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What on earth is this? You might vaguely recognise the front-end of this SUV. Your builder might have one, as might you. If you are in fact a builder. Yep, it’s a Nissan Navara – only with a proper body that deletes the bed, and adds more seats and a proper boot. And a new name – Terra. You can’t buy one, because Nissan doesn’t sell it here, anywhere else in Europe or North America. It’s really for China and South East Asia, where it’s available with either five- or seven-seats and the same 2.5-litre diesel engine as the pickup on which it’s based, plus an automatic gearbox. Why are you driving it then? Because the opportunity presented itself, and it’s always interesting to see what makes for a popular car in markets outside Europe and North America, in places where we seldom travel to drive stuff.
The Terra is one of many pick-up, and therefore frame-based SUVs on sale in South East Asia. Ford does one based on the Ranger, called the Everest. There’s also the Toyota Fortuner, which is based on the Hilux. We’ve tried Mitsubishi’s – the L200-based Shogun Sport – because it’s on sale in Britain, and came away about as unimpressed as we’ve been with a car for some time. Read why here. Why so popular? Nissan tells us the popularity of this kind of SUV is something to do with the Thai tax authority, which one day decided pickup-based SUVs are technically commercial vehicles, so there’s less tax to pay than you would for a normal car or SUV. Money talks, etc. So what’s it like? Much bigger than its European equivalent, the X-Trail. And much less good. From the driver’s seat it’s as though you’re sitting in a Navara – the dashboard and view out over the bonnet are broadly the same. It’s only when you look in the rear-view mirror that you see something’s up. Literally, as it happens. The middle- and back-row of seats are stadium style, so if you turn around to look at a passenger at a set of lights, your eyes are about level with their chest. This means rear visibility is even more compromised than you’d expect in a seven-seater. Nissan got around this by fitting a digital rear-view mirror, like the one you get in the new Range Rover Evoque. But space and practicality are not issues in the Terra – it’s quality. What’s acceptable in a pickup isn’t really in a big family SUV, as the Shogun found out to its cost. Same goes for the Terra – the dashboard and all the fixtures/fittings are quite brittle. The whole thing just has a very utilitarian feel – as though the controls have been designed to be hard-wearing at the expense of being satisfying to use. That might work in a pickup, but it doesn’t in an SUV, where there needs to be some concessions. The engine’s quite loud too, the gearbox is slurry and the ride is jiggly at the best of times. Where the Terra shines though is off-road. We drove it in Morocco alongside Nissan’s other not-for-Europe SUV, the Patrol, and the Titan pickup, and we swear the Terra is more capable than either when the going gets sandy. It scampers up dunes without breaking a sweat. Very impressive. On-road it mostly feels like a Navara – which would be fine if it was in fact a Navara, but it isn’t anymore. It’s a Terra now. Good thing we don’t get it over here, then. For its market, the Terra is spot-on. Fit for purpose. It’s massive and super practical, hard-wearing and great off-road. But look at it alongside what Europe demands from seven-seat family SUVs – the Skoda Kodiaq, Land Rover Discover Sport and Nissan’s own X-Trail – and the Terra lags. It’s just too utilitarian – it doesn’t feel expensive enough or drive well enough to compete with those guys. So, fair play to Nissan for recognising it’s not for us, and not bothering to import it.