Nissan Teana 2.0XL 1

Range-topping models tend to be the ones that grab the headlines. And with good reason – they’re the best representation of the car as it sits on the showroom floor, whether it be in terms of looks, gadgets, performance and, in some cases, road manners as well. Money no object, they’re almost unquestionably the one to get.

But of course, “money no object” rarely, if ever, exists. This is particularly true with D-segment models, as the highest trim levels of these cars tend to come uncomfortably close to the RM200k mark, and therefore well out of reach of all but the most well-heeled company car buyers. Below that, lesser models are far less desirable, losing out on much of the toys and, unfortunately, safety equipment.

The new Nissan Teana seems to have bucked this trend, with smaller differences in kit between variants. Only a few feel-good gadgets are reserved for the top-spec 2.5XV (this may also betray the relative paucity of equipment on the range-topping model, but that’s a different topic altogether). More importantly, all Teanas come as standard with a full complement of six airbags and stability control.

This particular model we’re testing is the mid-range 2.0XL, which features a few must-have items over the base 2.0XE (powered seats, reverse camera, Bluetooth), but still comes in at a cool RM20k under the 2.5XV. Is this actually the sweet spot, then – the Goldilocks of the range, if you like? Read on to find out.

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Doubtless you’d be familiar with the current L33 Teana on this site – aside from the comprehensive launch report, we’ve also driven it before in 2.5XV form. Additionally, eagle-eyed readers will also have recognised this Bronze Gold WA 3880 C test unit as the exact same 2.0XL that sparred against the Honda Accord and Kia Optima in the second season of the Driven Web Series, and won.

Thus, you’d know that we’ve sung praises about Nissan’s contender, from the highly competent handling to the smooth CVT and extremely comfortable ride. But will the lower amount of kit on offer and smaller, less powerful engine sully the driving experience on closer inspection? We’ll soon find out.

Coming in at RM143,318, the 2.0XL doesn’t appear to lose much over the considerably more expensive top-spec model, at least from the outside. The curvaceous, dynamic, almost piscine body still has oodles of presence, with arrow-shaped projector headlights (halogens instead of xenons here), large chrome grille, undulating swage line and elegant LED tail lights. You do get 16-inch wheels instead of 17’s, however, which does take a bit out of the Teana’s confident stance.

Inside, the middle child feels very nearly as posh as its more well-to-do cousin – apart from the aforementioned items, there’s also leather upholstery, auto lights and a five-inch colour screen in the integrated head unit that differentiate it from the cheaper 2.0XL. Only the sunroof, rear sunshade and nine-speaker Bose sound system are reserved for the 2.5XV.

Compared to the similarly priced Accord 2.0 VTi-L, the Teana loses out on LED daytime running lights, 17-inch wheels, rear door sunshades and navigation, but don’t forget that the Nissan has six airbags over the Honda’s two.

The equivalent Toyota Camry 2.0G is near as dammit RM12k more expensive, but doesn’t even get auto lights, Bluetooth or a reverse camera, let alone the Teana’s four extra airbags. Punt for the bare-bones 2.0E (that’s still costs RM2k more than the Nissan) and you drop powered seats, leather, cruise control and, shockingly, stability control as well.

Gadgets aside, the Teana is a lovely place to be, with a simple, clean design, judicious use of soft-touch materials and sumptuous leather surfaces. It’s very grown up and sophisticated in here; only a few jarring hard plastics and a weird mesh patterned trim on the transmission tunnel and gear knob (I personally would’ve preferred the same gloss black that’s on the centre console) disappoint slightly.

The third-generation L33 has grown significantly in width compared to the previous J32 – growing 35 mm to 1,830 mm – providing it with a newfound sense of airiness, which the broad centre console only serves to amplify. There’s also plenty of space on offer – both front and rear – in terms of leg- and elbow room, even though the sloping roofline does cut into rear headroom quite a bit.

It’s a large car, however – measuring 4,885 mm long, the Teana is 35 mm longer than the Camry and 15 mm longer than the already sizeable Accord. This can make it quite an intimidating machine to manoeuvre around urban areas, a situation further compounded by the rising beltline and smaller windows than the competition. It’s enough to make you wonder if the reverse camera is really more of a necessity than a luxury.

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At least the size means the boot space is competitive; at 516 litres it’s just as big as the Camry’s (515 litres) and a whopping 55 litres larger than the Accord’s (at 461 litres, it’s even smaller than the B-segment City’s). The load space is deep and the sill low, but the aperture is a bit narrower than the competition.

