenities offered by the Terra?
We found out soon enough when we drove rear-wheel drive-only, single-seater all terrain vehicles (ATVs) toward the permanent danger zone.
All that stalling in volcanic sand, near-overturning over rocky outcrops and exposed tree roots, and 90 minutes of bone-jarring non-existent suspension on volcanic terrain made the arrival at the perimeter fence that much more of a relief.
Loads of fun, granted. But something our bodies couldn’t take on again for maybe another month or so.
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