Nissan Serena S-Hybrid Goes Local

By Lee Pang Seng

GOOD fuel mileage passenger vehicles may lose their lustre when petrol prices go down or stay at affordable levels. This is when other attributes of the vehicle come to the fore. For the latest Nissan Serena S-Hybrid facelift model, it is a comfortable and well-equipped MPV (multipurpose vehicle) for eight people at an attractive price that becomes its strongest draw.

The imported Serena S-Hybrid was already an attractive buy at just a little over RM145,000 when we first took it for a drive at the start of 2014. This was made possible with special tax exemptions under the EEV (Energy Efficient Vehicle) category and that accounted for strong average monthly sales of 200 units, giving this Nissan MPV a solid footing among its peers in the Malaysian market.

Edaran Tan Chong Motors (ETCM) banked on the strategy of making the Serena S-Hybrid facelift model even greater value for money by having the MPV locally assembled at its Rawang factory. This venture made Malaysia the second country other than Japan to ‘produce’ the Serena S-Hybrid. It saw an investment of RM60 million to set up the assembly line but ETCM anticipates the EEV tax exemptions to be continued beyond 2016 to make fuel efficient vehicles attractively priced.

This has led to a price of RM135,035 (on the road without insurance) for the Serena S-Hybrid Highway Star, a drop of more than RM10,000. This better value-for-money scenario is certainly going to drum up more interest among premium MPV buyers, even from supporters of rival brands. As of now, the CKD model only has 15 per cent local content and that makes it more attractive. Understandably, Director of Marketing and Product Planning Tan Keng Meng was pretty confident of moving more Serena S-Hybrids with this CKD (complete knock down) approach, anticipating monthly sales to rise by 50 per cent to 300 units.

As a facelift model, there are no dramatic changes made other than the usual visual updates to the front and rear of the vehicle. The front now sees a redesigned three-dimensional chrome plated front grille enhanced by a ‘first-in-class’ LED (light emitting diodes) headlamps and signature lamps; new design front bumper with fog lamps; rear LED combination lamps that now come with a distinctive S-shaped line to complement its S-Hybrid status; refreshed side mouldings and new 16-inch chrome alloy wheels.

Adding value to its attractive price is the improved range of fittings and equipment: roof spoilers and door visors to look more dashing, V-Kool Elite Security, Armorcoat and Solar Gard tinting. A higher-spec model comes with combination leather seats, a 6.5-inch multimedia navigator with rear view camera, DVD player, iPod connectivity, and a10.1-inch roof-mounted LCD panel. Those buying the standard Highway Star model can opt for any of these items to be included at an additional price if they don’t want the entire package.

Perhaps a major addition from the previous model is the inclusion of a space saver tyre in place of a convenient tyre repair kit due to customer feedback. The general scenario is that most Serena S-Hybrid owners are comfortable with the availability of a spare tyre rather than a repair kit that would re-inflate the tyre and allow it to be driven to a tyre repair shop.

Located on the underside of the Serena S-Hybrid floorboard on the front passenger side, it might require some effort to reach this space saver tyre. However, this area is considered the best place for it as the other areas have been optimised for interior passenger space and ancillary items such suspension components.

The Serena S-Hybrid (or Smart Hybrid) qualifies for its ‘hybrid’ status by having a secondary battery and an electric (ECO) motor with generator to assist in acceleration and regenerative charging of the vehicle’s batteries. This secondary battery is not as large as those in full hybrid models but big enough to serve the desired functions.

There is no change in the engine as it continues to be a 2.0-litre (1997cc) four-cylinder engine with double cams, 16 valves, twin CVTC (continuously variable – valve timing control) and direct fuel injection. It produces a decent output of 108kW (147PS) at 5600rpm and 210Nm at 4400rpm. The transmission is an Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with Adaptive Shift Control

Following the Serena S-Hybrid launch in November, ETCM arranged for the media to drive the facelift model to Malacca for lunch before returning to KL. It was organised with four on board so that we could check out the MPV for its flexible interior in accommodating the creature comfort of its passengers. Nissan says the interior can be configured in 14 ways but our aim was to find the best way to catch 40 winks while taking turns to drive. In that respect, we succeeded.

As the route covered mostly highways, with about 40km of B-grade roads, the ride was up to mark in going over uneven surfaces, potholes and bumps. The independent front with MacPherson struts and multi-link torsion beam axle appeared well set-up in spring rating to cushion the harshness of most impacts with the road. The use of locally made tyres did not affect its ride comfort either, compared to the drive impression we had at the start of 2014 with the imported model.

What was similar was the high CVT noise during hard acceleration and the slower speed pick-up in passing acceleration. After all, the ECO-assisted engine had to move more than 1700kg of metal, plastic, glass, liquid and humans. For normal driving, the Serena S-Hybrid was easily up to the task with a fairly brisk pace and in maintaining beyond legal speed cruising on the highway.

Wind turbulence was appreciably low as the aerodynamic profile of the Serena S-Hybrid had done its job of deflecting the on-coming rush of air without raising an intrusive din into the passenger compartment. All four of us were able to maintain normal conversation, even for those sitting at the rear to those in front.

As we were not too fuel conscious during the 200-plus kilometre drive with the four of us taking turns to gauge the Serena S-Hybrid for its overall performance, we did run the MPV until the low fuel warning light came on. While the car’s computer stated that we could make it back to the start point, we didn’t risk it and filled up along the way.

The important note was that the Serena S-Hybrid facelift model continued to provide a comfortable drive and ride, both in urban traffic situations and on long distance runs. And the best part is that you can enjoy this aspect of MPV motoring from ETCM at a far more attractive price than before.

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