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First drive: The new Nissan Terra is worth the wait

It likes to get dirty


By industry standards, the Nissan Terra has had an unusually long gestation period. Its mechanical twin, the Navara pickup, was introduced in 2015. Normally, models that share platforms in this midsize segment are only launched a year apart. During the launch of the Terra last Monday, Nissan said it took its time to make sure the Terra was ready to take on the market.

Guess what? It’s ready.

The day after the Terra’s rock star launch, we were able to have some seat time with Nissan’s much-anticipated midsize SUV. For about 2.5 hours, we were guided by an instructor over a route that took us on a brief expressway drive, and a not-so-brief drive over sand, streams, loose soil and trails. It’s interesting that Nissan emphasized the Terra’s off-road capability, given that most owners will not even try to go off the beaten path.


Looking at the Terra before the drive, I was struck by how I wasn’t struck by its design. It looks like a Navara with an extended cabin—which is how its peers do it. But unlike the Fortuner and the Montero Sport that surprised the market with their bold faces, the Terra sports a more sedate visage. It definitely looks good; it just doesn’t look very daring.

The seating position is great, with an expansive view of the road ahead (I’m 5’11” by the way). We were using pre-production units, but everything felt firm and solid. I’ve seen what prototype cars look like, and they weren’t this well-made. The A/C delivered the heavenly cool air we expect from Nissan, and the Blaupunkt head unit interface looked polished and smooth. And the audio wasn’t bad at all.

On the highway the 2.5-liter turbodiesel pulls smoothly and confidently. The steering wheel doesn’t budge even when I’m just holding on to it lightly. At 100kph-ish, it only feels like we’re doing 70kph. With 190hp and 450Nm, the Terra has the most power and torque among its Japanese peers.

After 15 minutes of expressway driving we arrived at Pampanga’s infamous Delta 5 trail. We switched to the four-high gearbox setting, and we didn’t even have to stop as the Terra can switch to 4H on the go.

The off-road course began with a dusty path through tall (what looked like) cogon grass, and then we reached arguably the hardest part of the route right away. It’s a testament to the trust of our instructor that we were allowed to navigate this section, which consisted of a narrow strip of dirt with rocks on either side.

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On either side of the Terra, I was mere inches from mistakes that buffing couldn’t fix. I prodded the throttle gently and the Nissan SUV moved forward accordingly. We could have used hill descent control for this, but our able instructor just put the transmission in first gear, and the Terra gave me all the traction I needed.

We escaped that portion with nary a (visible) scratch, and upon reaching the sandy portion we engaged the four-low setting and locked the differential by just flicking a few buttons—although we had to stop this time. Then it was dashing-through-the-streams time.

Delta 5 is a glorious ever-changing path of lahar that’s at all times challenging, exciting and treacherous. The Terra plowed through shallow streams and volcanic dust, slipping and sliding at times as my excitement overcame my meager off-road skills. The Terra never got stuck, and I was always able to hit my exit points in the lahar.

Pro tips: 1) If you buy a Terra, don’t be afraid to get it dirty. 2) Take off-road lessons.

Probably what impressed me the most was the ground clearance. There were unavoidable mounds of sand that I thought would scrape the underside. But when we crossed over them…nothing.

What impressed the people in the backseat the most was the ride comfort. Despite the rough terrain we drove over, the middle bench occupants said it was still reasonably comfortable. And legroom was also generous—arguably the best in its class.


If your lifestyle includes a lot of off-roading and you need a handsome seven-seater with glacial A/C, go to a Nissan dealer now and make a reservation. If your transport needs, like most of the populace, are more the on-road kind, then wait for our proper test drive.

Nissan made us wait a long time for its midsize offering, but it looks like it did its homework.



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PHOTO: Jason Tulio
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