23 June 1995

AN OFF-ROADER WHICH

WONT OVERWHELM YOU

Nissans £16,210 swb Terrano might look smart in Chelsea, but can it hack it in the mud and mire? Andrew Pearce finds out

TERRANO DATA

&#8226 Engine: Indirect injection, 2.7-litre turbodiesel.

&#8226 Price: £16,210 in SLX trim.

&#8226 Drive: 2WD through rear wheels, 4WD selectable on move.

&#8226 Weight: 1.73t.

&#8226 Payload: 570kg.

&#8226 Towing capacity: 2.8t.

&#8226 Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles, six years anti-perforation.

FORD and Nissan have taken few chances with their joint-venture 4×4.

Badged Maverick by Ford and Terrano II by Nissan, the vehicle falls into the mainstream by virtue of its ladder chassis and simple part-time 4WD transmission. More to the point, it sets out to appeal to the widest possible audience by blending non-threatening styling with off-roader chunkiness.

We tried a Spanish-built Terrano II in short-wheelbase (swb) three-door, diesel-powered guise. In SLX trim it costs £16,210 and brings along small luxuries like electric motivation for the windows, mirrors and sunroof, but leaves behind the higher-spec four-door SGXs height adjustable seats, air conditioning and so forth. Four-door versions are obviously bigger, have a longer wheelbase and an extra row of seats.

The swb Terrano has oddly Tardis-like qualities – only reversed. So from a distance it looks big, but close up its really quite small. And, as ever, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; one driver thought it looked like a shunted Transit, another like a running shoe on wheels.

Inside, good use is made of space and materials. Wide-opening doors lead into a bright, light cabin and curvaceous dashboard mouldings.

Unusually for a 4×4, the interior seems to have been designed for humans; the ignition switch and radio are easy to find and minor controls fall, as they say, comfortably to hand.

Front seats are a little spartan in this SLX version, offering little support but fair comfort. Access room to rear accommodation is generous, and the seat itself split-folds quickly by a simple mechanism. Less useful is load space behind the seat, which holds a chainsaw and its associated gubbins or a small dog – but not both.

Lifting the bonnet reveals a 2.7-litre, indirect injection turbodiesel. In a 1.7t body its 100hp and 163lb ft of torque are strong enough to provide mild fun.

Initially, the engine feels quite lively, giving a shove which soon tails off to a gentle push. But as long as at least 1500rpm are on the clock the motor is always willing to have a stab at a hill, and its mid-range urge is enough to keep the driver interested.

Short gearing hurts the Terranos mile-eating ability. By 60mph youre looking for a sixth ratio in the irritatingly notchy gearbox, and by 75 the engine is feeling strained. This is a pity, as limited air rush and minimal road roar otherwise put the car in the able cruiser class. Economy takes a small knock, too; we managed 24.8mpg in mixed driving.

Given a short wheelbase, Nissan has done a good job on the ride. Soft, subjectively long-travel torsion bar/coil springing converts road shocks into mainly gentle pitching. If anything the ride feels a little under damped, sometimes producing long-duration heaves that can extract the breakfast from children. Generally, though, Terrano travellers find little to complain about in a ride that other makers could copy.

Where most off-roaders are barge-like, the Nissan is nippy. Its narrow body slots as well into a multi-storey car park as it does down a country lane, and its tight steering lock is as useful with a trailer as winding through trees. Out and about the system shows shortcomings, though, with decidedly rubbery turn-in to fast bends and straight-line stability at risk from bumps. But once settled into a corner the 215-section tyres grip well, with the rear only thinking about sliding under provocation from combined body roll and heavy throttle.

Speed is quickly dissipated by a prod on the mushy centre pedal, which communicates with disc/drum brakes. Treading harder makes the nose dip far enough to catch sight of Australia, but the rear circuits attitude-sensing valve keeps the back wheels from locking.

Over tracks, the suspension chatters busily and the ride flattens out with speed. On sterner stuff the solid rear axle shows plenty of travel, but the independently-sprung front end less so. Turbo lag means the motor lacks instant bite in low range, but is otherwise easily controllable.

The Terrano clambered over the usual mix of banks, cambers and ruts, with only the suspicion that grip might be threatened by body sway unloading the wheels at critical moments. Good off-road points are a standard limited-slip rear diff and the ability to shift into 4WD on the move; the biggest negative is poor front corner visibility.

All told the Terrano II is a thoroughly pleasant package. Its non-threatening to timid drivers, airy, nippy enough, and capable when the tarmac runs out. As a runabout its just fine.

Nissans swb Terrano II – modern, easy to drive but short on load space.

Access to tall cabin through the single rear door is spoiled by a deep rear bumper, although this carries a moulded step. Space behind Terranos rear seat is tight on short wheelbase versions.

Human-friendly Terrano cabin features muted colours, plenty of glass and light controls. Seats in mid-range SLX version could be better, and plastic steering wheel is too slippery.