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It put the soft-roader under the microscope, trimming prices and aggressively repositioning the starting-price ST and luxury Ti. Most importantly, it introduced a front-wheel drive model of the Dualis and pitched it as a grown-up hatch.

Has it worked? Well, so far this year Nissan Australia has sold 1472 Dualises, against the running total last year — all-wheel drive only, remember — of 2396. That's a slump of 38 per cent

That's not an encouraging figure, even taking into account the impact of the economic crisis. The Dualis remains a hard sell for Nissan and Carsguide does not really understand why, given the fact that it is a huge seller in Europe.

It is a competent and roomy performer and the lower-cost front-drive model priced from $24,990 means it should be selling a lot better. We suspect it's all in the name. Some buyers, swamped with the better- known compact off-roaders like the Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, probably still think the Dualis is some type of kitchen appliance. Even the respected X-Trail SUV, for a few thousand more, overshadows the smaller Nissan.

When Nissan Australia launched the all-wheel drive Dualis last year prices started at $28,990. Today the all-wheel drive ST is $2000 cheaper and the sharply priced front driver is in Corolla territory.

You now can get an entry six-speed manual front-drive ST for $24,990 with the CVT auto adding $2500. The all-wheel drive ST will set you back $26,990 while the luxury Ti front driver starts at $27,990. The savings are even better on the AWD Ti with prices trimmed by $4000 for the manual and $3500 for the CVT.

At $29,990 for the AWD manual, the Ti now undercuts its luxury competition. For this money you get a comprehensively equipped crossover hatch with a 2.0-litre engine, five-star crash rating and loads of space.

Nissan Australia's chief executive officer, Dan Thompson, says adding a front-wheel drive into the mix will lure hatchback buyers who want space and practicality but who do not need an all-wheel drive. He is right but Nissan's approach is not new.

Hyundai, Kia, Renault and Mazda all now have front-wheel drive versions of their crossovers. You can get a Tucson, Sportage, Koleos and CX-7 without the heavy and expensive all-wheel-drive package.

So the compact SUV segment is a cut-throat segment where buyers take no prisoners and Nissan is discovering this with the Dualis. Despite the price cut, equipment levels remain unchanged, as does the engine lineup.

The wagon's all-aluminium four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine generates 102kW and 198Nm with acceptable rather than exceptional performance. With 188mm of ground clearance you're also less likely to crunch the bumper on high kerbs or gutters when parking. For families, there is plenty of space in the back.

The load area swallows 410 litres of luggage and with the 60/40 rear seats folded flat space grows to 1513-litres. As the bread and butter version, the ST comes with cloth seats. The Ti gains leather upholstery and steering wheel, heated seats and six- stacker in-dash CD stereo.

The Ti also gets steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, foglights, trip computer, front passenger under seat storage drawer, rear armrest and sliding front console armrest.

Driving - Paul Gover

When I first drove the updated Dualis I was impressed. The price was good, the package seemed right, and the car drove well on a brief sprint around the beachside suburbs in Sydney. But.

Now I have driven it on home ground, as a Ti with CVT transmission, and I'm far less impressed. The Dualis wobbles around corners, the performance is dowdy, and I wonder how Nissan expects it to compete with a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CR-V or the class leading Subaru Forester.

For a start, it still maintains that it is a hatchback. And a car. It's not, it's an SUV wagon and that means it has to compete with the other SUV wagons. And they are a tough crew with a lot of history and a lot of strengths.

Looking deeper into the Dualis, the cabin is very roomy and - as tested at a bit over $30,000 - it has all the stuff you need. Leather trim, a punchy sound system, a reasonable-sized back end and space for three teenagers in the back. It is easy to park, visibility is excellent and the weighting of the power steering, power of the aircon and function of the minor controls is all good. Just as you would expect in a Nissan.

But it is very dozy when you pull away from a stop sign and, with the constantly-variable automatic transmission, the 2-litre engine never gets to show its best. It needs to be revved to get going but the gearbox works against you, even for highway overtaking. I remember the manual being much better on the preview drive and it would be my gearbox choice.

As for the front-drive package, no-one who drives the Dualis is going to miss the all-paw grip. It's never remotely challenged in corners and few owners will take it to the beach.

So, overall, the Dualis is a solid contender but not a standout. There is enough good stuff about it to win people to the car, so perhaps the relative failure is down to the styling and name.

I'm a bit confused by this car. It's supposed to be a small car but lots of the time the Dualis feels quite big. When you stand beside the Dualis it doesn't seem that big, but when you get inside it's really roomy. There is plenty of space for five, or a couple of youngsters in the back with all their toys.

The leather seats are nicely designed, and comfortable. But you can feel the cheapness as soon as you open the boot, just looking at the finish and smelling the cabin.

When you start driving, particularly in a tight corner, it feels really big and that's not something I like in a small car. When go around a corner you feel like you're driving a tank. But it has a really good turning circle because it is only a little car. And I felt like I was driving it with the handbrake on the whole time.

Maybe the turbo wasn't cutting in - but it doesn't have one - so it could be the slightly-strange CVT transmission thing. I hate that the locking for the doors is in the centre console and what's with the seat heaters in Australia? Wouldn't it be better to have an automatic boot release or a latch to let the seats fold down from the boot instead?

For me, it is actually quite a good car for the starting price. And versatile too. But I don't think it's as good as some of its opposition, including the Subaru Outback.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Not a bad car, but not a threat to the class champions.

Price: From $24,990
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Power: 102kW at 5200 revs
Torque: 198Nm at 4400 revs
Transmission: Six-speed manual (CVT auto)
Economy: 8.3 litres/100km combined (FWD), 8.5 litres/100km (AWD) CO2 Emissions: 196g/km (FWD), 204g/km (AWD)

VW Tiguan 82/100 (from $33,990)
Subaru Forester 83/100 (from $30,990)
Hyundai Tucson 76/100 (from $25,490 FWD)
Kia Sportage 77/100 (from $24,990 FWD)