In place of the range-topping 171 hp/234 Nm 2.5 litre QR25DE four-cylinder engine sits the 2.0 litre MR20DE making 134 hp at 5,600 rpm and 190 Nm at 4,400 rpm. That’s 20 horses down on the Accord and a full 31 hp less than the new direct-injected VVT-iW mill in the facelifted Camry; both the Nissan and Honda also give nine Newton metres away to the Toyota. The ubiquitous Xtronic CVT sends power to the front wheels.

Compared to its two rivals, the 2.0 litre Teana does feel down on power – out the gate, it definitely needs to be worked harder to pile on the speed. The deficit is particularly apparent next to the new Camry, which will effortlessly cruise`up to highway limits and then sail right past them.

Drive it in isolation, however, and you’ll notice that it doesn’t actually feel slow at all. Masking the shortfall on output is the brilliant CVT, with quick step-off response and an almost complete elimination of the “rubber-banding” effect that blights competing systems – the Teana accelerates linearly and smoothly, responding naturally to throttle inputs. There’s no irritating whine, too.

Flinging the big Nissan reveals a chassis that has been expertly set up to tackle bends with aplomb. Yes, generous amounts of body roll are on the menu (this is a large, comfy sedan, after all), but it responds deftly to every flick of the steering wheel. It really does shrink around you, this thing, and it stays planted even through mid-corner bumps, no doubt a result of the sophisticated multi-link rear suspension design.

But it’s the Active Understeer Control function that takes things to a whole new level entirely. As the name suggests, the system works as an extension of the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) to reign in understeer by braking the inside front wheel, helping the car swing into a bend.

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Sounds good on paper? Well, you’ll be happy to know that it works very well in practice, too; its operation imperceptible, but the result uncanny. Accelerate mid-corner, and where you’d expect the front to wash wide, the Teana clings resolutely to the chosen line as it powers out of the bend. It’s mightily impressive, and hugely, giggle-inducingly fun.

But for all its dynamic prowess, you do get a sense that spirited driving doesn’t quite show the Teana in its best and brightest light. You feel it in the aforementioned roll into the corners, the steering that weighs up nicely but is vague and lacking in feel, as well as the slightly flat seats; you hear it through the sometimes strained, if not entirely unpleasant engine growl when you pin the throttle.

The latter can be particularly intrusive as the CVT holds onto higher revs under hard acceleration for maximum power; even the transmission’s stepped-ratio Ds mode doesn’t really help matters. It’s clear that the Nissan, while more than game to play servant to your wildest exploits (and is more than capable of handling them, don’t get me wrong), is a little bit outside its comfort zone here.

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Instead, hang back and settle into a cruise, because the Teana plays the chauffeur game very well indeed. It’s here where the Nissan really stretches its long, long legs, the CVT dialling the revs down a few notches, at which point the engine becomes remarkably hushed and incredibly smooth. There’s very little wind and road noise too; for the first time in a while, the phrase “quiet as a library” isn’t such a hyperbole after all.

Those 16-inch wheels may not do anything for the looks, but the tyres’ thick sidewalls certainly do wonders to take the sting off the Teana’s taut, actually slightly firm ride over larger bumps. The impressive body control, on the other hand, takes care of minor surface imperfections with ease, allowing the car to traverse undulating tarmac with nary a flinch.

The combined effect is really quite something. Climb in after a rough day and the Teana will welcome you into the daftly-named-but-hugely-comfortable Zero Gravity Inspired seats, cosset you through the supple, quiet ride and terrifically smooth drivetrain, and relieve you of every last knot in your nerves. At the end of the day, isn’t that what you want in a car like this?

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Really, if it’s serene waftability you’re after, the Teana takes the cake. It’s arguably more comfortable than the too-soft Accord, and even the markedly-improved Camry can’t quite shade it in terms of ride – and definitely not when it comes to cabin noise.

The few faults it has – ungainly looks on the smaller wheels, some hard interior plastics, an engine that lags behind more powerful rivals – pale in comparison to the way the Teana ferries four adults in the smoothest, most soothing way possible. And of course, its impressive safety credentials – particularly in comparison to the Accord and Camry at this price range – are difficult to overlook (and really shouldn’t be).

Which trim level to go for? Certainly, this 2.0XL strikes a great balance between kit and price; it feels generous enough to justify the RM10k extra over the base 2.0XE, while the extra kit and bigger engine of the 2.5XV – although nice to have – are things most buyers can easily live without. Regardless of the variant, however, one thing is clear: the Nissan Teana is a superb machine that’s more than competitive enough to take on the class best.