But not in the eyes of Nissan. Nissan feels that the entry level MPV segment is one of the hitherto unconquered bastions in the auto sales arena, and introduced the Grand Livina at last year's second Philippine International Auto Show as a new take on the aforementioned segment. Just what exactly is Nissan's approach to entry level MPVs - and if it can haul people and cargo decently - is the reason for this test drive.
The exterior is a cross between a miniaturized Nissan Murano (especially at the front end) and the Nissan Tiida/Versa/Latio, sitting low (with a 180 mm ground clearance) and looking more like a stretched sedan. But don't let the apparent low ride height and smallish dimensions (4,420 mm length, 1,690 mm width, 1,595 mm height, 2,600 mm wheelbase) fool you. The car is capable of fitting in a DHL Jumbo box, plus three to four duffel bags in the rear (with the third row folded).
The Grand Livina's interior is rather basic, but a given since the unit loaned for this test drive is the P848,000 base model 1.8L XL Elite (the only one among the Grand Livina variants with a six-speed m/t). The light gray/tan colorway provides for a relaxing drive, and the three-spoke steering wheel design is reminiscent of its 350Z sports car brethren. Cooling the passengers can be a problem, as there are only four aircon vents, and they're all in the front row. In contrast its direct competition (the Toyota Avanza 1.5 G m/t and the Suzuki APV II SGX 1.6L m/t) has aircon vents for rear passengers, ceiling mounted and/or near the rear wheelwells. It would be better if there were aircon vents for third row occupants, either within the c-pillars (similar to the Volvo XC70) or right above the cupholders sitting above the rear wheelwells (similar to that on the Toyota Fortuner and Mitsubishi Montero Sport). The audio entertainment is not exactly pleasing, either, as it's tinny. But for some reason Nissan Motor Philippines Inc. or NMPI (official distributor of the Grand Livina) installed a two-DIN touchscreen head unit (with satellite navigation/GPS and DVD capability) and an additional screen mounted on the ceiling, right above the center console. NMPI claims that it's in the "experimental" stage, and requested that this writer not delve further into the abilities of the aforementioned head unit.
MPVs, even entry level ones, should have the ability to carry people and cargo. This is where the Grand Livina does without fail. All seats have comfortable tan fabric covers that match the tan interior colorway, and are especially relaxing to the hamstrings, bum and lumbar area. The second row seats move forward (via a large lever under the second row thigh cushions) and its backrests fold at a 45-degree angle for third row ingress/egress. As mentioned earlier, the third row seats fold flat to accommodate larger cargo, but when upright only fit one piece of small travel luggage can fit (without blocking rearward vision). Also, since third row kneeroom is extremely limited, it can only fit kids. At least third row lateral vision is large and wide; it feels like the Alterra's third row in terms of lateral viewing pleasure.
Even in base trim, the Grand Livina delivers on its billing as the sedan that seats seven. When matched to a six-speed gate, the MPV is mighty fast. Powerband entry is at an early 3,250 rpm, and it can attain 198 kph easily. It's also frugal as it is forcibly facile - 9.4 km/l (five days mixed driving) - since the additional gear makes the steps between ratios even, thus becoming less taxing on the upper end of the powerband. Surprisingly, despite the tall stick, throws are positive, and using the dogleg reverse gear is similar to that on the Hyundai Accent and Getz. All you have to do is stop the unit, dump the clutch, pull up a ring around the m/t stick, and move the said stick to the 11 o'clock position on the stick (or the upper leftmost area) of the stick. Speaking of the clutch, it requires light effort on your left foot, similar to that on the 1993-1997 Toyota Corolla.
Given its ride height and ground clearance, handling is sedan like. There's a little bit of body roll, but not enough to unnerve occupants. Traction from the Bridgestone B250 185/65R15s break at 80-90 kph, but the hum from the rubber is dreadful, especially when you're in the third row. Sitting in the third row tends to amplify the tire noise, and the ride (while you're there) tends to be a bit uncomfortable after some time. Steering is light in feel, but numbing in feedback. Its feedback is better, though, than the Toyota Avanza and the Suzuki APV II, requiring less effort on 70-90 degree turns. The brakes have fade, but it's a given since the unit saw 19,000-odd kilometers before this writer got it. It does bite when needed, though, and the handbrake requires just a 10-degree pull to get passable grip. The gauge cluster has amber backlighting typical of all current Nissans, and can be seen easily at any time, even if the sun is directly above the unit or it's daytime and the car passes through a tunnel. A reverse gear activated camera (mounted near the rear plate identification) big help during parallel parking and long backing maneuvers. But do not use it as a crutch; you have to look at what's going on at the rear view mirror, the rear windshield, and your lateral vision (including the side mirrors) also when parallel parking and long backing so that you can move/park safely.
Normally entry level MPVs are of the lumbering type. But the Nissan Grand Livina begs to differ, including go-fast ability into its list of can-do's. Now if it only had a diesel option (the Grand Livina is petrol-fed) and a competitive pricetag (the Toyota Avanza 1.5 G m/t is P 786,000 and the Suzuki APV II SGX 1.6L m/t is 775,000), and this rarity will sell like hotcakes.