Nissan Serena S-Hybrid: Comfortable and Economical

By Lee Pang Seng
FUEL efficient motoring has become the norm right across the model range, more so with the bigger displacement engine segment, with which even the premium class owners would appreciate the fuel savings gained. Hybrids have set the standard along with fuel-efficient diesel models. We see more of the former as our less refined diesel fuel is not suitable for the modern-day diesel-powered cars.

Nissan has chosen the EV (electric vehicle) route with its Leaf although it has not overlooked the hybrid option entirely. It has chosen a simpler version with the latest Serena MPV, called the Serena S-Hybrid (smart hybrid). It comes with a far smaller secondary battery and an electric (ECO) motor with generator that assists in initial acceleration and regenerative charging for the batteries on board.

The latter is achieved during deceleration and braking, similar to that in full hybrid cars. There is also the automatic idle engine stop function when you hit the brakes for a red light or a junction. The engine is restarted in 0.3 second the moment you released the brake pedal, which is quick enough to get going again. If you aren’t too comfortable with this function, you can press a button on the dashboard to switch it off.

The engine is a 2.0-litre (1997cc) four-cylinder engine with double cams, 16 valves, twin CVTC (continuously variable –valve timing control) and direct fuel injection. Output is rated at 108kW (147PS) at 5600rpm and 210Nm at 4400rpm. The transmission is an Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with Adaptive Shift Control.

The Serena S-Hybrid is an imported MPV and with the special hybrid incentives in place, it is attractively priced at RM145,463.50 on the road without insurance, especially when it is the more premium Highway Star model. When the locally assembled version comes along, it will carry more or less the same price as a different set of CKD incentives will apply.

As the latest Serena model, it has a sleeker front end for a sharper profile although no improvement in the body’s aerodynamic efficiency is mentioned. The rather flat rear, though bearing new touches in the combination light design, adds up to a wedge look from a side perspective. It is a matter of taste though we would prefer more curves for a softer look without losing that wind-cheating profile.

With the regenerative charging for the batteries, Nissan has provided for more electrically powered items such as the two rear sliding doors. Press a button on the respective door handle and the door will slide open electronically. Likewise, it will shut in the same way. You can do it manually if you wish to take the load off the batteries.

Likewise, we can lock and unlock the MPV from either of the front doors: Just press a button on the door handle and the function is activated as long as you have the key fob on you. And on starting or stopping the engine, there is the start/stop button located next to the dashboard mounted gearshift.

The meter panel is a digital affair and with goggle-like cowling, it does seem like a pair of eyes are looking back at the driver. The two principal dials are for engine speed and fuel consumption in real-time: that means how you use the accelerator will determine the actual mileage you are getting. The road speed is displayed in digital format, along with other information, including the green Auto idling stop/start function and battery regenerative action (when the S-Hybrid word comes on).

Like a good MPV, the interior of the eight-seater Serena S-Hybrid is fully flexible in passenger and other load arrangements. An innovative item is the centre console that can slide between the front and second row seats. It can be used to serve the front folks or the second row passengers. The slide mechanism is the same as that for the seat, using a release grip at the bottom.

This centre console unit is also multi-functional: it can be folded to provide a box container with lid or serve as an armrest. For the second row seats, it can be fully put up to provide seating for three people.

The second row seat is not without its versatility either. Unlike the previous model, which has the swivel function for this row, the new arrangement has discarded the feature. Instead, if it is only required for two people with the centre console serving the front folks, one of the seats can be slid sideways to form a single unit with the other. The second row seats can also be slid fore-and-aft to accommodate the respective legroom.

The equally split third row seats can be tilted forward or folded to the sides to provide space for tall standing items when required. And of course, all the seats can be folded to form a bed to rest on during picnics. With the third row seats in place for passenger accommodation, there is ample space for a fair bit of luggage, sufficient for a weekend at a resort.

On the go, the Smart-Hybrid function gets the near 1.7-tonne (kerb) Serena taking off pretty briskly. It is best driven at a normal pace as the Xtronic CVT makes for a smooth affair and there are enough torque and power to move quite effortlessly up inclines. It cruises around 2000rpm at 100-110km/h on highway, which should lead to good fuel mileages.

The ride on the highway was generally quiet but the Bridgestone Ecopia (195/60 R16) picked up a lot of noise over the more porous bitumen surfaces and it was transmitted through to the passenger compartment. It makes you fully aware of the different road surfaces and we prefer the newer more compacted type as there is much less noise generated when the tyre runs over them. 

The MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link torsion team axle gave a comfortable ride over the bumpy stretches we drove daily. The suspension tuning was probably done for the roads in Japan as it has a softer quality that absorbed impacts well. However, there was a slight wallow on the highways that surfaced clearly when there were mild undulations.

It was also best to take to winding stretches at a steady pace. The greater tendency of the tall MPV (it stands 1735mm in height) to roll at corners would dampen one’s enthusiasm to push it. Taken at moderate speeds and with good lines through, we could still carry a fair bit of speed through our favourite bends.

The engine roar was pretty obvious when we tried to take the Serena S-Hybrid at a quicker pace. The Xtronic CVT also took a bit longer to accommodate the more urgent pace but if you put your mind to it, the Serena S-Hybrid can tear down the road too. We had the digital speed readout at 170km/h before easing off for an approaching sweeper. The fuel consumption indicator was well down at the lower end too!

The Serena S-Hybrid excels in what it is designed to be, a comfortable and versatile MPV that moves a family around effortlessly and without burning too much petrol. There are a few options that some might consider too, like the roof-mounted monitor for RM700 to keep the kids entertained while you ferry them around.

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