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Opinion: Welcome back, Nissan

After a few years in the wilderness, Nissan seems to have some new products coming and a clear idea about what it wants to be – and that's exciting.

Scott Collie
Scott Collie
Deputy Editor

After a few years in the wilderness, Nissan has an identity again.

The brand has committed to a new path since the downfall of Carlos Ghosn, has revived its sporty Zed brand, and is preparing a raft of updated or all-new models that promise to wave goodbye to today’s functional but staid line-up.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the 2021 X-Trail, revealed overnight as the American-market Rogue.

Now two decades old, the X-Trail has evolved from a rugged, off-road-ready mid-sized crossover for adventurous types into an anodyne, by-the-numbers family hauler.

As Mazda has pushed into the world of almost-premium designs and engaging handling, and its Korean rivals have moved the game forward by offering technology previously reserved for high-end cars at mainstream prices, Nissan has sat on the fence.

At risk of underselling Australia’s third-best-selling mid-sized SUV, the current X-Trail is dull to look at, average to sit in, and middling to drive. At least it’s practical, which is more than can be said for some of its rivals.

Say what you will about its two-tiered lighting design, but the new X-Trail has an identity. It looks sharp, and Nissan is promising it’ll be better to drive than the dowdy current-generation car.

The interior appears to finally be home to a flashy, modern infotainment system, and real thought appears to have been put into its design. Although it’s early days, Nissan doesn’t seem to have forgotten its practical roots either.

As always, the proof will come when we get to poke and prod – likely in around 12 months.

Then there’s the 400Z, replacing the now-ancient 370Z as an affordable rival to the Toyota Supra.

If our renders are any guide, it’s going to look fantastic. And if reports are correct, it’ll pack a twin-turbocharged punch nicked from the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport.

It’s the first Nissan that has genuinely excited me in years, and shows the brand knows image counts. The fact it appears to have been developed in-house shows commitment, although the car is expected to use an evolved 370Z chassis.

There’s no word on a new GT-R at this stage, but a high-tech R36 GT-R capable of giving the Porsche 911 Turbo a headache would be the cherry on top.

Although the current-generation Leaf isn’t quite the high-tech segment leader we’d hoped for, there’s also plenty happening on the electric front.

The Ariya SUV is on the horizon and promises to blend a reasonable price with concept-ish looks, while Nissan has been pushing its sporty dual-motor e-4ORCE electric powertrain behind the scenes for a while now.

Could a sporty Nissan electric vehicle be on the horizon? My fingers are crossed.

Regardless, innovations have been few and far between at Nissan of late, which is tough to excuse when your tagline is Innovation that Excites. It looks like that’s changing.

On a more practical note, vehicles fitted with the ePower range-extender hybrid system are still selling strongly in Japan, and the technology is bound for Australia.

Also on the horizon? A new seven-seat Pathfinder SUV and compact Qashqai SUV, and an updated Navara dual-cab ute.

The new Juke has just touched down in Australia and looks (dare we say it) good, inside and out, and the Patrol is still a capable rival to the Toyota LandCruiser.

Nissan has already invested in its own Warrior version of the Navara in Australia, with a tougher Patrol Warrior set to follow. The compact Micra hatchback is also on the cards for our market.

There’s plenty happening Down Under independently of head office, then.

There are plenty of questions, of course. The spectre of badge engineering looms on the horizon as part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance’s path forward, and there’s a chance none of these new models will be, you know, good to drive.

The lack of passenger cars in Australia still feels like a missed opportunity, too. There’s also the question of Infiniti, and how Nissan manages its flailing luxury arm – not that it matters Down Under, of course.

Either way, the green shoots are starting to poke through.

The Australian market is very competitive, so success isn’t guaranteed for anyone. But it’s genuinely exciting to see how Nissan will fare when its updated line-up arrives in local showrooms.

With the product to take on its ever-developing Korean and Japanese rivals, a clear identity for the marketing team to play with, and a well-known brand name, the sky really is the limit.

It finished seventh in Australia last year, but Ford and Kia were within touching distance. Mazda’s more premium pricing strategy has seen sales slump this year – although the dramatic industry slowdown caused by COVID-19 hasn’t helped, of course.

Can the team at Nissan catch them? With a reinvigorated range, why not…

Is it a battle we’re looking forward to covering? Absolutely.

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Scott Collie
Scott Collie

Scott Collie is an automotive journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Scott studied journalism at RMIT University and, after a lifelong obsession with everything automotive, started covering the car industry shortly afterwards. He has a passion for travel, and is an avid Melbourne Demons supporter.

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