A Safe Bet
Nissan is one of those car manufacturers that always brought something unique or different to the table whenever they introduced a new model in the market. Recently, they brought in the Kicks e-Power which gave an EV experience without the dreaded range anxiety, while the Almera had a turbocharged powerplant. There is also the Navara which, apart from the Ford Ranger Raptor, was one of the few pickups in the market with a coil spring rear suspension.
So how do you exactly market a three-year-old 7-seater MPV against newer rivals, not to mention its refreshed twin? That's the challenge so far for Nissan with the Livina.
The Livina is not an all-new nameplate. The strange thing is that the Livina can be considered a second-generation model because Nissan had a Livina many years ago. The formula is the same: a front-wheel-drive compact MPV with 7 seats. But they chose not to develop a next-generation model; as fate would have it, Mitsubishi would come into play in 2016 when Nissan acquired the major stake in the company.
As such, the Livina is a product of badge engineering from the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. This means, despite the Livina being introduced as a 2023 model year MPV in the Philippine market, it's still very much a twin of the pre-facelift Mitsubishi Xpander from three years ago.
In a multiverse where the Xpander does not exist, the Livina can still be identified as a proper Nissan model from the outside. Despite the design limitations brought about by the shared sheet metal, the signature V-motion grille in front was adequately incorporated in the place where Mitsubishi's “Dynamic Shield” used to be.
There's not much to write about when it comes to its side profile as it's basically the same as the Xpander, except for the smaller 16-inch wheels. But at the back, the less pronounced creases and the V design on the Livina's taillights remind me of how the discontinued X-Trail's rear end looked like. With a lot less going on in its front and rear fascia, the Livina could properly distinguish itself from its twin, the Xpander.
Unfortunately, that's all the difference it has, except for the Nissan badge on the steering wheel. Nissan may have bought into the “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” card for the Livina's interior, as there's basically nothing to complain about with its layout. Aside from minor trim differences, the dashboard, the seats, the door cards, and the manual parking brake are very much the same as the pre-facelift cabin of the Xpander.
Having the Xpander's cabin also means you can enjoy the amenities the Mitsubishi MPV became popular for - loads of space from the first to the third row, lots of storage spaces for your stuff, plus an easy fold-flat mechanism for the seats.
Save for the engine cover, under the hood of the Livina lies the same naturally-aspirated 1.5-liter 4A91 inline-four-cylinder engine as that of the Xpander. It puts out 105 PS and 141 Nm of torque and is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. As a daily driver, the Livina returned 8.4 km/l in the city, while that stretches out to 15 km/l on the highways.
Mitsubishi nailed the engineering and development of the Xpander, and that's what the Nissan Livina greatly benefits from. Yes, it may have some Ralliart blood in it, but Mitsubishi prioritized the MPV to be an effortless and stress-free car to drive on a daily basis. The steering is light so there's not much feedback in the wheels, but the upside is it's easy-peasy to maneuver around tight spaces and parking lots. The ride refinement is also a strong suit, as the softly sprung suspension soaks up road imperfections while keeping outside noises down.
However, Nissan may have been carried away by the great qualities of the Xpander too much, that they skipped their homework on giving the Livina updated tech toys. Quite simply, the MPV's interior equipment leaves a lot to be desired, starting off with its dated head unit. Most of the vehicle's competitors already feature bigger screens with smartphone integration capabilities such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Unfortunately for the Nissan MPV, it doesn't have one, together with things like wireless charging, among others.
Moreover, the lack of a cruise control button is quite puzzling, as even the previous GLX Plus variant of the Xpander had it. An armrest is nowhere to be found even in the top-spec VL variant, together with the rear defoggers.
I don't know if it's just a problem with the unit we had, but the Livina VE we tested had a rattling noise somewhere in the steering column or the instrument panel that sounds like a loose screw. Hopefully, that's just an isolated case that could easily be resolved, as we didn't have those issues while testing its twin at the same time.
As it's devoid of the features the pre-facelift Xpander had, most would expect the Livina VE to have a price tag that undercuts its Mitsubishi twin. However, it is a surprise that the Livina VE, at PHP 1.149 million, is PHP 39,000 more expensive than its mid-spec twin, the Xpander GLX. The latter already has cruise control, plus an additional 20mm of ground clearance.
On the other end, what do you get for PHP 39,000 more? Well, in this case, the ownership experience could be the better selling point of the Livina, as Nissan only requires the Livina to be serviced every 6 months or 10,000 km, while the Xpander is twice more frequent.
However, the Livina is not just competing with its twin. It's facing stiff competition from the likes of the Avanza and the all-new Stargazer, which has more features at basically very similar price points. Not to mention, Suzuki is even gearing up to introduce the Ertiga Hybrid soon and take up its share of the small 7-seater MPV pie.
In a segment where value for money is of utmost importance, the Livina could be set back by its shortcomings features-wise. But we should remember, there are buyers who will still prefer the safe and proven choice no matter what, and that is by far what I see as the Livina's inherited selling point. Just look at the L300, the Crosswind, and the Adventure and you'll see what I mean.